Friday, July 9, 2010

The Sound of Music

About a week ago I was listening to the latest episode of the J-Pop review podcast, Gaijin Kanpai. This particular episode featured a roundtable between the hosts about “What makes an Artist”. After debating the relative creative merits of many quasi-singers such as PERFUME and vocaloid super star Hatsune Miku as actual musicians, the conversation turned to one of the hosts’ biggest pet peeves: when anime fans only recognize a band for the one theme song they contributed to an anime series. Co-host Zer0 remarked that “not that many people really like music… for most people, it’s just noise. People go to work and turn on the classic rock station, but they don’t actually listen to it- they just let it play in the background.”

Although it may be hard to admit as the generation armed with Ipods and an endless supply of free (if illegally obtained) music, there is some truth to this statement, even if it may not be entirely our fault that it’s hard to get into music purely for its sound quality.

how could you resist a song sung by these smexy boys next
next door?
What Zer0 is referring to in “liking music”, is appreciating music purely for its sound, and not for say, a clever lyric or the music video or TV series that comes to mind whenever a particular song plays, and like it or not, modern music has never been promoted to us as a stand alone product. Instead, much of the most popular songs are anime and drama tie-ins, CM theme songs, or simply promoted by very pretty faces. Especially in the Japanese music industry, when every A-side on a single promises a PV, I often found myself thinking, “I’ll probably like this better once I’ve seen the PV,” when the radio previews weren’t as awe-inducing as anticipated. I mean, look at those Johnny’s Entertainment boys or the masses of K-Pop boybands (mega-group Super Junior comes to mind): they aren’t “musicians” per se- more like entertainers. The fact that they can produce one chart-topping single after another isn’t because their boys have overwhelming musical prowess- it’s simply because they have charming personalities that have won them legions of devoted fans who see each #1 single a testament of their love for their idols. The slew of media attachments that we see in the music industry (not just Japanese, I might add) probably started as a way for musicians to reach out to a broader audience has now diluted the value of their own work.

YUI is one of the few artists that don't get lost in my music

Of course, as easy as it is simply to tout the Orwellian perspective of being manipulated by Big Name Companies ™ into becoming unappreciative of music, I can’t pretend that we don’t share regular parts of the blame as well. In an age when music is so easily obtained that it’s virtually taken for granted, it’s all too easy to accumulate a large library of music- even if you aren’t a really fan of it. I can’t begin to count the amount of music I have stored away in my Itunes library that I just downloaded on a whim and haven’t listened to more than once, if at all (I’m sorry, but I’m looking at you, Mihimaru GT albums… I’ll get to you eventually, I promise.). Thank god for shuffle, or else would forget that some of my 3000 odd songs even existed. Furthermore, it’s not exactly expected (or accepted) to say that you “don’t like music”- especially if you are between the ages of thirteen and thirty- considering the vast array of genres out there, one assumes that there must be something for everyone. But let’s face it, of all the “music lovers” out there, how many actually set time aside in their day to listen and acoustically analyze each song they love? I know I rarely do, partly because I don’t have time and partly because sometimes I feel like silence really is golden. In fact, I’m listening to Ayaka’s second album right now, and I had to double check what song was playing- because I wasn’t paying particular attention to it.

Also, maybe it’s just because of all the facebook statuses, but it feels like people remember a lot more about an interesting song lyric than a particular melody. Now I’m not saying that in order to love music, one has to be able to dissect it in all its technicalities, but I feel like that loving music should mean something more than listening to whatever the song-of-the-moment is.

I have to admit... for the longest time, I had
no idea "Fukai Mori"  was from Do as Infinity...
Personally, I think listening to J-Pop and K-Pop has certainly helped me in loving the “sound” of music rather than just attaching to something else that is attractive in our minds. Like many other people, I was introduced to J-Pop bit by bit through anime and dramas, and I eventually transitioned to listening to J-Pop on my own, introduced to commercials when I found out that my favorite song was used in it and not the other way around. Not understanding the language (or at least, only knowing the spare phrase here or there) gave me the opportunity to understand songs through the intonation of the vocalist, and the swell and fall of the instrumental. Of course, that is not to say that I don't like some well-crafted lyrics in my songs either- but that becomes much more of an issue for me if I listen to a song in a language I understand. If a Japanese song has crappy lyrics, I can just skim the translation and forget about it after a while, simply enjoying the mood of the song.

In that sense, I think that English-speaking J-Pop fans share a common sense of loving music of all sorts for what it is. So yes, I do realize that I am pretty much preaching to the choir when it comes to music appreciation. 

I’m sorry if this made no sense whatsoever XD. I’ve been thinking about what I heard on that podcast for a little while, and I just had to get this out there. Do you think that there is a “true music lover” in all of us, or do the majority of people just love music because of something it’s associated with? How much of your library is made of songs you were first introduced after watching a show you liked or that you liked better after you watched the PV? Thoughts in general? 


  1. Maybe because I'm still "young" I have a pretty deep connection to the music I listen to (I only listen to music when it's quiet around so I can really let myself sink into it) since there actually is a scientific reason why teens have an emotional attachment to their music. I feel that I'm pretty good when it comes to appreciating music when it comes to sound, but I also place a great amount of weight on a band's image (visual or not).

    Project groups/idol bands are great examples of visual-music packages. Most often the music is mediocre, but sometimes (rarely) they just get it so, so right, like Arashi's Truth or Super Junior's It's You. I appreciate these bands for different reasons than I would "real" musicians.
    (Also since we're on the topic of SJ I just want to say I love you for choosing a picture with all the 13 members. So much chaos in the group lately.)

    And yes, listening to music in a foreign language definitely allows you to appreciate the music itself a lot more!

    I really enjoyed reading this! Great post!

  2. First off - fantastic post and I am so glad I found this blog yesterday and linked it to mine.

    I myself happen to be a JE fan and I can say that I'm only into Hey!Say!JUMP because No.1 they can dance and No. 2 Yuto and Yuri are too cute to resist. This doesn't apply so much to KAT-TUN though. And of course, the image of a band/group will be conveyed in the CD covers, photobooks, PVs which are used to bait us into the fandom (I happily allow myself to be).

    I myself was introduced to Jpop through anime - InuYasha to BoA and then to this awesome music world. But I did not start listening to BoA because of the anime - it was moreso because I liked Every Heart.

    And to answer your question - there's no doubt in my mind that everybody is a "music lover" or at least - we can all enjoy music. And naturally, we don't dissect our favourite songs looking for faults or some type of deep meaning as soon as we can. I myself tend to drown in the music while working on a particularly difficult assignment.

    Once again, great post ^^

  3. Reminded me a little of Alisa's post about... the voice as a messenger? something like that. (b/c you might be interested in reading that too, but I think you might've already...?)

    I do think there is a "true music lover" in all of us, just some have a harder time finding it than others...?

    I tend to pick my music based on singing ability, which is why I like Evanescence (but am ashamed to admit it because people then think I am emo, which is not true), Amy Lee's singing is pretty good.

    And if not singing ability, then likability, which is helped if the song includes violin/piano/emotions (raw emotion is surprisingly hard to find in songs).

    I'm... sorta picky, but I like my music :)

  4. @Aikorin: haha actually, I'm a teenager myself (I'm not sure if the post made it sound otherwise? XD). I'm a fan of a lot of "visually-packaged" acts too, and yeah, there's a lot to appreciate about them beyond music. Idol bands are an art onto themselves.

    @Migure: Hey, I had a look at your blog too! It's great! I'm adding you to my blogroll too :) What's so bad about KAT-TUN? Haha I know their not the most talented idols out there, but they have their charms and as a loyal fangirl I feel compelled to defend them. I tend to put music on while I'm doing homework and other boring things like that too (well, since it's summer now that doesn't really apply... but when I'm doing chores I always like to blast some K-Pop)

    @dreamtiny: I have read Alisa's post! (and left her some feedback) it was a little while ago... hmm I wonder if I was subconsciously inspired by that? XD. I also tend to place a lot of weight on vocal ability when I'm looking for new artists, even if they are idols XD. Of course, if they're idols, I have different standards of vocal talent than if they are stand alone musicians.

  5. Ah, perhaps I wasn't clear. XD I meant to say that while Hey!Say!JUMP has to be more reliant on image, KAT-TUN isn't quite so! I'm a JUMP and KAT-TUN fan ^^


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