Here we are folks, we are at the sequel stage of 2021’s very best of Japanese pop in 2021. Surprisingly, my last post, “the best of jpop 2021 so far”, received an incredibly slow but warm welcome, to the point where I got inspired to share more songs that have been on my radar from 2021.
Let me tell you, it has been a journey! I ended up listening to way more Japanese pop music in 2021 than I ever did over the last five years, so this is saying a lot for the current state of the Japanese music scene.
So… without further ado, here are the best J-pop songs of 2021 up until the end of November!
Candy Racer by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
from the album “Candy Racer”
To kick this list off, we have to come in with what is perhaps the most surprising of the best songs in 2021 thus far… Kyary may now be at 10 years, with PONPONPON being that thing we all watched in 2011, but there’s really no signs of her stopping, especially coming out with an album and a title track that is a deep love letter to all things 90s hyper techno (and 80s city-pop, but that’s for a later review). If you’re itching to get back on the Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, maybe “Candy Racer” is the drug for you… bound to get you sugary high, bound to get your heart racing. ⬛
HULA HOOP by LOONA
from the single “HULA HOOP / StarSeed ~Kakusei~”
If you told me that LOONA would be making their Japanese debut at any point during the year, I would have been pretty nonchalant – I was never a big fan of K-pop acts making it into the J-pop scene due in part to all the terrible efforts made a la IZ*ONE, but I don’t know… there’s just something about this song that screams South Korean quality without sacrificing anything that makes it essentially J-pop. It’s also really telling that “HULA HOOP” is a far superior song than the other A-side, the Japanese-produced “StarSeed ~Kakusei~”, but more on that at 10… ⬛
REAL by JO1
from the single “STRANGER”
It’s just really no wonder how much K-pop has taken J-pop over by storm, but there is no escaping the trendy colorful bowl cuts and wooshy sounds of South Korea when it comes to what’s currently in. JO1 is no exception – after all, they’re formed from the Produce family of reality competitions that I, myself, am a sucker for. And let’s face it, I’m probably (definitely) a sucker for the hypnotic electro sounds of “REAL“. ⬛
Doo-Bee-Doo-Bop by Koda Kumi
from the single “Doo-Bee-Doo-Bop”
I swear… this is not on here because I have a ~large bias~ for Koda Kumi, but if you’re like me (and other die-hards), you’d know that Kuu’s music quality ain’t what it used to be. Despite all the support I could give her, there’s no saving what kind of washed-up J.Lo style she is going for… but the same cannot be said for “Doo-Bee-Doo-Bop“, which almost makes me wonder if I’m having a stroke. Do we finally have a Koda Kumi song that deserves to be called a doo-bee-doo-BOP? This is Kuu at her most fun since… well, I couldn’t ever recall after all these years, but what a great hip-pop track this song turned out to be. ⬛
Chopstick by NiziU
from the album “U”
There’s no denying how much ~bias~ I have for NiziU, but to make this little blurb short and simple for you… this is their greatest song (and here I thought “Poppin’ Shakin’” was THAT song). Taking a sample of the actual piano piece of Chopsticks and turning it inside out (and making every mention of it throughout), seasoning it with JYP’s essential TWICE-like K-pop sound, and you’ve got the makings of perhaps what is the catchiest classical crossover ever? Listen to “Chopstick“, my friends. You won’t regret it. ⬛
by ORANGE RANGE
Labyrinth by ORANGE RANGE
from the single “Labyrinth”
This, in itself, might be fueled by some nostalgia due to the fact that it is ORANGE RANGE, who anime kids might be familiar with from BLEACH and Code Geass… add to that list a remarkably tame but somehow still catchy and fun ‘future-funk’ish electropop song from the rock band titled “Labyrinth“, which ties itself with the very colorful, very energetic vibes of one of 2021’s anime offerings, Muteking The Dancing Hero. It’s a track that doesn’t get you quite hooked right away, but once you are, it’s a come-on, come-on, come-on from there… ⬛
Weekend Citron by =LOVE
from the single “Weekend Citron”
The unfortunate thing about =LOVE is that their songs are usually hit-or-miss, and even when it’s a hit, it’s never really something I’d find myself listening to (which is a shame considering they’re produced by ult-oshimen Sashihara Rino). Yet, I found myself drawn to the high-energy cutesy pop of “Weekend Citron“. It’s charming, it’s fun, and it has the right amount of citrus to it that doesn’t give you a sour taste. It’s worth many listens. ⬛
New Gravity by MIYAVI
from the album “Imaginary”
MIYAVI’s impact on the scene can’t be understated, especially after his most recent efforts show him going further and further into electronic J-rock than ever before, and boy, does it ever take force in “New Gravity“, off of the 2021 album Imaginary. Sure, it might sound like stuff that he’s had on his SAMURAI SESSIONS volumes (hell, it even sounds like ‘Flashback’), but he delivers everything he does with such power and force… there’s no denying that we’re taken into new gravity with this track (and album, frankly). ⬛
by millennium parade × Belle
U by millennium parade × Belle
from the single “U”
Anime theme songs can be hit or miss, but for many anime films, the songs can be propelled to large heights, especially if that song is remarkable. This is the case for the millenium parade track “U“, which is the tie-in theme to the anime film Ryuu to Sobakasu no Hime, otherwise known in the west as Belle. “U” is a powerful track, with its frantic drumline instrumental topped with synth elements and Japanese instruments. It’s quite the masterpiece, as the vocals matches the emotions that the instrumental requires… if I were U, I’d be listening to this right away. ⬛
Polygon Wave by Perfume
from the mini-album “Polygon Wave EP”
It might not be my absolute favorite from them, but they sure delivered in a year that was almost absolutely uncertain for them – Perfume could have done the opening ceremony for the Olympics, for crying out loud. Yet, Perfume still decided to get something out for fans in the form of a mini-album, with its title track being a love letter to the melodies of the past. “Polygon Wave” might not be outright amazing, but it sure as hell brings back fond memories (and a hot return for producer Nakata Yasutaka, for sure). ⬛
DOWN TOWN by Juice=Juice
from the single “DOWN TOWN / Ganbarenai yo”
Discovering this in the second half of 2021, “DOWN TOWN” by Juice=Juice continues a new niche for the Hello! Project group – idol-group covers of popular 70s-90s tracks. Take, for instance, how they incorporated disco songs into ‘Pop Music’ or straight up gave ‘Plastic Love’ a beautiful cover it deserves… the same can be said here for “DOWN TOWN”, which takes the funky SUGAR BABE song and puts an even funkier but smooth, jazzy twist that matches that of Sakamoto Maaya’s version… it’s fun, sweet, and makes me wonder if Juice=Juice is gonna put more beatboxing in their next tracks (lol). ⬛
KING BITCH by Ziyoou-vachi (QUEEN BEE)
from the single “KING BITCH”
Ziyoou-vachi really has had a good last few years, what with their several anime tie-ins, and they’ve really expanded their previous math-rock sound, so it comes as no surprise that their latest release “KING BITCH” comes rolling through by the end of 2021, incorporating an almost Santana-like instrumental with bouts of electronica and drum. It’s a fierce track, one that could fit very well into the atmosphere of a martial arts film. It’s got the fire that they’ve had for a while now, and there’s no doubt that Ziyoou-vachi are the kings of the bitches. ⬛
Nemohamo Rumor by AKB48
from the single “Nemohamo Rumor”
It has been one full year since AKB48 released anything. Once IZ*ONE disbanded, they finally got themselves back in the J-pop scene… and they surely delivered. “Nemohamo Rumor” showcases the girls’ dance abilities rather than a focus on the song, but without a good dance track to match, there’d be no impact. Sure, it’s not a popular AKB48 song by any means, but not only is it catchy, it is a return to the fire that they had before IZ*ONE ever came about. Gone are the generic reminiscing songs… rumor has it they’re going the powerful route. ⬛
Odo by Ado
from the single “Odo”
If you’re familiar at all with Ado and her fiery anthems that get the most conservative of Japanese people all riled up, then you’re familiar with the likes of this next track that could quite possibly be the best song of 2021. “Odo“, an anthem that will have you getting up and dancing, is a party jam touched by the golden hands of TeddyLoid, and with Ado’s writing abilities, “Odo” is one to resonate with if you’re feeling a need to be free. It’s an electro-hip-hop masterpiece tinged with some Arabian elements, one that feels so fresh and almost unheard of – so let’s keep dancing. ⬛
by King Gnu
BOY by King Gnu
from the single “BOY”
So there’s a slight cheat here, since this song hasn’t “officially” released as a single (as it will be in December), but there’s no denying this song for this list – especially when everyone who’s watched Ousama Ranking has heard its glorious wondrous melody as its opening theme song. King Gnu is known for their powerful and melodic take on Japanese pop, and there is no exception in “BOY“, a song filled with so much gusto, so much hope, so much fun that it is only fitting that it is one of 2021’s best by the year-end. And if you haven’t already, definitely go and check Ousama Ranking! ⬛
And there you have it folks!
We are at the end of November, so that means a list of the top 15 overall from the Japanese pop music scene in 2021 is on its way. I may or may not discover a few more tracks to add to the roster, but you won’t find out if I do until the end of the year.
With that said, check out the above 15, or comment below on what other tracks you felt had some good resonance in the year of 2021. You can also visit my mid-year post on tracks prior to June 2021!
Additionally, the K-pop list is on its way!