[Review] 61st Kouhaku Uta Gassen

First of all, happy new year everyone! (better late than never).

So I finally got to watch this year’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen. In case you’ve never heard of it (even though I highly doubt that), it’s a music show broadcasted every year on New Year’s Eve on the channel NHK in which a bunch of popular artists and groups, divided in two groups (Red Team – female acts; White Team – male acts) perform usually one song each, and, even though the ratings have dropped within the past few years, it’s still the most watched TV show in Japan

On a curious note, this is only my second time watching the full show: my first Kouhaku was the 60th one, and the reason why I initially got interested in watching it was Nana Mizuki’s debut appearance in the show. To be honest, before that year (2009) I hadn’t even heard about the show, but I guess it was normal since I wasn’t as much into the general J-pop scene back then as I am now (I only listened to a certain handful of songs by a few artists; rarely checked the Oricon charts, etc.)

That said, let’s start with the review! Long post coming, be warned.

1. Ayumi Hamasaki – Virgin Road: For the third year in a row, Ayu’s performance opened the show and, unlike last year (when she performed Rule, an upbeat rock song), this time she chose a ballad. She looked beautiful in that wedding dress and her singing, despite having some difficulties to hit some of the higher notes at a few points of the chorus, was overall very good. Actually, much better than most of her recent performances *remembers her recent disastrous M performance at Music Station Super Live*. Add to this the fact that the song itself is awesome and you got one of my favorite performances of the night.

2. EXILE – I wish for you: A huge boyband: 14 guys on stage but only a few of them were actually singing (lip-synching?). Even though I’m not into boybands and don’t know much about EXILE, I really enjoyed their performance: they danced very well and their song was pretty catchy.

3. AKB48 – Beginner / Heavy Rotation / Ponytail to Shushu: Japan’s top idol group performed a medley featuring these three songs. I love Beginner (which I reviewed a few months ago) and Heavy Rotation; Ponytail to Shushu is just alright. I would’ve replaced it with the awesome Sakura no Shiori, but since the other two songs were upbeat I guess a graduation ballad wouldn’t have fitted too much.  Yeah, they were lip-synching, but it was really fun to see over 100 girls – sister groups such as SKE48 and NMB48 were there as well – on stage dancing and being cute. As a fan, I enjoyed their performance a lot! One of my favorites.

4. NYC – Yoku Asobi Yoku Manabi / Yuuki 100%: A JE boyband. Despite not being interested at all in anything Johnny’s-related, their performance was quite fun. I especially liked the second song; the chorus was catchy as hell!

5. Angela Aki – Kagayaku Hito: I’m glad she didn’t sing Tegami again: even though I like that song, I hate it when artists keep singing the same song again and again at Kouhaku every year *cough enka singers cough*. Angela’s vocals were excellent, I really enjoyed this performance.

6. AAA – Aitai Riyuu: This was the first time they got invited to the show, and also the first time I heard one of their songs… and I was pleasantly surprised. Their performance was short, but pretty good, plus I really liked their song. Special mention to their outfits, which were the first thing that caught my attention the moment they appeared in the show. Out of all the performers from the White Team, they were definitely my favorites. I’m really interested in checking the rest of their music out~

7. Mitsuko Nakamura – Kawachi Otoko Bushi: Enka isn’t my cup of tea and this song was no exception, but the performance was quite fun because of all those back dancers and the two Kouhaku gorilla-mascots being random on stage.

8. flumpool – Kimi ni Todoke: Another band I had never listened to before. The singer’s vocals were somewhat weak at times (especially at the beginning), but I loved the song. I might keep an eye on them from now on.

9. Ayaka Hirahara – Voyagers: She was on the show last year too, and I don’t even remember how what she sang back then sounded like. However, I was really impressed with her performance this year. I’m a sucker for epic ballads with great vocals.

10. Yuusuke – Hito: I’ve only heard him sing once before (at last year’s Kouhaku) and I didn’t really like what I heard.  This year’s song was slightly better, not bad actually, but his voice just annoys me for some reason.

11. Natsuko Godai – Hitori Zake: Enka again. I don’t have much to comment on the song because almost all enka songs sound the same to me, but I liked seeing some of AKB48’s girls as back dancers.

12. Takashi Hosokawa – Naniwabushi da yo Jinsei wa: Another enka song, but I kinda liked this one because it was a more cheerful tune. This time there were even more AKB48 girls on stage, and not only dancing, but also clapping their hands. Cute~

13. Porno Graffiti – Kimi wa 100%: The vocalist’s singing was overall alright but a little weak at times. As for the song, the verses were pretty meh, but I really liked the chorus and the instrumentals. I’d say their performance started quite weak, but I got much better as it went on.

14. Kana Nishino – Best Friend: I absolutely adore this girl, she’s cute as hell, so is her voice and I love her songs. I remember not caring much about Best Friend when it came out, but it ended up growing on me over time and now I really like it. I would’ve preferred her to sing Aitakute Aitakute though –for me, her best a-side to date. Her performance was overall pretty good: even though she had some difficulties to hit a few high notes at the ending of the song, she sounded more than decent during the rest of the performance. I’m really surprised at how much her singing has improved in the past year: I remember that her earliest live performances were somehow painful to listen to. I was, though, disappointed at the fact that they didn’t let her sing a longer version of the song (she is the most popular female soloist in Japan right now, isn’t she?), but since this is her debut appearance at the show, I guess that’s normal. By the way, I want that red dress!

15. FUNKY MONKEY BABYS – Ato Hitotsu: I haven’t listened much from them: the only FMB song I have on my playlist is the awesome Tabidachi. But I think that’s going to change, because I really liked Ato Hitotsu too. And watching that ugly guy from the group being random always makes me smile.

16. Miyuki Kawanaka – Nirinkusa: Another enka performance. This time there were no AKB48 girls dancing on the stage, but a lot of random people (most of them old) wearing ugly clothes and trying to dance. At least they managed to make the performance not so boring to watch.

17. HY – Toki wo Koe: Both singers’ vocals were great, but the song was too enka-ish for my taste. Maybe it was because of the arrangement? I don’t know, but it’s not my kind of song, that’s for sure.

18. Kumiko – Inori: Enka again. Like most enka singers on the show, she sang really well, but then again this kind of music isn’t really my thing.

19. Kaori Mizumori – Matsushima Kikou: Pretty much the same as above, except that I remember enjoying this performance more than the previous one. I was paying more attention to the back dancers and Kaori’s pink dress than to the song itself anyways.

20. Hideaki Tokunaga – Toki no Nagare ni Mi no Makase: Good performance, but then again this kind of music isn’t really my cup of tea so I found it rather uninteresting.

21. Nana Mizuki – PHANTOM MINDS: After a bunch of not-so-interesting performances, my favorite singer goes on stage! I loved seeing the audience waving their red penlights, for a moment I thought I was watching one of Nana’s concerts.  Her singing was flawless, as always, but just like last year, she only sang a short version of her song.  By the way, Nana, out of all the dresses you wore throughout the show, why the hell did you have to choose the ugliest one for your performance?

22. L’arc~en~ciel – BLESS: Who doesn’t know them? They’re one of the most famous rock bands from Japan. I liked the song, but I can’t say the same about the vocals.

23. Yoshimi Tendo – Jinsei Michizure: Yet another enka artist. She was wearing what probably was the ugliest outfit of the whole show.

24. Shinichi Mori – Erimo Misaki: I didn’t watch his full performance, but from what I remember, it was something of the likes of Hideaki Tokunaga’s.

25. Hiromi Go – GO!GO!Year Kouhaku Special Medley: He started his performance singing a ballad similar to what Shinichi Mori and Hideaki Tokunaga sang and I was about to skip it. But then he started to sing something more upbeat and a lot of dancers appeared on stage. To sum up: the first half was boring as hell, but the second part was so much fun!

26. aiko – Mukai Awase: I’m not familiar with her music, but I really liked her voice and her song. To be honest I’ve always been curious about her since she’s one of those artists who are huge in Japan but not very popular amongst overseas J-pop fans, but I for some reason I never checked her music out. I’ll probably do it later, thanks to this performance now I’m more interested.

27. Perfume – Nee: Nee~! Nee~! Nee~! Nee~!  I’m glad they performed one of the best a-sides they released this year. Who cares if they’re lip-synching, the song is awesome, they’re absolutely adorable and I love their choreographies and outfits. If only their performance had been longer…

28. TOKIO – advance: Surprisingly, I really liked their song. I expected some happy poppy song since many JE boybands sound like that, but instead I got an energetic rock tune. Pretty cool performance.

29. Koda Kumi – Suki de, Suki de, Suki de / Lollipop: And once again, Kuu has proven that, out of the three Avex divas (Ayu / Kuu / Namie), she is BY FAR the best vocalist. Good song choices too – thank god she performed Suki de x3 instead of Anata Dake ga, which I find rather meh. With that pink dress and blonde hair, for a second I thought she was cosplaying Kana Nishino.  When she started to sing Lollipop, her back dancers tore her dress off (and her mic almost got stuck in the dress, lol), showing a sexy blue outfit much more appropriate for such a catchy dance-pop tune.

30. Hiroshi Itsuki – Oshiroi Hana: Yet another old man singing an enka ballad. Pretty good vocals, but that didn’t save the performance from being boring because, as I said before, most enka songs sound pretty much the same to me ^^’

31. Akiko Wada – AKKOii! Kouhaku 2010 Special: Wow, I didn’t expect to enjoy this performance as much as I did! Akiko sang a bunch of upbeat songs while the rest of women from the Red Team cheered, screamed and shouted behind her. It was so much fun! I loved it!

32. Yuzo Kayama – Wakadaisho 50 Nen Special Medley: This performance was pretty similar to the previous one: a medley of upbeat songs with some of the other invited artists clapping their hands on the stage. Not as utterly awesome as Akiko’s performance, but still really fun!

33. Masaharu Fukuyama – Michishirube: He performed this song at his own concert right after having a lock of his hair cut (don’t ask me why, I don’t even know because I don’t understand Japanese). The song didn’t really impress me, but he has a pretty sweet voice, I liked the way he sang it.

34. Sachiko Kobayashi – Kaachan no Hitorigoto: The most impressive thing about this performance was, without any doubt, the visuals: her flashy outfit, all that “snow” falling and that huge bird on the stage. I didn’t really like the song, but she had very good vocals. It was undoubtedly one of the best enka performances of the night, if not the best.

35. Kobukuro – Ryuusei: I’ve heard of them more than a thousand times, but I’d never heard one of their songs until now. And wow, even though the vocals weren’t the best, that was a beautiful ballad! Me likes~

36. Kana Uemura – Toilet no Kamisama: I’d have never imagined, judging from that lulzworthy title, that this would turn out to be such a moving and beautiful song. Her performance lasted about 6- 7 minutes (the full song is 10 minutes long), but it wasn’t boring at all: she sang really well – actually, she sounded almost the same as the recorded version, and I loved the song from beginning to end. And she got emotional while singing… and I almost cried too. Awesome. Probably my favorite performance of the night. I’m so happy she’s been the one to get the so-called “Kouhaku effect” this year: she really deserves it. I really want to check out her other stuff now.

37. Arashi – Troublemaker / Monster: They’re Japan’s favorite boyband, but I’ve never been interested in them. Their performance was fun to watch though, and surprisingly, I really enjoyed Monster… it’s actually the first time I’ve really enjoyed one of their songs. I liked the clothes they were wearing, by the way.

38. Ikimonogakari – Arigatou: Here’s another favorite group of mine. Even though this year’s performance wasn’t as epic and flawless as last year’s (remember back then they sang YELL, which is for me their best song ever and one of the most beautiful Japanese ballads ever written), it was still awesome. I love Kiyoe’s voice, and Arigatou is a great song.

39. Sayuri Ishikawa – Amagi Goe: I already knew this song because of that video featuring Nana singing it at some karaoke place. Maybe that’s the reason why I kinda enjoyed this performance~

40. Saburo Kitajima – Fusetsu Nagare Tabi: Another old man singing enka. I don’t think I watched the whole performance…, just not my cup of tea, as I said many times before.

41. Fuyumi Sakamoto – Mata Kimi ni Koishiteru: She was the one to get last year’s “Kouhaku effect”, and once again she’s singing her hit song Mata Kimi ni Koishiteru, which is probably the only enka song I really really like. Probably because she sang it with Nana at Music Japan some months ago and I’ve listened to the audio rip a lot of times since then. Just as I expected, her performance was great. I’m still dreaming with a studio version of her collaboration with Nana by the way~

42. Kiyoshi Hikawa – Nijiiro no Bayon: I’m not a fan of his music but seeing this guy on stage put a smile on my face. Why? Maybe because of that weird outfit (was he cosplaying Aladdin or something?), his radiant contagious smile and the fact that, every time I see him or even read / hear his name, I remember that video of him performing some Flamenco-inspired song in Japanese including an “Olé!” at the ending.

43. DREAMS COME TRUE – Ikite Yuku no Desu: The only thing I remember about the song they sang at last year’s Kouhaku is that I didn’t like it. Thankfully this time they sang a better song, I really enjoyed their performance this time. And the kimono the vocalist was wearing was really nice~

44. SMAP – This is love ’10 SP Medley: And finally, the last performance of the night. Their vocals were awful and I didn’t really like their songs either, so I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it.

And, what else…? Oh, apart from the 44 main performances, there were some special guests (like Keisuke Kuwata) as well as some other special performances, such as the adorable Heartcatch Precure! collaboration between Nana and Atsuko Maeda, Tomomi Itano and Yuko Oshima from AKB48, or the Uta no Chikara performance, in which all artists and groups took part (and Nana was one of the artists to get a solo line, by the way!). I’m too lazy to review those in detail… so I’ll just post a few pictures:

All the artists performing Uta no Chikara

Nana Mizuki singing her solo lines

Keisuke Kuwata performing some song

Heartcatch Precure! collaboration. It’s so cute it hurts ^_^

White Team won for the 6th year in a row. It was expected though, with all those JE boybands there ._.

And… that’s all! Overall, I really enjoyed watching the show, and in fact, thanks to it I got interested in some artists and groups I didn’t listen to before. As for the performances of those artists I like and follow, most of them were as good as I expected, but unfortunately some of them felt too short (like Nana’s, Perfume’s or Kana Nishino’s). Of course, there were some performances which bored me to death, but in general, the show was a nice watch, and I actually enjoyed it more than last year’s. Looking forward to watching it next year! ^o^

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One response to “[Review] 61st Kouhaku Uta Gassen

  1. npal January 5, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Nana apparently didn’t want to have to check whether her panties are showing all the time, like last year. She totally fixed that problem if you ask me xP

    And Arashi are fun to watch. Not all their songs are good, but at least they’re fun.