j-pop

Baby who?

For my individual autoethnographic research project, the focus of my investigation will be on the adorable Japanese metal band, Babymetal. The genre of music is a cross between Japanese Pop (J-Pop) and metal, and the effeminate voices of the three girls which make up Babymetal bring a refreshing change to the rock/metal genre.
I was first introduced to the band around six months ago. I love music and have been a fan of alternate styles of music for as long as I can remember, (however I must admit heavy metal has never been a preference of mine). One day as I was listening to Triple J on my apprehensive drive to work, I came across a song that I was unfamiliar with, a song that was both funky, yet heavy to a certain degree. I found myself really enjoying it even though metal is not my thing at all, and it was extremely evident that the music wasn’t stereotypical metal, more a combination of a few different genres.

I was so focused on the instrumentals of this track that, admittedly, it took me around two minutes to realise that the song I was listening to wasn’t actually in English, and that’s what intrigued me the most. Triple J considers itself a radio station for ‘alternate’ music, but in reality the music played is very westernised and it’s rare to hear a song in a different language or from a different cultural background. When the song finished the presenter announced that the artist was a Japanese metal band named Babymetal and that this ‘new’ group was taking the world by storm. I legitimately could not think of another Japanese artist that I know of or have heard on the radio, so I was quick to look up a bit about the band and what they were about. It was from this day, when I heard a Japanese metal band amongst the acoustic sounds of Chet Faker and the electronic vibes of Tame Impala, that I discovered a new found liking towards metal, and a new found respect for Triple J for exposing this diverse sound to Australian audiences.

DIGC330 is allowing me to revisit my affinity towards this band, and learn more about the style of music and culture in both an analytical and emotional way. Through autoethnographic practices such as ‘discerning patterns of cultural experience evidenced by field notes and/or artifacts, and then describing these patterns using facets of storytelling’ (Ellis, 2011) , I will obtain a deeper understanding of the band and their global reception, and aim to answer the question- what is Baybymetal?
I’ve only had a few brief encounters with Babymetal since I was first introduced to the band and I still know very little of their origin and style, so I am eager to begin my autoethnographic research. As if have not yet conducted research into the history of the band and their relevance in Japan (and the rest of the world) I decided to watch a couple of video clips produced by the band and note my observations prior to my research:

Video 1: KARATE- BABYMETAL | 20,522,673 views

• The song that I heard and seemingly the only song that gets played on Australian radio
• Eerie costumes- gothic skull like, yet feminine in the sense that they’re white and glowing
• Use of karate movements and poses as form of dance
• Powerful/thrilling graphics – gothic
• Costuming a significant part of the video – represents different sides to the narrative
• Although the music is ‘hardcore’, their voices remain feminine
• Catchy chorus
• Genre is metal but not as hardcore as traditional metal
• Even though they’re dressed in scary/gothic clothing and accompanied by loud drumbs and electric guitar, I can’t help but think how cute they are
• Use of Japanese tradition – catching fly with hand
• Style of music reminds me of Amity Affliction – heavy but still mainstream
• Refreshing to hear a female voice in this genre
• Don’t usually like this genre but actually really enjoy this song

Video 2: BABYMETAL – ギミチョコ!!- Gimme chocolate!! (OFFICIAL) 59,191,425 views


• Haven’t heard this song before but chose to watch this one because it had the most views
• Costumes significant- gothic yet feminine
• Drums heavy and loud
• Live performance video
• Dancing is succinct and a huge part of the performance
• Cute playful dancing
• Pitch remains high
• Don’t understand the lyrics but appear playful and ironic- “gimme chocolate” innocent and childlike juxtaposed to the heavy music and gothic costumes
• Red and black tutu with leather jacket- irony
• Clearly don’t take themselves too seriously- often seen giggling throughout the performance
• Some sing about loss and heart break, these girls sing about chocolate
• Remain to have cheeky smiles on their face
• VERY big crowd watching

Once I utilise sites such as Reddit and YouTube as field sites for my autoethnographic research, along with other means of research online, my next blog will revisit my initial observations and decipher what was significant to me and why. The use of epiphanies through my research will build the basis of my digital artifact and contribute to my understanding of the significance of Babymetal.

Week 6: Moving Forward

In light of last week’s worrying conundrum in deciding the mode of interaction with my digital artefact I am happy to have found an article which has confirmed a starting point for the community. Yoshitaka Mōri (2009) provides an interesting look at the evolution of J-Pop, it it is through his discussion of the “genre” that it is made apparent that J-Pop is not a genre but a signifier of a process of it’s evolution. Mōri summarises this in the quote “the success of J-Pop, it’s petty nationalist tendency and hybrid quality of music are definitely an effect of, and a response to, globalization and it’s consequent anxiety” (2009, p.485). On reflection on this point it seems as if I have somehow subconsciously been drawn back to my interests as discussed in my very first post. J-Pop ultimately serves as a response to an Imagined Asia, a response to fears of the diluting effects of western content. J-Pop is described by Mōri as a descriptor of appropriations of western music first encouraged as a response to forcing the popular radio station J-WAVE to play Japanese music as it was initially a western music only station (2009). They didn’t want to play more traditional Japanese songs but instead sought out songs that sounded like they had been made in Europe and the US but had been made in Japan, ”J-pop was the genre that filled the gap between Japanese popular music and western music at that moment“ (Mōri 2009, p. 476)

 

By looking at the idea of J-Pop more widely as opposed to what I feel was too intense a specificity, a community has the opportunity to be developed. What I am proposing is simply turning the ideas I had last week on their head. Instead of there being a single producer everyone is, which will further promote an open engagement. As J-Pop was an appropriation we can replicate this process by going back to an original idea of making simple sound packs maybe one instrument or texture for the community to use in the creation of new songs, using as many or as few as they want whilst retaining the freedom to mix in new sounds that they feel compliment. It will be interesting to see if a new genre or sound is perpetuated by this free interaction, though it might be slightly ambitious considering the time frame of the project.

References:

Mōri, Y 2009, “J-pop: from the ideology of creativity to DiY music culture”, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 10, no. 4 pp 474-488

Week 5: J-Pop’s Industrial Production Culture

My ideas for the individual digital artefact are still quite loose whilst staying within a singular concept. I have been strongly inspired by J-Pop as some of you may have noticed by the fact that I have used it as a lens for the weekly discussion posts. As I have been exploring it in this way I have found myself drawn to the culture of industrial production of the “genre”. I would like to investigate this further through the artefact. For a mode of interaction I have been strongly inspired by a community set up by a British record label Night Slugs, called Club Constructions. They set up a simple web page where producers can contribute tracks for consideration; these tracks however have to conform loosely to a manifesto that Night Slugs have established. This manifesto describes the sound and elements of the track for example the tracks should contain as little melody as possible three notes maximum.

I would like to create a community similar to this though incorporating the ideas I have had into it’s structure are where it gets difficult. The first question is whether the tracks should be able to be seen by others as inspiration for further contributions. In the further research I have conducted so far, it seems as if the Club Constructions set up of invisible contributions might better mirror j-pop’s industrial culture or at least elements discussed in the Guardian, where the simple contributions are compiled by “the producer” whose name is the only one attributed by the track. This dilemma highlights questions as to how blatant the discussion of the industrial culture needs to be within the community which might be confirmed through further research, should the culture be perpetuated externally or internally? It seems as if the project might manifest itself as a commentary on the industrial production culture rather than a mirror of it, questions arising such as how can you sustain a culture of contribution in an environment where the majority of people want to be producers? Do they need to be a more active part of the development of the product?

Why, it’s the brain of course.

What is the peripheral of JRPGs? Why it’s me, it’s you, it’s the player. We are the responses and the medium is our own brains.

 

Seriously think about it, everything we are doing here is about looking at our own experiences with Asian media. We have processors in our heads and they are sorting through it all for us. That is what tells us the art style is ‘Japanese’ and that the intro song of Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk 2 is J-pop. Why, because my brain tells me it is.

Ignore what might be wrong about my thinking, the fact remains that this is all happening in my head. I might be aware that I have the stereotypes and preconceptions, however that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. I am self-aware and that is the core of what I’m studying. I’ll be starting my interviewing for my digital artifact next week. It’s this process that I want to draw out. What is Japanese about a JRPG. Is it the art style? I can show you Western games with the same style. Is it the music? J-pop is sampled elsewhere as well. Is it the themes? I don’t know, maybe.

Generally people are streaming their thoughts on forums, but I prefer the grapevine as a starting spot. Many of my friends have played JRPGs and the common opinion is that all of the above are valid assumptions about the JRPG subgenre.

 

Are we all correct though? Any blog post on here will say yes and no simultaneously. The facts however are a good place to start. Firstly, most JRPGs, (whatever your definition) sell much worse in the USA and Australia than in Japan. So there must be something more appealing for them, right? Well I can’t tell you accurately, but I will try over the future weeks. The bottom line is that I feel that I am aware that the J in JRPG is less about Japan and more about our perception of Japanese media. Can you tell the difference between the Japanese and Korean medias perfectly. What is something is a Korean RPG, it may be distinct to the trained eye, but would it in Australia? Have you ever heard of a KRPG, because I haven’t, however a quick google search found that there are RPGs made in Korea that would be labeled JRPGs.

 

The weird thing is, I don’t think it’s wrong to call it a JRPG anyway.

Week 4: The Producers

After initially considering discussing the J-Pop producer as a sub-culture, an invisible entity propagating the industry, I found myself drawn to a link of sorts with my group assignment which explores the culture of the 100% manufactured J-Pop star Hastune Miku. We have been doing research into the production programs used to create her, both animation and vocaloid software and not being independently wealthy I was investigating free options for the vocaloid software. Vocaloid software enables the user to create an artificial singer by either downloading packs, (Hatsune Miku being amongst the most popular) or alternatively turning yourself into one through recording phrases. In investigating free options I came across someone asking for similar help on Yahoo. The answers to the question gave me an intriguing glimpse into the sub-culture of people who use the software. I was taken aback at how vehemently they defended buying the software and actively dissuaded against downloading it illegally as programs known as pocaloids. One response explained that it was a major issue if you wanted to join the community through use of a pocaloid and the serious ramifications of exporting and publishing content from a pocaloid if you are discovered, which seemed to be quite severe online discrimination. This user linked me to a forum where the community is strongly based simply entitled the vocaloid wikia,where I had the opportunity to explore pocaloids further.

Pocaloid Disclaimer Source: http://vocaloid.wikia.com/wiki/POCALOID

Pocaloid Disclaimer Source: http://vocaloid.wikia.com/wiki/POCALOID

I was initially presented with this banner at the top of the page, but as stated was nonetheless given a detailed description of the illegal software and presented with strong discussion at the foot of the article. It seems however that the community is quite welcoming however if you take the honourable path with detailed instructions and help in getting started with vocaloids. These instructions were in English as well which is important, as it was only recently that they introduced English versions of the software, originally in Japanese only.

It is interesting that I was so confronted by this discussion on illegally downloading programs, a practice which wasn’t discouraged to such an extent in my experiences with similar software until this point. Perhaps it is because of a sense of professionalism that I found in investigating the community. I have also concluded that it might be because the phenomenon is at an earlier stage of exclusivity, the programs having a high cost? Or perhaps the noted importance of the commercial potential of the content produced? These questions definitely warrant a further investigation in our group assignment.

Arashi (aka the One Direction of Japan)

I had no idea where to start with this blog post, I think because my field site is anime I don’t really know of any “celebrities” as such. I’ve written multiple and deleted them because they didn’t make sense so finally I decided I’m just going to Google “Japanese celebrities” and go from there. On the Wikipedia page for “List of Japanese Celebrities” there is an extensive list of “male idols”, which is relatable to my field site because it is focused on otaku, which I guess you could consider the “fangirls” of anime. Finally I came across Arashi, a Japanese boy band, that upon further searching I realised I’d seen hundreds of pictures of on my Tumblr dashboard.

The reason I found it so problematic to find how they present their public self is because they don’t have their own Twitter’s or Facebook’s or Instagram’s. Instead there are pages and pages of fansites dedicated to them (also a lot of the pages I found were in Japanese). Arashi was created by Johnnys Entertainment in 1999 and are essentially the One Direction of Japan. They have had their own TV drama as well as hosting a number of variety shows. Through the variety shows they’re presented as good natured, funny and most of all cute. When searching Tumblr you get similar to results as if you were to search any other boy band, pictures with captions like “so adorable”, GIFs of them interacting with each other whether it’s doing something funny or something “kawaii” and multiple posts of people that “can’t even” (aka fangirling/fanboying).

Untitled 2

I feel like I made this weeks way harder than it was supposed to be in that I couldn’t find any way that they present their public self. But maybe that’s the point, being part of a talent agency means that their self-image is chosen for them, the company presents them as a whole and united group. It raises the similar questions that are also associated with a group like One Direction “are they really like that or is this for publicity?”

Any thoughts on bands being formed by agencies? Do you think they’re legitimate or being forced to present themselves in a particular way?

How do you J-pop?

This week I decided to throw myself into the weird and wonderful world of J-POP, having no experience to draw on other than having two K-pop bands on my iPod about 5 years ago. Obviously the two aren’t even from the same country of origin so I clearly had a lot of learning to do. I decided to start by doing some simple googling on popular bands and the kind of music they created. I then decided I would need to take it further to really understand the culture. This is when I stumble across the subreddit, boy oh boy. There was some hard out fan-girling going on there. These people were passionate about the music, the culture and the people that made up their favourite J-Pop groups. I could only relate through my understanding of the Justin Bieber “belibers” and one Directions “directioners”

I stumbled across a website that reported news mostly on J-pop groups, there were dozens are articles that had only been released in the past 2 days about numerous groups. This alone shows that there is a celebrity culture and a following for the musica and the groups.The music could be considered to be your ‘typical’ pop music style, up beat with a hook in the chorus to make sure it sticks in your mind (yes, even if you you don’t understand the language). I found a playlist someone had created on YouTube and found myself browsing the internet all while listing to the songs, I was actually starting to enjoy them. Most were light hearted and fun. The j-pop groups go beyond just the music. It’s more about the culture and the belonging to the fan base. This was clearly seen in he case of the many subreddits I viewed on the topic.

I personally have never experienced that kind of passion and obsession for a music group, so it was such an interesting look into the lives of the audiences and the constant thirst for knowledge of these groups and their members. The more you know, the more loyal a fan you seem to be. It is interesting to note the rise of groups such as this in many parts of Asia and around the world. It is easy to follow their journey through social media and feel as though you are experiencing their lives with them. The fan base for groups such as these isn’t a new phenomenon, yet still seems to resonate with young consumers today

Introductions to Anime – A Reflection of the Human Condition?

Making the decision to study anime, I went back to the moment where my love blossomed.

Three years ago I stumbled across a video called “Every Anime Opening Ever.” At that stage in my life I didn’t identify myself as an otaku or much of a fan of anime. I had watched bits of Sailor Moon and was a fan of Akira Toriyama‘s work, however, since Dragon Ball Z was so popular in the “West,” I didn’t exclusively associate it with Japan. It wasn’t until I watched this video, where I exclusively remember saying to myself, I really love anime.

Three years later at my computer I open my browser, click on the YouTube icon in my bookmarks bar, and search “Every Anime Opening Ever.” I find it automatically, it’s the top hit. The video has amassed over 2.2 million views, a testament to both the video’s popularity, and the popularity of the genre. My lips curl into a smile as I open the video. Now familiar to me, my smile widens as Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Euro Mega-Mix” begins to play alongside fast and colourful cuts from a range of different anime’s, some familiar to me, some alien. It’s incredible to see how many conventions permeate the opening credits. I wonder what initially inspired these conventions?

Derek Lieu, the creator of the video, states that the repeated imagery that exist in anime opening credit sequences has “always amused me.” He first became aware of these permeating conventions when watching the X-Men intro made in Japan to replace the American one. He states, “the part that especially hit home was Wolverine, and Cyclops standing on some nondescript land mass,” (pictured below.)

Xmen

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Pop, Metal, Japan and Me

About six months ago someone shared the YouTube clip below on Facebook with some accompanying confession of guilt over how catchy they found it. The thumbnail and description for the embedded video made it pretty obvious that this was a Japanese pop (J-pop) song and having already acquired a taste for J-pop some years ago I decided to check it out. I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting.

When I saw Babymetal for the first time I was struck with sudden shock and amusement. While the vocals and choreography are undeniably lifted straight from the J-pop handbook, it had been married with the somewhat unlikely partner “metal”. What was more unusual was that it worked despite the fact the heavy metal elements being likely to alienate many J-pop fans and vice versa. But as a fan of both genres I felt like I had found a valuable favourite in the vast music landscape. So I immediately sought out more.

The above song is the one that really won me over and it wasn’t until after a few listens that I realized why. I realized that the melody was an appropriation from a piece of traditional Japanese folk music called Sakura that I had actually been introduced to in my very early childhood by an episode of the Australian children’s program Playschool. Suddenly this simple pop-metal mashup struck another unlikely balance between personal nostalgia for a Caucasian Australian and the traditions of Japanese culture. I do not speak Japanese, so the lingual meanings of the song are completely lost on me. But through my own nostalgia and recollection that Sakura is “the cherry blossom song” I do get a strange sense of meaning from the song, although I am aware that this meaning could be largely unique to me.

But Babymetal taught me something else about modern Japanese music and my own hidden assumptions. I realized that up until this point I had viewed J-pop in relation to the American pop I had grown up with, as if J-pop was merely a flavour of something that America had created. I saw Japanese music as “doing what Westerners do, but better” without really considering that Japanese musicians are also drawing from their own culture and creating something of their own.

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?