As they say, better late than never? (XD)
I am, of course referring to what would be our theme for this month’s set of album reviews, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself 😀
Welcome back once again to the J-Music Exchange/Rate! The monthly tandem album review series between myself Leap250 and my good friend Al over at Omunibasu.Blog, wherein each month we trade albums from some of our favorite bands/artists to one another, for the other to then review on their respective blogs. As fellow enthusiasts of the medium, this little project has served as a great way for both of us to appreciate and discover music that we many not have found by ourselves. It is our hope thus by that doing these reviews, you too might find a particular album to your liking each and every time we do this, and we’d be ever so glad if you did 🙂
I mentioned earlier that there was a theme for this month’s reviews which, as some of you might already know is a staple practice of the Exchange/Rate to help us curtail our album picks to a certain degree. Discovery has always been at the crux of this venture of ours, and this month’s theme is going to reflect that a bit, as I opted for us to talk about about bands/artists who we’ve found out about and/or only started listening to recently. There’s a lot of music out there, both still coming out and already have come out, and I do believe I speak for Al too when I say that at times this hobby does feel somewhat endless at times on those two fronts.
Not to say that that’s a bad thing of course, and if anything I would even say that that’s what’s so great about all this. There’s all sorts of bands and artists out there that you may have passed up on, purposefully or otherwise, but it’s never too late to revisit them I would think. Sure, we may miss out on being able to support them during the time that they came out with a particular song or album, and that also just speaks to the abundance of music available to us that we have, where at times it really can’t be helped. I do however believe that there can always be time to celebrate these artists’ works whenever and wherever we happen upon them.
It is why, with that in mind, I went ahead and put up Ieiri Leo’s Duo for review (check out Al’s review over at Omunibasu!). Ieiri has been one of those artists that have always been in my peripherals when I first started listening to Japanese music, but it’s only recently that I went ahead and listened to her work. Al in turn went ahead and gave me Wata Megumi’s Sainandawa to discuss with you today.
Wata Megumi (綿めぐみ) (better known now as Yuki Moeko <結城萌子>) is a Hong Kong born aspiring idol singer who, for a time, gained a cult notoriety on the Japanese Web as well as on some parts of the Western-dominated parts of the Internet as a cheery-sounding Pop idol whose songs were relatively unconventional in both the nature in which they were made and the meaning that they conveyed.
（＊BandCamp link to the full album)
０３・東京の空はくも/tokyo no sora wa kumo
０８・頼むぞ革命家、私は泳ぐ/tanomuzo kakemeigo, watashi wa oyogu
Ａ ｌ : As an avid follower of Japanese voice actors, it’s always a pleasure to discover new talents whenever I start an anime or jump into a new multimedia project. And with my recent obsession with an idol franchise called IDOLY PRIDE, it’s safe to say that it has been real fun learning more about the seiyuu of Hoshimi Productions. While most of the VAs in that series are complete rookies, one person in particular stood out from the others: Yuki Moeko (voice of Ichinose Rei). I was fascinated at the fact that Moemoe has been involved in the music industry for many years now, pursuing her dream of becoming an idol. She even went by a different alias, Wata Megumi, and ended up releasing a couple of albums/EPs along the way.
What’s interesting about Moemoe, or rather Wata Megumi, is that she wanted to stray away from the traditional, cutesy image we see in many young idols today. And I think one of her albums, “Sainandawa”, allowed me to understand her unique, individualistic approach towards becoming said idol. It’s expressed pretty quickly, as the title track, “Sainandawa”, conveyed an uneasy atmosphere and even had lyrics that reflected a younger generation’s honest and blunt opinion on today’s world/society. But then you also have some tracks that sound like they would fit in a children’s music CD like “Tokyo no Sora wa Kumori” and “Gohan”… the various changes in pacing and vocal stylings definitely make this a strange album to listen to but I also think that’s what makes it super intriguing.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
We’re starting off here with the title track for the album Sainandawa, which is actually a song I referenced in one of the first Monthly Recommedantion Roundups when I featured Trend by pinokko (…quite ironic in hindsight). In particular, I mentioned that the latter was fairly reminiscent of what I referred to at the time as “low blood pressure” J-Pop the likes of DAOKO, Soutaiseiriron, and (specifically) Wata Megumi employed in their respective music. Suffice it to say, Wata Megumi was someone that I and a lot others had taken note of precisely because of how her style lay much in the same vein as the aforementioned artists, and this song played a huge part in that.
I would think that what made Sainandawa standout the most for a lot of people is… really just how weird of a song it is (XD). It uses a lot of unconventional “tribal” sounds that you don’t hear a whole lot of in more contemporary J-Pop at the time (or now even). The way Wata sings is also fairly peculiar, and is largely where fans draw the comparison to DAOKO and Etsuko Yakushimaru, with her relatively low-intensity sort of delivery. Though perhaps the most unusual thing about this song is its lyrics, which end up featuring a lot of satirical jabs at stuff like the Japanese education system and just society as a whole. Topics not at all befitting a young and aspiring J-Pop artist (lol)
Interesting to note about Sainandawa is that half of the songs on it fall under three minutes in length. The mirroring tracks Wakannai and Wakatta (the first and seventh track of the album) both structurally serve as a sort of prelude and postlude for the album respectively, with the rest serving as short interludes spaced all throughout. While the former’s use of what I’m almost a hundred percent convinced as being a sampled rendition of some sort of royalty-free music makes for an amusing listen, something about Tokai‘s more somber overtures ends up holding my attention just a little bit more in comparison, at least for as long as the song lasts.
Going back again to the lyricism being put on display for this song (which is pretty much gonna be the recurring thing for Sainandawa), rather than highliting societal issues found in present day Japan, Tokai seemingly aims to reflect a grim and otherwise not really talked about reality that comes with being an artist hoping to make it in the big city. The song very briefly is able to convey the loneliness and self-doubt that arises from venturing out on your own in pursuit of your dreams, accompanied by the loss of drive and motivation brought about by homesickness. A rather unsettling message, made even more unnerving when you realize it’s being sung by someone so young.
０８・頼むぞ革命家、私は泳ぐ/tanomuzo kakumeigo, watashi wa oyogu
In an interview with The Japan Times, Wata Megumi stated that she didn’t want to be “twinkly” and “fuwa fuwa” when it came to her musicality, describing the state of idols at the time as being very “soft” and “pastel”. We can take this to be in reference to the fast-spreading (and nowadays largely predominant) idol culture, which has since found itself in close association to “moe” imagery and, as a direct consequence, largely entrenched in otaku fandom. She looks to the “Eternal Idol” Matsuda Seiko as being the epitome of idol artistry, and counts the 80’s superstar as being unimaginably different from today’s idols. In that regard, Wata aimed to also be different.
Tanomuzo Kakumei-go, Watashi wa Oyogu is not twinkly or fuwafuwa in the slightest, and while the song might *sound* soft and pastel-colored on the surface with the way she sings, it is in all actuality very far from it. In some ways even the opposite of all these things, the song instead talks about the negativity that seems to flood both the Japanese mainstream media and just the world in general, and how helpless one ends up feeling during these times. Where traditionally, idols represent an ideal as a form of escape for their fans, Wata Megumi holds the exit doors from the other side, forcing fans to look at the world for what it is the same way that she has.
Quite possibly my favorite song off of Sainandawa is the album’s penultimate track in Monkey George here for a fair number of reasons. Primarily I would say that this song features the instrumentation that I ended up liking the most, as it features a more modern Synth/Pop progression that uses a lot of accentuated string work akin to what you’d normally hear in more Doujin-oriented tracks and, if you follow the Monthly Recommendation Roundup you’d know much of a fan I am of those. In that sense Monkey George does feel ahead of its time in that regard, wherein I do think it’d totally fit in the contemporary J-Pop scene given the proliferation of Doujin as of late.
Curiously enough (pun notwithstanding /’cause, y’know, Curious Georg-), the song also ends up being one of the more positive ones in its message. Not to say that I dislike the cheekily snide lyricism present in the vast majority of Sainandawa, as I do personally find that to be a bit refreshing, but at the same time I don’t think one should really be ending any sort of album on a dour note lest it ends up leaving the listener with a bad taste in their mouth by the end of it (or at least the auditory equivalent of that). Amidst all the negativity that one may face in their day to day lives, Monkey George talks about how regardless of the situation, the only way to make progress is to take a step forward.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｓａｉｎａｎｄａｗａ＞
In the same interview that I had mentioned prior, Wata Megumi said that although she had a love for music, she always wanted to be a voice actress or a manga artist, and that in pursuit of her dreams she picked up singing as the means to get her to where she ultimately wants to be. In her words; “I’m still in the process of making my dream of being a voice actress come true [and] I see singing as a step in that process”. It was around 2016 when she sat down with The Japan Times for this feature article, which was done to commemorate the release of her second album ‘Blindman’, following Sainandawa’s release just a year prior. Not long thereafter, Wata Megumi all but disappeared.
When Wata Megumi first entered everyone’s collective consciousness with Sainandawa, fans (particularly listeners out in the West) quickly latched on to both her avant-garde style as well as the dark and somewhat cynical words that were coming from her mouth, whilst still being sung cheery tune. Although this approach was most certainly fresh and imaginative from a creative standpoint, as we talked about in my tribute post to Kinoko Teikoku, it seems thard to go against the grain in Japanese music (and mainstream Japanese media as a whole). At the very least, it doesn’t appear as though she became as lasting of a memory for the Japanese people.
That to me makes Sainandawa all the more special I feel. For as long as the album lasts it does end up serving as a bit of a glimpse of the realities that all these young aspirant talents like Wata Megumi face on a daily basis as they make their way up the ranks. Something to note with regard to that is the fact that some of the lyrics here weren’t written by Wata herself, but if we take her own comments on the idol industry as her true feelings, it’s safe to assume that she shared the same sentiment. Sainandawa reflects a sort of youthful rebelliousness to conformity that Wata wishes to impart to whoever would listen, and I would like to think that that’s pretty neat in and of itself.
３．７５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Perhaps the supreme irony in all of this is that Wata Megumi, who has now made a resurgence under a new name (Yuki Moeko) after a year-long hiatus since she was seen last, is now a seiyuu idol performing in a multimedia franchise. Whether or not she becomes the sort of “twinkly” and “fuwa fuwa” idol that she had seemed to have had a distaste for remains to be seen as of yet, but regardless, she’s ultimately getting to where she has been wanting to be. Sainandawa is an important first step towards that dream of hers, as an album that ends up carrying a whole lot of sentiment in its tracks, despite what it’s initial sound might otherwise lead you to believe.wata
That’s gonna do it for this month’s Exchange/Rate!
Have you heard of Wata Megumi and her songs before? If so, what do you think of them? Likewise, if you are not familiar with her and/or her work, what are your thoughts on them now after reading this review? While you’re at it, let us know too; who are some bands/artists that you’ve only started listening to recently? I’d love to hear all of your guys’ thoughts in the comments section down below 🙂
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Al’s review of Ieiri Leo’s Duo over at Omunibasu if you haven’t yet. It’s been one of my favorite pick ups of this year thus far, so you can be sure it’s a banger 😀
Happy Listening everyone, and I’ll see you guys in the next one!