The K-pop invasion continued in 2011, but it could not topple the AKB48’s dominance. 2010’s artist of the year managed to claim all top 5 slots in the Oricon rankings for best-selling singles. Despite this, the past year brought in some fresh faces as well as familiar ones who have decided to portray themselves in a different light. We also bid farewell to two key players in the visual kei scene. On top of all this, we witnessed the power of music and the human spirits as artists from both within Japan and other countries rallied to help the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Best PV – “Zero” by Bump of Chicken
Through a combination of animation and modern dance, this PV tells an epic love story filled with action and drama. The characters are silhouetted, which helps make a seamless transition between 2-D and 3-D and also allows the story to be universal.
Coolest outfits – “Go Away” 2NE1
While most people shy away from neon, patterns, vinyl, and dyed hair, this Korean quartet embrace it all. They even have custom sneakers designed by Jeremy Scott. 2NE1 are not your ordinary kawaii girl groups, and they are not afraid to look bold.
Most bizarre PV – “PONPONPON” by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
This PV is like a decora acid trip. There are toys, technicolor dinosaurs, pink brains, a pink-skinned Kyary’s giant head spitting eyeballs, and a faceless dancing dude in a dress. Conspiracy theorists even claim that it contains Illuminati symbols.
Best album – THE LAST DAYBREAK by exist†trace
Despite containing only five songs, THE LAST DAYBREAK packs a powerful punch. The ladies of exist†trace have always rocked as hard as the guys, but now they show off their creativity with a soulful ballad and a spooky fairy tale-inspired number.
Biggest tearjerker – “Eternal” by Jin Akanishi
This song is more romantic than sad, but that doesn’t make it any less of a tearjerker. Accompanied by a beautiful piano melody, Akanishi’s voice is gentle and sometimes on the verge of cracking as though he really is trying to tell you that he will love you for eternity.
Catchiest song – “Maru Maru Mori Mori!” by Kaoru to Tomoki, Tama ni Mook
When you bring together two of Japan’s cutest child stars to sing a theme to a drama, it’s bound to be a hit. Based on what my fellow ALTs said, this song and dance was everywhere, and they couldn’t get it out of their heads.
Best single – “Hitotsu Dake ~We Are the One~” by Blue Planet Japan
I was really touched to see so many visual kei artists come together for the Tohoku earthquake victims. They were able to create a beautiful harmony from very different vocals, and passionate guitar solos keep this song from being a “We Are the World” copycat.
Outstanding live performance – D’s “Night-ship D” at A-kon 22
D gave its first overseas live audience a taste of the Japanese visual kei concert experience by having everyone wave around flags or their hands during “Night-ship D”. It was a great way of engaging the audience, and it made their performance even more exciting.
Most disappointing news – disbandment of D’espairsRay
This is more sad news than disappointing, but I regret not getting the chance to see them live, especially since they played a role in my music writing career. We can’t fault them for not trying to find a way to continue; sometimes health comes first. All we can do now is send well wishes to Hizumi and support the other members in their future endeavors.
Most noteworthy debut – U
Fans of the Prince of Tennis and Sailor Moon musicals already knew that U, a.k.a. Yuu Shirota, could sing well. What they may not have expected was how sexy his debut triple single would be. U’s sound blends pop and R&B while adding in a bit of Latin spice, and although he does have one cute love song to remind us of his sweet side, it’s safe to say that this former D-BOY has definitely grown up.
MVP – Sugizo (Luna Sea/X Japan)
Many artists have demonstrated their charitable soul in their response to the Tohoku earthquake. For Sugizo, performing in a charity concert with Luna Sea and raising money through a new single was not enough; he decided to directly lend a hand in Ishinomaki. Like the rest of the volunteers, he spent his time there with no electricity or running water. 2011 also saw two new X Japan singles, two new albums, several collaborations, and a book. For his hard work and big heart, Sugizo definitely deserves the MVP award.
Artist of the year – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
Very rarely does a new artist make such an impact. In 2011, Kyary kicked off her music career, came to America, created a line of false eyelashes, helped organize an earthquake relief charity event, and released an autobiography—all while still actively modeling. Her debut PV was a viral hit, and she showed the world that kawaii can be weird and goofy. Her free spirit, multitasking abilities, and wacky videos resemble that of Lady Gaga, and if her momentum continues to build, she may become just as huge.
Kyary’s signature expression
Artists who will be missed in 2012:
- Keijiro Yamashita – one of the “Rockabilly Sannin Otoko”
- Kazuno – vocalist Charlotte
- Isshi – vocalist Kagrra, and Shiki∞Project
- Taiji – bassist X Japan
- Kaito – guitarist of Xenon
- Rei Harakami – electronica artist
- Joe Yamanaka – vocalist of Flower Travellin Band and solo artist
- Chidori – bassist of Anima