The temps keep on soaring here in Japan, it was 104°F (around 32°C) on Friday! It feels even more horrible with this terrible cold I caught about a week ago. Thank goodness it’s the weekend where I can drink lots of Aquarius (a Japanese sports drink packed with electrolytes), medicine, and sleep under the air conditioner for long periods of time.
While I am laying in bed and trying to fend off this cold, my companion is Spotify. Song after song resonates from my iPhone as I lay down, closing my eyes to ward off the fatigue. When I am conscious, I check out the music sites I follow to see what got released recently. I jump out from bed in excited, ready to find their new song, when I see three names:
SILVA, Double, and Sugarsoul
The 90s’ are Almost All That
Every decade seems like a golden era of some musical genres. The 70s had disco, the 80s had glam metal, 90s had grunge rock, and 10s had EDM. For 90s’ Japan, there were a lot of new genres popping up right and left. One of those influential genres in Japan was Japanese R&B or J-R&B.
J-R&B was an underground genre for the first half of the 90s. There were some releases here and there, but they weren’t too popular. Most of the J-R&B in the 90s were either mixed with pop — like Bubblegum Brother’s hit song “WON’T BE LONG” (1990) or songs from the ultra-popular girl quartet named SPEED — electronica, or other genres. Another thing was that if there was a J-R&B artist who was super popular, it was mostly a male artist (like Toshinobu Kubota). Finally, hip-hop was more popular than J-R&B for some time. And that was thanks to EAST END x YURI’s mega-hit “DA.YO.NE” (1995).
Then December 9, 1998 happened. This was the day that Hikaru Utada released her debut double A-side single “Automatic/time will tell“. This release brought a new direction in the Japanese music industry as it clearly defined what J-R&B was. Utada also paved the way for other female J-R&B artists. As Naomi Gingold from PRI put it: “[Utada’s debut single] was brash, had attitude and it introduced an R&B sound into Japanese pop music.”
Utada broke barriers and influenced others to incorporate R&B into their songs. I remember Tsunku talking about how he wanted to ride on the J-R&B wave. He incorporated that sound into Morning Musume.’s 1999 song “Memory Seishun no Hikari”. Several artists tried to emulate Utada’s success. Some were successful, but others weren’t. Such artists were COLOR (before they became BUZY), AN-J (listen to “Someday”), EARTH, Crystal Kay, and Mai Kuraki.
But, Wait a Minute…
If you are a diehard Japanese music fan like I am (or even more than I), you might be saying something like this: “But SILVA, DOUBLE, and Sugarsoul all came before Hikaru! You are talking nonsense!”. That is true; the three R&B singers did make their official debut in 1997 or 1998. But, each singer didn’t break into the Top 20 of the Oricon charts until late 1999 to mid-2000, a few months after Utada’s hallmark release. It is unclear if the singers’ major break was due to J-R&B’s rising popularity in early 1999. Or, that maybe that the singers tweaked their songs to be more aligned with a coherent J-R&B sound that came from Utada’s influence.
Although SILVA, DOUBLE, and Sugarsoul are all different, artistic wise, then Hikaru Utada, it was all thanks to Utada’s first single that helped to bring J-R&B more mainstream and helped the three J-R&B step into the spotlight.
What are They Sampling?
“UPLOAD” features instrumentation that isn’t original, very much to a lot of R&B and hip-hop songs out there. This piece samples bits and pieces from Jeff Newmann’s “Positive Force”. It was featured on the 1988 album, Automotion (Future Aspects Of Current Pop) Vol. 3, that was released in Germany. The bridge that pieces “UPLOAD” with this 1988 release is a morning TV show called “Asa Made Nama TV” Live TV Till the Morning. “Positive Force” was featured as a theme song for the TV show around 2006, thus being somewhat well-known among the Japanese and to the three artists.
It is a pretty cool piece, don’t you think? That opening is super powerful and catchy with those synthesizers. They act like Olympian trumpets heralding in a powerful god or figure. The other parts are decent and somewhat appealing, but that main synthesizer part is such a memorable diddy.
My Thoughts on “UPLOAD”
The whole goddess theme is abundant throughout the song. The synthesizers open the song, harking the listeners to listen to these three J-R&B divas. After the triumph opening, the ladies crooned the chorus for the first time. The first verse is sung by SILVA, who is one of my favorite J-R&B singers. The second verse is covered by DOUBLE, and then the rap is done by SUGARSOUL.
The instrumentation, besides the sampling, is very basic. It features a synthesizer scattering some notes here and a bass guitar — which is plugged into a synthesized device — serving as the critical backbone for the piece. Although there isn’t much instrumentation, the song is still bouncy, especially that bass part. The chorus is also catchy and makes you want to sing!
Lastly, I want to point out the graphics and the costumes featured in the music video are stunning. The girls and their production team did a fantastic job portraying the theme of “diva = goddess”. To be honest, I know the three singers were going with the whole “Athena Greek goddess” theme for their outfits. But, it does remind me a little bit of that one SNL skit entitled “Goddesses of Creation“. I could be crazy though.
What do you think about the song below? Do you think it lives up to the hype of being a diva-lish song?
About the Artists
SILVA got her start in 1995 under with the release of the album CINNAMON under her real name Yoshiko Takahashi. Born in 1975, SILVA took voice lessons since a young age, aiming to attend the acclaimed Takarazuka Music School. But, she didn’t pass the entrance exam and entered a contractual deal with Epic Sony.
Things didn’t work out as she changed labels in 1998 to a Universal Japan sublabel. She also changed her name to SILVA after she suggested it to the label, who first recommended the alias “Gold”. SILVA released her debut single in the fall of 1998, entitled “Sachi”. She has done various projects over the 20 years; went New York City to become DJ SILVA for three years, formed an AOR/R&B band named NAMELESSNESS, and recently released her anniversary album titled Quiet Moon.
DOUBLE started off a duo between sisters TAKAKO (singer and composer) and SACHIKO (singer and lyricist). They were influenced by their older sister named NORIKO who brought them back music videos of Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson when she studied in the US. The sister aimed to be an R&B group and signed with For Life Entertainment after winning an audition in 1995. Three years later, the duo released their debut single “For me”.
The sisters got their break in the spring of 1999 with the release of the single “Shake”, reaching the #21 on the Oricon charts and selling over 100,000 copies. That success was bittersweet as SACHIKO died suddenly from subarachnoid hemorrhage on May 21, 1999. Despite the tragedy, TAKAKO decided to continue to perform under the DOUBLE name in honor of her sister. She has collaborated with many famous Japanese artists over the years like ZEEBRA, Heartsdales, and MUMMY-D. DOUBLE just celebrated twenty years with the best album LATEST SINGLE BEST.
SUGARSOUL started off as a trio in 1997 with vocalist aico, DJ HASEBE, and composer Kawabe. They made their debut in the same year with the single “Those Days”. Their big break came two years later with the single “Garden”. It was a collaboration single with DRAGON ASH’s vocalist Kenji. The single sold over 900,000 units and was #2 on the daily Oricon charts.
The group dissolved in 2001 after the release of their ninth single “SOULMATE”. But, nine years later, aico revived the name as part of her solo career.
 “Utada Hikaru Upended the Japanese Music Scene like No One before – or Since.” Public Radio International, PRI, www.pri.org/stories/2016-04-15/utada-hikaru-upended-japanese-music-scene-no-one-or.