Saturday, May 21, 2011
I have an admittedly weird history of getting really into Japanese pop groups fronted by multiple female vocalists. Oddly specific tastes, I guess. Kalafina is my latest... er.. I don't want to say "obsession", but I can't think of another word.
If you're one of my semi-regular, mostly English-speaking readers, you're probably thinking, "Who the hell are these people?" An understandable question! Apparently they formed in 2007 (as usual I'm a little late) as a vehicle for composer Yuki Kajiura to sing anime soundtracks. I can hear the groans, but wait! Don't leave yet! The term "anime soundtracks" is not as derisive in Japan as it would be considered here - there is a lot of good, original music from famous musicians on anime soundtracks in Japan. The biggest selling pop singer in Japanese history, Utada Hikaru, has composed and sung songs on anime soundtracks. So this is nothing to worry about.
Kalafina can best be described as a neo-classical gothic pop trio. And they're hugely popular! Can you imagine? Think of "neo-classical gothic pop" as a thing in the United States. Can't, can you? Because such a thing couldn't exist here, in the land of auto-tune and cheesy electro beats and sequins and meat dresses. But Japan will mix and match any musical genres in the name of making something new.
And these girls can sing. Take a listen:
I love the polite applause at the end of that clip. Jesus, that's a tough crowd!
That's one of their older songs, from when they were a foursome (one girl left to go to college), but it sounds awesome with just the three of them.
The amazing thing to me, as an American, is that I'm so used to hearing pop "singers" who clearly aren't really even singing; they're auto-tuned to hell and back, they're lip-syncing or using backing tracks, they have no talent or ability at all. Either that, or we have American Idol-style over-singers who add unnecessary flourishes to every single note without even being able to stay on key. And here are these Japanese girls, and they're really doing it, all this amazing stuff that American pop singers wouldn't even dare try (including holding a goddamn note), and they sound incredible. They're even more impressive live than on their albums, because there are no tricks here. This is all them. Even if you don't care for the music, and even if you don't speak the language, you have to appreciate talent like this.
Here's Sprinter, one of their poppier songs, but it's one of my favorites (another old one... I do like the new ones too, but I can't pick 'em all to show):
And here they are full-on pop - but their true nature still comes out at about the 4:10 mark (too bad about the sync in this video, but I couldn't find a better version):
A few months ago I hadn't heard of them and neither had any of the people I know that follow Japanese culture. But all of a sudden, they're everywhere. Just yesterday, I happened to turn on one of Tokyo's biggest radio stations Bay FM (using the great Android app Tunein Radio), and by total chance Kalafina had basically taken it over as I was listening. They have a seemingly regular feature called "Kalafina Cafe". I personally first heard of them through one of my store's clothing brands, who did a collaboration with them. In the videos above, Hikaru (the girl on the audience's left) is wearing an Atelier-Pierrot skirt - my store sells those.
Hurry up and check them out before Japan decides gothic neo-classical pop is passe and moves on to the next equally strange and possibly even more interesting style mashup.