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Japanese Pop Culture Throwbacks: Idol Meets Hip-Hop

Posted by Motifive, 20 November 2016 · 894 views

It's the beginning of 1994.

The idol boom of the 80s is long gone. The top of the charts are occupied by singers and bands who sing ballads for popular dramas. Actress idols such as Miyazawa Rie, Mizuki Alisa, Makise Riho, Sakurai Sachiko and Takahashi Yumiko, who were the faces of the 'Beautiful Girl Boom' of the late 80s and early 90s, either failed completely or enjoyed very little success with their music debuts compared to their national level success in drama, film and CM territory. Idol groups such as Tokyo Performance Doll and Sakurakko Club, who had mimicked the revolving door system Onyanko Club had, were struggling. The groups found success by inserting their idols into variety shows and having them work with comedians.

At the same time, the Japanese hip hop scene was slowly growing and expanding. Rapper m.c.A.T was the frontrunner for the hip hop scene, his single 'Bomb a Head!' released a year prior became a moderate mainstream hit and veteran singer Ozawa Kenji had teamed up with hip hop group Scha Dara Parr to create the hugely successful 'Konya wa Boogie Back' single, which sold half a million. Rap and hip hop were still quite new to the Japanese music scene and failed to break out beyond these one hit wonders, nor were they able to keep up with the sales of ballad singing soloists and bands. At the same time, Indie hip hop group EAST END (consisting of GAKU-MC, ROCK-Tee and YOGGY) were working toward a major debut.

During their live at the now closed Shinjuku Theater Apple in February 1994, EAST END invited their friend, Tokyo Performance Doll frontgirl Ishii Yuri, as a guest performer. The crowd loved the contrast between the more professional EAST END and the high pitched, idol voiced YURI and so did the president of FILE RECORDS INC., who offered EAST END an opportunity to have a major debut, but only as a unit with Ishii, which was named EAST END×YURI.

Six months later, they debuted with DA.YO.NE.

DA.YO.NE debuted under the Oricon Top 30 which was not atypical for newly debuted acts. It took 3 months for the single to crawl up to the lower end of the Oricon Top 30 and after a slow crawl up the charts over a period of six months total, the single sat at its highest position - #7 for 2 weeks. At the same time, their newly debuted single, MAICCA〜まいっか, debuted at #3. Both singles went on to sell a million in 1995, with DA.YO.NE becoming the first hip hop single to do so in Japanese history. The mainstream public ate up the strange collaboration between the 'new' hip hop sound and a cute, bubbly idol. Just a few months earlier YURI had graduated from Tokyo Performance Doll alongside fellow frontgirl Shinohara Ryoko, who had moved from variety idol to million selling dance music idol thanks to mega-producer Komuro Tetsuya, to focus solely on EAST END×YURI.

The unit appeared in a CM for the newly debuted Shiseido TESSERA shampoo just a month later, featuring a modified version of their upcoming single, Ii Kanji Ya Na Kanji (いい感じ やな感じ). With several CM deals and regular appearances in the media through music magazine covers and popular music show performances, EAST END×YURI's position as a mainstream act was solidified.

DA.YO.NE was such a hit that it spawned a direct parody version in February 1995, just shortly before DA.YO.NE reached the million selling mark. The parody was an Osaka dialect version of the original, released by WEST END×YUKI, aptly named SO.YA.NA. The unit was comprised of young up and coming Osaka born comedians Imada Koji and Higashino Koji, and Kakeuchi Yukiko, a member of TPD's sister group, Osaka Performance Doll. In total, six 'regional' versions of DA.YO.NE were released between February and April 1995, seeing the likes of male local news announcers take on EAST END's roles and female local news announcers and idols take on YURI's part. The regional versions still managed to crack within the Oricon Top 50 but ultimately failed to be as popular as the original.

After a couple more releases, including a second full original album and a moderately successful re-cut single, all of which ranked within the Oricon Top 10, EAST END×YURI was invited to perform on the 46th NHK Kouhaku Uta Gassen along with other first timers such as idol Amuro Namie and Tsunku's band SharanQ.

The following year was not as kind to the unit. Their first single post-Kouhaku, released in early 1996, debuted outside the Oricon Top 30. The public had moved on to the dance sound cultivated by Komuro Tetsuya, who was enjoying success producing acts such as idols Amuro Namie and Kahara Tomomi, and bands. EAST END dissolved only two years later before regrouping half a decade later and YURI's solo efforts fizzled out. EAST END×YURI's success in 1995, a year of massive change for the Japanese music industry, not only broke new ground for the Japanese hip hop scene, which would rise again only three years later thanks to acts such as Dragon Ash and ZEEBRA, but for the Japanese idol scene as well. Rap was still a very new genre in the mainstream Japanese music industry in 1994, but thanks to an unlikely collaboration, rap would be implemented into songs by popular idols like Uchida Yuki (Only You, 1995) and Amuro Namie (Chase the Chance, 1995) without batting an eye. It was used as another method to break the old image of idols being soft and delicate cultivated during the 1980s idol boom and make them more current to keep up with the constantly changing 1990s music scene.

We still see the effects of their impact today. All because an indie hip hop group and a moderately popular idol were brought together.

Love it, nice little slice of idol/j-music history~ :)

And Chase the Chance is, to this day, a tune.

omg this is addicting! <3

I'm looking forward to future posts like this! :)