Grading the Top 10 Songs … IN JAPAN!

1. AKB48, “Manatsu No Sounds good!”


AKB48 is a girl group with 64 members and is the brainchild of producer Yasushi Akimoto, who also created 52-member girl group Onyanko Kurabu (Kitten Club) in the ’80s. The huge size of the band is meant to mirror that of a high school class. There’s a Taiwanese version of AKB48 in the works called TPE48 and an Indonesian one called JKT48. AKB48 is made up of subgroups Team A, Team K, Team B, and Team 4. Sometimes all four teams perform in separate locations simultaneously, kinda like the Man or Astro-man? Genome Project. Members of AKB48 are not allowed to have boyfriends and must participate in mandatory rock-paper-scissors tournaments. Some girls are “trainees” while others eventually “graduate” out of the group. Sounds like a Dario Argento movie, right? This year, two members were forced to resigned after being photographed out with dudes. AKB48 songs sound like bubblegum propaganda and their videos usually feature cheesecake lolicon setups like slumber parties, group bubble baths, and AKB48 dancing in bikinis on the beach. This is their 26th new single, “Midsummer Sounds good!” with seasonal lyrics like “The sound of the waves sounds good. Heart makes clamors. Even more than last year, I’ll become more serious.” The whole thing is both crazily wholesome and dark as hell. If only the music were less grating.
Grade: C
Best YouTube Comment: “I don’t know what the hell are they talking about, but I gonna say this, I LOVE THIS SONG AND THE GROUP” — Egen4nia

2. Not Yet, “Suika BABY”


Not Yet is actually a subgroup within AKB48, featuring Yuko Oshima, winner of the “general election of AKB48″ and three other members. They are called “Not Yet” because Yasushi Akimoto said their dancing and singing skills were “not very good yet.” Their first single was called “Weekend Not Yet,” about lovers anticipating the end of the workweek, and new song “Suika BABY” means “Watermelon Baby.” The power metal guitars give off some Sleigh Bells vibes, but this is strictly all rainbows.
Grade: B-
Best YouTube Comment: “yuko kawaiiiii ^^” — bewitch08

3. Sakanaction, “Boku To Hana”


“The name Sakanaction is a portmanteau of ‘sakana’ (fish) and ‘action.’ In the band’s own words, their name reflects a wish to act quickly and lightly, like fish in the water, ‘without fearing changes in the music scene.'” An indie rock band from Sapporo influenced by Britpop, electronic music, and college rock, they have become increasingly successful each year. “Boku To Hana” means “The Flower And I.” The video is a whimsically bizarre interpretation of the love affair between a man, his plant, and interpretive dance. If you love “Call Me Maybe” but have finally had enough, this might just be your brand-new jam.
Grade: A
Best YouTube Comment: “Mind screwing video. I love it.” — suigetushark

4. Watarirouka Hashiritai 7, “Shonen Yo Uso Wo Tsuke”


Watarirouka Hashiritai is another AKB subgroup that is actually a reboot of a Kitten Club subgroup called Ushirogami Hikaretai. They are normally a five-member outfit, but sometimes two more members of AKB48 join for the releases with “7” in the name. (Pop idols! Just like Game of Thrones!) This song translates roughly to “Boys, Tell a Lie!” and the video involves hot girl aliens blackmailing you into keeping your mouth shut about their existence.
Grade: B-
Best YouTube Comment: “C i n D y” — GAZEHAKASE

5. SEKAI NO OWARI, “Nemuri Hime”


SEKAI NO OWARI (End of the World) is a rock band with a DJ named LOVE who wears a clown mask at all times.
Grade: B
Best YouTube Comment: “HEY HEY HEY” — mn19950801

6. Ken Hirai, “Kokuhaku”


Ken Hirai is an R&B singer. His albums have titles like “Stare At,” “Sentimentalovers” and “Fakin’ Pop.” This slithery slice of R&B pop from his latest album, Japanese Singer, sounds like something you might hear from Thicke or Usher. The Ken Hirai version of Kokuhaku is blocked from YouTube by his record label, so I am posting this lovely cover version instead.
Grade: B
Best YouTube Comment: “wow! you did a great job! I love it :D” — nyamukdbd

7. PES from RIP SLYME, “Megami No Kiss”


PES is a rapper from Native Tongues–influenced hip-hop group RIP SLYME. RIP SLYME’s 2002 album “Tokyo Classic” was Japan’s first million-selling hip-hop album and they wrote the theme song to the anime version of Gantz. This is PES’s theme song for a courtroom dramedy called Legal High. The video features PES as a giant cat in an illustrated rockabilly noir. Love those synth horns.
Grade: A-
Best YouTube Comment: “This song aired on a german radio station today. Sounds really cool!” — GinNoSaik136

8. Leo Ieiri, “Shine”


Inspirational anthem in the vein of Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” or Belinda Carlisle’s ’80s heaters. Another good pick for Carly Rae Jepsen maniacs (aren’t we all).
Grade: B+
Best YouTube Comment: “aaaaaahhh!!! I love this song since the first moment that i heard THANKS!!!” — RoumiRo

9. Back Number, “Nichiyobi”

Symphonic, upbeat rock from Back Number. I couldn’t find this video on YouTube, but that’s no reason not to check it out. A little on the generic side but nice enough.
Grade: B
Best YouTube Comment: “wow so cool. very happy song.” — isyampop

10. Kina Grannis, “In Your Arms”


Kina Grannis is a singer-songwriter. This is the brilliantly twee stop-motion music video that launched her to Internet and international fame. She’s so cute and this song goes back and forth between being cloying and sort of dark and cool. If listening to the Fiona Apple too much is making you want to shut the blinds and put an octopus on your face, this is a nice cozy blanket while you chill out and check your head.
Grade: B-
Best YouTube Comment: “I heard this song at an amusement park that usually only plays major mainstream music. I was like, yay Kina!” — Massgloss

Filed Under: Billboard, Grading the Charts, Top Ten

Photo on 2014-01-10 at 12.58 #3

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert