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A vinyl of Koda Kumi’s single “Vroom”. Laid on a wet asphalt surface, on which coloured lights can be seen reflected.  The cover art features a shot of Koda Kumi leaning up against a mustard yellow sports car, wearing a green puffer jacket, a Diesel crop top and blue thigh high boots wrapped in black and yellow ‘KEEP OUT’ tape.When Koda Kumi posted the clip of “Vroom” on her Instagram account, I put my head in my hands and sighed. Mere minutes after I posted a review of her most single “Tooi Machi no Dokoka de…” and sang its praises. The clip featured the chorus of the song which sounded like a mess. But having heard the full song, I will admit that it’s not as bad as the clip made it seem it was going to be. The song is still absolutely terrible. But “Vroom” does have moments that make me think ‘This could have actually been something really good’. Which is why it’s unfortunate that the song ended up a mess.

I am not a huge fan of these types of songs from Kumi Koda, because far too often the end result is just a cacophony of noise, with so little in the way of musicality. Kumi clearly has zero intention of pulling the plug on these sorts of songs. But if she is adamant to keep doing them, then she needs to better refine them into good songs. I don’t need every song Kumi puts out to be a masterpiece. Putting out stupid-ass songs to just be loud and shake ass to is absolutely fine. Beyoncé has been doing it her whole career. She LOVES ratchet mess. But she also knew her ratchet mess still had to be good songs at their core, and therefore started to finesse them into instances which could be considered staples in her discography, whilst still having the self-awareness to know the spaces in which they occupy. From “Diva”, to “Flawless”, to “Sorry”, to “Apeshit”, to “America Has a Problem”. Beyoncé having always been about vocal production and having an innate skill for taming the weirdest, most sparse, most unruly beats means that she is never lost in the production. She is the Crocodile Dundee of beats. No matter how messy that beat sounds, Beyoncé will wrangle that shit. And Beyoncé works with songwriters who are able to pen verses and choruses which stick. Even if you’re like ‘This song is some nonsense’, you smile and keep shaking your ass to it anyway, because the song is still fun, it still sounds good to the ear and Beyoncé still sells it. With Kumi, I’m just standing lost and wondering what I’m even listening to. So little of the songs makes sense to me, because it’s all just noise and I never know what Kumi is trying to do with any of it.

A screenshot from Koda Kumi’s music video for “Vroom”. Featuring her in a warehouse with blue and purple lights, sports cars and danger tape strewn everywhere.
Koda Kumi – Vroom | Avex Music Creative Inc.

I truly feel that Kumi likes the image and the aesthetic she associates with these sorts of songs more than the songs themselves. She likes being a YG Entertainment girl or a hood bitch in a music video and on stage. So it’s a case of ‘Fuck the quality of the song, as long as it makes me feel like a female version of a hustla’. And then we end up with songs like “Ultraviolet”, “XXKK”, “Black Wings” and “Vroom”, where Kumi is swinging her arms around in a puffer jacket, a Diesel crop top and knee high boots in some warehouse in Setagaya. And I get it. This is a part of who she is. When you look at her personal style, it’s either really clean and demure or it’s street and grungy. And she looks great in both. But Kumi isn’t able to reign in the songs where she taps into her street and grungy side, and deliver anything of high quality. She just lets it all fly and what we get, is what we get; which is all too often these really chaotic songs, which are completely throwaway. And in the case of “Vroom” it’s a real shame, because there is something good in this song, but it’s lost amongst the mess of bad songwriting, production and mixing choices.

“Vroom” could have worked if it had a better hook. The ‘VROOOM-VA-VA-VA-VA-VA’ hook just makes it a Japanese version of “Crazy Frog” or “Man’s Not Hot”. Which would’ve been fine, if the intention was to troll and Kumi was in on it. But I don’t think she is. Kumi really thinks her hook is fire. Writing something different and perhaps approaching the hook with a drill or grime like cadence could have been cool and allowed her to still rap it. The chorus ruins the entire song for me. “Vroom” could have worked if it were mixed better. Everything is fighting to be heard. So whatever detail there is in the music and the production, it’s just lost. The beat itself is actually kinda hot, but it doesn’t pop or feel as dynamic as it should, because of how flat everything seems to have been mixed. The terrible mixing also undercuts Kumi’s voice and performance, which (awful hook aside) are really good.

I want to give Kumi and producer Hi-Yunk some grace by saying that had they both sat and pondered over this song just a little longer and thought ‘How can we make it better?’ that maybe another pass would have made it something good. But given that the two of them have been working together for over ten years and the results have been so wildly inconsistent and in some cases, fuckign awful, I’m really not sure. And Kumi has long had an issue when it comes to taste and a sense of what works for her outside of covers.

A screenshot from Koda Kumi’s music video for “Vroom”. Featuring a close-up of her in a warehouse with blue and purple lights, wearing white framed shades and her hair in structured plaited pigtails.
Koda Kumi – Vroom | Avex Music Creative Inc.

It flabbergasts me that Kumi continues to put out songs like “Vroom” with no desire to better them or approach them differently in a way which makes them good. Especially when she has done songs of a similar type of vibe and energy which all turned out far better. “OMG”, “Pop Diva” and “Lay Down”, all instances of songs which sit in a similar space to “Vroom” but are far better executed. But here, she really sat in a studio, cut “Vroom”, played it back and said ‘YES BITCH. THIS IS THE JAM.’ It’s terrible. Even if it is just a song for a Driving Hits album that fans can only pick up at an Eneos petrol station, “Vroom” is sloppy. And Kumi is so much better than this.

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Single Review: Koda Kumi – Vroom