It’s that time of the year again, and the first of this decade! This particular year though, due to personal circumstances, I have reduced my picks from 10 to 5. Mostly because I wasn’t as keen as year’s prior about tracking releases. As always there’s no ranking, just some nifty tracks and little blurbs about what made it stick out to me.
As always, this isn’t a ‘best’ list, just songs from the past year that I want to share with you. Here’s hoping to find, or perhaps re-discover some music from this past year. Without further ado, it’s my Top 5 Picks for Japanese Male artists in 2020!
Kissin’ My Lips – Snow Man
It’s been quite the year for Snow Man, as they made their official debut in January alongside label mates SixTONES. The men (and baby Raul) had some insane sales, and had big plans for the debut year… only to not be able to do most of it the way it was planned. Their meet and greet was balloted for, but unofficially cancelled. Their first official concert series was postponed, twice, before switching to online streaming. Their second single postponed due to a minor scandal leader Iwamoto Hikaru was in, and only finally just got in October. Oh, and did I mention this single is completely in English? It’s been wild.
As for the song itself, it’s certainly a lot more mature then I had anticipated. The guys are all in the mid-20’s, minus Raul who just turned all of 17 this year. I mean, it was used as part of Raul’s Dior campaign back in Spring so that explains a lot. I have to say I’m really impressed with everyone’s pronunciation, and lyrically it’s conhearant as well! It’s a really fun, but still mature song that I can sing along to easily which is always bonus points. Also, that dance; it’s glorious. I’m about it. I’m all ears for their next single in January!
Anti-Hero’s – Ballistik Boyz
Would you believe me if I told you that I actually sort of forgot about Ballistik Boyz this year? This release feels so incredibly long ago, that I had assumed it had been a late 2019 release, not early 2020. It didn’t help that from late spring to mid-summer, the boyz were largely absent from SNS. It’s been a curious year for them, but all the them seem plenty content with their current activities so I can’t complain.
“Anti-Heros” just has that great chorus of “I am gonna be the anti-hero, 答えは胸の中, I don’t give a damn, about the fame” that just gets me fired up. The whole imagery of what it means to be an anti-hero, coupled with the slick packaging of Ryusei, Riki, and Rikiya’s raps which are just the right balance of English and Japanese. That doesn’t mean the vocalists are slacking in the slightest, the harmonies of Miku and Yoshiyuki are some of my favorite of any group. Of course, Ryuta and Masahiro ‘s parts are a chef’s kiss. The whole song feels badass without coming off as try-hard with fake tough guy bullshit and sticking with what they know which is performance and dance.
High Fever – Fantastics
This year is very much the LDH show, and I’m not even going to pretend otherwise. It’s also a little known secret that Fantastics have taken my top spot this year. I had to fight with myself forever if I could get away on good concise with featuring them twice with “High Fever” and “Hey Darlin'” but I decided against it.
While “High Fever” might have been the opening theme for their drama Mannequin Night Fever, that’s not solely why it landed on my list. The first thing, is it’s 80’s themed, which while not my generation is always a fun era to throw back too. Fantastics knows just exactly how much, and why what means to lean into their concepts and this was no exception. The costuming and mood of the music video, is something that could have been inserted into any 80’s flick with little issue. Every time this song comes on I can’t help, even at work, doing my own little Breakfast Club style dance break and smiling because the energy is infectious.
Why Can’t – SIRUP
My man SIRUP single handedly saving me from quarantine blues, with his third EP “CIY” in March. He’s the only soloist that’s returning from last year on this list, and he deserves it. The man is actively promoting social justice topics on his social media, took the time to quarantine safely, and he’s so genuinely creative and kind to his fans. I feel blessed to exist in the same time as him, no joke.
Much like the aforementioned “High Fever”, “Why Can’t” is just my type of energy. The song comes on, my head starts to bob or my foot starts to tap, I am compelled to move. It always finds the best timing in my jogs to pop in, to get my pacing back up too. While there’s a bit of questionable English with “Why Can’t Do It? Do It! Do It! Now!”, the message is clear enough and delivered with enough style and substance that it gets a pass. His whole EP, his two follow up singles in addition to a collaboration are also highly worth checking out. If you have somehow missed out last year’s SIRUP fever, this is your 2020 reminder to get on the bandwagon!
Good Love Your Love – DEEP SQUAD
Okay. So I did not initially intend for DEEP SQUAD, another LDH group to end up on my list, I swear. There’s kinda a funny story about how this song got here. I sincerely, do not keep up with DEEP SQUAD, despite their insane amount of skills and talents, in any capacity. But, I did get indirectly pressured to watch the live-action adaptation of Cherry Boy Magic, a really popular Japanese BL drama airing this season. While I was watching the ending credits, I heard this song for the first time and was hooked. The funny thing is that I initially missed who sang it, and just kept looping the credits until I caught the song title and group and went, aloud, “DEEP SQUAD?? IN MY BL DRAMA?!”. *insert Tiffany Pollard Beyonce meme, but with DEEP SQUAD*
Moving on from that overly long digression is that DEEP SQUAD delivers. While the line “Your Love Your Love” and “Good Love Good Love” get a bit lost as the enunciation isn’t the strongest, it’s still catchy as hell. Each vocalist has such a distinct, and well developed vocal color you can’t help but sink into this song like a soft bed. The funky guitar, and scaled back band setting is really unique but suits the unit so well. The harmonies, the vocal blending, the vibes of this piece guys. 10/10 would get in trouble for lip synching during work for.
With all that said and done, I’m calling this Top 5 a wrap! Be sure to check out my follow ups for other categories as they come out! Let me know your thoughts below on the artists and songs I missed in the comments below!