I survived 2020, and so did the blog… barely. Yup, I’m back again.

I guess first of all, welcome back to my space on the Internet. I’d like to give an extended welcome to all of those who haven’t been able to access my site in some time. It appears my website’s original hosting went downhill in a hurry while I wasn’t looking. I knew the time would come as I had been hearing many bad things around the ‘net, and as I pondered a return I definitely saw the poor performance and many people saying they couldn’t hit the site at all. As we begin this new wave of blogging, that has all been fixed. We’re on new hosting that has pretty much nothing but rave reviews, and the site is definitely working noticeably better and killing it on benchmark sites. Props to the folks at Veerotech for now being my host, and to Garry at Idol Is Shit for the recommendation. They’re a smaller tech company and I hope they stay that way. Service just seems to always be better that way.

This blog post is going to be a general update on me and the site, but also a look back at 2020 because I failed to get anything of substance out last month. I would say “I don’t plan to spend a ton of time on this” but every time I do it ends up being a long post, so I’l forego that and just say everything I need to say and hopefully not much more or less.

I guess I will start with the more popular topic of the hobby stuff. Let’s go from short to long. First up will be gaming because that hobby has honestly suffered the most. My PC gaming interest is at an all-time low, which I guess works to my favor since PC hardware has been lost to scalpers and Bitcoin miners. The only game I’ve played lately with any regularity is American Truck Simulator. Honestly, it’s a really enjoyable, low-intensity game. I can listen to music or my podcasts and there’s not a lot of penalty to the gameplay short of zoning out at the wheel and smashing into a pretend guard rail. I want to play Astroneer more for the same reason. The new additions of automation and whatnot since I played look like fun. Beyond that, I haven’t played hardly anything. So yeah, my recent taste is games that are kinda light and borderline carefree. So much for Halo on PC being a game changer, I’ve barely played it. I’m just not the shooter game player I once was. My attention has turned more to my Nintendo Switch in the last month, and I’m enjoying it even if it is just a Mario machine for me so far. Mario Kart 8 is brilliant fun, and Super Mario Odyssey is different but enjoyable. Super Mario Maker 2 has also been wonderful to play. It’s an awesome mashup of the various styles and generations of Mario. I really need to see what else I can find on that console as I have started to enjoy gaming in the living room again thanks to it. I’m not worried about the state of my gaming interest. It comes and goes, and of all the hobbies I have it’s definitely the most casual.

I think it’s worth noting that it looks like my interest in anime appears to be returning. I started to fire up Crunchyroll again for the final season of Attack on Titan, which has been amazing by the way, but I’ve found myself watching some other stuff too. I finally finished watching the isekai series “Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody” which I started when it was brand new two or three years ago, and have started “Darling in the Franxx” in its place. I’m also making my way through “Iwakakeru: Rock Climbing Girls”. Hey, I never said my interests were sophisticated! In any case, I’m enjoying this return to anime. I’m not really sure what spurred it. Perhaps the declining time in gaming? Nostalgia to past times? Pandemic blues? All of the above? Yeah, probably the last one.

I guess it’s time to get into the more meaty of my interests, so along we go to music. Up first is J-Pop and Japanese idols. Covid definitely took a huge toll on the idol scene. The subgenre saw massive damage done to it, and the smaller the group the worse it was for them. The alt scene especially took some huge hits. Many groups are inactive or outright gone. Hell, even mainstream acts have been fairly quiet. I was really looking forward to seeing what BEYOOOOONDS had in store for us, but they only released one tie-in digital single. That being said, “Vitamin ME” goes far beyond typical commercial prop fare and is one of my favorite songs of the year from a group I am very excited about. You’ll be hearing more about them on my blog very soon. In other H!P news Morning Musume had a good single with “KOKORO&KARADA”. I haven’t loved their recent music so this one was a nice surprise. Sadly those two happenings were the only Hello! Project releases I felt much of anything for.

Behemoth group AKB48 is an afterthought at best for me these days, especially when they released only one digital single the entire year. I guess saving face from being unable to sell a million copies of a CD without an excessive amount of handshake events is more important than being entertaining. The other 48 groups? I can’t even recall or hum a single release. I try to give them a chance because these are groups that used to mean the world to me, but it’s just not there for me anymore. I guess you could still call me a light fan of NMB48 because they have a lot of awesome girls who appear in gravure magazines. Yokono Sumire is keeping the dream alive, even if only in a skin-deep way. I have nothing against the 48 empire, but I do think the corporation has lost its creative edge. But hey, they still sell, so what do I know.

Still, there were a good amount of other groups I enjoyed. KAQRIYOTERROR claims the top spot for me in the “alt” scene. I’ve always enjoyed their musical style and the spicy visuals in their music videos don’t hurt either. Their albums this year were pretty enjoyable. In the more traditional scene I’ve enjoyed Hinatazaka46’s music this year. I found “Sonnakotonaiyo” to be a really solid release, and they are also worth a mention as their totally awesome TV program “Hinatazaka de Aimashou” is the last holdout for idol TV for me. What used to be several hours of Japanese TV per week is now the 23 minute lead-in to my booze and (mostly Korean) music show time. I’ve tried to get back into at least one more with Sakurazaka46’s new show, but it just hasn’t happened and I doubt it will at this point. However, I’m happy to say that Sakurazaka46’s redebut single, “Nobody’s Fault”, is a great song and Morita Hikaru makes for a very promising center. A group I usually hype up, PassCode, has fallen to the wayside for me some. Love them as I do, even I have to admit their stuff is a bit “samey” at this point. I haven’t even given their new album a proper listen, which I plan to correct soon with my growing amount of free time.

Honestly there hasn’t been a lot of change to my artists of choice. I guess it makes sense, 2020 wasn’t exactly full of debuts in this genre. I’m still a big fan of =LOVE and their singles this year were perhaps not overwhelmingly amazing, but were perfectly fine. I personally liked “CAMEO” most. I’d say NiziU easily wins for best new artist. It’s hard to compete with JYP’s musical Jedi powers. I truly hope that NiziU will be the start of the return of non-idol Japanese girl groups. That was my bread and butter once upon a time. Speaking of non-idol pop music, milet continues to be a superb artist to listen to. Her “eyes” album is required listening if you like genuinely good J-Pop. I’m still a big fan of Little Glee Monster as well, but at the same time I struggle with too much to say because they’re basically pulling status quo as well. That being said, there’s more talent in their normal than many group’s best, so definitely give “Ashiato” some attention.

Easily the most painful happening was the news that Hachigatsu was graduating from the group Oyasumi Hologram. I’ve enjoyed this group very much and seeing them during my second Japan trip was literally THE highlight of the trip, so it hurts to know that I won’t get to see the duo together again. I’m hopeful the “group” will have a future, but who knows at this point. All in all J-Pop managed to have some decent happenings despite the pandemic completely shuttering some groups and keeping many more from making hardly any money. While I’m pretty much retired from the “wota” lifestyle and just casually enjoying whatever comes my way, I’ve been invested in this stuff for 20 years now and I hate to see it hurting. I really hope every act makes it to the other side of this and the shuttered groups return in some form it at all possible.

One of my biggest regrets of not getting much in blog-wise in 2020 is that I missed out on probably the most awesome year in K-Pop ever, as far as my fandom goes. There was some serious quality coming out of pretty much every group I am into and thensome. Of course, the top tier experience was one I did manage to write about: the Everglow concert in Dallas I went to. Seeing music in person is hard to beat, and the regularity of acts coming over was a thrill until you-know-what put a stop to it. Still, even the digital realm was pretty spectacular this year.  ITZY remains my favorite thing in K-Pop. I love their music, I love all the members, I love them period. They managed to release two EP’s this year and while the first had some less than stellar B-sides, “WANNABE” was such a superb headliner song that it didn’t make much difference. Then you had “Not Shy” which was a much more well-rounded EP. The title song was fantastically fun and had a great music video attached to it. ITZY is kinda my modern day AKB48, or as close as I’m gonna get anyway. They are super enjoyable to follow and I try to take in as much of their TV appearances and extra content as life allows.

Another major highlight of 2020 for me was a group that’s been on my radar for a while, but man did LOONA make a giant leap this past year. This may not be a popular opinion but I have very much enjoyed their transition from more “artsy” sounding music to something a little more mainstream pop. I think they’re really, really good at it. Their “[#]” and “[12:00]” EP’s are definitely worth your time, especially the latter. In fact, as far as playtime, LOONA took out ITZY for me. “[12:00]” was my most listened to release in 2020 according to Apple Music Replay, by a fairly wide margin in fact. This group has some terrific vocalists as well some wonderful eye candy. Many have both aspects, such as the wonderful Yves. Definitely give this group a try.

The next major highlight easily was K-Pop’s surprise take on the City Pop genre. However this came to be, it was definitely a thing in K-Pop this year and I absolutely loved it. Notable participants in K-CityPop were Everglow, YUKIKA, and TWICE. There were also some others but these were the top of the class for me. I really hope that the city pop sound stays around in K-Pop, it’s a fun genre to visit every now and then. Speaking of TWICE, everyone know I find them to be a hit or miss group release-wise. The members are all top notch, but yeah, sometimes I find their releases to just be a little too disjointed or experimental. I gotta say though, their “Eyes Wide Open” album was pretty awesome stuff, and the “More & More” EP was plenty good, too. Also worth praise was getting to see Mina return to the group and recovered from the issues preventing her from being on stage. Her initial return was a little shaky, but by the time their album came out she was back in top form if not better than ever. And there was certainly so much more awesomness in K-Pop this year. Rocket Punch released two absolutely spectacular EP’s. Dreamcatcher had some pretty solid releases. fromis_9 broke a “meh” streak with the specatcular “My Little Society” EP.  Oh My Girl released a wonderful EP with a well-deserved viral hit that is still in the top 30 charts! We also had a lot of new faces that show extreme promise such as Weeekly, SECRET NUMBER, cignature, and perhaps most notably Aespa. And while I don’t speak about them much, even guy groups like TXT and THE BOYZ released some pretty damn good songs. And so much more. I’d be here for thousands more words if I tried to cover it all. Seriously, K-Pop had a fantastic year, and perhaps time and spirit willing, I’ll go back and revisit some of my favorites in more detail.

In the next page, I’ll talk about how I’ve been doing personally and my plans for this site moving forward.

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Mike
Author

Fan of アイドル, Japanese and Korean music, video games, anime, space, and technology. I tweet and blog about all of the above plus life.