Here we are at the end of yet another year of Japanese music. I normally go into some detail about the year as a whole or my process of putting this list together, but those feel a bit trite at this point and I don’t really have much to say. I’ll just say here are my Top 10 Japanese songs of 2021 and I hope you enjoy them! Feel free to comment or share anything you liked from the year too!
10. Bijin - Chanmina
Bijin is a track that I think embodies Chanmina’s style as a whole. The lyrics, which are about the expectations towards women’s beauty and needing to conform to certain expected standards, are delivered powerfully in Chanmina’s attitude-laden, almost vitriolic style. Combined with the unsettling production, the end result is probably Chanmina’s most provocative release yet. And despite the heavy subject matter and vicious delivery, it’s still a track I want to keep listening to, particularly due to its tight beat and flow.
9. Manners - Band-Maid
I actually bounced off of Band-Maid’s 2021 releases when they first came out. The sound was harder in a way that I just didn’t vibe with. I decided to give them another try near the end of the year and found them growing on me. Manners is my favorite of the bunch because it has this great groove to it, unlike any of the other tracks from the album or single releases. The sound almost feels like a playful swagger, especially during the verses with that fantastic bass line. It’s just stuck with me in a way the others haven’t.
8. Peace & Love - cluppo
Cluppo is actually rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Miku Kobato from Band-Maid, in the group’s first solo spin-off project. Peace & Love was an immediate hit for me due to its overwhelming cuteness and sincerity. Miku is super adorable and does a great job playing to the camera during the video, making for a delightfully saccharine experience that I love using to cheer myself up if I’m feeling down. I also love the strangeness of the song’s sound, mixing pop, light rock, and a tad bit of electronic sounds to make something that I find very memorable.
7. Take a Picture - NiziU
Take a Picture is a silly, predictable pop song and I am willing to admit that. It doesn’t really do anything unique, NiziU’s vocals are slightly rough around the edges, and the production is a tad bit plain. But I still love this song to death anyways because it’s just so damn cute and catchy and fun. I love the bubbly energy, especially during the chorus. I love the bright, well-shot music video filled with amazing outfits. I love the way the song flows from verse to bridge to chorus and back again. And I absolutely ADORE the stupid camera shutter sound effects during the chorus! It’s just one of those songs that hasn’t left my head all year.
6. Dingga - Mamamoo
Dingga actually came out originally as a Korean track in 2020, but I didn’t care much for it then, for whatever reason. When I listened to the Japanese version this year, however, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It just works so much better in Japanese for me for some reason, the lyrics having a smoother flow and sounding better to my ear. It’s a pretty typical Mamamoo track: super catchy, great production, and lots of ‘tude in the vocal performance. I also kinda love how the video is pretty much identical to the Korean version, just with altered close-up shots when actual singing is happening. They do a great job matching it up, but it still amuses me.
5. Gum Gum Girl - Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
I’m so happy to be excited about a Kyary track again! Gum Gum Girl is another killer song from producer Yasutaka Nakata and artist Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. There’s not really anything surprising here, admittedly, but there doesn’t have to be when everything is so solid. The production is tight and energetic and has a fantastically bouncy beat. The vocals are adorably twee and do a great job of wedging their way into my head for days and days after hearing them. And I absolutely love the creative music video with its over-the-top fight choreography and silly little story it tells.
4. Starry Night - Queen Bee
Starry Night was my first exposure to Queen Bee, and it made me an instant fan. The highlight is vocalist Avu-chan’s unbelievable voice: it’s completely, astoundingly gorgeous and has a range that has to be heard to be believed. Paired with the song’s bizarre instrumentation, you have a track that is incredibly striking and unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s not exactly catchy per se but is certainly memorable and breathtaking in its sound. The video is also worth mentioning, as it neatly shows off the talent and flair of Avu-chan and the rest of the group with some stunning visuals and costuming.
3. Nainainai - Atarashii Gakko!
I have been mildly obsessed with Atarashii Gakko! since Nainainai’s release. I’ve watched all of the group’s new music videos and even watched behind-the-scenes and extra members videos, which I practically never do. Something about this group fascinates me and makes me want to know more. Nainainai is my favorite song of theirs, and I love its silly attitude and humor paired with its earworm-y beat and fantastically flowing vocals. It’s a song packed with memorable lines that I constantly think about: Mizyu’s “Yabai!” has literally been one of my favorite moments of the entire year. It’s such a great song, and I can’t wait to see what else this group does.
2. Chu Chu Chu ft. GUMI - Louis Vision
Chu Chu Chu is another one of those songs that I’m not sure anyone else likes as much as me. It’s a slightly overproduced, incredibly overwhelming, and overly saccharine electronic pop track that would probably drive some people completely mad, but I JUST LOVE IT SO MUCH. It’s one of the most absurdly catchy songs I’ve heard in years, and I cannot stop listening to it again and again. It’s a ridiculously simple and repetitive song, filled with a predictable beat and silly, autotuned vocals, but it burrowed its way into my head like no other song this year. I just never manage to get tired of singing along to it.
1. Mitei - chilldspot
Every week, I go through the new music that’s come out and add what I like to my playlist for the year on Youtube. I’m usually doing something else while I do this, multitasking to save myself time. Often, I’ll hear something I like and hit the button to save it before moving onto the next with minimal attention. Mitei was one of those songs that was immediately arresting, making me stop what I was doing to fully listen to it. Its amazing production, particularly the driving beat and gorgeously ethereal guitar sections, and punchy vocals that flow effortlessly together make for a truly amazing song, one that I simply cannot sit still for whenever it’s playing. No other song grabbed me so immediately like Mitei did, and that’s why it’s my favorite Japanese song of 2021.