It's been a particularly rich summer for viral hits in Japan. As more and more younger music fans turn to the internet for new music, an emerging generation of performers are taking advantage of the web’s potential to create a hit. Nothing carries the global impact of “PPAP,” but a handful of songs have become inescapable domestically, spurred on primarily online.
To catch you up on the big viral surprises of summer, we present the season’s three most buzzed about clips. You never know when Japanese internet ephemera will come up in party conversation, so why not study up and 'wow' whoever you talk to by mentioning these numbers?
1. Blouson Chiemi And Austin Mahone: “Dirty Work”
Easily the strangest surprise of the year in Japanese music has been the omnipresence of a two-year-old Austin Mahone song. The American pop performer’s 2015 number “Dirty Work” has performed exceedingly well on various charts, soundtracked commercials and become a popular choice for teens to dance to in their own videos. It never had a moment when it first came out - in the same way it didn’t really shine anywhere back then - but rather emerged suddenly, as if awaking from a long slumber to break into funk-pop strut.
The reason for “Dirty Work’s” surprise relevance comes courtesy of comedian Blouson Chiemi, who soundtracked 2017’s breakout bit with Mahone’s song. The routine (above, with subtitles) finds her playing the role of a career woman, and she celebrates the perks of this choice, along with her views of men. It’s a clever idea (not to mention progressive for the often conservative world of Japanese TV), and though it initially appeared on terrestrial channels, it spread online and made Chiemi a star. And “Dirty Work” a summer hit.
Naturally, Chiemi and Mahone have come together, performing the song live and releasing a “remix” version (and traveling around the world together). Whether Mahone can swing this into something bigger in Japan remains to be seen, but for many here he made the song of 2017 (a couple years ago).
2. Chihiro Nakamura: “Kasanetaku”
Shifting from a gag about how women don’t really need men, to a song riffing on the hunt to find a boyfriend, Chihiro Nakamura’s “Kasanetaku” has become an online hit over the last few months by focusing on the world of Japanese dating parties. The song and video (above) lay out strategies at how to succeed at one of these get-togethers, featuring cheeky instructions on what degree to tilt your head while talking to a man and what one-word reactions to use. Set over a surprisingly woozy track that builds to a bouncy hook, it’s a gleeful number poking fun at a supposedly fun thing that actually feels much more stressful. And, tied to the first entry, it shows that a song can really take off when women allow their perspectives on romance in Japan to be given the spotlight.
Oh, by the way, it’s somehow all an ad for ice cream! A fact that doesn’t become clear until the final three seconds. Give that advertising team a nice bonus.
3. JP The Wavy: “Cho Wavy De Gomenne”
Rap in Japan has been bubbling over the last few years, always appearing one song away from spilling over into the mainstream after a long period where it was mostly a niche concern. Maybe a viral surprise hit will do the trick. Young MC JP The Wavy scored the year’s most viral hip-hop number with “Cho Wavy De Gomenne” (translation: “Sorry for being extremely wavy”). It’s a catchy albeit reductive number taking cues from American rap, from Atlanta (to his credit, he shouts out that city’s current heavyweights, Migos), with a video (above) finding him and his crew joyfully dancing around Shibuya.
It’s simple, but effective, and gained steam in Japan’s hip-hop community before crossing over to a more general public. And then popular rapper SALU jumped on a remix. Now, you can see more and more parody versions and earnest attempts at young MCs rhyming over the beat online. This one is just lifting off, so stay tuned to see just how high the wave goes.
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