By Yusuke Tsuruta / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSinger Juju has steadily built the persona of a bar-loving girl with a penchant for old-fashioned kayokyoku pop songs.
Yet her new album, “I,” may change her established image, as the singer has taken on new challenges and worked to push past old boundaries.
The album’s songs are full of variety and were contributed by illustrious musicians, from singer-songwriters Kazumasa Oda and Ken Hirai to music producers Takeshi Kobayashi and Seiji Kameda.
Juju developed her love for kayokyoku as a child during visits to a “snack” Japanese-style pub her parents would take her to. She later fell in love with club music. Making her debut in 2004, the singer had to wait until her third single, “Kiseki o Nozomu nara ...” (If you want a miracle ...), before winning widespread recognition.
“I” is her seventh album released on the Sony Associated label, with which she has a seven-album contract.
“From listeners’ point of view, it’s probably just my seventh album, but to me it’s the end of a chapter,” she said. “I never thought I’d be able to release so many works. I’m here as Juju thanks to everyone. I wanted to pour all my desires and thoughts into this album.”
“This title will sound different depending on the listener,” she said. “It can be ‘ai’ [love], it can be ‘ai’ from the word ‘deai’ [encounter], or even ‘eye,’ or ‘ai’ from the word ‘hiai’ [sorrow]. It also conveys my wish to confront all of those ‘I’s.”
The splendid lineup of producers is the result of her own tireless efforts to track down and enlist people she hoped to work with, even when she thought the chances were slim.
One of these producers was Kobayashi, who arranged and produced “Iiwake” (Excuse), a song with a groove evocative of R&B and Japanese pop songs of the 1990s.
“I asked Kobayashi-san three times because I thought it would be great if I could get his support with this song,” Juju said. “He turned me down three times. On my fourth attempt, I gave him a demo of me singing the song, and he finally said yes.”
The lyrics and music of “Kawaiso Dayone” (Isn’t she pitiful) were written by Hirai, who gave the song a disturbing opening line that goes: “‘Anokotte kawaiso dayone,’ itsumo kage de waratte ita” (“Isn’t she pitiful?” I used to always laugh at her behind her back).
“When I had a drink with Hirai-san, he told me: ‘Why are you so apathetic and peevish? Shall I write a song for you?’” she recalled. “I remembered his words even after I sobered up.”
Among the other tracks, “Love Is Like” sounds like a kayokyoku pop song, perhaps reflecting the many covers she’s done in the genre in recent years, while “Urahara” (Contrary) has original lyrics by Juju that the singer said she “definitely couldn’t have come up with when I was 20.”
Meanwhile, the promotional video for “Tokyo” depicts a father thinking of a daughter who lives in the capital, far from her family. It’s a touching story sure to bring tears to the eyes of the tenderhearted.
“I get ‘complaints’ from fans who saw the clip on a train,” Juju said.
The album resembles a collection of short stories in its inclusion of many songs done in different styles. Juju says that’s because she’s become “omnivorous” in her musical taste.