One Random Single a Day #95: “Starting Over” (2015) by Sandaime J Soul Brothers from Exile Tribe

This next song is just a little bit hilarious to me – mainly due to how much backstory it takes to describe just what this group is comprised of. So, J Soul Brothers is a boy band that originally formed in 1998, though soon disintegrated in 2001 when the lead vocalist left and the remaining members decided to go under the name Exile. In 2007, however, Exile announced that they would be holding auditions for a second generation of J Soul Brothers; members were recruited and they released their debut single “We!” in 2008 under the name Nidaime J Soul Brothers. After one album, this generation then broke up in 2009, with some of its members becoming a part of a second group called Exile (specifically, The Second from Exile). Of course, Exile announced a second audition for a third generation of J Soul Brothers, this one named Sandaime J Soul Brothers. This is the most well-known of the regenerations, and the second half of their name comes from them being a part of the supergroup Exile Tribe, with The Second from Exile and four other groups that I’m not going to get into right now.

I don’t know nearly enough about j-pop to discern whether or not this multiple generation phenomenon is typical among the Japanese pop scene. Though judging by the fact that Sandaime J Soul Brothers consists of seven members (as opposed to the three to five typical of American pop groups), I assume the density of this music industry just tends to go hand-in-hand with the disposability of their pop stars. I’ve listened to a few of their other hit singles and… yep, they’re pretty disposable. 2014’s “R.Y.U.S.E.I.” and 2016’s “Welcome to TOKYO” both have the same kind of uber-layered electronic dance production that I’ve heard in many j-pop and k-pop through the years. Both also follow the standard verse-chorus-verse structure commonplace in pop songs from any country. Apparently every member has a chance of singing at least one part of every song, though I honestly couldn’t tell due to how similar they all tend to sound to one another. Also, the singing on the dance-pop singles aren’t the best.

Nonetheless, the group has been churning out top ten singles for quite a few years now, ranking up number-one singles all the way up to 2017, which granted them a #1 with “HAPPY”. Their previous #1 was the song in question today, “Starting Over”. I’m willing to blame this completely on my own ignorance on the Japanese pop scene, but I can’t understand how something so bland and faceless could nonetheless be the top song of an entire country. It starts off as a basic piano ballad, though it grows gradually more intense in production as the emotion swells, with electronic elements and even a backing choir eventually becoming parts of the whole. I looked up a translated version of the lyrics, and this seems like a standard, potentially post-breakup ballad about persevering the odds and remaining strong in the face of adversity.

Unlike previous Japanese singles I’ve reviewed, like “Amy” and “Glory Days”, I don’t get a sense of genuine emotion that is emitted through this song’s sonic elements, certainly none that transcends the aforementioned language barrier like the other two had. I feel nothing but an overwhelming reminder that this group was little more than a studio creation, a regeneration of a regeneration set to make waves for audiences based on mere familiarity alone. Needless to say, it’s working – but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. This could have been one of the any number of sad heartbreak ballads under the sun, and I doubt the results would have been very dissimilar. At least there’s a cool key change during the final chorus – if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that I’m a real sucker for key changes.

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