I first became interested in Japanese music around 8 years ago – I believe it was my freshman year in high school. One day I decided to re-watch Dragon Ball saga, which I used to often catch on TV back when I was a kid. Then I discovered ‘anime’, watched few of these cartoons, kind of liked several songs (not to mention anime themselves), and in the end I decided to look up some Japanese rock music.
It was so unlike the usual Western sound, but never the less not completely different – the truth is people everywhere will still sing about same things: love, hate, death, or be all poetical and mystical, and use difficult words which no one really understands; most of the melodies are also universally-used, bands rehash drumming patterns, plenty of records have strikingly similar guitar solos. The only conclusion is that the language itself is what made Japanese music sound so unique and appealing.
Some scholars have most likely analyzed that concept in-depth, but come to think of it, the language plays an important role in the perception of music. For instance, I have much higher tolerance for corny/stupid verses when they are not sang in my native language, despite the fact that I am pretty much fluent in English and I can understand the lyrics. A Polish song from the same league as my guilty pleasure tune ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ would certainly be unbearable to listen to, yet Wham!’s hit (surprisingly) works for me.
Considering that songs which are sang in English dominate the radio airplay and are so ubiquitous in other media as well, people have certainly grown accustomed to them just as much as to tracks in their native tongue. For this reason Japanese tunes have this ‘exotic’ vibe going and people either get fascinated or irritated by it.
In the beginning I was devouring anything I could find, browsing through TOP10, TOP50, top-whatever lists of bands from the Land of the Rising Sun, checking out recommendations etc. Obviously, after a brief period of ‘infatuation’, I realized that the music of Japan is in no way exempted from the categorization into the good and the bad stuff. As of now I regret listening to some atrocious bands which have gone through my music player. Furthermore, I learned to stay away from few genres or types of performers:
- the visual kei genre, with the exception of X Japan, which ironically, was one of the bands which started the whole thing,
Yep. They’re dudes.
- all those mass-produced, bland pop ‘aidoru’ (idols), whose careers span one year tops, excluding some singers from the 70s and the 80s, who displayed more than a pretty face, had powerful voices and offered a mature sound, like 中森明菜 (Akina Nakamori) or 山口百恵 (Momoe Yamaguchi)
- girl groups, which only exist to drain the pockets of the desperate-enough otaku
- Vocaloid aka synthesized voices
- Techno/ dance music, though in this case it does not really matter if it is English, Japanese or Swahili, it simply sucks
At the same time I’ve found several artists which I deeply treasure now, and probably will for years to come. I’m going to periodically make a post about some of these.
One last thing. I’ve been a member on last.fm for quite some time; I sometimes go on profile-lurking trips and I would like to say that I completely can’t comprehend people who go to extremes and quit listening to Western music altogether once they go crazy about Japan. It’s cool to be open-minded and try new stuff, but I don’t think there’s a need for me to close the door behind me. I will never be ready to give up on Metallica, Stevie Nicks, Johnny Cash – you name it. Good music comes in different forms and shapes, so no one should be turning open-mindedness into confines.