We are nearing the end of the year, and it is time to do what everyone in the internet does: make lists. It’s time to look back at the bests and favorites of the year and think “Oh yeah that was pretty good, ha ha.” One thing that was a pretty huge hit this year was idol groups. With AKB48 leading the charge and having their most successful year yet, many other idol groups are following their trail to success. Check out my picks for best idol group releases after the jump.
From rock to dance to indie pop, 2011 has definitely been the year of idol groups. With so many groups that came out of the woodwork, we got to see a race to find uniqueness in image and sound. Groups adopted themes and concepts, ranging from the school girl, to the “imouto” little sister, maids, and even inspirations from flight attendants and Super Sentai heroes. But we also ended up seeing from an eclectic collection of producers, who churned out pretty damn good tunes. So here we go.
Not yet is a sub-unit from AKB48 that debuted early in the year. Touted as the unit with members who still have much to improve on, Not yet’s goal is to show how much they can get better. Their debut single though, was already good. Shuumatsu Not yet is a groovy and bouncy track on a straight path to making you shake your butt. With a bit of funky guitar and horns thrown in, it’s a guaranteed fun song.
Passpo☆ is one of the groups with a strong theme/concept to them. Their concerts are “flights”, and members are the flight attendants that guide you through. The single had an unprecedented 11 different editions (10 limited, 1 regular), a very idol thing to do. Passpo☆’s Oricon chart-topping single Shoujo Hikou is quite different from usual happy poppy idol sound. It utilizes a driving, fuzz-filled guitar rock sound that could fool anyone into thinking it’s from a girl band instead of an idol group.
AKB48’s Senbatsu Election, the biggest idol event of the year that brings in tons of media attention and the participation of the group’s whole fanbase, settles who gets to be the center, the face of the group. The single that comes with so much hype has to be good, and it is. It boasts an 18 minute music video inspired by Shaw Brothers style kung fu flicks, and dance choreography paying little homage’s to gags from famous comedians. Flying Get is AKB48’s party, that’s held on a cruise ship, or a fancy beachside resort. There’s loud fanfare, subtle taps of the bongo, and Na Na Nas that make it very festive.
One of the most popular members within AKB48’s ranks, Itano “Tomochin” Tomomi is one of the few who can be successful regardless of her group. Her long dyed hair, naturally pouty lips and sharp sense of fashion is sought after by teens, so it’s no surprise she’s gone solo. Fui Ni stylishly mixes subtle electronic pieces into a pop song that coolly switches into a classy piano ballad and back. Stylish and classy, Fui Ni is the song that represents Itano Tomomi.
Not often would an idol group release an album that is solid all the way through. Usually we see lots of fluff with only good singles anchoring them down. But Momoiro Clover Z’s debut album is not that. Battle and Romance is super frantic and almost non-stop action with sudden tempo and key changes like it has ADD. Fun and quirky all the way through, the album shows the uniqueness of the group and sets them out from the rest of the competition.
bump.y is an idol group whose members are both singers and actresses. Their single Kiss! was produced by Han Jae Hoo and Kim Seung Soo, collectively known as Sweetune. Sweetune is responsible for a number of K-Pop chart-toppers that belong to groups like KARA and Rainbow. It’s no wonder that Kiss! is so damn good. The Korean duo injected their signature sound into the single; old school synthesizers, twangy guitars, infectious bass lines and a sweet melody with lots of 80s flavor. This is pop.
AKB48’s spunky little sister had been steadily establishing their own distinguishing brand of idol pop on their last few releases. And the one trait that separates them from the rest is their endless amount of energy that surpasses even their big sister. Oki Doki solidifies the trend they’ve been on with high tempo, high energy songs. The sound is big, happy, guaranteed fun with lots of people cheering and shouting. SKE48 is where the party’s at.
In the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, AKB48 and the rest of the 48 family began relief efforts to support people who were affected by the disasters. Their visits to the disaster-stricken areas put smiles on peoples’ faces. Kaze wa Fuite Iru is the group’s strong message of support to those people, singing encouraging lyrics to keep strong and to rebuild for a better future. It is unique in its arrangement in contrast to other idol songs, but it really showed there are more to idol groups than being cute and singing on TV.
The baton twirling sub-unit of idol group Sakura Gakuin, Twinklestars sports a distinct pop sound. But not the usual idol pop sound, no. It’s a lot better. You could say it’s a bit of an indie pop sound, and it works amazingly well with idol groups. Twinklestars is produced by Okii Reiji, who was the bassist/guitarist of the now disbanded Cymbals, which was influenced by British guitar pop and rock of the 1960s. That authentic Cymbals sound has been transferred to Twinklestars. Please! Please! Please! has a strong piano presence that syncs perfectly with catchy guitar and bass lines. Good stuff.
Idol groups took the stage this year, and within the many debuts that were made, one group had the most impressive breakout; and that was NMB48. Yeah, it’s another spawn from AKB48, but these girls are from Osaka, so you know they’re good. Zetsumetsu Kurokami Shoujo is distinctly Japanese in sound, image, and presentation; and comments on the modern Japanese girl. The girls of NMB48 keep their natural black hair and natural faces where everyone else dabbles in color and makeup. The song carries a mysterious air, but uses a funky rhythm section that supports cool pop melodies that touch a bit on the traditional side. The dance is stylish, closing out with a Dogeza bow that you can’t help but go “Wow” to.
Didn’t quite make the final list, but still worth checking out, most definitely.
BABYMETAL – Doki Doki☆Morning Sub-unit of Sakura Gakuin, BABYMETAL’s debut release pits together your cute idol pop with heavy metal. Yes, that’s right. The cute idol song intro gets its head cut off by crunchy guitars and pounding drums; and three thirteen year olds headbanging and throwing up the horns.
Shoujo Jidai – MR. TAXI Not the idols you would usually think of, but Korean idols are idols nonetheless. The nine of Korea imported their electronic laced pop with catchy hooks and equally catchy dance moves for their neighbors. MR. TAXI was an original Japanese release, much better than rehashing and translating of old songs the other Korean groups did.
TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE – Kodou no Himitsu Avex’s own idol group and the (kind of) successor to SweetS, TOKYO GIRLS STYLE’s specialty is dance. Kodou no Himitsu sounds mechanical but has nice blend of synth pop and that unmistakable avex sound which was popular in the 90s. It also received a great remix treatment from chiptune band YMCK.
Buono! – Partenza Buono! is the most consistent group in Hello! Project and could probably be the one that can restore H!P to its former glory. They are the rock-infused pop group of the family, but with mini album Partenza, they took a try with different styles. A K-Pop esque electronic pop song, pop/R&B style ballad a la Nishino Kana, and a great attempt at Siam Shade’s 1/3 no Junjou na Kanjou make the release worth checking out.
Watarirouka Hashiritai 7 – Kibou Sanmyaku AKB48’s little sister sub-unit ended their year with a release that stepped out of their usual bubblegum sound. Kibou Sanmyaku is a nod to Kayokyoku music and that paved the way for groups today. It is catchy and wants you to clap along the whole way through.
Definitely a good year for idol fans I would say! Many groups debuted; many groups stepped up their game. It is good to see variations in looks and sounds from all the groups. The idol boom is in full swing, and it’s going to continue to grow. I’m excited to see what’s in store for next year.