10 of the best J-pop jams from 2022 so far

We like to cover J-music here and there at Rice Digital, and I have found myself stumbling onto some absolute gems in J-pop ever since 2022 rolled by. To celebrate these diamonds in the rough, here are 10 of our favourite new J-pop tracks that have blown me away!

Sora no Aosa ni Miserarete by I DON’T LIKE MONDAYS

I’ve sung I DON’T LIKE MONDAYS’s praises before here on Rice Digital, and it won’t be stopping anytime soon. The band has been active for years now — since 2012, in fact — and have never sounded as confident and consistent as they do right now.

BLACK HUMOUR, a fantastically genre-versatile album lead straight into the release of their impressive One Piece tie-in song PAINT. After that combo, I never thought that they could keep topping each release, but they’ve kept bringing the hits.

Sora no Aosa ni Miserarete is a typical J-pop tune, but it’s as catchy as they can get. The video’s pretty anime visuals complement the romanticism of its lyrics, which have a youthful and hopeful message to them.

I already loved the song for how vocalist YU hits those high notes effortlessly and the delivery of the chorus in the finale, but what made me truly fall for the song is its sweet and charming lyrics. They remind me RADWIMPS songs, with lines such as “The reason for being born into this world – I finally found it in this little corner of the universe.” Undeniably cute!

The MV comes with English subtitles.

Ms. Phenomenal by RADWIMPS

Speaking of RADWIMPS, they’re back with yet another love anthem of the century, as they always manage to do. Ms. Phenomenal is a tie-in song for the 2021 movie, The Last 10 Years, which follows a young woman who is diagnosed with an incurable disease and is told that she will only be able to live for another 10 years. She doesn’t let that ruin her enthusiasm for life itself, but she is determined to not fall in love. However, she meets someone of interest during her school reunion that may foil those good intentions.

If the movie sounds like a sob fest as it is, then you can probably already guess just how emotional RADWIMPS’ accompanying track is to compliment it. The slow build up in its verses to the sweeping and soaring chorus is magnificent as we can usually expect for their love ballads, but as always, the standout factor for Ms. Phenomenal is its lyrics, being powerful, sentimental and mournful.

The MV comes with English subtitles.

Flow by Perfume

It’s been an entire year since we’ve seen anything new from the iconic electropop trio of Perfume, and they’ve come back into the spotlight with one of their best tracks to date, in my opinion.

Flow, quite fittingly for its name, has a stunning melody to it, filled to the brim with references to plenty of their other hit songs. It features a very pleasing electro build-up before the chorus hits, and sounds both nostalgic yet modern. Alongside this is more of the high-heel choreography we’ve come to appreciate about the J-pop unit. It’s a staple, it’s here to stay, and I’m so very grateful that they’ve hit the charts as hard as they did with Flow. Well deserved!

The MV comes with English subtitles.

Leo by Yuuri

It feels cathartic to shed a few tears here and there, or, in the case of this music video and lyrics, bawl your eyes out. Leo is the name of the dog who stars in the music video, and as you can probably already guess, the musical journey the visuals and lyrics take you on can be a rough time for any animal lover.

Yuuri’s Leo is written from the perspective of Leo himself, starting from when he was a scared and lonely orphan puppy. We see quite vividly just how quickly he grows up as he bonds with his owner, with the final piece of lyrics being a fond farewell to his owner as he passes away. As someone who has had pet dogs constantly for the two decades I have lived, the song hits hard on multiple levels.

It being from the viewpoint of Leo emphasises the fact that a dog’s whole lifetime is completely spent with their owners, with us as the apple of their eye. We are their entire life and all that they know, with lines such as “I’ll always be there for you” recurring throughout the song.

The final nail in the coffin to complete the owner’s journey is where the song cuts deep. Leo’s owner has grown up, married, and moved out as an adult, and she who returns to her family house after a long period in time; Leo, who hasn’t seen her for a while, notes through the lyrics that her hand is much bigger than the last time he saw her.

With this last encounter after such a long time apart, Leo’s final thoughts are “Name someone new again”. The waterworks are about to go off again so that’s all for this one.

The lyrics for Leo can be found here.

watashinoikirumonogatari by culenasm

culenasm is a band that encompasses various genres, primarily being shoegaze, but frequently with an alternative, rock and dreampop sound. They focus on making music about sentimentality, and it’s reinforced in watashinoikirumonogatari by their lyrical prowess switching between being spoken word in the verses, and softly sung in the chorus.

Alongside this are staple guitar riffs that are heavily shoegaze inspired, with a broody marriage of instrumental noise as the chorus hits. It’s got style, depth, and lasting appeal, emphasising that culenasm very much deserve more acclaim.

cell by nowisee

nowisee is a musical unit I’ve kept an eye on ever since they first appeared back in 2015, and this was mainly due to the immense intrigue that they command through their unusual means of producing music.

The members of nowisee do not credit themselves, and instead hide behind the stage names and illustrations they provide with each video. Their work is created in this way in the hopes of stirring critical thinking in their young listeners — an opportunity to contemplate the reason behind our existence on a deeper level.

Compared to their previous tracks, cell really stands out in how in your face it is. It’s brooding, has attitude, and Strange Octave, the vocalist, has never sounded as gruff and deep before. Her vocals can, admittedly, sound strained at certain segments of the song, but the rawness of the track is all the more tantalising for such delivery. For that reason alone, cell ranks up there with confusion and VIBRATION as one of their best songs to date.

The MV comes with English subtitles.

u want by ako

ako is one of the musicians I have stumbled onto just this year, and it’s been one of the rare instances where YouTube’s recommendations actually provided a satisfying road to discovery for once.

ako takes various influences and combines them to make something truly organic and unique, blending elements of R&B, J-pop, electronica, rock and hip-hop. Her vocals are reminiscent of other “breathy” vocalists, such as Bonjor Suzuki and Etsuko Yakushimaru, but with a completely different sound overall.

ako has a very evident retro feel to her music, which is made obvious via her music videos especially. Her music clearly has the intention of being relatable through its meanings, messages and themes while being aesthetically pleasing.

u want showcases best what ako is all about, with a laid-back and chill sound accompanied by her soft and whimsical vocals, but heavily realistic lyrics about our morality; we take each day as they come, as our lives simply pass us by.

The MV comes with English subtitles.

Kodoku no Merry-go-round by 4s4ki

If you thought u want ended up sounding heavier than it initially appeared, then get ready for 4s4ki (pronounced “Asaki”). This hip-hop/J-pop singer and songwriter first appeared in 2016 and made her mainstream debut in 2021. This track appeared on her last EP 2021, Here or Heaven, but got a visualiser video on YouTube this year; this was how I first stumbled across her eccentric and chaotic sound.

4s4ki amalgamates various genres involving pop rap and bubblegum bass with a constant focus on hyperpop to create something as intense and lively as it gets. With Kodoku no Merry-go-round, the edgy and bittersweet lyrics from her discography are still present, and these are juxtaposed with the hyper, electronic sound of it all. Ever wondered what Charli XCX on steroids sounds like? Wonder no more.

The MV comes with English lyrics on-screen.

YOKU by Eve

Eve isn’t a name I’ve mentioned on Rice Digital before despite how obsessed I am with him. He puts out new music almost as frequently as Takayan’s output. Each track is as fantastic and polished as the last, and they’re all accompanied by the most splendid of music videos in anime style.

You’ve probably already heard about him before since his track Kaikai Kitan was used as Jujutsu Kaisen’s opening — but even if you have, I sure hope you’ve looked even deeper into his discography!

YOKU thematically approaches the topic of finding one’s passion even if it might seem to be a meaningless act. It’s a powerful message of validating how we shape our own identities through the things we take joy in, even if they hold no meaning to others; they always have the chance to become something greater and “go beyond your dreams”.

Eve’s vocals are soft and delicate here, carrying the message’s optimism through a serene and sincere tone throughout. Plus, its animation is simply divine. As always!

The MV comes with English subtitles.

Just Live by Takayan

We close the list off with good old hip-hop/rapper Takayan, who I credit with being the one responsible for maintaining my motivation and hope for the future during last year.

The thing about Takayan is that he writes his songs to appeal, motivate and console his listeners. Just Live retains the same ideology and notions he always strives for: validating an existence of not caring about what others think about us, pushing out negative thoughts, and embracing a comforting lifestyle instead of over-worrying.

We all need a Takayan in our lives! How could you possibly deny his efforts and authenticity when he never fails to create amazing music that is easy to take to heart when we’re feeling low and downtrodden?

The MV comes with English subtitles.

Have you had any great J-pop discoveries of late? Let us know down in the comments, via the usual social channels or on the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!

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Lilia Hellal
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