So close to a career you could…
Sadly, most general knowledge of Japanese idol girl groups (outside of Japan – within the country’s boundaries is a subject I’m not qualified to touch on) is limited to two things. The avex image hipsters, SPEED (though you can replace this with other avex girl groups like dream, usually it’s limited to only one of them), and the doggedly persistent institution of Hello! Project. If you dig deeper, you’ll find people who know of AKB48 – but more for their sheer numbers (which Bishoujo Club 31 never quite accomplished) and for acknowledging their otaku fanbase. Which doesnt bode well for acts like Bright (who, despite tinging their act with gospel, still managed to have me find their debut mini-album on the $7 shelf at Book-off the same week it came out), nor assure us of the future of now disbanded SweetS. Never mind any recognition for much lesser-known groups like Earth and Pipo’s Angels. The age of the female idol in Japan is over -you have to be something, most preferably sexy, or be left aside. Considering how long female pop idols held court in Japan – and I think back to the days of Super Monkeys, never mind Pink Lady and Onyanko Club – and the constantly evolving image of the female ideal, it’s about time. It’s a sad truth for people like me who like girl groups but don’t like the music of H!P or AKB48. (On the bright side, the pretty boys are girly enough to be girl groups with additional “appendages”…)
So it’s been four years now since I first (and last) heard of AKINA, the former lead vocalist of girl group Folder 5. After Folder 5 disbanded, she had what seems like a short solo career – only three singles to her solo name. But it was one single a year up until 2004, when she shut up completely. Three years for only three singles (Touch me, which this post touches on; One wish; BEST OF LOVE) out of a girl who had pop singing and dancing chops, along with a gorgeous face, established fanbase (there was a reason they pushed her in front for Folder 5 though she was the youngest), slight creative capabilities before it became mandatory to have something to do with your music for popularity’s sake, and industry experience – was avex just wasting away the rest of her contract with them then? (Because after four years of musical silence – and a radioshow doesn’t count – it’s pretty moot now.)
Her male counterpart in Folder, Miura Daichi, made a comeback post-puberty in 2005, and while he’s not famous, he’s got enough of a steady fanbase paired with some consistently amazing releases to ensure a steady market life. Contemporary pop group w-inds., who Folder 5 participated in a single with under the name Earth Harmony, is still releasing, even if Keita’s gotten a bunch of solo kicks lately. (Boyband FLAME was also there, and they’re practically dead now, but we chalk that up to a lack of musical talent on their part. Besides, I always thought Earth was supposed to be the female group there.) But no word on AKINA making a musical comeback except for the occasional pop-up on VISION FACTORY holiday albums.
Okay, enough misplaced “Kimi will never be a pop idol if so-and-so can’t make it” ranting. Especially because I like both Miura Daichi and w-inds. more than I do AKINA. This was supposed to be about AKINA’s debut solo single. And so we move on. Contrary to the eurobeat and heavy dance pop she sang during her time in Folder 5, AKINA decided to move right into a more adult image (as if the cover above didn’t give you that hint), and even wrote her own lyrics. While not anything special (the usual lines dealing with love), it does mark a step of independence that most girl groups would never get.
Touch me, the titular track, is a R&B dance track with lots of backup vocals and filters, almost an outright acknowledgement that AKINA’s sharper vocals aren’t best suited for this genre, and that perhaps she wasn’t ready to let go of the vocal stability that being the lead singer of Folder 5 provided. But with the filters and additional backup, the song works around her voice. It’s an interesting listen, because this music is exactly the sort of thing BoA might have released then, though AKINA clearly lacks BoA’s smoothness and range. The accompanying music video adds to the sexy image AKINA threw on for this single – you’d never see her showing that much skin in Folder 5. But she still retains the 5-dancer set up, even if the other 4 are guys being props for her sexy act.
The B-side, Any time, had not only its lyrics written by AKINA, but also the music. Which still doesn’t say much, it’s a slower-paced fairly generic pop song with lots of synth. (No prizes for guessing what machine avex loved in the late ’90s/early ’00s.) AKINA sounds pretty rough here too, but more from trying to squeeze in raw non-upbeat emotion into her singing. It works, though she goes more breathy than I’ve ever heard her. But it’s not any worse than what you’ll hear from, say, Leah Dizon, and it’s a decent attempt at being more mature.
By the way, if you can read Japanese and you’re interested in what the rest of Folder 5 has been up to since then… Hurray for 2ch, yes? Basically ARISA (now arie) has been having a decent indies career; HIKARI’s been gravure idoling and bit acting, most recently alongside AAA members (Nissy in the Ai no Mukidashi movie, Misako in the NHK drama Hitomi); MOE apparently did some PR work (I confess to being lazy and not reading the article); and NATSU dropped off the face of the Earth. (Shame.) It’s nice to see that though they didn’t come close to the big leagues post-Folder 5, at least ARISA and HIKARI are trying to work their way back up. But I want more AKINA, dammit. And it still doesn’t explain how she fell so far, so fast from what was a pretty comfy position. (Along with crushing non-H!P loving girls’ dreams for pop stardom… what do you mean I need to get off that kick?)