Week 2: Kawaii and Cute

I first stumbled across J-Pop through a friend from China. I enjoy music, both listening and exploring the online communities dedicated to finding new artists and sounds possibly a little too much and was fascinated by a new wave of producers from the UK who were making infectious hyper-real pop music, a collective called PC Music and an anonymous artist named SOPHIE. I was playing him some of this music (available to listen to below) when he told me that it sounded like J-Pop, more specifically a genre (I think!) called kawaii.

This prompted me to explore J-Pop, which I had never heard before and it struck me how similar the music sounded to this “new” wave of British producers. In my searching I stumbled across this article which highlighted the fact that there was an acknowledged connection between the producers and kawaii going so far as the producer’s labeling the genre of music that they were creating “cute” which is the rough English translation of kawaii. This connection echoes the renaming of Pokémon in America as mentioned in the lecture today, attempts at westernising the content. I feel as though there is more than just a simple translation from kawaii to cute as the primary reason that I was not too suspicious of the music was the fact that I could source more local inspirations for the music, as mentioned in the article. More investigation is needed but another primary aspect that may differentiate the music further from J-Pop is the fact that for the music with no lyrics, and even some with, there is no “drop” in the tracks, which leave you with an opportunity to enjoy them in any situation and accentuating the ambiguity in their creation.

A potential topic for further discussion that comes to mind is similar to that had by the YouTube clip we watched in the lecture discussing J-RPG’s, if the game is made by other people than in Japan is it still a J-RPG or is it simply a genre? On immediate reflection to me it seems as if this issue is different because those original J-RPG games seem to be the primary source of inspiration for the new wave of “J-RPG” games. This is in comparison to as discussed previously a music genre that initially seemed to simply derive from producers around them. The question then is however did the cross pollination of musical ideas happen at an earlier point for the transition to be so seamless?

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6 comments

  1. As someone heavily invested in Japanese car culture, I have always been fascinated by the feedback loop between Japan and Western culture; that is the way in which the Japanese idolise Western culture, which in many ways is influenced by Japanese culture. This creates what I like to think of as cyclical progress, where trends emerge and evolve as they bounce back and forth between East and West. Your exploration of the distinctly Japanese ‘kawaii’ culture and it’s prevalence in British music brought this to the front of my mind, and it would be interesting to investigate the responses of J-Pop artists to artists such as those in the PC Music collective.

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  2. It’s an interesting example that I’ve certainly never heard of. I’m certainly inclined to agree that J-pop is more a genre that stemmed from Japan rather than merely pop made in Japan. There have been a few other recent examples of J-pop genres being appropriated and even mimicked by artists outside of Japan. One such example is the Swedish performer Yohio, who in this video clearly adopts the language, sound and aesthetic of a J-pop artist.

    I guess what’s important to consider now is what this appropriation is saying or achieving, and what it teaches you about Japanese culture? What personal biases and assumptions are relavent to the way in which you experienced this music?

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  3. It is hard to say whether or not a game made outside of Japan is it still a J-RPG game. It is the same when comparing these two music genres. How do we decipher between what is J-Pop and what is this new infectious hyper-real pop music that we are hearing.
    Most people would probably label the music that they are most familiar with. Although the question still remains if 2 supposedly different types of music follow the same structure can they really be separate genres.

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  4. I suppose it also depends on the intended audience. You can have a foreign creator but if it is designed and marketed towards a specific demographic (especially if there are language barriers) it’s probably going to be considered a film of that country.

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