Crossing yet another long-overdue post off my evergrowing to-blog list. This idea has been on my mind since my favorite songs list in mid-2018, but like how my favorite PVs post only came to fruition following All the BEST!! CLIPS’ release in October 2019, this favorite solos could finally see the light of day thanks to Arashi’s open poll for their upcoming two-day Arafes 2020 concert.
I didn’t know how many songs fan could vote for the previous two Arafeses because while selecting 10 singles i’d like them to sing is quite easy, i am tearing my hair out having to pick only 5 songs each from hundreds of b-sides and album tracks. There are so many tunes i wish to see live performances of from the non-singles pile that i wish the slot allotments were swapped. Seriously, it’s impossible to narrow them down to only five!
We also get to vote for each member’s solo, which serves as the spur for this entire post. Because let’s be real, we all need the right timing and stimulus to begin doing something. Heh. And i actually took the time and effort to rewatch ALL of those solo concert performances for this — from 2003’s How’s it Going all the way until 2016’s Are You Happy? Tour. But the problem is, i put off this too much that 5×20 period is over and now i can’t subtitle it with “on the road…” anymore 😦
Anyway, the following List is in alphabetical order, mirroring the way the latest Arafes poll is done.
I don’t know how involved the dorks are in selecting their solo numbers, but after listening to these tracks back-to-back, i’m able to pull a common thread of each member’s preferred style or sound. Aiba’s is bright and upbeat, not to mention easy listening. He performs them in high spirits and with perpetual smile on his face (befitting the sunshine that he is) that won’t fail to lift my mood and have me bopping my head to the beat halfway through the performance.
His lineup is unexpectedly the one that appeals to me the most that i needed to mull over them before deciding on one i’d call a favorite. My choice eventually landed on Hello Goodbye. It’s the first solo i ever heard of his and it’s been growing on me since. It’s also one of his peppiest and grooviest tunes, and i love the harmonica interlude — which he drew himself live! His songs’ happy vibe also translates to his concert performances being the most energetic, and i enjoyed nearly every single one of it, especially the more recent ones. Nonetheless, my favorite’s gotta go to the pure crack that is Disco Star of The Digitalian. I still vividly remember my reaction when i first watched it on the DVD: i started cracking up the moment he revealed himself from behind the palanquin’s curtain with shocking-pink fur draped over his neck and equally-eccentric colorful getup, and continued to be entertained till the end by the wacky maneuvers and sequences. I don’t even know if that was supposed to be a comedy, ‘cuz that’s what it looked and felt like (it still does).
Now, let me cheat a bit and make another category so i can include another title for each member: sentimental favorite. Because, you know, sometimes your top pick may differ from your personal favorite. Hee. For Aiba’s, it is Namida no nagareboshi, sung at 2007’s AAA+ in Dome in a stripped-down fashion with him sitting down backed by just a guitar he strummed himself (a rare sight, i guess?) — with Tackey & Tsubasa in the background and 4rashi joining him for the last chorus. It’s the beauty in simplicity. It’s also the soothing tune that opened my ears to the beauty of Aiba’s voice.
Matsujun has the most eclectic and electronic spread, which works to sort-of mask his nasal singing voice. But he does sound rounder in lower register that stirring ballads set in his mid-to-low register like Sirius and Tears do wonders for his vocal projection. Unfortunately, he has no such solo under his belt, although the closest one would be La Familia he speak-sang at Iza, Now! Tour in 2004. This lowkey number conveyed the uncertainties and hopes 21-year-old Jun had in mind, whose weight of words hits differently now that the group is four times as old as it was then.
“Found the reason to be strong
You are the one always in my heart, my friend
Every time you call my name, i will be there
No matter how far, we are friends
Who will be beside me then? I know it’ll be the five of us
As i look around even now, you’re there, everyone is there
Who will be beside me then? I know it’ll be the five of us
As i look around, you’re there — that’s the wish i’ll spell out here”
(full translation here)
The look on his face when he saw the other four on the main stage was precious and the way he pointed to them as he crooned “my friends~” spoke volumes. Too bad there’s no studio recording of this rare heartfelt piece from him, hence me placing it as a sentimental favorite. My top pick is therefore Don’t you love me, a cross genre that has nice rhythm and progression.
So, albeit not too fond of his solo styles, i actually look forward to his lives the most because of the eccentricity and showiness. I still remember complaining that he got the best treatment for his solo stages in my early years as a fan, unaware of the fact that he was the concert master who must have spent parts of his creative brain cells coming up with those interesting concepts. He basically turns concert venues into his playground: the screen as a video game level for him to clear, the main stage as a parkour course, the walkway as his open dressing room, the penlights as a light fixture, etc. Each gig has its own merits that it’s difficult to choose a favorite, but i guess mine will be Yabai-yabai-yabai that gave birth to the iconic MJ Walk. The upside-down walk and air stunts were quite impressive, the choreo was rather cute, and the entire performance simply displayed his carefree and playful side.
To be honest, Nino’s solos are the reason i split ‘favorite song’ category into two, ‘cuz while his is the easiest to choose, deciding between Niji and SoreKimi is simply impossible. It’s like a toss between 5×10 and 5×20. They’re connected lyrically and melodically yet exuding different feels. The original is a mellow serenade that’s discreetly romantic (and ever since his marriage news, listening to it makes me even more emo and giddy), the sequel is a cathartic ballad that’s tinged with sadness (the lyrics could make me cry for real on some days). Niji will always be a sentimental favorite of mine (especially the revamped/live’s version of the piano interlude), but i like Sore wa yappari kimi deshita‘s melody and emotions sliiightly better, so there’s that.
Nino composes nearly all of his solos, hence the more genuine feeling and more personal vibe compared to other four’s. Naturally, his lives are the raw kind with him on the guitar or piano. Either that or the cheeky kind. Despite my preference for his solos, my favorite concert performance of his is actually one that falls on the second category: Music from 2016’s Japonism Tour. It began with him tap-dancing, then strutting to the center stage like a magician with a magic stick, and capped by him playing tap-DDR in the interlude. It’s amusing, fun, and downright creative!
If you’re ever in doubt of Ohno’s great — if not amazing — singing and dancing quality, then simply check out any of his solos. He’s already that good when performing with his groupmates, but his solos are where he gives his 110%, if not more. Hee. Centered around R&B sounds, his solos are showcasing his range and soulful vocals whereas his lives are for him to flaunt his fluid moves and swift-footed footwork. He also choreographs all of his solos so we can spot his signature styles. It looks effortless on him, but his steps are actually highly detailed and complex.
Among them, the most memorable one for me personally is Rain. Whenever this number comes up on my playlist, the intro alone is enough to get me all excited and the routine will play in my head as it hits the chorus. The most mesmerizing one, however, is Akatsuki. From the mask magic prologue to graceful martial-art movements, the entire show is thoroughly entrancing. Well, all solo gigs from Japonism Tour are on another level of showmanship. That said, my top pick goes to Hit the floor. The intensity can be quite heady, but the rhythm won’t let you go.
Sho’s solos are the hardest to put an umbrella term to. The common thread may be the hip hop elements through the rap lines he pens himself, while the underlying theme is perhaps ‘evolution’ as the songs’ mood sort-of matches his character development. His earlier pieces are the angsty kind as young-adult Sho goes through his bad boy phase trying to prove himself and show the world that idol isn’t a profession to look down upon, whereas his latter tunes turn brighter as his onscreen persona loosens up and becomes the dork that he is now, not to mention the pioneer in his field in more ways than one.
And the song that opened my door to the gap charm of SakuSho was Hip Pop Boogie of AAA 2008 in Tokyo. That was the first concert DVD i ever watched of the group when i wasn’t even a fan yet. I did it thinking that would be the fastest way to get introduced to their discography instead of clicking through countless rips and cuts. I also remember thinking how happy these guys looked being on stage, only to find out later on it’s because that was their first time performing at the national stadium, which they thought would also be their last. And yeah, after finishing that concert, the rest is history. Anyway, this full-on rap (whose title i misread and misspelled as “hip hop boogie” until early 2017 *facepalm!!*) placed well in the show’s second half was what sealed the deal for me. It also reopened my ears to the appeal of rap music, because until then, the only rapping i liked was Linkin Park’s. Maybe it’s no coincidence that both men are Japanese…
I still like this piece a lot, but his solo that i can listen to in any day is the uplifting Sunshine. Or probably T.A.B.O.O, but i’ll put it under my favorite live. It’s probably on par with Jun’s Shake it! in the way it raised the temperature, although the routine was nowhere near the lyrics’ spiciness. That’s not to say he didn’t look hot in that red uniform, though. Ahem.
Solos are the time for every member to shine and for us to give them undivided attention for at least 3 minutes. We get to scrutinize their vocal quality or be immersed in their delivery. The lives are performed by themselves or backed by their juniors. On special occasions like backdancer-less Arafes, however, the other four would pop up to enliven the atmosphere. It always comes as a surprise and never fails to delight our eyes every time it happens, even when it is just through VCR.
My first encounter was 4rashi appearing on-screen during Hip pop boogie in AAA’08. However, after doing my homework for this post, i discovered that La Familia might be the first instance; they even collaborated with one another for 2006’s ARASHIC-ARACHIC-ARASICK~Cool & Soul~. Too bad it is just a digest so we can’t fully enjoy Sho rapping for Itsuka no summer, Sakuraiba backing Caramel Song up, Nino blasting the guitar riff for Tell me what you wanna be?, or the youngest four dancing to Ready to fly.
All of those cross-appearances are precious that i’m dividing them into the feels it’s giving me so that i can include five instances here. Hehe.
-Most endearing: Hello Goodbye from Arafes 2013-
The other members usually come up to join the performing member in the final chorus. This is especially true for Aiba’s solos, like Namida no nagareboshi mentioned above or in Arafes’ Friendship, that when his solo rolled in in Arafes’13, i should’ve seen it coming. Yet i was too swept up in the beauty of Blu-ray quality as well as the harmonica break to notice the other four slowly rose into view behind him, until he turned around and pointed to Sho right before he went “gokigen ikaga desu ka” (how are you doing?) followed by Ohno “genki ni shitemasu ka” (are you doing well?) then Jun “saikin isogashii kedo” (i’ve been busy recently), and beamed as Nino sang “ai ni yuku yo” (but i’ll see you) before closing the bridge with “ai ni yuku kara” (i’m going to meet you). Ugh, my heart is so full from that brief gesture/moment i can rewatch that part multiple times at a time and still can’t get enough of it.
-Most adorable: Himitsu from Arafes 2013-
Occasionally, the others will appear throughout the song, like during Himitsu from the same concert, for which Nino had the rest don animal costumes. The snicker he let out, though, even though that surely should’ve been the nth time he saw that. Haha. Interestingly, i could easily tell which was which from their movements and dancing styles alone. He then interacted with those ‘mascots’, upping the entertainment factor. Too bad it wasn’t the full version of the song.
-Most amusing: Shake it! from Arafes 2012-
The one who can make all of them backdance for the entirety of his solo — to a tantalizing number at that! — is none other than the concert master himself. I never thought i would put “amusing” to describe Shake it! either, but that’s exactly what the Arafes’ performance came off as. It was a great mood change from the innocent Friendship, but things turned out differently due to the dancers’ shenanigans in contrast to the main performer’s approach. Jun was doing his best channeling his sexy side, but his effort was negated by the others’ conflicting energy; Ohno was a deadpan, Sho was goofy, Nino was enjoying himself and mouthing the lyrics, Aiba was (inadvertently) toning down the provocative moves, and they were completely fooling around during the hooks. They were so distracting yet that what made the gig replay-worthy.
-Most wholesome: nostalgic solo medley from Japonism Show-
Shake it! was the jam Arashi was kinda obsessed with until Disco Star came about. Since then, they — predominantly Sho — keep reenacting the Disco Star Walk or Wave in subsequent tours… that i was glad they all got a chance to dance to the real beat. And they’re totally having a blast with it: Nino faked falling over and Sho went along with the act whereas Juntoshi kept on Disco-Star-Walking for longer than they’re supposed to, grinning ear to ear. It was a fun caper until Rain‘s intro came in, Ohno turned 180 and led the choreo like a boss. The music switched over to Himitsu, done in Arafes’13’s style, followed by Shake it! then T.A.B.O.O feat. DJxMJ. It was a thoroughly delightful 6-minute medley featuring each member’s top solo. That said, i wish the members were there through and through, but well, they already supported the last three numbers in other shows, so…
-Best not-so-hidden gem: Sho’s birthday surprise on Beautiful World-
This happened on the last day of BW tour in Fukuoka. It was the first time Sho’s birthday was ever celebrated at a concert, and they made sure it became a memorable one. Yes, it wasn’t a solo performance, but a parody of his T.A.B.O.O stage from the topless VCR to the police outfits (Jun as a policeman, the other three as policewomen wearing mini skirts replete with mesh stockings since showing bare legs was a no-no). The stunts were mindbogglingly hilarious it literally floored the birthday boy. What floor me even now is the fact that such a golden moment wasn’t included in the DVD, and we only got to see snippets of it on Hey! Hey! Hey!. To be fair, birthday celebrations hardly make it to the DVDs and i’m therefore grateful we get a clip instead of nothing at all — except some papapics and fan reports. Still, after seeing the goodies in that clip (i treasure dearly), i can’t help but feeling greedy for the whole thing. Whose file must be sitting somewhere in J’s super computer. 😈😈😈