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November 13, 2005

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Chuckles

I remember a friend of mine telling me how he had found a couple of Sunny Ade records in a small American town. I am keen to see to what extent African musical forms will affect global performances. For much of the 20th century, the flow has been the other way round - save for Fela, and some Southern African products, for instance; one cant really discern the influence of say, Fuji, or Juju on Western music. Usually, it is the other way round (I even heard that Sir Shina Peters has started rapping). Its probably the same thing in Japan. Much of the JPop groups are re-presenting a Western format. There is little else to BoA for instance, than her being a kind of Oriental Britney Spears: Or perhaps Hikaru Utada takes that spot.

Of course, the Western format itself, is anything but "Western" having historical roots outside the West: However, much of what we are going to call cultural globalization will, for the most part, be Westernization (which, granted, will re-localize in different countries).

The curious aspect is how people in these countries begin to view these re-localized formats as authentic parts of their cultural patrimony. I remember a Japanese teenager once telling me that he liked Rap and HipHop. So I said, "Really, Snoop Dogg and all that?" and he said "No. I hate American Rap and HipHop" !!!

IMO - One of the greatest venues for the spread of JPop has been anime: again, a, a medium that might not be accessible to many other cultures. I dont know of any K-Pop group that has achieved the phenomenal success of JPop groups in the West: a success which is mostly anime driven. I mean, when T.M. Revolution tours the USA, most of his fans have Rurouni Kenshin in mind - and Puffy AmiYumi's success is entirely driven by their "Teen Titans" fame.

How many Latin American performers with their proximity and all, have had the cross-over success of the J-Pop groups in the USA (especially given that the Japanese groups tend to perform mostly in Japanese?)

Abiola Lapite

"Much of the JPop groups are re-presenting a Western format."

Indeed. For the most part a Radio Nippon listener could easily mistake the channel for a Western radio station, were it not for the fact that most of the singing is being done in a language he doesn't understand.

"There is little else to BoA for instance, than her being a kind of Oriental Britney Spears: Or perhaps Hikaru Utada takes that spot."

No way. She writes all her own stuff and knows how to turn out genuinely interesting tunes (check out her underrated "Exodus" album): Hikaru Utada actually has talent, and on top of that she can actually sing quite well without needing lots of fancy strings, super-duper producers and backup vocalists to drown out her mediocrity. Ayumi Hamasaki would probably be a better fit for the "Japanese Britney Spears" label, but then again even she seems to have more brains and class than our poor little Britney ...

"I dont know of any K-Pop group that has achieved the phenomenal success of JPop groups in the West: a success which is mostly anime driven."

I'm not sure what you mean by "phenomenal", but barring Puffy AmiYumi, the most successful Japanese groups in the US market over the last decade have been quirky acts like the Pizzicato Five and Cornelius, and even then we're only talking sales of 75,000 or so. The noise the anime fans make is far out of proportion to their importance as music buyers. Still, I'll grant that thanks to anime Westerners who know anything about modern Asian music are a lot more likely to know who Dir en Grey, MOVE or Namie Amuro are than they will Baby VOX or Lee Hyori.

"How many Latin American performers with their proximity and all, have had the cross-over success of the J-Pop groups in the USA (especially given that the Japanese groups tend to perform mostly in Japanese?)"

Ricky Martin and Shakira have enjoyed a hell of a lot more success in the USA than any Japanese musicians since "Sukiyaki" hit the top of the charts, and we haven't even mentioned past crazes like the Lambada, or Afro-Cuban Jazz and the 1960s Bossa Nova wave of which "The Girl from Ipanema" was a part. The Latin influence on Anglo-American music strikes me as tremendous: what's truly astonishing is that Japan has had so much less of a musical impact on the West despite having the world's second largest music market, and this question is the primary driver behind my efforts to familiarize myself with the Japanese musical scene.

Chuckles

[...even she seems to have more brains and class than our poor little Britney...]

Yes. Hamasaki is definitely more mature than Spears; and "Dearest" has a depth way out of Spears' league. IAC, I was referring rather to Spears' status as a Pop icon. Though reconsidering it, I am not quite sure that Utada has achieved such heights in Japan. Yet, it seems that the failure of Utada in the USA may be because she is conceptualized *as* a kind of Japanese Britney Spears: The air of inauthenticity and deja vu might be responsible for the dismal sales of Exodus.

http://www.associatedcontent.com/content.cfm?content_type=article&content_type_id=3523

http://www.time.com/time/asia/arts/column/0,9754,187650,00.html

[...The noise the anime fans make is far out of proportion to their importance as music buyers...]

True. But what about their importance as vectors of Cultural Globalization?

[...Ricky Martin and Shakira have enjoyed a hell of a lot more success in the USA...]

Add Selena and Gloria Estefan to the list.
Yet, if we are truly talking "cultural globalization" - then we must have more than re-presentation. The Bossa Nova wave was a re-presentation of Jazz, just as JPop is a re-presentation of Western Pop. I speak of the phenomenal success of JPop groups because they have succeeded to a signficant extent in transcending a major cultural barrier; which is Language: they sing in Japanese, and their popular productions are mostly in Japanese. True, there is a very narrow fan-base in comparison (with a significant number of wapanese) but is there a comparable fan base for Latin American productions: (i.e. non-Hispanic consumers of productions in Spanish/Portuguese)? Consider that those who consume JPop, who sing along in Japanese to Puffy, who sing along to Judy and Mary's Sobakasu, or L'Arc En Ciel are fresh off the bat consumers who actually become interested in Japanese culture because of the music, rather than vice versa. For the Hispanics; consumers of their productions in Spanish generally tend to be Anglos who learned Spanish for some other reason than simple cultural interest, or fellow Hispanics.
In this sense, it seems to me, JPop has more globalizing "oomph" behind it.
Of course you may disagree with my view of "cultural globalization"; but as far as I know, Ricky Martin was virtually unknown to the Anglophone community before "Cup of Life".
I just think that the idea of a band, coming from an "isolated" country like Japan, performing to audiences in the tens of thousands in the USA, in an entirely foreign language to the audience, which is drawn into the performance and the language of the act, because of the music; is a better example of CG than say, Ricky Martin singing in English and swinging his hips. Hence "phenomenal" from my viewpoint.


I think that the dismal market sales of JPop groups are due, mostly, to Linguistic barriers which the successful Latin acts have overcome by performing in English. And again, most JPop guys have that effeminate thing going on.
Consider also that perhaps a disproportionate number of American consumers of JPop are, I suspect, more likely than not, to be the "online music consumer" type. Not very good for album sales outside of Japan.

Abiola Lapite

"Yet, it seems that the failure of Utada in the USA may be because she is conceptualized *as* a kind of Japanese Britney Spears: The air of inauthenticity and deja vu might be responsible for the dismal sales of Exodus."

The irony here is that she is actually an *American*, a New Yorker by birth and upbringing, and she even began her musical career in the United States before moving to Japan, so she could hardly be more authentic if she tried! Image is everything, it would seem, which is a pity, as I thought "Exodus" was actually pretty good (questionable lyrics to "Easy Breezy" aside).

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