While K-pop took a break for the Lunar New Year, J-pop enjoyed a landmark week with the debut of two new Johnny’s Entertainment groups. Both SixTONES and Snow Man are already well-known to fans, but the agency has decided to give them their official unveiling on the same day with a split single release. I’ll be offering my thoughts on Snow Man soon, but first up I want to take a look at SixTONES.
Of all the Johnny’s Junior groups, SixTONES seems to arrive with the most hype. They’ve been active since 2015, even releasing a pre-debut music video on youtube in 2018. But, Imitation Rain marks their first official single. I’ve personally been excited about them because their rock-influenced sound and vocals remind me of KAT-TUN’s early years. And fulfilling those expectations, Imitation Rain is penned by Yoshiki, member and main songwriter of legendary J-rock group X Japan.
Debuting with a slower-paced track is not something I would usually recommend or enjoy, but Imitation Rain feels classy and timeless. It’s the kind of track that could’ve been released in multiple decades without much change, even though its tempo-shifting instrumental feels very of the moment. From the opening piano and anthemic verse, the song deposits us immediately within its theatrical mood. The distorted guitar and harpsichord-like synths give the verses great texture and drive. In contrast, the chorus takes the beat to half-time for a more sorrowful, symphonic sound. Initially, this transition threw me off, but I think the shift ultimately works.
Even better is the mid-song, spoken-word rap break. It’s cheesy in the way you’d expect from a Johnny’s group, but the gritty guitar underpinning the performance lends the segment a satisfying groove that keeps the track from growing too maudlin. Unfortunately, this deft arrangement is sabotaged in the youtube video version, which cuts out over two minutes of the song to present a streamlined, piecemeal sketch of song. I’m going to include it below for convenience, but I’d recommend tracking down the full version if you can find it. The extra space really helps the melody and instrumental breathe.