J-pop artist DAOKO scored one of 2017’s biggest hits with “Uchiage Hanabi,” but she’s still seeking out a solid identity. That soaring ballad actually stands as a bit of an outlier in her personal catalog of work. She first caught attention at the start of the decade by rapping in a whispery style about her daily life as a highschooler, but over the years branched out into other sounds.
Since signing to a larger label in the last couple of years, she’s dabbled in bludgeoning EDM and post-”Happy” pop among others. Her breakthrough found her diving into cinematic torch songs, definitely not something I’d ever have associated with her before.
“Step Up Love,” her latest song and first following the massive success of “Uchiage Hanabi,” finds DAOKO in a middle ground of sorts. Compared to the single propelling her to the top of music charts and weekly TV programs, “Step Up Love” swings back towards music she was doing two years ago, down to featuring rapped verses building up to a big sing-a-long chorus. Yet it also feels a touch transitory. It’s DAOKO turning to a newly found audience and showing them that, if they expect more ballads, they might be in for a surprise. Watch it below.
A huge part of this comes thanks to who DAOKO shares billing with on this song. She’s joined by Yasuyuki Okamura, a long-running pop star capable of both twinkling pop numbers and more experimental numbers with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto. He also did the theme to Space Dandy, for you anime fans. He’s a chameleon of a J-pop star, and his career has definitely proved influential for many others in the decades that have followed, and it isn’t a leap to connect DAOKO to this, too.
“Step Up Love” fittingly touches on hip-hop, plinky-plonk synth-pop and rock. DAOKO and Okamura take turns singing over it, in varying intensity, broken up by the occasional electro interludes. It’s all over the place, and could probably benefit from a little focus. Yet this ultimately feels more like DAOKO taking the chance to draw a link to her style and Okamura’s genre-hopping approach to music. This is a breakout artist giving herself context to people with little knowledge of her.
It’s an alright song that could benefit from a little trimming, but it’s best to look at “Step Up Love” as an act of positioning, and almost like a seal of approval from one of the more respected J-pop artists of the past three decades. Where she goes next will be more telling.
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