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The first half of 2017 hasn’t produced much in the way of compelling music stories in Japan. By this time last year, we were coming down from the Enon Kawatani-Becky affair, and behind-the-scenes intrigue was bubbling up around SMAP (who broke up at the end of the year). These past six months have been less scandalous, and the biggest buzz has centered on the ascendance of smooth rockers Suchmos and the return of mainstream idol armies in the form of Keyakizaka46.

The biggest surprise has been Austin Mahone. He’s a 21-year-old pop star from America who has succeeded in the Japanese market at a time when overseas music sales continue to fall. His track “Dirty Work” took No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Overseas chart, nudging out Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You,” and earned Mahone appearances on shows such as “Music Station.”

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