Ronald’s 2015 Year in Review + Favorites

So 2015 is ending… I feel as if this was the year that all the things I’ve been saying for the past few years came into fruition. It is a message that I’ve been trying to spread here and also through my writing at The Japan Times. I just watched Kohaku Uta Gassen and Gesu no Kiwami Otome. and Hoshino Gen made their debuts this year. I couldn’t have imagined this happening at the beginning of the year, let alone earlier this decade. The music scene in Japan is in a different place than it was earlier this decade, and it’s only going to go more in that direction. We are witnessing the swinging of the pendulum.

Band boom. It’s a phrase that has been thrown around a lot this year. We are definitely witnessing the rise of a new crop of bands that are rising into the mainstream. There was an earlier wave this decade that was kicked off by Sakanaction, ONE OK ROCK, and SEKAI NO OWARI. This wave they started is rising still and it is composed of the likes of Gesu no Kiwami Otome., back number, [Alexandros], and KANA-BOON. There are also some singer-songwriters I would throw in too like Hoshino Gen and Yonezu Kenshi (they’re one-man bands in a way). The thing I like about this wave is that they’re different from one another. A Gesu no Kiwami Otome. song doesn’t sound like a back number song, a KANA-BOON song doesn’t sound like a Hoshino Gen song.

Speaking of being different, one part of this resurgence of bands that I’m personally fond of is the rise of R&B bands. Acts like cero (my act of the year by the way, hence why they’re header image), CICADA, Suchmos, Emerald, and Hoshino Gen are taking R&B and making it in a way that is more instrument-based as opposed to being produced by computers. It has a throwback sound, but still feels fresh, in part because a lot of music nowadays is made with computers. These bands provide a nice contrast. This music is smooth and funky, and even acts like Sakanaction are toying with it. I’m really interested in seeing how this part of the wave develops and if it really can gain prominence with the public. Urban music in Japan has been on the backburner for a while now, and maybe blending it with a more indie sensibility can make it palatable to the Japanese again.

A question that often pops up when the band boom is mentioned is, “How is there a band boom if these acts aren’t topping the charts but idols are still?” Well the answer to that lies in Japan’s wonky chart system. Everyone knows by now how messy Japan’s chart system is. Oricon doesn’t count digital, the digital charts don’t release actual sales number, and so on. Oricon did try to clean up their act somewhat by no longer counting music cards this year and also no longer counting cds bundled with concert tickets. But they still have a way to go. The main things they need to ban are handshake tickets and excessive versioning of releases. And yes, I’m still mad that Soundscan is mysteriously no longer being released publicly.

But back to the previous question… You have to look at various things to see that bands are on the rise and idols are on the decline. You can’t just look at Oricon and say that’s it. You have to look at digital, where no songs released by idols in 2015 were certified. Gesu no Kiwami Otome., back number, Hoshino Gen, and Sakanaction did release certified songs this year though. You have to look at Music Station, where bands like Sakanaction, Gesu no Kiwami Otome., and back number are regulars now, and others such as [Alexandros], Kyuso Nekokami, and KANA-BOON are now making appearances. Look at Kohaku, which dropped HKT48 and SKE48, but added Gesu no Kiwami Otome. and Hoshino Gen. Idols aren’t going away, but the public has tired of them. They are still going to be somewhat relevant due to the tactics used to get them their high physical sales, namely handshake tickets and versioning. Their hardcore fans will still support them, buying multiple copies and in result inflating their sales. But the public is a different story. The public wants something new, and bands look to be it. It is pretty much impossible for these bands to beat the idol groups in physical sales because they don’t use the same sales tactics. There is a different mindset here. But the industry and media is starting to listen to the public, as opposed to just fanbases.

The main thing I’ll remember 2015 for as far as the music industry was this changing of the guard. I think that AKB48’s million singles in a week streak ending is very symbolic of this year. Honestly, 2015 was the most dynamic year in Japanese music in a while, certainly of this decade. I think that in the future, people will look back at this year as the one a corner was turned.

But bands aren’t the only thing that happened this year. The LDH acts (Sandaime J Soul Brothers, E-girls, Flower, and GENERATIONS specifically) continued to challenge the status quo of what Japanese idols should be, even though they themselves deny being idols. EXILE passed the torch to Sandaime J Soul Brothers, as the older group had a rocky year. The bigger Sandaime J Soul Brothers get, the weaker EXILE gets.

Nishino Kana continued to prove herself as the new JPop queen, in an age where JPop queens are a thing of the past. There are successful female soloists still, but they’re not like the ones from the turn of the century. I think that a lot of international fans are still stuck on this idea, but it’s antiquated, and I hope that they’ll move more into this era. A side note: The second part of the female soloists project is coming soon. I know, I know, we’re late as hell, but things happen! Sorry!

I’ve noticed a lot of 70s influence this year, but the 80s are rearing their head again. The 90s were also back this year, but did they ever really leave? It feels as if Tetsuya Komuro and his acts were in more places than usual this year, something I expect more of next year given that 1996 was a huge year for him and his acts. I feel as is a 00s revival is coming soon.

But what about next year? Will the band boom continue in 2016? Yes. Will idols continue to decline in 2016? Yes. Will Sandaime J Soul Brothers continue their success next year? Without a monster hit like “R.Y.U.S.E.I.” this year, I don’t know. Will Utada Hikaru come back? Your guess is as good as mine. But I do have a good feeling about 2016 in general. 2015 for me was about newness where 2014 was more about old favorites. Maybe 2016 will be a mix of both?

In closing, I just want to thank everyone who reads this site for making us the success that we are. We’re not perfect, but we try our best. And we’re going to continue doing what we do in 2016. We’ll improve, in fact. We’ve really tried to create a place for all international fans, and I think it’s working. I also just want to thank everyone for supporting my work at The Japan Times. It was a really big surprise that I got that position and I’m so honored. I’ve been with them for about 6 months now and I feel as if I’ve learned so much. I got to meet Taku Takahashi of m-flo. m-flo is one of the reasons I am in Japanese music fandom today, so meeting him was pretty damn surreal for me. In short, thank you everybody and let’s have an even better 2016! I feel as if this year is going to be really good!

The next few pages will reveal my top 10 albums and songs for 2015. I’ve previously reviewed pretty much all of these via the Staff Selections posts over the past year, so this shouldn’t be much of a surprise…

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