Grim_Noir Gets Caught up in Scandal (& Their Latest Album)

Scandal Hello World cover

Album: HELLO WORLD

Group: Scandal

Members: Haruna Ono(Vocals & Guitar); Mami Sasazaki(Guitar & Vocals); Tomomi Ogawa(Bass & Vocals); Rina Suzuki(Drums & Vocals)

Produced and Published by Sony Music Japan

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

There comes a time in every anime fan’s life when he or she has to admit that they aren’t watching cartoons on the internet just because they are bored, but rather, because it has become a full-fledged hobby. At this point in your fandom, you begin to explore other facets of your new sub-culture: You may chose to learn Japanese to hear the dialogue “raw.” Or you may begin to notice certain directors’ styles and seek out all of their works (like Mamoru Hosoda or Satoshi Kon, for example). Or you may get into the J-Rock and J-Pop music you have heard in your anime.

One of the best places to get started in Japanese Rock, Pop and Punk music is the all-female four-piece band, Scandal. Their chosen moniker often gets them confused with another U.S. rock band of the 70s and 80s, but THIS rock band did themes for Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood anime, and the PSP videogame Star Ocean: Second Evolution. As well as an international ad campaign for MicroSoft’s Windows 8

scandal_superheroes

The four members of Scandal (Haruna, Mami, Tomomi, and Rina) met in August 2006, while they were all attending Caless, Osaka’s version of Fame‘s High School for the Performing Arts. Buskering and club gigs quickly brought them to the attention of indie label Kitty Records. While their live concerts had won them fans through sheer force of personality, their first big single, Doll, won them instant National recognition. With lyrics such as “I want more; I loved to play more. My sweet heart begins to go berserk. That’s a real thrill, right?;” this was nothing like the submissive girl idol groups that Japan was accustomed to hearing on the radio. Even their name was (allegedly) chosen based on the adult shop whose corner always drew their best tips when they were street performers.

By 2009, the group had moved over to Epic Records. This company had a broader reach and the clout to get their songs into anime soundtracks, winning them international cult fandom.

The male-dominated Japanese music scene has always sought to sexualize, fetishize and ultimately marginalize its female idol singers. Part of understanding Scandal is to grok the fact that, at their hearts, Scandal consists of four women who are a disarming mix of punk-warrior and road-seasoned diplomat: They will tell you to your face that you are an ass for treating them like little girls, but make it sound as “kawaii” (cute) as possible. Their songs Girlism and Queens Are Trumps warn the listener very emphatically that peril lies in wait for anyone ignoring their message. That “Runaways”-esque attitude has cemented their huge fandom in Japan.

scandal-osaka 2014

Scandal can also be sweet and feminine, but they make it clear that it will only be on these ladies’ own terms. Hit ballads like Namida no Regret are also embraced by their followers. However, Scandal are at their best when they mix their sugar and spite (see Awanaitsumorino Genkidene, off their 2013 release STANDARD. The song’s title alone roughly translates to I Don’t Intend to See You Ever Again, Take Care; a polished, but firm brush-off, if there ever was one.)

Which brings us to their current album, HELLO WORLD. If Scandal’s last album was too over-produced in the studio, at least its lyrics were as smart and snarky as anything the band had ever put out. HELLO WORLD is the polar opposite of that: In looking to expand into the mainstream outside of Japan, the ladies maybe playing it too safe with their lyrics. The album’s first single and opening track, Image, is full of affirmation and encouragement. As is the second cut, Your Song. Your Song was created through direct interaction with Scandal’s fanbase, so this may be a reflection of the current atmosphere in Japan. Or it may represent what someone feels will sell overseas. It is hard to tell. (Not that there is anything specifically bad about positivity and affirmations. Think Rancid’s Fall Back Down, for example.)

Musically, the band is MORE razor-sharp and dialed-in than they have ever been. Once the album settles into its groove, you realize that Scandal is still being Scandal: They have placed their most personal tracks on an album with the most international stakes pinned to it. Rocking tunes like the tearful Navigation, Please and the hard-charging Runners High (no relation to The Pillows’ song) shine most strongly when counter-balanced against ballads like Winter Story or the deceptively profound mid-tempo Kan Biiru (Canned Beer).


“The canned beer you left in the refrigerator — Has stayed there since I won’t drink it — Its expiration date is tomorrow — But somehow the canned beer is being left as it is”

from Kan Biiru (Canned Beer) by Scandal

Everything about the musicianship on this disc/download shows that these women are well-versed in female empowerment rock’n’roll: The Go-Gos, The Bangles, Hole, Janis Joplin, and even the aforementioned Runaways are hinted and teased along the way. HELLO WORLD is practically bursting with solid melodies. This is a band at the height of its sonic powers; poised to introduce itself to the world stage (via this album and an announced supporting world tour)

Scandal closes out the album with the Paramore-esque Place of Life. This lilting, yet jamming ditty sings like their mission statement for conquering the globe. “I don’t want to be here. You don’t want to be there. We’re lookin’ for the place of Life.” The listener will slowly realize that not only do the fading notes leave them wanting more, but (thematically) for the last 53 minutes, they HAVE been embraced in a place of Life.

Scandal - Hello World Tour shirt

 

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* GRIM_NOIR wrote this piece: A) as an extension of his anime & manga geekiness, B) as an homage to the departed PhonoGraphics podcast, C) as a favor to his friend, indie comics writer David Yurkovich. Choose any two.

Posted in : Misc, Music, Pop Culture
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2 Comments to “Grim_Noir Gets Caught up in Scandal (& Their Latest Album)”

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  1. Chrysanthemum says:

    Hello, Grim_Noir! Nice review of their latest album!

    I can’t help but agree with you about how talented these girls are. (But, there are times when people tend to overlook them.) I don’t speak Japanese but I usually search up lyrics of their songs so I can understand the meaning of them.

    Their songs are really fun to listen to and they even have melancholy type of songs. I especially love Oyasumi and Hon wo Yomu. In Oyasumi, where Rina is singing and playing the guitar as well, I can imagine myself walking through a city full of bright lights late at night. What more if it is your boyfriend/girlfriend accompanying with you in that type of scenario! Then there is Hon wo Yomu! I have a love for books and I’m glad Mami can write a song related to it!

    One of my favorite songs from SCANDAL is Switch. You might have probably listened to it already.

    Anyway, this is an interesting review! 😀

  2. Grim_Noir says:

    Glad you enjoyed the review, @Chrysanthemum! Anytime a strong voice comes out of the Japanese music scene, I pay attention to it. And I really love how SCANDAL can “play the game” in their music scene and yet still get their personal viewpoints across.

    However, I struggled with writing a J-rock review in a (basically) American pop culture site. After all, it is only periferally related to the anime & manga I generally review.

    What do people think? Should I add more Asian music reviews to my monthly ramblings? Maybe make it a once- or twice-a-year thing?

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