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When Kaze Fujii released “Grace”, opinions on the song were pretty mixed, along with how some felt about the video. And then there was the whole controversy of an old video of Kaze’s where he rapped Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” and did not self censor the work n***a, which gained traction weeks after the song had released. “Grace” got a little buried in everything but anything to do with the actual song. But not before it peaked at number 8 on the Oricon Combined Singles Chart – making it one of Kaze’s only singles to hit the top 10 since “Kirari”.

But despite Kaze embarking on a tour, he was decidedly quiet following the release of his since deleted Twitter apology. It was just as well his tour took him outside of Japan. Kaze opted to just keep his head down and only do what needs to be done. And to concentrate on one of his loves: music.

Once the tour was done and the dust had seemingly settled, Kaze re-emerged with “Workin’ Hard”, which was the most ideal of songs for him to release at the time, as it seemed to be an insight into perhaps what Kaze was doing for the past couple of months. Workin’ hard in the literal, spiritual and mental sense. But it wasn’t all about him. Because “Workin’ Hard” is a song which speaks to everybody.

“Workin’ Hard” was written to be the theme of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, but the lyrics are broad and are not sports specific in the slightest. “Workin’ Hard” is a song about resilience and persistence in a world which will continually try to test you. But “Workin’ Hard” is also written from the perspective of a pragmatist. The song isn’t glamourising people who work hard. At one point Kaze is even like ‘Chile, we come to this earth. We work our whole lives. And then we just die.’ But the crux of the song is the hard work being acknowledged. Because sometimes, just being told ‘Good job’ can be the difference between you giving everything up or continuing to stay and keep going. “Workin’ Hard” is a song of encouragement. An admittance that the world is shit and won’t change, so have to persist and find way switch work for you in order to navigate it. Much like Hikaru Utada’s “Keep Tryin’” and Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul”. Both of which have very similar messages to “Workin’ Hard”. The former of which even has a similar music video.

A screenshot of Kaze Fujii in the music video for “Workin’ Hard”. Featuring him and his co-workers in a convenience store, all partaking in a dance routine as their stand peeking out above the aisles.
Kaze Fujii – Workin’ Hard | HEHN Records / Universal Music

One of the cool things about “Workin’ Hard”, is that despite the song being in Japanese and me not understanding all of it, the chorus featuring the repetition of ‘Workin’ Hard’ in English manages to sell so much of what the song is about and convey the feeling of it. But Kaze also has this way of singing which provides so much context for a song. So whilst you may not understand all of the words, you understand the feeling conveyed through them. Hikaru Utada’s music hits the same way for me. And it was the same way with Hikaru Utada’s “Keep Tryin’”. Between Hikaru singing the phrases ‘I don’t care any anything’ and ‘Keep trying’ on the hook and the way they sing the rest of the song, you get a clear enough picture of what the song is about and the sentiment of it. It’s why I find it bizarre when people dismiss songs just because they don’t know the language they’re being sung in. It’s about the feeling, innit.

A screenshot of Kaze Fujii in the music video for “Workin’ Hard”. Featuring him and his co-workers in food market stall, all partaking in a dance routine.
Kaze Fujii – Workin’ Hard | HEHN Records / Universal Music

Despite “Workin’ Hard” sounding like the same ol’, same ol’ from Kaze, it’s one of his first single releases to not be produced by his partner in crime Yaffle, who has produced and arranged all of Kaze’s original songs up until now. I wouldn’t have known this had I not seen the song credits, because Yaffle doesn’t have a distinguishable production style. His skill is being able to help create sounds for others and just build around them, which makes him an incredibly selfless producer in that regard. And also a rarity in an age where so many producers try to imprint their sound onto an act and throw producers tags all over that bitch.

“Workin’ Hard” sounding the way all of Kaze’s songs usually do really shows that not only does Kaze have a sound, but he has an awareness of it and is specific about it – to such a degree that he can identify it and tap producers who get it and can deliver it. And Kaze probably isn’t taking credit for the role he plays as a producer too. “Workin’ Hard” being more of the same is no bad thing, because the song is so good. But some may find it to be a little too similar to what they’ve heard from Kaze before and grade it down as a result. I personally find it very similar to “Matsuri”. You could switch the lyrics of the two and they’d fit.

At this point I think Kaze is so popular and has such a stable and cemented fanbase, that it would take a REALLY bad song or something so clearly lazy for tables to turn on him. He has a very set sound, which is one of the things that stuck with me about his debut album and its accompanying cover album. Out of the gate he had a musical identity that felt like it was going to stick, and so far it has. And whilst I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “Workin’ Hard” sounding like “Matsuri 2.0”, I would completely understand if some felt that the song was a little too much of a step and repeat; which can sometimes be the problem when an artist is making music in what feels like a continuous stream following on from their last album. A common issue in Japanese music, where post album singles release mere months after an album end up sounding like songs intended for it.

Close similarities aside, I do think it serves Kaze’s brand well for him to have an identifiable sound and re-introduce / re-use elements from previous songs. After all, “Oops!… I Did It Again” being a twin of “…Baby One More Time” certainly didn’t hurt Britney Spears. And producer Max Martin re-using the same set of sounds for every damn song did wonders for creating a brand of pop which everybody associated with him and sought to imitate. And it also worked, because every single one of them songs he put out was really good. The same way “Workin’ Hard” is good. But I do hope that Kaze’s third studio album has him switch things up a little. The prospect of Kaze working with other producers is great. But if the songs are just going to sound like the stuff he was cutting with Yaffle, then why bother working with anybody else?

But I get the importance of Kaze being repetitious and consistent with sound, and it is a good approach. Because Max Martin doing this for Britney helped cemented her musical identity very early on, which is crucial for new acts. Just look at Christina Aguilera by comparison. She was never able to really lock down a sound or claim one. Even all these years on, she still doesn’t have a sound or a type of song where I can hear it and say ‘This is so Christina Aguilera’. Meanwhile, Britney very much has a brand of pop I can identify her with, whether it’s from her or somebody else. I think Kaze is at this point now. It was abundantly clear when he wrote Misia’s “Higher Love”, because that whole entire song sounded like a Kaze Fujii song. Kaze knows his own formula and it works. So, now the next step is build on the sound, or pull it apart and really play with it, whilst still retaining the essence of a Kaze Fujii song. Because we have seen what happens when an artist gets too complacent with their sound and becomes stuck in it and no longer able to deliver anything great from it. [Looks over at Ayumi Hamasaki]

A screenshot of Kaze Fujii in the music video for “Workin’ Hard”. Featuring him and his garbage disposal co-workers in high-viz gear and safety helmets, all partaking in a dance routine as they stand in a line and lock arms.
Kaze Fujii – Workin’ Hard | HEHN Records / Universal Music

I wasn’t completely sold on “Grace”. Not that it’s a bad song. It just didn’t really click with me the way Kaze’s songs usually do. But “Workin’ Hard”? I dig it.

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Single Review: Kaze Fujii – Workin’ Hard