The country’s legendary year-end music program is struggling to find its hit.

Every New Year’s Eve in Japan the Kohaku Song Battle (Kohaku Uta Gassen) is broadcast on public broadcaster NHK. Since the 1950s it’s featured an all-star lineup of musicians that spanned genres and generations in a single pseudo-competition to celebrate music.

With this year’s event only months away, speculation has begun on which Japanese artists will be invited to perform. Normally, each time one song has stood out above the rest and is generally agreed upon as the song of the year that seemed to permeate all layers of life in Japan from major brand commercials to kids humming on the way to school. For example, in 2019 “Gurenge” by LiSA, opening theme to Demon Slayer, rode the massive success of the anime and was a pretty catch tune to boot.

Last year “Kosui” by Eito dominated the scene and sparked a huge rush on Dolce & Gabbana perfume simply by mentioning it in the chorus.

And this year we have…um.

It’s not that there wasn’t any good music released in 2021 or even successful songs, but none had really reached that stratospheric cultural ubiquity that the above examples had.

Probably the song most people would cite when pressed to answer is “Usseewa” by Ado. The huge level of success it achieved certainly puts it in the running, but since it was released in October of 2020, that success largely straddled last year and this year.

This is hardly an exact science though, so a strong case could be made that “Usseewa” deserves to be called the “Song of 2021” regardless of exactly when it came out, but at that same time there’s also a feeling that it’s a bit of a default victory because no other serious contender showed up since then.

The question of what the song of the year, which generally becomes a major attraction of Kohaku, is a dilemma that has many online scratching their heads as well.

“A song that defines this year… If you ask me, nothing comes to mind.”
“Looks like now’s a prime chance for a musician to spring up and claim the title.”
“Maybe they should just loop the video game music from the Olympic opening ceremony. That was really popular.”
“Why not just abandon the idea of ‘only songs from the past year’ and just celebrate music in general?”

“I can only think of ‘Usseewa’ or ‘Butter.'”
“What if someone made a song about COVID-19? That might be good.”
“‘Butter’ is all I can come up with.”

BTS’ smash hit “Butter” was often brought up too and might fit the bill of this year’s song, but the biggest boy band in the world is probably a hard get for Kohaku. However, since Ado didn’t appear at last year’s Kohaku, she is definitely owed an invite and probably more likely to accept.

▼ BTS is known to support charitable causes, so maybe they could be convinced to come over to save Kohaku

The lack of a firm “Song of 2021” is only the tip of Kohaku’s problems this year, however. Past ratings grabber Arashi is now on hiatus and won’t be appearing, and even enka star Hiroshi Itsuki announced that he won’t be attending, breaking his impressive 50-year steak of Kohaku performances. Even worse, with Japan having hosted the Olympics this year, the show was aiming to feature many of Japan’s top athletes, but it appears a lot of the biggest atheltic stars already have prior engagements for New Year’s Eve.

One bright spot is that Shohei Ohtani is scheduled to be a guest judge, and you can’t get much bigger than him in the world of baseball. Rumors have it that producers are also reaching out to X Japan as they’re consistently popular with middle-aged viewers. However, they don’t have quite the same appeal to younger viewers that Eito or LiSA had in the past.

There’s still time though, and anything can happen in the coming months. But if nothing does, I always say “you can’t go wrong with Guitar Wolf” even though no one ever listens.

Source: Tokyo Sports, My Game News Flash
Top image: YouTube/Ado
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