J-Pop Will Eat Itself
Koda Kumi

as you can clearly see, J-Pop Will Eat Itself is back. Francis Henville (the original author), however, is not. That would be where I come in.

Like my predecessor, I turned to the confectionary tunes of the East (not to mention their films), after growing bored with what most English-speaking musicians had to offer. As far as I can tell, I also more or less share Henville’s objective: shining a small spotlight onto the J-Pop scene, with hopes of acquainting the unacquainted. But while Henville forayed into Taiwanese and Korean music, I will probably stick to the Japanese variety for the first few columns. Though, in the interest of not limiting myself, who knows?

Francis ended his run with this quote: “Perhaps, like a vampire in a Malice Mizer song, the series will be reanimated someday. Till then? Off I fuck.” So, while this may not be what he had in mind, it did prove to be obscurely prophetic. Allow me to say, with as little falsity and cliché as possible: I look forward to writing this column, and I hope you enjoy it.

Rather than beginning with an artist I really love, I’ve decided to give the first article to something fresh, current and new. Maybe I feel like I’m giving more of an inside scoop this way. So, without further ado…

Koda Kumi: BEST ~second session~
[Rhythm Zone, 2006, C+]

Oversexed Koda Kumi—she of the husky voice and lewd dance moves—has finally become one of J-Pop’s top lasses. How? Primarily, via her staggering project/marketing tool of releasing “12 Singles in 12 Weeks.” Each single was pressed (weekly, of course) in a pretty package featuring Koda costumed in the theme of a “country” (Alaska (sic) was tapped first). Accompanied by impressive PVs (music videos, known as “Promotional Videos” in Japan), these singles, for the most part, burned up the charts. Koda—who was formerly best known for the Final Fantasy and Cutie Honey themes—became the first female artist to have three singles on the Oricon charts in one week (Oricon is Japan’s version of the Billboard Charts). The songs may have been largely mediocre, but luckily for Koda, no one seemed to notice.

Kicking off the series was the wintry (and soggy) ballad “you,” which was inexplicably the biggest hit of the collection. “Birthday Eve,” an appropriately sugary throwaway tune was next. It didn’t do as well as “you,” but the two singles being so entirely dissimilar from one another sparked more than casual interest: “What would the other 10 be like?” Fans, and even previously indifferent, semi-admirers like myself, followed the weeks anxiously.

Koda (or “Kuu,” as she’s been affectionately dubbed) then released the mildly passive, yet catchy hip-hop track “D.D.D.” (“Diamonds, Diamonds, Diamonds”) with the sister/musical duo SOULHEAD. The video was, delightfully, quite badass. Kuu and the sisters danced around in Native American-style outfits in front of an audience consisting of caged, half-naked men. I’ve watched that PV an embarrassing amount of times. The girls are having fun, and it’s contagious.

The rest, unfortunately, were less than memorable. Apart from the buoyant “Shake It Up,” East Indian-flavored “Candy” (featuring sleazy, bloated rapper Mr. Blistah) and the lounge-ish ode to sex “Ima Sugu Hoshii” (which seems like it was pulled from the soundtrack of a lighthearted soft-core)—this was no more than standard stuff. The production is polished, the videos enjoyable, and it was a nice twelve weeks.

Now, Kuu has released all the singles—along with a few bonus tunes—on the album BEST ~second session~ (following in the tradition of her 2005 disc, BEST ~first things~). One of the standout tracks (which, really isn’t saying much) is the danceable synth-fest “Love Goes Like…” Then there’s the strange rendition of “A Whole New World” (yes, the one from Aladdin) featuring Peabo Bryson from the original Disney version. In this, Kuu struggles over the English (although it would be apt in this case, I refuse to use the term “Engrish”), which is understandable. Yet it’s perhaps more important (to us foreigners) in that it reveals she may not have the strongest set of pipes. In the world of pop, of course, that’s rarely much of an issue. She’d do just fine to stick to singing in Japanese—on tracks that complement her throaty vocal allure. And to be fair, even Bryson sounds off-putting here. It’s a curio, at best.

Still, BEST ~second session~ contains plenty of (aforementioned) treats that will no doubt be replayed in the bedrooms of schoolgirls for months to come. Miss Koda has secured her place amongst Ayumi Hamasaki and Utada Hikaru in merely twelve weeks—and that’s certainly something to respect. She may have done it with processed, public-pleasing songs and many-a-pair of hot pants… but hey, she did it. And for that, she will be loved. At least for another year or so.

By: Teresa Nieman
Published on: 2006-03-20
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