Whether you like them or not, Golden Bomber seems to have found their own gold in the entertainment scene. Their latest album titled The Past Masters Vol. 1 which was released on April 24th, topped the Oricon hit charts in its first appearance, selling over 110,000 copies in the debut week alone. This actually follows another record they made back in January with which their thirteenth single Dance My Generation also entered top of the charts in its first appearance.
Now they have become the first music artists to achieve having both their single and album ranking at the top of the charts in their first appearance. Wait — something is missing here. Yes, their real achievement is attributed to the fact that they don’t belong to a major record label. They are proud to be the first artists representing an indie record label whose single and album both dominated the Oricon charts in their first appearance.
Perhaps they will be even more proud as they continue to see more success in the industry, knowing that people like their music for its authenticity — even though they appear to be deceiving audiences due to the very simple fact that three of the members don’t play any instruments.
Previously we published a post on lip-syncing in the Japanese music industry and talked about just how ubiquitous and accepted it is here, so some people might wonder. Lip-syncing and hand-syncing. Which is more fake?
While I can imagine some people claiming it’s a meaningless question to begin with: We know they are both bad, so what’s the point of asking which is worse? Golden Bomber, though, has made hand-syncing part of their performance and thus perhaps a little less sinful as well. After all, they owe their fame partially to the fact that they don’t play any instrument on stage or even in a recording studio. All of their songs are recorded by “professional” musicians.
Then what is it about them that attracts our attention? The popularity of so-called “visual-kei bands” peaked in the early Nineties so we have seen this kind of thing before — there’s nothing new about their heavy make-up or fashion.
It’s more likely that their popularity and fame stem from their act of not playing cool. For example, the title of their smashhit single, which basically pushed them to the fore of the music scene, is Memeshikute. The word literally means “like a woman” and is used negatively to describe any male who’s not manly enough, whatever that means.
The meaning is more easily “seen” than explained. The first twenty seconds of this music video will show you everything about being memeshii. See how this guy reacts when he gets dumped by his girlfriend.
The song is about having lingering feelings for our ex, told in a not so sentimental way. Life is a performance, they seem to say, so learn to laugh at life.
Their brutally honest expressions of what could otherwise be featured as a central theme of tear-jerking romance films can be seen in the titles of their songs alone. The level of “honesty” varies greatly from “I couldn’t ask for your phone number again” to “I’m going to kill your ex-boyfriend,” both of which are actual titles of their songs. Being uncool is the coolest thing, so embrace the darkest, the most shameful part of yourself.
In their latest single though, they are getting more political. The music video is obviously a satire mocking the people who enjoyed the triumph of Japan’s Bubble economy in the late Eighties when money was believed to take them to the top of the world.
Yet even the burst of the Bubble economy can be turned into a piece of entertainment — it’s just too much fun not to!
An actor is someone who acts. A dancer is someone who dances. A singer is someone who sings. They all get paid to do what their job title claims, but when it comes to singing, we tend to become more tolerant. It’s OK that singers don’t sing on stage, right? Well, maybe not anymore.
On March 5, a TV producer at Fuji Television Network Inc., Shin Kikuchi openly declared on his blog an end to lip-syncing in his show, Music Fair, to follow the same rule in his other two music programs, Bokura-no-ongaku (Our Music) and Domoto Brothers. He says that the decision was unanimous and that any professional singers should be able to sing live. While this movement might make us appreciate live performances of those who CAN sing live on stage (which by the way don’t seem to exist that many in the current Japanese music industry), traditionally in Japan we have never been so critical of singers not using their voice on TV.
Source: Fuji Television Network
After all, watching TV is a passive experience and we can change channels anytime if we don’t want to see singers lip-sync in a show. We might even be a little sympathetic to hundreds of poor idols out there, who have to dance and sing all at the same time. Because their schedule is so tight, they don’t have time for such training anyway.
So why are the Japanese so tolerant of lip-syncing?
One possible reason is that in Japan, the level of professionalism required and expected of singers is not very high to begin with. One notorious case I remember is Arashi singing in FNS Music Festival, a live music show aired on Fuji TV Network back in 2011. Arashi undoubtedly has become one of the biggest pop groups and dominated the Japanese music industry over the past decade, together with the female idol group, AKB48.
Ironically, what made their performance so controversial was not that they lip-synched — but rather that they actually sang live AND sounded completely out of tune. People immediately fired up comments online: they either mocked at Arashi’s poor live performance or backed up the idols for their diligent effort to finish the song despite having “technical problems” backstage. What really happened was not the question (the auto-tune was not working). The controversy surrounding this incident made me realize that in general, we don’t want to see people suffer on stage.
As the current Japanese music industry is in large part made of idol groups, what we expect from their performance is not their singing but merely their appearance — looking good on camera. (Plus some dancing, perhaps.) Considering that Beyonce’s alleged lip-syncing made huge headlines in the US, we could say authenticity is much more valued overseas even if it results in mediocre or even poorer performances.
The bottom line is, we just want to be entertained. If their singing is so bad, I would rather see them lip-sync and appreciate their music more. In this music video I recently found on YouTube, Rola, a Japanese model who’s also known for her supposedly “innocent” use of tameguchi slang, lip-syncs to Carly Rae Jepsen’s smash hit “Call Me Maybe”.
Why is she doing this? Is she trying to impersonate Jepsen? Personally, I don’t get this, but if the attempt was to show how easy it is nowadays for anyone to be a “singer”, then maybe Kikuchi was right. We should have been more critical.
A special music video for the release in Japan of Alicia Keys’ new single, Girl on Fire, has been made by the photographer and film director Mika Ninagawa.
The special collaboration is officially only being shown in Japan (well, as it’s on YouTube it’s obviously in reality globally available).
It’s no secret among my friends how much I dislike Mika Ninagawa. Forgive me why I elucidate.
First, the praxis. Her saccharine pink floral visuals are as superficial as photographic imagery can get. And then we arrive at her professional cynicism. She displays nothing short of an insatiable appetite for every and any job she can get — from AKB48 music videos to movies, fashion portraits… Anyone who’ll pay her for some more red and pink flowers.
That’s perfectly fine — I’m hardly adverse to doing things for a salary — but then doesn’t that make you a filmmaker with an ad agency? Again, nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t deserve the artistic hype and respect that Ninagawa commands.
The most irksome of all was perhaps her series of sakura cherry blossom photos that she — or at least her marketing people — tried to turn into some sort of Tohoku-themed requiem.
This is her first time to work with a western music artist and to be fair, it is a major coup to be showcasing the new single from one of the biggest stars on the planet.
It’s a pity then that her creativity could only muster its usual hackneyed and skin-deep hoopla.
Her inspiration for this new Girl on Fire music video project was to take her usual bricolage of flowers and add — this is the really original part — flames. Well, at least she stopped short of setting fire to Ms. Keys to make the “symbolism” even more patent.
Japanese Alicia Keys fans should be up in arms. This video “especially made for them” just looks plain cheap, seemingly shot in a small studio with some lights, projections and a mirror.
Virtual idol Hatsune Miku makes opera, album with Louis Vuitton, cultural critic Hiroki Azuma, composer Keiichiro ShibuyaWritten by: William on November 20, 2012 at 10:43 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
Well, here’s a partnership we should have seen coming…
In what cynics might decry as mere geek pop culture tailored for the Brutus-reading, CINRA.net-browsing Tokyo hipster, Hiroki Azuma — the academic who has done a lot on the otaku theory circuit — and musician Keiichiro Shibuya have got together with digital vocalizer idol Hatsune Miku to create a new album, Initiation.
Hatsune Miku likely needs no introduction. The virtual idol began life as a singing synthesizer application for Yamaha’s Vocaloid 2. Since then “she” has taken on a whole cult of her own.
Keiichiro Shibuya, with his trademark hide-the-face hair line, is a favorite of Tokyo cool cats, an electronic music artist who frequently collaborates with trendy artists and dancers. Shibuya is making a new opera with Vocaloid called The End at the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM) in December along with another hip creative type, theatre artist Toshiki Okada. The costumes for Hatsune Miku are by Louis Vuitton’s artistic director Marc Jacobs.
Hiroki Azuma became famous overseas for writing a foundational text in what is fast becoming a mini library of academic texts about otaku culture. Not satisfied just with teaching and writing, he has also done that oddly Japanese thing of building up his own mini faction, in this case largely revolving around his journal, Shisouchizu beta (“Map of Thinking”), and his publication company, Genron.
The pages of his journals and books are filled with contributions from the likes of artist/art entrepreneur Takashi Murakami, former journalist Naoki Inose (current governor of Tokyo until gubernatorial elections are held) and Twitter advocate Daisuke Tsukuda.
The lyrics to the title song on the Initiation album have been written by Azuma, and the vocals of course created by Hatsune Miku. There are also other tracks featuring just Miku on her own, plus DJs and piano songs. The album also features a music video.
It seems unless you are an ardent AKB48 fanatic purchasing thousands of copies of the same CD to boost your favorite girl’s chances of appearing in the next single, if you are young in Japan, you likely aren’t spending money on music.
A recent survey found that 68.6% of respondents were actually spending 0 yen on downloads over the span of a month.
Given the new tightening of Japanese laws concerning illegal downloading, you might reasonably expect the legal side of things to benefit from hordes of frightened YouTube users rushing out (digitally speaking) to get their hands on tracks the ‘proper’ way. Not so, it seems. In fact, overall digital sales fell in 2010 and 2011, setting a bad precedent that the new law may aggravate.
Okay, so long-time observers will be neither cheered nor surprised by this news, having already no doubt noted the closure of Shibuya’s HMV in 2010, plus the general dearth of good music in the mainstream market and the lack of interest in pop music by not-so-cash-happy younger consumers.
Of course, one survey also does not full market analysis make (and we can’t immediately even find how many people were even surveyed). Music is more than downloads: there are physical CDs, mobile phone ringtones, tickets to gigs, and the empire of merchandise that surrounds grounds like AKB and the spawns of Johnny’s (typically the ubiquitous Arashi).
And yet music sales in general have plunged back to the levels of three decades’ prior, with a depressing uniformity to the “bestsellers” — they all come from a handful of groups and basically just two agencies, and what tops the charts now were in the past good only for scraping into the top ten. Thus mass market (“pop culture”) events are now more like cult fan phenomena.
But music groups in Japan are no longer created or marketed to sell music; they are born to be fundamentally only an image that can be siphoned through the Dentsu machine to front countless PR campaigns, a result that is quite literally ad nauseum. This is particularly mind-numbing when the “bands” have such sacharine aesthetics as AKB48.
AKB’s aggressive and rather cynical tactics of encouraging fans to buy multiple copies of CDs is working, with 2011′s top ten singles’ music sales improving over previous years’ — but to what real market worth, let alone artistic one?
After all the brouhaha about Perfume “going abroad” when their music was released worldwide for digital download, the predictable press release-fueled media coverage gave way soon enough to, what? Silence? Muted applause? Their fans were happy but the rest of the world — correct me if I’m wrong — did not seem to notice.
The Japanese music industry is dying.