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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Zipper/Steppers vs. Senseis (part 2)

As every blogger of an obscure corner of the pop market knows, there's no better way to temporarily banish upsetting thoughts over poor record sales than with a good picture and a good link. I'm also eating cake right now. This helps too.

1. The good picture.

Here's Halcali in this month's issue of teen fashion magazine Zipper. They appear in おしゃれスタアX人気ブランド (Fashionable stars meet popular brands) modeling the label RNA. Although I don't have much love for labels like RNA and Candy Stripper, they look pretty good here and the title "fashionable stars" suits them nicely as well.
There's another shot of Haruka in her latest blog entry.

2. The good link.

I'm late getting to this. So late, in fact that she's already changed hosts to Livedoor, but Jordi wrote a great comparison piece on the PV's for Rip Slyme's Steppers Delight, and it's offshoot, Halcali's Electric Sensei in her Rip Slyme blog (new page here). Read it if you haven't already.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A True Story

Me: Did you buy a copy of Twinkle Star?

Friend: Yes.

Me: Why don't you buy another?

I've put off mentioning this for a while. After checking the Oricon daily ranking, then weekly ranking and still not seeing any trace of it, I resigned myself to believing that the single had just narrowly missed entering the top 30. Truthfully, record sales don't really grab me all that much, and I'd think we'd all rather discuss the merits and pitfalls of pop songs than plot their rise and fall in statistics.
I got a shock yesterday though. I found out the actual figure.

Highest chart placement: 104

Which, as also pointed out yesterday, equals about 2000 singles sold. Incredulous doesn't really cover it. Let's remind ourselves again: Halcali are a manufactured pop band on a major label putting out pop songs into the pop charts for a pop song buying public. We all are aware that part of the reason Halcali exists is to sell records and make money. Isn't this the reason they were signed to Sony, because someone somewhere sensed that they could push this band further up the ladder than For Life could? Yet they shifted the same amount of records you would imagine a niche Idol group would. I don't have any real allusions of grandeur where this band is concerned, but you expect respectable record sales. Tip Taps Tip was a decent, mid-placement showing. Coming in at 102 then vanishing is a disaster.

Assuming Sony didn't intentionally sign this band just to sabotage them, I expect that they, like us, thought that these kids would shift more than a figure so low that DJ Fumiya could send a personal thank you e-mail from whatever hospital bed he's in to everyone that bought it.
So, what on earth happened?

1. The 'missing year' killed them.

Halcali don't have an audience. The majority of their original fanbase (15-18 year old girls) who were taken in by these cute songs about eating shoe creams and going to the beach presumably lost interest after the steady flow of singles dried up. When they finally returned a year later with Tip Taps Tip, Halcali had mutated into a different beast altogether and effectively had to start again as a new band and capture new fans in terms of promotion. While every interview and press release shouted "It's their first release in over 12 months!" it's hard to imagine anyone but whatever hardcore fanbase existed caring too much or even being able to make the connection between the new and old incarnations. It's also hard to imagine the average pop fan knowing that this band had even returned from the wilderness, so uneven was the promotion behind them.
Worse, after Tip Taps Tip introduced the new Halcali direction and sound to a teenage market most of whom had either never heard of the band before or had lost interest, the next single (recorded last summer, which is exactly when it should have been released) suddenly jerked the band back in the opposite direction towards the more pop driven, pre-major Halcali. They were all over the place, perhaps leading to even those newcomers who liked TTT to lose interest in the band again from this lack of continuity. So who cares now? Halcali are stuck in limbo, singing about more adult oriented themes (which we can roughly label growing pains I suppose- not only did a lot of Ongaku reference it, but it was brought up again for but TTT and TS) while still having an edge too goofy and unhip for the Koda Kumi crowd, but being too grown up for the original Halcali kids who got behind their summer songs about nothing.
Which reminds me of a comment Jordi left- "It's funny how these girls probably will relate more to teenage girls but they're too busy aspiring to be Koda Kumi or Ayumi". Is there a kind of reality in these songs that aren't about sex or crying but about "the themes of teenage life" (paraphrasing Twinkle Star) that's, how can I put it...boring to Halcali's audience? Would a teenage girl really be interested in thinking about being a teenager?

2. Sony's promotion of the band was hopelessly inadequate.

Here's what I really don't understand. Why sign a band, then promote them so unevenly? Why give them the magazine interviews, the gigs sharing the bill with high profile acts, the radio slots and Music Station (which we'll come to again in a minute), then make it so that there is zero (and I mean no) promotion for the single in any of the major record stores, in any of the major magazines and in fact no hint that there is a new single coming out at all? As with TTT, I walked into a major branch of Tower records on the day Twinkle Star was released and had to look for a good 5 minutes to find it. There were no signs on the upcoming releases board, no clues that it existed. No ads in the press, nothing on TV, nothing to suggest that promotional posters were even made.
So why fall down on the seemingly obvious? Did Sony just want Halcali for Eureka 7?! I suppose my main question to Sony would be, why sign them at all? While I was originally skeptical about the move, at the very least I thought it would mean healthier record sales. Can anyone think of one good thing that's come from the change? One strange un-Halcali Halcali single sold off the back of an anime, and one massively delayed, massive flop that should have been released on For Life exactly when O.T.F had obviously originally planned on releasing it.
If anything, Halcali seem to have gone backwards. Let's not forget that it was For Life that got Strawberry Chips (easily a less marketable song that TS) in at number 22 on Oricon and gave it the Gold Disc for that year. Now we have shocking record sales and no audience.
Music Station though, didn't that count for something? While it's true that it falls behind both Hey!Hey!Hey! and Utaban in the ratings, it still attracts a sizable audience. Over 10% of households in Japan tune in, which equals roughly 12.8 million people and an awful lot of exposure.

So lets add it up.

Magazine interviews (albeit mostly with the Sony owned What's In) + radio (interviews, regular slot on Tokyo FM) + gigs (with the likes of Shakka Labbits) + Music Station (again, 12 million-odd viewers) = 2000 singles sold.

Wait, there's something I left out of the equation. I forgot to add
- a total absence of a regular promotional campaign for the single in the media.

The trouble with the positives above is that only two of them were concerned with the actual single itself, Music Station and the magazine interviews, and even then Music Station gave no indication of when the single would actually be released. Posters, ads in magazines, the internet and TV would have done that. Basically, a band on a major label should be promoted well enough to ensure that a potential buyer does not have to take it upon themselves to search for that information.

Aside from a small advert on the community website mixi, I saw nothing.

Who knows where they go from here?

Whoever's to blame, the fact is that a supurb, well crafted pop song with all the potential to give Halcali a moderate hit and push them at least slightly back into the public conscious has just gone sadly and quietly to waste.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


After the initial flurry of pre and post-Twinkle Star action from their HQ, things seemed to have come to something of a stop with Halcali. Looking back, what impact did Twinkle Star have? An absurdly catchy pop song with their old, famous production behind the wheels wasn't enough to propel the song into the top twenty even following it's immediate release. Am I being hopelessly naive here? Is there something I'm missing? What on earth would it have taken for people to have gone out and bought this record? It's hard to imagine them working any harder. What do they have to do? More Music Stations? More magazine interviews? More gigs?

Here's yet another Twinkle Star interview, this time from the April issue of B-Pass. I skipped over it at first, it's another bland, by the numbers interview with nothing much to recommend it. Yesterday though I caved in and bought the magazine since there's been nothing else H and Y related to write about recently. Right near the end, the subject of the third album came up. Nothing we haven't heard before, but isn't it always good to hear it again?

So, are you working on the new album?

Yukari: Yes, songs are being written for us now. We've got some great songs lined up for singles. Of course we just want to keep improving and releasing stuff that's better than what we've done before. We're going to keep on writing our own lyrics too.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Today's question

Is THIS the only known example of Halcali breaching the western mainstream airwaves?

That's Halcali playing out an episode of Adam and Joe Go Tokyo in 2003. The introduction is a bit patronising and the handclaps a bit annoying, but exposure is never a bad thing I suppose.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Toyota Bb Nite

Yesterday (3/02) Halcali played an invitation only (they were given out as prizes through Osaka radio station FM 182) gig at Osaka Zepp. I wasn't able to go, it was in another city on a school night, plus I already had tickets to see Dinosaur Jr., plus it was one of those annoying setups that made it difficult to get tickets and which just seemed designed to push people away from the event. Message to HQ: What people want is a gig where you can buy a ticket with money, go to the venue, wait until it opens, buy a t-shirt, watch the band and go home. Why make people jump through a series of stressful hoops?
I got this information from mixi, and although someone posted a set-list, I don't think this was the order it was played in.

Twinkle Star
Giri Giri Surf Rider
Tip Taps Tip
Marching March
Wakakusa Dance (w/Rhymester's Utamaru)

Why do they keep playing that song off the covers album they were on? Anyway, it seems like a fairly well rounded set. We can only keep hoping that the national tour- the one where they come out and play more than 6 songs- is just round the corner.