Released: November 16, 2016
I am no fan of AKB48. I mean that too. I mean, the fact that they’re a group consisting of over 100 members, set into several different sub-units to showcase their “talent” for each single, recording or album is too much for my daily intake of J-Pop and/or K-Pop realness. Let’s be honest; for a group over 100 members, they all sound pretty much the same which every member correspond with the same appeal with school-girl aesthetics, intoxicating “kawaii” culture and pretty sub-par deliveries. But in saying this, AKB48 are Japan’s biggest marketing musicians in modern history; each of their singles sell over one million units, they bring forth some pretty visual spectaculars, and even offer some exclusive material when they boast different “types” of singles.
So, what does their November 2016 single “High Tension” do for the group? Well, despite yet another triumph of ever-growing sales… nothing really. Its typical AKB48; high-pitched vocals from the group, sugary synths that will soon become earworms by themselves, and some pretty straightforward lyrics. The only notable element here that sets aside from their previous work is the style of music; while it maybe your average J-Pop sound, the producers manage to blend a bit of Cassa Nova, disco and Latin elements to give it a slight push in a different direction. Sound-wise, the tune is actually pretty catchy and nice to listen to.
Then we get the B-side tracks. They are titled “Osae Kirenai Shoudou”, “Happy End”, “Better” (an apparent graduation track to member Haruka Shimazaki), “Hoshizora o Kimi ni” and “Shishunki no Adrenaline”. They’re all J-Pop creations and they all actually sound pretty decent, until the vocals hit in, were it sounds completely off in many parts or overbearing. I understand their market and the portrayal of pure cute and youthful aesthetic, but come on. A bit of innovation or risk-taking wouldn’t kill, especially if this is the groups 46th single… 46th SINGLE!. Based on my books, the last track they released that managed to break a bit of this cycle was “Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai”, a folk-blended J-Pop dance track that was performed nicely from start to finish, and could have easily been recorded by a Western singer.
As aforementioned, “High Tension” is quintessential AKB48; it’s catchy enough to penetrate the listener and, to top it off, the visual aspects and presentation continues a wide streak of fun, glimmering and exciting moments. However, given the fact it’s the groups near-50th single, the lack of innovation or creative push is really drowning the girls yet again. But this is all faulty towards the top staff, and if they just keep on pushing up sugary synths and over-the-top squeaks for vocals for future releases, then don’t expect AKB48 to be remembered as a risk-taking or progressive unit in Japanese music history.