“No one else but me is me,” sings Gesu no Kiwami Otome.’s vocalist Enon Kawatani on the group’s second single, “Watashi Igai Watashi Janai No.” Released in April, this funky pop song with its straightforward, existential catchphrase delivered in Kawatani’s trademark falsetto voice has seemingly struck a chord with pop enthusiasts and a young generation of music fans all across Japan this year.
Gesu No Kiwami Otome. (literally “Damsel of Extreme Vulgarity” — and the full stop is part of the name) or “Gesuotome” as it’s known to aficionados, only formed in 2012 but was quickly signed to unBorde, a subsidiary of Warner Music Japan, just two years later. The band initially began “for fun” as Kawatani’s side project, who is also the lead vocalist of rock band Indigo La End (he uses his real first name, Kenta, on that project). While Indigo La End takes a more guitar-oriented approach in line with bands that sprung from the post-Rock In Japan Festival climate of the last decade, Gesu’s music is both funkier and poppier.
Due to Kawatani’s position as the primary songwriter in both groups, the two bands are understandably similar, both having intricate, complex instrumentation and featuring his high-pitched singing. Indigo La End, who is also signed to unBorde, has gathered a decent following over the years since starting in 2010. However, it’s obvious which of the two bands has become more popular: The mesmerizing video for “Watashi Igai Watashi Janai No,” which shows the band playing on a noh stage and a mysterious woman clad in kabuki makeup, has garnered more than 30 million views on YouTube. The song gained further traction thanks to a tie-up with Coca-Cola’s name bottle campaign, further cementing the message within the song; Coke bottles bearing the band members’ names are featured prominently in the music video.
Other tie-ups throughout the year with Docomo’s D Hits music streaming service and Toyota have given the band even more exposure, leading to its first headlining arena tour, which culminated with a show at Yokohama Arena in October. Last month, NHK announced Gesu would make an appearance at this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen,” the channel’s annual music program on New Year’s Eve.
The group is also poised to release its second album in January, and perform two nights at the legendary Budokan in March. Not bad for a band that was formed on a whim just three years ago.
Gesu’s rapid rise into popularity comes cresting on the coattails of a wave of other recent popular groups (Kana-Boon, Creephyp and Sekai No Owari) that share a similar musical aesthetic of high-pitched male vocals and confessional, introverted lyrics. Rather than having loud guitars and larger than life personalities, these bands have successfully appealed to Japan’s post-Internet millennials by crafting and presenting a clean, more accessible and intimate image of themselves, openly speaking about pasts dealing with depression and communicating with fans via a strategic use of social media, YouTube and commercial tie-ins.
Publications such as Oricon Japan are touting a “band boom” — a term thrown around the Japanese pop culture lexicon occasionally, signifying a surging popularity of rock bands — on the horizon for a new generation, with Gesu No Kiwami Otome. as one of the premier acts. While it remains to be seen whether a full-blown boom will actually come to fruition, it’s clear that these groups, and especially Kawatani, are the latest rising stars in the Japanese music industry. They’re catering to listeners who are perhaps tired of the overabundance of manufactured idol groups permeating the mainstream music scene, looking for a sound to finally call their own.