Thursday, January 4, 2018

Hey Guys I'm Not Dead

When I first started this blog, I swore to myself that I wouldn't be one of those J-pop blogs that falls off the face of the planet indefinitely...


There are a number of reasons why I stopped writing on this blog. And yes, one of the big ones is that I am very, very busy. I know that's the excuse every blog uses, but it's a perfectly valid excuse. I would love to spend my days waxing poetic about J-pop, but I barely have time to juggle everything else going on in my life. I can't remember the last time I had a free weekend, let alone a free evening.

That makes it sound like I'm old and miserable and drowning in obligations, but that's far from the truth. I'd rather not go into specifics, but I'm very happy with everything I'm doing right now. I'm still writing, even if not on this blog. I wish the Wonderland fit into that equation, but it unfortunately just doesn't.

But being busy isn't the only reason. I didn't want to leave whoever still pops around here hanging forever. If you've stuck around this long, you deserve an explanation. And I need to properly write my swan song.

So buckle up, because we're gonna talk about my feelings. And I have quite a few feelings.

First and foremost: I don't feel as connected to idol music as I did when I was a teenager.

The older I'm getting, the more I'm acutely aware that the idol industry is not marketed towards me. Idols are for middle-aged Japanese men. Wotas. Like let's be real here. Wotas are the demographic that spends the most money on idols, and that bothers me more than it used to. Even back when I was writing, that wota demographic was always the elephant in the room. And I'm not trying to indicate that anyone who falls inside or outside that demographic should be ashamed for following idols. But for me personally, I can't ignore the wota demographic and all the unfortunate implications that come with it.

Like the no dating rule. Back when I was writing on here, that pissed me off, and it still pisses me off. Contractual obligations be damned, that rule needs to die. No person should be expected to put their romantic life on hold at the expense of their career. Clearly the rule doesn't work either because these dating scandals keep happening.

One of the big arguments for the no dating rule (or not really an argument but an opinion) is that wotas expect their idols to stay, "pure." Not pure for themselves, oh no, pure for the very market that takes this weird possession of their entertainment personas. And god forbid an idol do anything, like dating, to break that persona, lest some wota decides to drop all support of her work at best or go to a handshake event and stab her at worst. Am I being too harsh? I'm not trying to take this big social justice stand against a market that's been around since the eighties (and probably earlier), but on a personal level, it bothers me. And this has always been a personal blog.

I guess what bothers me more specifically is I feel like the companies that produce these idol groups actively feed into the creepiness of the wota demographic then act like it's all good, clean fun. Am I making sense? I feel like I'm not. Still, I know how I feel even if I can't quite articulate how. All I can say is there was a point where I looked back at the idol industry and didn't like what I was seeing.

That leads me to another reason I stopped writing on this blog. I don't feel like a credible source to discuss J-pop critically. I feel as an English-speaking American who doesn't know much about Japanese culture, I sometimes came from a more judgmental position than I should have. Maybe everything I just said about wotas and idol management squicking me out is purely because of cultural differences (although I very strongly doubt it).

Furthermore, I don't feel like I can write critically about music. I am very prone to my own opinions, as evidenced by my reviews. If I were to start writing about J-pop again, I'd want to review more the production side of the music. But I don't know enough about music production to do so, and I don't have the commitment to learn. Something else I always struggled with when writing reviews was not being able to understand the lyrics, which is such a huge component of why I enjoy a song. And yes, I could read translations, but like any language, there are concepts that just don't translate linguistically or culturally from Japanese.

Some of my reviews now (like the ones where I talk about Sayashi Riho and especially the Beckii Cruel stuff) also come off as meaner and more immature than when I wrote them. Hell, some of the posts on this blog make me outright cringe. But I'm keeping these posts up. Taking them down wouldn't be fair to you guys.

I don't regret the years I spent writing on the Wonderland. This blog, if anything, shows me how much I've grown as a writer and a critical thinker. Without writing so much on this blog, I probably wouldn't have discovered how much I enjoy writing. I even work now as a writing tutor! Getting older is the only way I've been able to see how much my writing style has evolved, but everyone has a starting point. Some people write about their favorite TV shows; I wrote about my favorite Japanese pop songs. My mixed feeling towards the Japanese music industry and my more harshly worded blog posts aren't a source of embarrassment for me. Everyone grows, and this blog helped me grow.

On a lighter note, my music taste has just gotten a lot broader. I actually listen to some K-pop girl groups! I like Orange Caramel, Red Velvet, and f(x). And a few 9 Muses songs. A lot of the acts I followed on this blog have either gone inactive or lost my interest. But if anyone's wondering what J-pop artists I still listen to...

Artists I'm Still Following


No duh, I'll be following Perfume until they disband. Which I'm starting to worry might be sooner than I expect. The girls (and I guess they're more women than girls at this point...) have been Perfume for fifteen years...

I also didn't like Cosmic Explorer as much as I liked Level3. The moment I saw the tracklist, I feared a JPN album would happen again, and what do you know, I was right. If the rest of the songs on Cosmic Explorer had been as awesome as the title track, I might have liked it more. Cosmic Explorer needed more new material and lacked a cohesive feel. Although I loved the space explorer visuals they used for the tour. Tokyo Girl grew on me, and If You Wanna... ugh. Not their best. I did like Everyday.

And a side note, who cited me on Wikipedia?

Oomori Seiko

Perfume is my ride-or-die artist, but Seiko is undoubtably my favorite J-pop act right now. I liked Tokyo Black Hole but I loved Kitixxxgaia. The sheer rate that Seiko keeps pumping out songs at this level of quality blows my mind.

Tokyo Girls' Style

I'm not following TGS quite as hard as I used to, and I am sad that Konishi Ayano's no longer a member of the group. But I've loved seeing them grow out of their idol roots, and I hope they continue releasing music. They're a neat little group, and they never got the recognition I thought they deserved. So be it.

Togawa Jun

She released an album! Togawa Jun might be one of my favorite performers of all time. I love her singing, her mannerisms, her vocal style, if I could become a singer, I'd take a lot of cues from Togawa Jun. She could release an album of frog impressions, and I would eat it up.

Shiina Ringo

I'm still more into her old stuff than new i.e. Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana is one of my favorite albums of all time. But I enjoyed her most recent cover album and loved her duet with Utada Hikaru on Fantome. Speaking of, I almost put Utada on this list, but I'm only just starting to get into her. I really enjoyed Fantome.

Suiyoubi no Campanella

Their latest album Superman is super freaking good.


I almost didn't put them on here, but I liked their latest single. Mabataki Shinai Doll no You Na Watashi is also one of my favorite songs ever. (not) Nuclear Love (or affection) is also a popping mini-album, and you should give it a listen if you've got a sec. Having their stuff on Spotify also helps. I'm so happy some Japanese labels are getting on the international accessibility train! Now if only Shiina Ringo can get on board...

A lot of the J-pop artists I still listen to have gone inactive such as Curumi Chronicle, MEG, and Immi. And every now and then I find one cool song by a random artist (like this song). When J-pop is good, it's super freaking good. So even if I'm no longer blogging about it, I can guarantee I'm still listening.

Artists that Have Lost My Interest

Hello! Project

I'm just lumping all the groups in H!P together. I don't recognize most of the performers in H!P now. Morning Musume, I recognize like 3 people. And C-ute and by extension Buono! are gone. I wish all the best to the new groups, but I don't have it in me to keep up with them.


Again, lumping all the groups together because there are even more of them now? When did that happen? And now there are more Nogizaka46 style groups? And they're more popular than the older groups? At this rate, there are actually going to be forty-eight 48 groups. The thing I said about not recognizing anyone in H!P applies times ten.

But!!! I liked High Tension! Not enough to get me back into the group, but it's a fun song.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

I'd say there was a final nail in the coffin for Kyary, but there are like ten nails and all them have to do with her music.

And Natsume Mito? Heard one song. Not interested. Next.


I just didn't expect them to come back? Now they're back, and I've been too lazy to see what the hell they're up to. Even then, the only original member left is Pour Lui. And I heard she got suspended due to a very dumb but infuriating scandal that will make me go on a rant about unrealistic body standards if I get into it.

Momoiro Clover Z

Apparently they're still together? I'm too old for this.


There are just better rock acts with hipster aesthetics I can listen to.

Wherever my life takes me, I'll bring J-pop with me. If I hadn't listened to J-pop so intently, my music taste would be vastly different. I probably wouldn't be anywhere near into techno as I am without Perfume! I still listen to my favorite songs, and I still feel that surge of joy I felt when I was a teenager. I don't feel like the person I was when I wrote on this blog, but I do feel a nostalgia for it.

Thank you to everyone who followed the Wonderland when it was active and the confused readers who stumbled in after I'd stopped writing. I wish you all the best.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Perfume Goes on the Most Intense Shopping Spree

Previously on Nia's Wonderland, we relaxed in the city except not really because we relaxed in a light-up cube far away from civilization. Well, today we're going back into the city.

And we're going shopping. Metaphorical shopping.

What makes a double A-side work? My favorite double A-sides tend to be the ones where each A-side contrasts the other. For instance: one A-side is a calm, lighthearted little tune. The other A-side is an upbeat dance song with an insanely catchy hook. In other words: Relax in the City and Pick Me Up!

I honestly had no idea what to expect from Pick Me Up. I kind of knew what to expect from Relax in the City once I saw the cover art and especially after I heard the first snippet. But for Pick Me Up? Completely in the dark. Until one day the heavens opened up and a promotional snippet for Pick Me Up was released unto the world! Glorious day! In other words, Pick Me Up kicks ass, and I love it. Just listening to this song feels so damn satisfying. It's what I've wanted to hear from Perfume since this era started. Pick Me Up is stronger, more consistent, and more memorable than any of the other A-sides from this current era. Not to dismiss some of the other A-sides, but Pick Me Up works so well. I think the hook is great, the vocals sound amazingly clear, and Pick Me Up is consistent with Perfume's sound without sounding like a rehash of an old song. Think of Pick Me Up as the Laser Beam to Relax in the City's Kasuka na Kaori. Only Pick Me Up is not a 2015 version of Laser Beam.

There is a lot going on in Pick Me Up, a lot of which I like. This song could have sounded way too busy, but it strikes a nice balance. Pick Me Up alternates between a slow and fast tempo; I like how the verses start out very calm and slow but then get progressively energetic into the chorus. It makes lead-up to the chorus work really well! And the chorus itself is amazing. The chorus was the first part of Pick Me Up I listened to, and I was sold. Mainly because I couldn't get the chorus out of my head! Trust me, the hook in Pick Me Up will get stuck in your head. Whether you like that or not is entirely up to you. Personally, I enjoy Perfume's energetic dance songs so Pick Me Up is right up my alley. I also like that Pick Me Up is a dance song but it doesn't sound like a remnant from Level3. At least to my ears it doesn't.

A lot of the smaller components of Pick Me Up make the song stand out. For instance, the vocals. I never really say much about how the girls sound because most of the time their vocals are too edited. Amazingly though, I can actually distinguish the girls' solos in Pick Me Up. Like Nocchi's solo she belts out in the first verse. I can totally tell that's her singing. As nice as the girls sound as a unit, hearing them sing separate is always refreshing. And there's a surprising amount of high notes in this song. Nothing too extreme, but for a Perfume song, the girls sing relatively high. Especially compared to their last single! Lyrically, there's a good deal of English lyrics in Pick Me Up. Half the chorus is in English! That's more of an observation, but it does make singing along to Pick Me Up very easy! Some of the English lyrics sound a little strange such as, "Bright my life." What does that mean? Everything else sounds pretty normal, and I never pick too hard at English lyrics. Still, the meaning of"Bright my life" will elude me to the end of time.

Oh, and the instrumental! I love the instrumental to Pick Me Up. I feel like with a lot of Perfume A-sides, the instrumentals end up being just as good if not better than the vocal versions. The instrumental version of Pick Me Up is just as easy to dance to. Pick Me Up is very much a dance song, but there's this one part in the beginning verse that's only an acoustic guitar. It was so weird to hear that in a Perfume song, but I loved it. I guess because it's very different from how Perfume sounds. This is off topic, but I'd love to hear Perfume cover more of their songs on acoustics. Perfume has performed both Computer City and Inryoku acoustically, so I know they have the potential. Again, the brief guitar bit in Pick Me Up was one of the highlights of the song, and definitely my favorite part in the instrumental.

I have to say Pick Me Up really picked up the slack from Relax in the City. Get it? Oh dear, I need to pick me up some better puns. Anyways, I loved Pick Me Up! It's everything I wanted to hear from Perfume and an immensely satisfying listen after nine months of no new Perfume music. So yeah, no contest to which A-side's my favorite A-side off this single. I still enjoy Relax in the City, but Pick Me Up just has a lot more life pumping through it. I love Pick Me Up, and I think it can tide me over for the inevitable nine more months until Perfume releases something else!

But wait, there's more! A good song is one thing, but a good music video is another. A good song and a good music video though? That's a miracle. So get in losers, we're going metaphorical shopping!

We start in Shinjuku Tokyo, which is surprisingly lacking in people...

Although American alternative rock band OK Go is there!

You might remember Perfume appearing in one of their music videos!

Perfume appears in O.K. Go music video, O.K. Go appears in Perfume's. It's a nice quid pro quo!

But lo! The sound of Kashiyuka's voices pierces the night!

Followed by a temporary of lapse of gravity! Also those heels are really cute, and I want them.

Now it's time for Perfume to float out of Shinjuku, down the rabbit hole, and into Wonderland!

This is definitely not Wonderland.

Those clothes are cute but not, "Hidden away in an alternate dimension" cute.

I'm keeping my eye on this army of faceless mannequins. I do not trust them.

Wait a minute.... Perfume as mannequins... I've seen this before...

This is Secret Secret all over again!

Nocchi is killing her solo here, but what the heck is she wearing?

At least mannequin!A-chan got a pretty stylish outfit.

Yes, that is the appropriate reaction to being surrounded by faceless gray mannequins.

Why A-chan, what green eyes you have!

Now these outfits I dig. I love the skirts in particular!

That's right, run! Run away! Run far, far away!!!

Run to... the staircase room from Labyrinth?

Seriously, I don't think this is where the store would be.

It's weird, I didn't really like these outfits until I watched this music video.

A-chan's seeing triple!

Oh man, this is like the powerup in Laser Beam! Except with equations!

I'm so happy projection mapping was incorporated into one of Perfume's music videos!

Step right into the Store in Shinjuku, where the customers enter but never exit... alive.

This is the visual equivalent of finding the perfect outfit in a store, but it costs too much.

Buy me, Kashiyuka. Buy me!!!!!

Seriously, the need for clothes in this PV is intense.

What to do when an outfits costs too much? SHOPLIFTING!


Jump lightly? More like shop lightly. Please do not actually go out and steal clothes. I do not condone that.

A-chan is a law-abiding citizen, much to mannequin!A-chan's dismay.

I wonder if the projections in this video are actual graphs/equations.

Either way, they're rad as hell, and I love them.

Welp, looks like A-chan's busted.

Meanwhile, Kashiyuka makes a break for it!

And Nocchi gazes into the void!

Gaze upon it! Yikes, I would hate to be the one to jump into that thing.

Oh dear. This music video just jumped into horror movie territory.

Kashiyuka, do you need those clothes that badly?

I guess Nocchi does! Into the void they go!!!

And... back into Shinjuku? With shopping bags? Wait a minute.

This is like Natural ni Koishite! Except with faceless mannequins out to get you.

At least they got some clothes for their trouble.

Apparently, a night in Shinjuku is also life-threatening! But you get free clothes so it's worth it!

So if I end up walking by a store that transports people into an alternate dimension where they get free clothes, I would be totally okay with that. Just saying, next time I go out to the mall, I am completely up for that. Okay? Just putting that out there.

Who knew shopping could be that exciting? Or were they shoplifting? To be fair, I never saw A-chan, Nocchi, or Kashiyuka with money. Did they talk about having money in the beginning part? Because if they didn't, then I'd like to think that they robbed a store and that the store's security was an army of faceless mannequins who were previous shoplifters who got caught. Also witchcraft and science work somewhere into this story of mine. I doubt that's what the director was going for with this PV. Or maybe it was? The guy who directed Pick Me Up also directed Natural ni Koishite and Secret Secret, which explains a lot about this PV. I feel like Pick Me Up is a darker version of Natural ni Koishite. But it works! I think it's funny how some of my favorite Perfume music videos literally revolve around advertising. Like Secret Secret? Chocolate. Natural ni Koishite? Clothes. And now there's Pick Me Up. Although I'd hope shopping at Isetan is easier than this PV makes it look...

I can definitely see the advertising element of this PV, but it never feels forced. Had I not known Perfume were wearing outfits designed by Isetan, I probably wouldn't realize they were selling clothes until the very end. Even then, I wouldn't dwell too hard on it. While I am talking about the clothes, I have to admit I wasn't a huge fan of the clothes in this PV. The main outfits were great along with the casual outfits, but none of the mannequin outfits looked fantastic? Maybe I'm just not cultured enough to appreciate fashion. Mannequin!A-chan's main outfit looked really cute! But Nocchi and Kashiyuka's... not so much. Oh well, to each his own, and by no means does that make me enjoy the PV any less!

This is probably one of my favorite Perfume videos in their more recent years. I like how the music video for Pick Me Up works in a very engaging, very creative storyline while still selling its product. If I had money to spare, I would totally buy some of those shoes Perfume are wearing. I loved the visuals in this video, especially the main projection mapping in the dance shot. It looked so cool, just as cool as their concert projection mapping! Also, I loved the color palette in this PV? It was very bright, but then also very dark depending on which scene? I liked the contrast. All the different outfits and scenes gave the PV some nice variety too! The visuals in general were top-notch. I heard that the budget for this music video was bigger than normal for Perfume's music videos. If that's true, it definitely shows! I loved the scenes with the staircases, along with the army of faceless mannequins. Man, that scene was actually kind of creepy. Okay, it won't keep you awake at night, but for a Perfume music video, those mannequins were unnerving.

Also, the story was a riot from start to finish. I love music videos with plots, even if they're basic. Pick Me Up, however, was not. I don't completely know 100% what was going on in this story, and there's certainly a lot left up to interpretation. Who were the girls running from? Did OK Go lure them into the store? Were the mannequins projections of their ideal selves? It's up to the viewer. Personally, I interpreted the story as Perfume being broke with expensive taste. So they luck out when they find a magic store and decide to shoplift some clothes. Only security in the form of magical evil mannequins arrives, but the girls escape with their finds! There is probably an artsier interpretation of Pick Me Up, but I'm sticking to my version. Overall, the PV for Pick Me Up is fantastic. The story is creative, the visuals are stunning, the choreography is tight (as usual for Perfume), and screencapping it was a treat. And now I really want to go shopping...

It's been awhile, and Perfume delivered an awesome song and even more awesome PV. That gets Pick Me Up five succulent apples! Pick Me Up is a breath of fresh air and one of Perfume's strongest A-sides of this era. And with that strong A-side is an even stronger music video! I was completely into this strange story where the girls are zapped into this shopping dimension with evil mannequins and alternate versions of themselves. Pick Me Up could have been too weird, but it works!