Because we know at some point it had to stop.
Raid wanted a mention on this blog, more than just being a participant in an IM conversation, so we’ll give it to him. (He also wanted something he could bounce off for his own posts, but you can’t have your cake and eat too.) Here’s a glass to your “SHOCK GASP HORROR” or perhaps just a “WTF” reaction whenever you see this post. (Hurray for finally being 21 and being able to make alcoholic references!) It’s no secret that he’s none too fond of KAT-TUN, and other than a certain fondness for a currently unfortunately-goatee’d man, that’s one of the few tastes in Japanese Pop we’ve constantly shared. Even now, despite being won over by pretty much every other current Johnny’s, KAT-TUN and I have plenty of kinks to work out.
But I figured I’d steal three pretty boys with one van (kill three birds with one stone, snare three fishes with one net, attack three subjects in one post… whatever floats your boat) What are these topics? A ramble on my odd preferences in releases from artist groups, why I dislike them, and to tie it all in… a review of KAT-TUN’s single DON’T U EVER STOP. Yes, I know it’s been months since the release of this single and their third album has long been released already. Don’t get me started on the name of that one.
So, first topic. What I like from my artist groups? Solo songs. Yeah, you read that right. You’re also probably going “What’s the point of liking a group if what you want is solos?”, especially since I’m following this up with “I vastly prefer groups to soloists, and it’s not because my favorite singers belong to groups.” Actually, perhaps you’re going “WTF” instead, but hell, I’m no mind-reader. (I’m also not very coherent at the moment thanks to rampaging cockroach that left me with 2 hours of sleep before I had to fix a computer. Please forgive if the first third of this post makes absolutely no sense.)
It might have something to do with the fact that it takes individual activities for me to be able to recognize the members individually – and solo songs greatly help. With solos I can more clearly identify the members’ vocals, and I’ve always been the sort of person to melt over voices thanks to my days as a seiyuu fanatic. Also, I’ve been over this many times, that being in a group helps the members shine while covering up their individual faults. I’ve learned this from years of amateur Internet cover groups, both singing and producing the final results. But a solo song allows for more time with the singer in question that being in a group just won’t allow, especially if it’s a group where not everyone gets equal vocal time. (Granted, this is usually justified. But I’d like to hear it for myself all the same.)
If I come across a release from a group with solo songs (for example, SweetS’ 5 ElementS, Folder 5’s FIVE GIRLS, V6’s Voyager), I will always go for the solo songs. (Case in point: Arashi’s Time) These solo tracks are more likely to endear me to the group than anything, even if they have engaging personalities or I somehow like every single one of their songs. I enjoy HINOI TEAM, but other than using them to fulfill my occasional girl-Eurobeat urges, I really wouldn’t care more about them. (I also still can’t differentiate between Rina and Keika.) I much prefer the old dream to DRM because I knew all the members of old dream, knew their voices. Since DRM, only Tachibana Kana has gotten an actual solo song (Embrace Me) within the group, and while Yamamoto Sayaka has had a solo career on the fringes of her DRM work, it hasn’t struck me as anything because avex is marketing her as a solo singer instead of as a member of DRM. But a big part of my KinKi Kids fandom is because I came across Domoto Koichi’s solo works, and while searching for more of his songs I came across something he’d done as part of KinKi (Tsukiyo no Monogatari) and enjoyed it. At the height of my w-inds. fandom, Ryuichi and Ryohei were solo songs in their concerts, even though their vocals in the main releases were being slowly regulated to harmonies again. I’ve only become interested in DBSK because of their TRICK single releases – which, of course, features solo songs.
You could possibly argue that there is a definite bias towards males in all the examples I’ve given above, but that’s because the same people who market those males are doing just what it takes to hook me musically. Let’s take a subject most people who read this blog will probably be more familiar with – Morning Musume. It’s sort of painful to admit, but I’ve actually listened to Kusumi Koharu’s two Tsukishima Kirari album releases – but haven’t cared to listen to a single Momusu album (especially the ones since she joined) yet. My interest in Momusu members actually only starts from when they graduate, like Goto Maki or Iida Kaori or even Ishikawa Rika (in DEF.DIVA, that is), and not before, because I still consider them under the “umbrella group” of Hello! Project. Except they’re doing solo songs now. (Please never mind that the Elder Club has been kicked out – this post was written ages ago.) I’m also probably not going to ever listen to a Morning Musume album because the clear focus there is on groups – and worse, they do .
On the subject of KAT-TUN. There is a trifecta in the current main generation of Johnny’s groups, composed of NEWS, Kanjani8, and KAT-TUN. (Arashi and TxT are steadily making their way to sempai status as they near their 10 year marks, like KinKi, V6, TOKIO, and SMAP before them.) NEWS provides the eyecandy, Kanjani8 serves up the personality, and KAT-TUN is the dance according to their origin story. I’ve surprisingly never seen them really dance when performing their own songs, though. And don’t even ask about the singing. NEWS is my introduction to regularly following Johnny’s (having gone through TOKIO and V6’s discography, I’ve discovered that the jimusho pulled another Arashi and snuck into my early J-Pop habits too), Kanjani8 has yet to fail to amuse me, and so they’ve both been sentenced for a minimum of 3 years in the jail section for pop groups I like.
It really wouldn’t be fair of me to judge KAT-TUN, because I’ve never bothered to learn more about them. But really, they haven’t given me reason to either. I first heard of them back in the days of Minna no Terebi (later Utawara), back when I could’ve really cared less about Johnny’s. I knew they’d been a unit for a while, and that they were debuting after a long time together, but what did it matter since I wasn’t a screaming fangirl? (In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I watched that show for HINOI TEAM and ended up staying for Wada Akiko. We’ve come a long way. Insert much fist-waving at one Matsumoto Jun.) As their debut neared and they started performing their songs, I found I even liked one. So I went and downloaded their album and first single… and just couldn’t listen through because it all sounded either the same or uninspired attempt at being rock. Ironically, this same first album is called Best of KAT-TUN, and served wonderfully to turn me off their music (especially if that was considered their best). After I got into KinKi and especially Koichi I tried to give them a second chance, and came away with the exact same impression. (How could anything Koichi came up with be such fail? Apparently because the man himself is made of fail.)
KAT-TUN themselves also maintain a confident, entitled air (though it may just be Akanishi emanating waves, especially in Nakamaru’s case) on variety shows not their own, the same attitude that put me off Matsumoto Jun until I saw him being made into a fool on his own group’s variety shows. Most of their dramas have only been uninteresting to me and so it wasn’t until 2007 (with Sushi Oji!, Yukan Club, and belated viewings of Nobuta. wo Produce and My Boss, My Hero – we’ve just covered everyone except Ueda, by the way) that I had the chance to see them individually. I would’ve grown to like them too, except between annoying characters and other actors stealing the show, the only ones who grew on me were Kame and Koki with a shaved head. This was magnified in the Countdown, thanks to their individual negative traits constantly appearing. The two episodes of CARTOON KAT-TUN where they do things unscripted sort of improved my impressions of Nakamaru and Junno (but I’ll still never see in him what Ray did? Does?), but I still wouldn’t bet on liking KAT-TUN as a whole anytime soon.
Which leads us to this. Maybe because I’m sleep-deprived, maybe because I’ve spent the last week surviving on lemonade, maybe the unusual heat and humidity that is hanging on New York right now just really got to my head… Disregarding all of the above because I started this post back in May… I decided to give them yet another try. Admittedly, a big part of it was the fact that this single included solo songs (CARTOON KAT-TUN II YOU lacks a Jin solo, even if you can hear him sing solo plenty enough), but whatever, my blog so I’ll do what I want to.
o1/ DON’T U EVER STOP: The titular track of KAT-TUN’s most recent single is surprisingly the opposite of everything I have come to expect from KAT-TUN songs. Except perhaps music. It has a catchy melody, some nice tempo variety while staying within the confines of K-T’s “pop-rock, emphasis on the rock” musical image, I actually WANT to sing it (I have only ever enjoyed three K-T songs (technically, one is an Akanishi solo – ha-ha – and I enjoyed it mostly for the ridiculous lyrics). I have only ever wanted to sing one of them.), and Koki’s rap seems doable. For once. Not that I managed it at karaoke. Jin’s ad-libbing during the final choruses is muted, but that actually makes it stand out all the more. The arrangers definitely knew what they were doing here.
That doesn’t mean the song is devoid of its annoying points. That voice(s) that insists on announcing the guitar and bass and “Are you reaDY? Hell yeah” just doesn’t sound cool at all to my English-raised ears, the glass breaking loses its effect after a while, the so-called “mysterious” opening that’s probably just there so they can abuse fog machines does absolutely nothing for the song, and I’m pretty damn sure this song is going to hurt to hear live. As in actually live. Hell, Ito Yuna hurt to hear singing I’m here live, and I really liked that song. (Maybe I’m just drawn to choruses where you need to scream.)
o2/ w/o notice??: Kamenashi Kazuya is one of the two lead vocals of KAT-TUN, but my overall impressions of his vocals (see Countdown 2007-2008) haven’t been very good. (Oh, KANASHIMI BLUE. I still cry for you. ) Which is a shame, because just going on looks alone, if he kept his hair a decent length and promised to stop his anorexic tendencies, we might get along. Better than I did with Jun at first, at least.
Getting back on track, this song isn’t going anywhere towards improving my impression of his singing. His attempt at sounding breathy just doesn’t work, and the choruses showcases his lack of power even further. I could probably have fun with the melody, but his vocals also have a strained sound to them that makes them grating to the ears. The synth R&B also gets jarring, especially since the electronic buzzing refuses to go away like some horrible bee who thinks your non-black/white jacket just happens to be a really big flower. Since I’ve lately gotten into the habit of imagining other people’s voices in songs… let me pull bias and say Ohno’s vocals would totally work here. As would Koda Kumi if she turned on the husky.
o2/ LOVEJUICE: Oh dear. Is it possible? Raid and I have opposite tastes in songs yet again? Wait, that happens all the time. To be honest, within the first month I fell in love with the dance beats of this song, and any Johnny’s song completely in English is my weakness. I start listening to laugh and end up becoming addicted to the song – just ask Katori Shingo and Here Is Your Hit. And it just so happens that Akanishi Jin wanted to share both his English skills and his love for the foreign sluts, and so we get this song.
We open with a slow, descending beat that leads us into a smooth R&B dance track, if not abusive of the synth again. But it completely works in Jin’s favor, keeping the heavy vocal layering a base to work off and letting his vocals take center stage. Considering he apparently has the best vocals in KAT-TUN (though it’s not saying much), at least the producers knew what they were doing. There’s really nothing to say about the lyrics, except when I sang it at karaoke with some friends who are tolerant of my boyband love, they all took turns leaving the room. Which in itself is very amusing. If I had to continue the trend of voice replacement, though, even Domoto Koichi would do fine. All you need here is the ability to sound sexy (which Koichi has, even if he confuses it with whiny 75% of the time).
o2/ 愛の華 [Ai no Hana]: I’m going to be killed by his fans, but Ueda Tatsuya is the nonexistent member of KAT-TUN for me. (I actually had to go look up the artist on my MP3 to remember his name.) I can only remember two things about him, and that is his supposed adoration of Gackt and that he boxes. (I’m also still wondering how he planned to use the boxing to help him with a solo concert.)
Ai no Hana is a piano ballad, and the only ballad out of the solo bunch. It’s this same categorization that put me off the track for so long, but now that I’m stuck listening to it, the music is beautiful. Synth effects are used quite a bit, but they never take center stage, and various strings join the piano to help the music climb or descend. Ueda composed this himself, so I suppose he gets credit – and then I want to take it away because he sings. Ueda’s vocals are weak and wispy against the instrumentation, which are fine and dandy for the stanzas, but the chorus suffers for it, fading very clearly when what he needs is more power. Possibly my favorite line is “sakaseru you ni” – when he makes a very obvious attempt to inject emotional strength into his falsetto and manages it. (Of course, that it’s the last line of the song could also be a factor.) Because it’s a delicate sort of song, it’s somewhat surprising that Hamasaki Ayumi is what comes to mind when trying to think of a replacement vocal. But she is.
o3/ SMACK: Oh, Nakamaru Yuichi. You seem like the only humble guy in the mass of egos that is K to the A to the T-T-U-N… and then you break out your ploys for attention. That is, his human beatboxing abilities and those crazy hand motions that are begging to be shot.
This is a low-key song with a poppy vocal melody, so thankfully there is no place for the beatboxing. Unfortunately, Nakamaru also seems to reach the limits of his range quite a bit in the chorus, being both strained and whiny at the peaks. The stanzas don’t suffer as much, though, staying low, and the music takes a backseat to allow us to focus on Nakamaru’s singing. It’s not a bad track overall, but it suffers quite a bit from placing emphasis on Nakamaru and ending up generic. I’d really rather hear someone like Tanaka Roma (with both a rich voice and wide range, in contrast to Nakamaru’s lack of both) handle this song.
o3/ PARASITE: Tanaka Koki is the rapper of KAT-TUN. This same rapping is part of what terrifies me about the group, because while I consider myself a fairly decent rapper when covering Japanese songs… hell if I can ever handle this guy’s words. Half the time it sounds like there’s no tempo to his rap and he’s just trying to squeeze as many words as he can. (Well, he’s one-upped Sho there.) This song is another example of why I’m never going to try.
Headbanging guitars (is this what caused the complaints of public disturbance, Koki?) lead and keep us through a heavy rock song as Koki alternately raps hoarsely and then screams his lungs out because clearly he wasn’t hoarse enough the first couple of times. It’s ironic how he ends the track with “Peace”, because this song is anything but. The fast tempo and clear influence of electric guitars make this comparable to Daikenkai, if you ever needed an introduction to Japanese music for Dance Dance Revolution fans. (When Kosaka Riyu and the BeForU girls won’t cut it!) I, uh, personally couldn’t imagine anyone except maybe Yuusuke of HaiKara and doing this… but my sister thought Sho was singing this the first time she heard it. Take that as you will.
o3/ 夏の場所 [Natsu no Basho]: In the aftermath of rumors where Taguchi Junnosuke has gotten (back?) together with one Komine Rena and also developed the reggae tastes of her friends… this bubbly pop song is all the more amusing. It’s a very happy song that fits with his nice-guy image – whether or not he really is, I don’t care. Please go away instead of trying to correct me, KAT-TUN fangirls. It’s also my second favorite solo of this bunch (hey, look, Raid and I are at odds again! Who says I don’t read his blog?), with the varying tempos of the vocal melody being surprisingly addictive.
Unfortunately, Junno’s vocals are pretty raw here, saved by vocal layering and the upbeat music to sound fit for the track. That’s really not an important matter if you’re a fan of the man, or if you just like Japanese pop for the music. It’s long past summer now, but this song remains a fun listen for any time of year. By the way, Aiba is automatically associated with summer in my mind, so I like to stick his voice in here, but Nino and Atae Shinjiro pop their heads in every so often, as does. This song was made for slightly nasal vocals.
So if you’ve sat through this whole post, give yourself a pat on the back. A round of applause. A cookie. You’re also probably wondering “Just what had to stop?”, given that I clearly haven’t lost my distaste for KAT-TUN yet, to the point of even coming up with alternate vocals for their solo songs. Apparently, the answer is my procrastination on this post.