Hey, welcome to another Japanese song round-up post on the blog!
If you’re not familiar with this segment on my blog (which is understandable given how rare it is nowadays), this is simply just me listing off some great Japanese songs I’ve listened to recently and briefly talking about them. While I’m not the best at describing music, hope you’ll think my insights are somewhat interesting.
This one is another “special edition” round-up; if you’re a frequent follower of this blog segment, you may remember me writing a round-up that solely focused on one artist, Kawatani Enon (most known for his creation and contributions to the rock band Gesu no Kiwami Otome). I actually really enjoyed talking about a single artist and the music they’ve made throughout their career and because of a recent and cool thing that happened, I’m doing it again!
So, in light of Hoshino Gen recently surprising his fans by finally releasing all of his music on online streaming platforms, as well as announcing a world tour later this year (plus I’m a big fan of his lol), let’s talk about him!
But before we get into his actual music, who exactly is Hoshino Gen? Here’s a brief history:
Hoshino Gen (星野源) is a Saitama-born J-pop singer-songwriter who started his musical career in 2000, when he and some friends from high school started a jazz/folk/Latin-inspired instrumental band called Sakerock. They went on to release ten albums, including soundtracks for movies and television, until they disbanded in 2015.
*weirdly enough, the very first Sakerock song I’ve listened to, “SAYONARA”, was actually the very last one they composed lol
Hoshino Gen however started his separate solo career back in 2010 with the release of his first studio album, the light-hearted and relaxing Baka no Uta. From there, he began what would be a very successful musical career that certainly evolved throughout the last eight or so years.
It didn’t take long for Hoshino Gen to become a well-known artist in the industry, as his first few singles and three studio albums all peaked towards the top in their respective years’ Oricon Singles and Oricon Albums charts. His fourth album, Yellow Dancer, was his first RIAJ-certified record and included beloved singles like “Crazy Crazy” and “SUN”, among other great songs. But I think what made Hoshino Gen a household or even global name was the release of his most popular single, “Koi”, which was also the theme to a popular 2016 J-drama called Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu (he also played the main role of Tsuzaki Hiramasa). Not only was the song popular but also the dance sequence that was featured in the credits of that J-drama and the track’s own music video, as many people including Olympic gold-medal winning figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu were caught performing the well-known dance.
Hoshino Gen is also a well-known and frequent actor. He got his debut in a 2004 film adaptation of a novel called 69, and later starred in various movies and television dramas like Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013), Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu (2016) with popular actress Aragaki Yui, and Samurai Shifters (2019). He also has voice acted in a good amount of anime such as playing Buddha in the Saint Young Men OVA and film, Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2017) and he even played the role of the father in Mirai (2018).
And going on from what I said earlier, I say his music has “evolved” because after recently getting the opportunity to listen to Hoshino Gen’s older stuff, I can see that it absolutely has changed throughout his career. From his calmer and almost “children’s genre” style of music to the louder, more fun pop tracks he makes nowadays… while it’s a unique musical evolution, I think it’s safe to say that any of his phases had him creating very enjoyable music.
That being said, allow me to show you some of Hoshino Gen’s songs, in a way where I both try to display the history of his music, as well as just including some of my favorites.
“Barabara / ばらばら” (2010)
This is the very first song from Hoshino Gen’s first album, and the musical style of this song (as well as the album) is very similar to what he did with his first band, Sakerock. The light, calmer and almost childish-sounding instrumental stuff is definitely present, and while it’s different from what I’m used to, his earlier music is solid. This song is relaxing and just makes you feel good. And from a newer fan’s perspective, I can now see the roots of his more recent music since he still sometimes makes songs that are slower and sound more youthful, as well as using instruments that were prevalent in his older stuff such as the marimba.
“Bakemono / 化物” (2013)
Now this is where it changes up drastically, as “Bakemono” has a MUCH faster pace than what was heard in his Baka no Uta and Episode albums. It feels more like a pop song rather than something I can play in order to get a baby to go to sleep, you know? Plus, he includes more instruments to pair really well with his already familiar acoustic guitar and marimba.
“Film / フィルム” (2012)
This was probably the first pre-Yellow Dancer album song I discovered and loved. It was my first glimpse of what his music was like before making more fun pop songs, and it didn’t take long for me to enjoy that phase of his career. “Film” is just a song that gives me a warm feeling with the slow and soft music and Hoshino Gen’s nice vocal performance. I listened to this while commuting from school and it put me at ease.
Catchy, pop-y, fun, sounds as bright as the sun; this is probably my second all-time favorite Hoshino Gen song. That violin and the electric guitar riff in between verses are so incredible to listen to. This and “Koi”, I could probably listen to over and over again.
“Doraemon / ドラえもん” (2018)
You might be wondering, “wait, you mean THAT Doraemon?”.
If you’re thinking of that iconic blue children’s manga/anime character, then yep! This song was the theme for the 2018 Doraemon film, Nobita’s Treasure Island, and it’s certainly a fun song. I think if you’re used to Hoshino Gen’s older stuff, this is a track you’d really appreciate.
He also did a much slower, “house” version of the popular Doraemon theme song, “Doraemon no Uta”. And comparing that to the original, or even this i☆Ris cover, is interesting to say the least (lol).
“Koi / 恋” (2016)
If there’s one song I’d want you to take away from this post, it’s this one.
I can absolutely see how “Koi” became one of Hoshino Gen’s most popular songs, and one of the most listened-to J-music tracks in 2016. It’s such a simple pop song about love with a melody and lyrics that are fun and infectiously catchy. Plus, the famous dance just adds to the sweetness of this song, as it includes cute gestures like bringing two fingers together to become one.
And not only did this become a well-known song because of Hoshino Gen’s popularity, but it was also featured in a popular Japanese TV drama! I actually watched and finished it a few months ago, and if you’re interested in my thoughts about it, click here!
“POP VIRUS” (2018)
When I first heard this song, I was definitely… surprised. Like many others, I never really thought someone like Hoshino Gen would create a song that has a more “hip-hop” and downtempo vibe to it, given the inclusion of that drum machine beat and the way he sings is almost like “light rapping”. However this sudden change actually works in my opinion. That hip-hop style beat pairing up with his usual instruments like a violin and electric guitar makes for a very interesting and enjoyable track.
“IDEA / アイデア” (2018)
“IDEA” is certainly a special song in many ways. Everything about this song almost feels like a tribute to himself and something you’d see to celebrate an anniversary. While I don’t know if that’s the case, there’s a lot featured in this track and music video that takes a look back at his whole career. So much is going on in this song regarding the styles of music he has done in the past like how one part was his usual pop style, one part was his “POP VIRUS” hip-hop vibe, one part was referring to his Baka no Uta days with his calm acoustic guitar playing… I’m very impressed he got to express all that in one single song.
Even with the music video: showing multiple references to his past album/single covers and while he’s known to create very quirky music videos for his music, this particular one seems like it was the most intricate compared to his others.
So if this song is supposed to be a “look-back” at his own career, I’d say he did a fantastic job.
And that’s my round-up for today. There are MANY other songs I wanted to feature and talk about such as “Step”, “Yume no Sotohe / 夢の外へ”, “Snow Men”, “Family Song”, “Hada / 肌”; the list goes on and on.
However for your convenience, I have compiled all of the songs featured in this post, as well as some other great Hoshino Gen songs, in a single playlist on YouTube! If you’re interested in listening to more of his music, feel free to check out my handpicked collection by clicking here. 😀
I hope this music round-up was interesting to read about and if you didn’t know who Hoshino Gen was before and found his music to be enjoyable, I’m glad I could introduce you to a cool dude! He is a talented soul and definitely deserves all the success he gets. While I won’t be able to fly out to New York to catch his performance here in the United States, it’s still a cool feeling that he decided to come here and perform for his American fans.
That being said, feel free to leave a comment about Hoshino Gen and/or his music! I’d love to hear your thoughts and even your favorite songs of his.
Thanks for reading!! 😀