I never understood why GIRL NEXT DOOR was such a big hit in Japan. Yes, they’re pretty much avex’s nostalgic pet project, but why did the public catch on? How did the public get to like them? Why did they get onto Kouhaku when they have yet to have a big hit?
Taking a look at the PV for their debut “Guzen no Kakuritsu” did little to bring me on board. The synth, the set beats – it sounds like something Ayumi Hamasaki would’ve released last decade. And why is that girl smiling so widely all the time? And why are the two other guys in the band nothing more than mere props? I scoffed and closed youtube without even getting past a minute of the song – it’s like they put together another Do As Infinity, sucked out all the originality, gave it all of avex’s backlogs from the 90s and told them to run with it and sell records.
If the title to this post is any indication of where this is going – it did take me a full year to warm up to them – or rather, just a drama. At the end to “Atashinichi no Danshi,” an almost annoyingly peppy, synth-filled song played. And by the third episode played, I actually read through the credits to find the song – and hey, behold, it’s GIRL NEXT DOOR’s “Infinity.” (Which, by the way, is having its PV played over and over on my computer.)
Surprised by how much I actually liked GIRL NEXT DOOR’s songs, I checked out their album “GIRL NEXT DOOR” too. And well – I liked it.
Here’s the thing though: I still don’t think GIRL NEXT DOOR makes magically amazing music – it’s not. Vocalist Chisa’s (who I can actually recognize, thanks to her stint acting in Uta no Onii-san”) voice is good and smooth but not amazing, ad has a bit of a nasal quality. So many of their songs sound alike with similar, if almost identical instrumentation. Their songs are polished but shallow.
But if you’re looking for perfectly polished pop, GIRL NEXT DOOR delivers. If there’s one thing GIRL NEXT DOOR can do, they can release songs that have killer hooks and great production values. In an age where artists often strive for original style, heartfelt lyrics, or musical elitism and the only ones who release pure pop are idols who sell personality more than their music, GIRL NEXT DOOR is unapologetically pop. They’re going to be a band that focuses on music, and their genre of choice is commercial friendly, unbelievably catchy synth pop – what are you going to do about it? They also pair their songs with amazing imagery. Maybe it’s more avex’s pockets than the group’s direction that’s attracting me, but their photos and videos are some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen – slick, stylized, and often bursting with color. For some of their releases, a mediocre song is offset by terrific visuals.
What also strikes me strongly is that the band isn’t selling themselves as much as a package they’ve created. Composer Daisuke and guitarist Yuji are often there only in image, looking cool but never doing much but acting as props who play instruments. Even Chisa, who is wildly charismatic, only displays an image of bubbly cheeriness. She sings and dances like a Hello Project idol, but she is always performing as if she were a doll – she gives no indication of anything that would lead a viewer to learn about her personality (unless her actual personality is creepily mannequin-like too). Despite having idol-like images, they have a strongly unidol-like aloofness.
What turned me off from GIRL NEXT DOOR initially is what now draws me back towards them. You can’t pinpoint something particularly amazing about the music – sometimes their songs are even irritating – but it’s always damn catchy and presented to you in a wrapped package of amazing production values. They’re going to release songs that aren’t amazingly deep or heartfelt, but I’m going to get them stuck in my head and sing it in the shower anyways. And that’s all they want from me – they don’t demand that I worship Chisa’s charms, or that I crush on the guys as if they’re Johnny’s. It’s the J-pop form of a guilty pleasure, with no strings attached.
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