J-pop duo FEMM have been promoting themselves as “female mannequins.” Ever since appearing on the scene in 2014, the pair have performed like they were a pair of sentient dolls; they moved their limbs like they were constructed from practice, sported emotionless looks and sang in a relatively flat style. It’s a good way to stand out, but FEMM were hardly the first pop group in Japan to embrace this idea. With their latest song, they nod to one of pioneers of this style.
“Samishii Nettaigyo” (above) is part of FEMM’s forthcoming 80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL, and was originally performed by the duo Wink in the summer of 1989. That idol pair was - wait for it - best known for breaking from the bubbly image many female Japanese performers in the mid-to-late ‘80s adopted in favour of an emotionless, doll-like appearance accentuated by their choice in youth-oriented clothes. In other words, they were the twinkling Italo-disco predecessors of the EDM-leaning FEMM. The latter duo nod directly to them, by practically recreating the original video clip (but not quite). Check out the 1989 version below.
As you might notice, FEMM have stayed pretty faithful to the sound too. They filter it through their digi-soaked style, the beat moves a bit faster, while the singing gets dunked in Auto-tune and the backing vocals on the hook come out via vocoder. It’s slightly sleeker and busier, but the core charm of the original comes through.
It’s better than an earlier tribute to another mannequin-like group FEMM attempted when they were starting out. “UFO” found the pair covering ‘70s duo Pink Lady, who boasted similarly stiff movements but expressed actual emotions. FEMM’s take went overboard with the EDM elements, drowning out the parts that made the original memorable. Their Wink cover, meanwhile, is far more faithful, to the point where the biggest complaint I could register about it is that it ends up too faithful, to the point where you might as well just check out the original. But that’s a minor squabble, and the whole point here is to raise the song up to a new generation while appreciating a clearly influential unit for them.
Before we dip out, a little bit more about Wink, because they were one of the late ‘80s better idol groups. They also were one of the last super-popular groups to strike gold on Japan’s charts before J-pop really became J-pop in the early 1990s, when the glimmering synth-pop Wink clung to faded out in favour of club-ready, Euro-beat-inspired bangers. After years of declining sales, they broke up in 1996. But their legacy has persevered, highlighted by hit songs such as “Turn It Into Love,” a Japanese cover of Kylie Minogue’s number of the same name. Check that out below.
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