The second most consistent segment on my blog!
What’s up, how are you all doing and welcome back to another J-Song Roundup post!!! It’s no secret that this segment rarely sees the light of day anymore but there was no way that I was going to end off the year without doing another one. And this particular roundup is special, as today, I will be talking about my absolute favorite songs/tracks that I listened to in 2021.
And like I say every year, it truly was difficult to compile this list of my top 10 favorite songs from this past year. While I was starting this roundup, I actually typed down every song that I considered to be potential picks, and as you can probably expect, it certainly exceeded ten. But I also found that to be pretty interesting, as I realized that I managed to discover a ton of different songs and music through various sources like Spotify/Apple Music, other users on social media, the J-Music Exchange/Rate reviews, and most notably TikTok. Even though the Internet can be a garbage place sometimes, I do appreciate it helping me discover some new and fantastic music.
That being said, let’s just get on with the list. Because I have extremely bad memory, a lot of the songs featured in this roundup were determined by my helpful, end-of-the-year playlists on Spotify and Apple Music, as well as just reminding myself of the stuff I shared on my Twitter and Instagram accounts. Just a bit of insight, if you were curious.
Let’s jump right in! (and as always, do note that these songs are not ranked in a specific order)
“What’s Gonna Be?” – FIVE NEW OLD
I know this song is performed entirely in English, but it is from a Japanese band!
This is yet another fantastic example of Spotify and its algorithm being amazing, by recommending me an absolute banger. “What’s Gonna Be” by FIVE NEW OLD was a song that I listened to HEAVILY, when I found out about it towards the beginning of the year. I just really vibed with the expressive and carefree nature of this track, and the whole mixture of pop-rock with what this band states to take inspiration from, R&B/soul and 80s-style music, results in an extremely cool song to listen to.
Plus, given that FIVE NEW OLD’s vocalist/guitarist, Hiroshi, is fluent in English, hearing a song that is performed entirely in a language I understand kinda makes it feel like something you’d stumble upon here in the United States.
“Pinky Hook” – Asakura Momo
One of this year’s biggest highlights for me personally was ‘rekindling’ my interest for the TrySail seiyuu-idol group (further explanation on how in the last roundup post). Honestly, it’s mind-boggling how I never got into TrySail already, especially when I’ve been a long-time fan of their Music Ray’n colleagues, Sphere. But as I started to learn more about them, not only as a group but the members’ individual personalities/careers as well, they quickly became one of my all-time favorite seiyuu/idol units.
And while I dove deeper into the solo discographies of each member, Asakura Momo, conveniently enough, released a brand new single titled “Pinky Hook”, back in August. And boy, oh boy, was that one of my most played songs of the year. Even my Spotify Wrapped can prove that, as I apparently listened to that track for a total of 110+ times… sounds about right 😛 Mocho just presents us with a super fun and catchy song that can put you in a great mood. The overall cutesy atmosphere with the high-pitched keyboard, sick bassline and subtle glitter-y sound effects makes for a really enjoyable track… and if “Pinky Hook” wasn’t sweet enough, the accompanying music video might just make your heart skip a beat.
“Snow Glider / スノウ・グライダー” – Run Girls, Run!
Continuing on with the seiyuu/idol theme, Run Girls, Run! was yet another idol unit that I happened to take interest in this past year. Thanks to their connection with a group I’ve known for a while now, i☆Ris, getting to know more about this extremely talented (and beautiful) trio of Hayashi Coco, Atsugi Nanami and Morishima Yuuka, as well as listening to their music, was a real treat. They even became one of my most listened-to artists this year!
While they do express similar styles to their fellow Avex sister groups, i☆Ris and Wake Up, Girls!, it’s apparent that they can change up their pace/style/genre at times and still do an amazing job at it. A fantastic example of them doing so is in one of their songs, “Snow Glider”. Compared to their other upbeat and fun pop songs, this track stood out to me, simply because it was different and almost was like a breath of fresh air. It’s such a chill and easy-going track that, to be honest, could be perfect to put on while strolling through a snowy environment. Add their emphasized, high-pitched vocals in the mix and you’ve got yourself a pretty darn good song from a pretty darn good idol group.
“One Last Kiss” – Utada Hikaru
I am 1000% sure that this song was one of the hottest tracks of 2021, and for absolutely good reason.
After nearly three decades, the legendary Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise came to an end, when the final installment of the ‘Rebuild’ film series released back in March for Japanese audiences. It wasn’t until August when the rest of the world was able to watch the thrilling finale to the Evangelion saga, but when I finally got to see it, I personally thought it was a great ending to a beloved franchise. And what better way to close off twenty-six years of sick mecha fights and thought-provoking storylines than to have the one-and-only Utada Hikaru perform the ending song to the 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time film.
Admittedly enough, I’m still not too knowledgeable with Utada Hikaru’s music but one thing I do know is that her vocals are absolutely astounding. I loved her mellow voice and the way she harmonizes with herself throughout “One Last Kiss” is unbelievably good. And as my buddy Leap250 perfectly described it in one of his roundups from this year, this track definitely has a calming and peaceful ambience that, for long-time Evangelion fans, makes the end of this almost thirty-year journey feel even sweeter.
“Tipsy / 寄り酔い” – Wanuka
Because of the pandemic, I usually found myself with a ton of time on my hands while staying at home. One thing that I was doing a lot was browsing this little app called TikTok. You may have heard of it.
I honestly didn’t think much of TikTok when it first became popular but once I actually looked around and watched some stuff, I quickly realized that it wasn’t just an app that contained videos of people doing the same dance to certain songs. There are some legitimately entertaining content creators on that app, ranging from comedy to cooking to music; hell, I even found myself learning a few super helpful things, especially when it came to Photoshop/graphic design.
And another interesting thing about my appreciation for TikTok (and this may sound a bit hypocritical now) is that it genuinely did become a great source for finding new Japanese music. I often found myself around Japanese TikTok due to me following the accounts of some voice actors/idols, so it was easy to discover a few sick songs that I’ve never heard of. There were a few highlights that I came across such as Pmaru-sama’s “Tokimeki Broker” and “Goodbye Sengen” by Chinozo, but I think my favorite TikTok discovery from this past year was “Tipsy” by Wanuka. The feel-good mood, acoustic guitar/percussion combo, and soothing vocals all come together to make a song that’s easy to vibe with (and use for a TikTok).
“Kyashana Lip / 華奢なリップ (feat. ChanMina)” – Genie High
If my memory serves me correct, this is actually the first time I’m talking about this band, Genie High. This is yet another incredible project started by well-known musician Kawatani Enon, as it combines the talents of himself, tricot vocalist Nakajima Ikkyu, Niigaki Takashi on keyboard, and two entertainers/comedians in Koyabu Kazutoyo and Kukki. As much of a strange, strange combination this band can look to be, they actually do create and perform some really great songs.
One of my favorite tracks from Genie High actually released this year, when they collaborated with South Korean-Japanese rapper ChanMina in a song titled “Kyashana Lip”. What’s interesting about this song is that it doesn’t feel like a traditional ‘Kawatani Enon’ composition… you know, what we’ve heard most of the time with Genie High’s music. I think the main reason why is that it has a great emphasis on the trumpets/brass instruments; something that hasn’t really been heard in Kawatani’s overall discography (with indigo la End, Gesu no Kawami Otome, DADARAY, etc). Even then, I think him implementing a much different sound to this track worked out exceptionally well, as we got an seriously good bop out of it. In addition, the combination of Ikkyu’s silky voice and ChanMina’s fast-paced and deeper-sounding vocals was absolutely fantastic.
“MONSTER GIRLS” – R3BIRTH
As you may know from some of the previous posts on the blog (or if you follow my Instagram), I am a gigantic fan of the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, a group from the Love Live franchise. I’ve been following them pretty closely ever since their debut in 2017, and it’s been a blast to see their development and success so far.
One major thing that happened to them these past couple years was that three (technically four, if you count Yuu) brand new characters were officially added to the NijiGaku group: Mifune Shioriko, Mia Taylor and Zhong Lanzhu. Similar to the other members, all three of them have their individual personalities and come from very different backgrounds; especially Mia and Lanzhu, both of whom are originally not from Japan (Mia is from the United States, while Lanzhu was born and raised in Hong Kong). And alongside their enrollment as NijiGaku club members, the new trio was put into a subunit called ‘R3BIRTH’ and eventually released their first group song, “MONSTER GIRLS”.
Other than it being four minutes of straight HEAT, one interesting tidbit about this song is that the lyrics include the native languages of each member: Japanese (Shioriko), English (Mia) and Chinese (Lanzhu). As much as it sounds like that’d be somewhat of a ‘mess’, I thought they executed it really well. Despite all three of them needing to implement English/Chinese to a mostly Japanese song, they were able to maintain a great and super smooth flow, and the constant changes between languages never felt out of place or forced, in my opinion. Plus, we got to hear more of the new voice actresses, Koizumi Moeka, Uchida Shuu and Houmoto Akina, which is always a pleasure.
Also if you were wondering, it was hard not including any of the Liella songs on this list lol
“CUTE!” – SCANDAL
Looking back at all of the J-Music Exchange/Rate reviews I wrote in 2021, I think the one about SCANDAL’s second best album, ENCORE SHOW, was definitely a favorite of mine.
Mainly because I didn’t know much about SCANDAL prior to Leap suggesting me that album (other than the fact that they covered “Don’t say lazy” from K-On! with Nakagawa Shouko a few years ago), so to see their early beginnings as a band was interesting/cool to see. And the one song that is still stuck in my head to this day happens to be my favorite track from that best album, “CUTE!”. I really enjoyed the fun atmosphere of this track; it even felt a bit summer-y to me with how it was paced. And of course, the vocals were probably one of my favorite parts about this song. Hearing every SCANDAL member sing, especially Haruna with her distinct, deep voice; “CUTE!” was certainly a memorable track for me personally.
“Ai no Supreme! / 愛のシュプリーム！” – fhána
In summer of 2021, the anime world was graced with the continuation of the Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon TV series, as the second season aired on July 8th. I’m sure many fans can agree with me: finally seeing Kobayashi, Tohru and the rest of the gang again was an absolute blessing.
For one, I really enjoyed this show when it first appeared back in 2017. Although I was a bit weirded out at first due to some of the character designs, I truly did learn to not judge a book by its cover since I ended up loving the entertaining shenanigans of these strange dragons. Heck, as a big fan of slice-of-life comedies, it even became one of my favorites in the genre. And secondly, this was Kyoto Animation’s first TV series release since the tragic incident that happened to them in 2019, so to see them put so much effort and love into this particular anime was like them saying, ‘we’re back’.
J-pop band fhána, once again, provided the opening theme to this show, and similar to their first run with “Aozora no Rhapsody”, they wrote and composed a song that reflects everything about this anime: fun. “Ai no Supreme” is SUCH a fun and joyful song that even includes a feeling of nostalgia for some, as it really does remind fans of the series’ first OP. The notable bassline, beautiful-sounding strings, strong brass parts, and of course, the vocals/raps from fhána vocalist Towana AND keyboardist Mitsunaga Kevin; everything single thing about this opening came together to create an incredibly lively and unforgettable song.
“First Step” – Nagase Mana (CV. Kanda Sayaka)
If I had to pick the number one, best thing that happened to me in 2021… it would be getting into the Idoly Pride project.
When it comes to the 2D side of Japanese idols, I’ve only really been a fan of the Love Live franchise. While iDOLM@STER was the sole reason why I even know about idols in the first place, I’ve never been a frequent fan of that series, compared to my time as a Love Liver. But in January 2021, I decided to check out this fairly new idol project called Idoly Pride and it did not take long for me to deeply fall in love with it. I did talk more about my appreciation for this multimedia franchise in a previous post but in short, it, without a doubt, has had a big impact on me and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Hoshimi Production in the years to come.
One reason why Idoly Pride caught my attention was in the first episode of the anime, when a character named Nagase Mana performed this song, “First Step”. Her voice immediately gave me the chills with how unbelievably good she sounded and it genuinely is a beautiful song, all-in-all. Especially when taking in account with what happens in the AiPura anime… a lot of emotions and thoughts come to mind whenever I listen to this track.
And I never expected to be mentioning this when I was first compiling this list, but with the recent and very, very, very unfortunate passing of Mana’s voice actress, Kanda Sayaka, this song definitely holds a completely new meaning now. Sayaka’s performance as Nagase Mana is what made that character so fun and lovable, and the amount of joy and passion she put into portraying an inspiration idol like Mana was truly special to witness. It’s hard to imagine the Idoly Pride series without Kanda Sayaka anymore but her contributions to this franchise will never, ever been forgotten.
Because I have to, here is a small list of songs that BARELY made the cut. In fact, I feel so bad I couldn’t include these in the main list that I would like to sincerely apologize. Sucks how I have to only limit myself to ten songs lol
- “Seize the Day” – Asaka (Yuru Camp△ Season 2 OP)
- “Moonlight Balcony” – Kobayashi Aika
- “Gekkan Shokudou” (feat. acane_madder) – Fullkawa Honpo
- “Mirai wa Kaze no You ni” – Liella (Love Live! Superstar ED)
- “Moonlight Magic” – Hanazawa Kana
- “Fairytale” (feat. Kanno Mai) – yuigot
- “Johnnie Walker” – Philosophy no Dance
And that’s all I got for you today, and for this year!
I really hope you enjoyed this list; a lot of thought, internal debate, and pain was put into compiling this 😛 Jokes aside, there truly was a ton of amazing music I got to listen to in 2021, and I wish I could’ve talked about those other tracks but we’d be here all day. Also, if you ended up finding a new song and/or artist to listen to, I’m glad I could help!
Also, I compiled all of the songs from this list (even the honorable mentions because they are absolutely worth listening to) into a Spotify playlist for your convenience. Click here to check it out!
Lastly, I want to thank everyone who visited the blog and read any of my posts throughout the year. I know I don’t blog a lot, other than the monthly album reviews, but I’m glad I was able to write SOMETHING for most of the year, which I hope you all enjoyed. I’m not sure what 2022 will hold in regards to this blog and the kind of posts that’ll appear, but please stay tuned! They could be good 🤔
Thanks for reading and happy new year!! 😀
2 replies on “Infrequent J-Song Roundup #19 – Favorites of 2021”
A fine end of the year roundup, if I do say so myself 🙂
I’m reminded once more of just how insanely catchy Pinky Hook is… as I loop it three more times as I type this comment, Haha!
That’s interesting to know about Run Girls, Run! though. I came across them through a YouTube recommendation some time ago and I do remember liking what I heard (it was “Share the light” specifically iirc), and that’s also the time when I belatedly came to the realization that they were the ones that sang the OP for Assassin’s Pride. But yeah, wouldn’t have known otherwise that they were also another seiyuu performer/idol seiyuu group
Ayy, thanks for the shout re: One Last Kiss (XD)
I remember the first time I came across Wanuka’s Tipsy and I was like ‘this is sooo chill’….. and the I started paying more attention to the lyrics and I thought ‘wow… this song is pretty racey’ (LOL). VERY fun track though for sure, and I sorta wish Wanuka made tracks more often. I really like his take on wagakki and how he incorporates them to a more modern sound.
I gotta remind myself to listen to more Genie High, but I do remember hearing this song in particular by them (you might’ve been the one who clued me in on it too) and you’re definitely right. I think apart from the vocal line at the start of the chorus, everything else is atypical of the otherwise “typical” Kawatani Enon sound. As you mention a lot of it is definitely in the intrumentation, where we’re more so used to Kawatani’s fingerstyle and synth, but I think a lot of it too is the vocal work. He has a real knack for finding voices that contrast Ikkyu’s well (the song they made with Aina The End is still a banger to this day) and is really just a testament for how good his music sense is.
I love that they went with a more predominant Chinese Electro/Pop for MONSTER GIRLS (a la Queendom). I don’t know, something about that style just… works for Japanese Idol (XD). We all know Moepi can pop off based on what we’ve heard from her in Aoi Canaria, and Mia’s Toy Doll all but captured the heart of English-speaking fans the world over, but ngl Homin’s vocals might be my favorite among the three. I don’t know how to describe it other than it has a very… brass instrument sort of quality to it in how it rings (if that makes sense), which I find very pleasing to listen to because of how unique it ends up being. Definitely look forward to hearing more songs by her, them three, and Niji as a whole.
Glad you ended up liking SCANDAL’s CUTE! as much as you did. 😀
Didn’t expect to see fhana end up here but I’m very happy that they did. Tbh I fell off following their releases after a certain point, but this reminds me to go and check out their discography, so looking forward to doing just that come next year, lol
It is but a cruel irony that Kanda Sayaka leaves this world so soon after her portrayal of Nagase Mana, knowing the narrative behind that character and what becomes of her fate in Idoly Pride. I may now have been a fan of hers for as long as a lot of others, but she made a fan out of me all the same because of her work in AiPura. First Step and Song For You will remain in my memory as songs to remember her by, and I’m thankful to have had the pleasure of having come to know of her before her untimely passing.
Again, solid end-of-the-year roundup, and looking forward to what’s in store for the coming year, Haha!
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Sorry for the super late response but thanks!!
Even in the new year, I still listen to Pinky Hook sometimes, it’s just so good. And interestingly enough, TrySail’s doing a ‘shuffle’ type of thing/album where all three of them sing each other’s solo songs so… we miiiiight get to see Tenchan or Nansu sing that track, who knows 🤔
I only found out about RGR in 2021 but yeah, they’re nice! They’re not as well-known as their contemporaries like i☆Ris or Wake Up Girls but I really really wish they were. Those three are super talented and I’m definitely lookin forward to their future releases. (Plus Cocochan was actually in the LL Superstar anime!)
I’ve really only listened to Genie High’s first album and some of the popular singles like Kyashana Lip but that band definitely knows what they’re doing over there. It was cool hearing a different side of a Kawatani composition, and I completely agree with what you said about the vocals. I didn’t really know who Aina the End or ChanMina were prior to their collabs with Genie High but they absolutely fit well with his specific style. And now, I’m totally looking forward to the next sick vocalist he chooses for the next hit 😛
I don’t know if it’s my usual case of recency bias or the fact that I just like that trio but R3BIRTH’s become my favorite Niji subunit, with MONSTER GIRLS being a major reason why. Their vocals work so well together and huh, I actually didn’t notice that it was a Chinese Electro/Pop kind of song but that makes sense. I dunno if you got to watch the R3BIRTH fanmeet but Moepii/Shuu/Homin did amazing with the live performance of that song and it was incredibly hype (especially the bridge… that was hella cool xD). And yeah, regarding Mia’s songs, I’m just glad there are now Love Live songs that can I legitimately sing along to looool
I had to include a song from one of the exchange/rate reviews! 😛 The Fullkawa Honpo track I added in the honorable mentions was tough to leave out but I really enjoyed that one as well
I honestly don’t listen to fhana that often either but their return as the Kobayashi anime OP performers was just the absolute perfect icing on the cake for that show. I just had to include that song and if KyoAni ever makes a season 3 of Kobayashi, I’m sure they’ll be back with another banger.
Kanda’s passing definitely hit me much harder than I expected and even to this day, it still feels surreal that she’s not here anymore. ngl it was a little hard to listen to First Step or Song for you after the news broke but like you said, it’s such a great way to remember her and her incredible talents.
Again, thanks for checking out the roundup and I’ll be sure to check yours out soon!!!!
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