Friday, September 14, 2007

Introducing... Kimura Kaela!

To my Japanese readers, this post isn't going to be telling you anything you don't already know. But for westerners that don't go around calling themselves "otaku" and listening to j-rock as a matter of course, it's a different story. So those of you in Japan, bear with me on this one. And westerners, pay attention! I'm going to introduce you to Japan's current top rock star, Kimura Kaela.

Wait, Kimura Kaela? On a Puffy blog? Hold on, I'm going somewhere with this. Back in 1996, when Puffy came along, the Japanese music charts were dominated by Avex dance acts and their copycats. There were some long-time rockers still on the chart - the B'z, X and the like - but especially for a younger generation, the most attractive artists were the Japanese equivalents of Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. (In other words, Japan's music industry was a lot like here.)

Puffy came in and changed all that. Suddenly, rock music was cool again, and not just music for "old" and stuffy 30- and 40-something salarymen. Teenagers and twenty-somethings were drawn back in. It was genius, really, because the man behind the whole thing - Tamio Okuda - was himself one of these 30-something rockers. He'd found a way to re-inject his music back into the mainstream through Puffy, creating a whole new generation of fans.

Fast forward ten years and the whole cycle is repeating itself, and in much the same way. Puffy's fans have grown up with them and are now (according to articles I've read in Japanese newspapers) mostly in their 30's. Current teens have largely never heard their music - not a big surprise when you consider that most of them were barely kindergarteners when Puffy debuted. In Japan, every generation of kids wants something new.

Puffy "graduated" from Tamio Okuda's influence sometime around 2000 or 2001, as he felt they'd grown into being able to better manage their own music. I'm not sure what he did for the next couple years, but in 2004 he found a new muse: "Seventeen" model and budding musician Kimura Kaela. (She's also since "graduated" as Okuda's protege). And while she's still little-known in the west, she is today the top rock artist - and at least among the top artists overall - in all of Japan.

Her last album Scratch hit #1 on the Oricon chart and stayed there for several weeks. Her two previous albums also both broke the top 10. Like Ami and Yumi, she's got that rare combination of model looks and a great street-style fashion sense alongside a powerful voice (especially for such a tiny girl) and a rock sensibility. And like Puffy before her, she's showing all these dance and R&B wannabes how pop music is really done. She is in every way Puffy's contemporary.

I myself was never a huge fan before, but that may change after seeing some of her new live DVD entitled Live Scratch. I've always believed that the measure of whether or not a band or artist is for real is how good they are live - if an artist is no good live, then it shows that their music is nothing but a bunch of studio tricks. With that in mind, here's a sample of Kaela's music - this is "Beat", a 2005 song from Tamio Okuda. (Watch the whole thing; like a lot of his songs, it takes a while to get going. But eventually, it really soars.) I think you'll hear the similarity to a lot of Puffy's music:

Kimura Kaela - BEAT - DVD LIVE Scratch - Special Edit

Kaela's a great performer and she's also not a bad guitarist. She writes most of her own lyrics and some of her music as well, though, like Puffy, she also employs a lot of guest songwriters. They've even shared a few (including Okuda and Linus of Hollywood).

Anyway, don't worry - this isn't going to turn into a Kimura Kaela blog, and I'll always be a Puffy fan first. But as they share a lot of the same lineage, I think she might be someone that westerners who might not know about her - and especially Puffy fans - would want to take a listen to.


  1. I'm wondering about another 'girl-guitar' band, called "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her". (Love the name, being a big XTC fan) Have you heard of them? Any good?

  2. Sorry, but I haven't heard of them. I admit that I'm really only familiar with the most mainstream of Japanese artists... which I know does not always make for the best quality music, but at least I managed to find Puffy and Kaela that way. But if a group hasn't been a mainstay on the Oricon chart, I probably don't know them... I mean it took about 3 years worth of top ten hits before I finally listened to Kaela. Same was true with Puffy. I'm pretty slow when it comes to unfamiliar musicians.