Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pop Japan (ポーラ)

Because Akita is an international university with a high number of Western – and particularly American – exchange students, I am simultaneously exposed to Western and Japanese styles of interest in Japanese culture and pop culture (Western culture too.  We’ll come back to that).  With the significant exception of Studio Ghibli – there is a general lack of interest on the part of the Japanese people at AIU in Japanese pop culture as a whole.  My feelings on Japanese interaction with pop culture are that they are similar to America with a different skin applied.  As is true in America, everyone knows larger pop stars (ex Lady Gaga; Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), generally watches poor television shows (read some dramas and anime) despite the existence of good ones, and pays much more attention to youth fiction (light novels) than to literature.

I had the good fortune this month to go to a free music festival in Tokyo in which Kyary Pamyu Pamyu performed.  For those who are not familiar with Kyary, please see the attached video.

Pretty remarkable, isn’t she?

Even in Japan, Kyary has created quite a stir.  By remaining very respectful and maintaining traditional Japanese values in interviews and public appearances, she has managed to create an interesting balance of critiquing current Japanese pop music and social tropes, while also being mainstream.

For instance, here is a video of her performance of “Pinpon Nannai” – a song I propose critiques fat-shaming in Japanese society as well as general feelings of unhappiness in every-day life.

Despite the stated intention of augmenting tourism within Japan for the foreigners staying here, the only reason I can see to provide free tickets and food (score) to a music festival in Tokyo featuring your most popular (and most internationally known) popstar is because the music business has globalized.

With the advent of K-pop in PSY(of the incredibly popular Gangnam style and Gentleman), Girl’s Generation (single “The Boys” entering top 100 on iTunes), and other similarly popular other groups, Japan has watched one of its literal and in many ways cultural neighbors rise to mild international pop culture stardom.  I suspect that this event hoped to popularize J-pop overseas.

Although I think that Japan certainly has the marketing ability to make its pop music sell well overseas considering the luck it has had with many of its pop characters, and even Vocaloid, I think it says something about the industry that even my friends at AIU rarely are interested in J-pop or J-rock above their European, American, and Korean counterparts.  This is true despite an obvious (although potentially less potent at AIU) language difference.  Please put your thoughts on this issue in the comments!


Crystaline Hoover said...

I'd definitely be interested in learning more about the differences in K-pop and J-pop. I took a trip to Korea this past weekend, and one thing I was struck by was how much K-pop I heard playing in stores and restaurants. Around here, it seems like most stores play American music rather than Japanese. Even though, in my experience, most of my Japanese friends do prefer Japanese pop stars.

Though I've also heard that the K-pop industry is pretty crazy and abusive, churning out new idols as soon as old ones get too old. So maybe they're not exactly the best models for an industry.

Were the free tickets only for foreigners? If so, wow, yeah, that definitely sounds like an effort to globalize. Part of the "Cool Japan" campaign.

In Search of Modern Japan: Writing Capital Cities (Moderator) said...

Have you heard any comments about Japanese attitudes towards her use of traditional culture as an element of pop music (not being a J-Pop listener myself, I have no idea if this is common)?

Also, it seems the lawyers have gotten to that second video.

Crystal and Chris, what have you two seen in terms of relative interest in J-Pop? It would not surprise me if AIU students tended to be ones with a greater-than-average interest in foreign media, so there might be a sampling bias here. (from Dylan)