Year in Review • Part Two: A Review of the Year

I have to say that 2008 was a great year for the Japanese music industry and the material released this year got better every day. If we can see just as much effort next year, I’d (well, we’d all) be very happy. And not only was the material great in quantity, but it was excellent in quality. “Rien ne sert de courir, il faut partir a point” (what meaning is there in running if one leaves late?) is a proverb that could very well apply to 2008. The first quarter was marked by the release of two albums by the two central pillars of J-Pop, Utada Hikaru and Ayumi Hamasaki, and both, while they had their flaws, were excellent material. I did express vivid aggressiveness when reviewing HEART STATION, but that was from a uniquely objective view. Although it doesn’t reach her two previous albums, Utada Hikaru did it again with her fifth album. On the other hand, GUILTY is by far Ayumi’s most unique and most excellent album so far, namely the only one by her that I can sit through. Both albums were unique and far different from anything the two had previously done (Utada Hikaru’s perhaps less considering ULTRA BLUE was ultra synth, but the tone of the album was very different to her two previous albums). Soon after GUILTY, Ayumi’s avex rival, Koda Kumi, released an album which I consider to be horrendous, but which was equally a statement: Kingdom. For although GUILTY was Ayumi’s best, it was her first to not reached #1 on Oricon. This was seen as an opportunity, most likely, to usurp the Empress of J-Pop by many of avex’s competing labels. Every Little Thing released their eighth album, Door, which was a tasteful ballad through their music, while providing some variety from what we previously heard from them.

2008 was equally the year for solo artists breaking away from well-established groups, regrouping and disbanding. HIGH AND MIGHTY COLOR, a decently established rock/punk/metal/rap band, broke up, releasing their final single, Remember, in October and drawing a line there. On a more positive sidenote, Kaori Mochida, Every Little Thing’s vocalist, while continuing her band activities, announced her going solo (her debut single, Ame no Waltz, is due late January), and Do As Infinity are, to my joy, regrouping and will be releasing a single in Spring. Urata Naoya of boy/girl band AAA also received a solo contract from avex, and L’Arc-en-Ciel lead singer formed a band with K.A.Z. (from the band Oblivion Dust), VAMPS, and they released their debut single, LOVE ADDICT, on July 2nd. Utada Hikaru’s debut in America is confirmed for spring or summer, with the airing of a song from her upcoming album in February. YUI announced a one-year-long hiatus, and L’Arc-en-Ciel is equally temporarily breaking up to return to their solo activities. This year was also one for anniversaries and celebrations. Artists debuting in 1998 and 2003 celebrated their tenth or fifth anniversary this year, and among them are Ayumi Hamasaki, Utada Hikaru and Ai Otsuka. Ayumi released two 10th anniversary singles, Utada Hikaru is expected to release two books, and Ai Otsuka released a 5th anniversary single as well as her most mature album so far. avex equally had reason to celebrate, since last year was its 20th anniversary, and a group was formed for that occasion, GIRL NEXT DOOR.

2008 was full of highlights, surprises, new bands, and just a whole lot better than 2007. Here’s to 2009 and hoping it’ll be just as good as this past year!

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