Nice article on critical analysis and the J-pop fan community

This post I’d like to direct your attention to is a pretty old, dating back a couple of years now, which as we all know is like the Precambrian Era in Web-years, but it’s still interesting and relevant, so check it out here.

It’s from the sporadically-updated but always thoughtful and worth-reading Appears blog (hat tip to Patrick from Make Believe Melodies for putting me onto the site in the first place) on the state of English language Japanese music fandom and the need for more critical analysis. The writer is way politer then necessary about the more knuckle-dragging, transferred-nationalism elements of the overseas fan community, and I think gets tied up in knots a little in trying to analyse their way around the issue of cultural relativism, cultural imperialism and just generally what legitimacy a foreigner has to express a critical opinion of Japanese pop culture (quick answer: as much right as anyone) but if the worst thing you can think of to say about someone is that they’re nicer than they need to be, that’s basically a rather good sign.

In the end though, there needs to be more of this sort of analysis in the Japanese language media. It’s something I’m looking into at the moment and hopefully will be able to write about in the future, but in terms of the limited (in more ways than one) scope of the English language Japanese music fan community, this is a powerful mission statement.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Nice article on critical analysis and the J-pop fan community

  1. miffy

    An unexpected great blog so thanks for linking it.
    The Marty Friedman takedown was pretty thorough and needs to be read by all foreign Jpop fans. And since when Friedman was an ambassador for these things?

    Pity she has ties to idolminded, which was known as International Wota. One of the admins over there (who also writes really well) collects Moecco (sleazy junior idol rag)

    • Ah, I noticed you had a comment under that Marty Friedman thing. I couldn’t be bothered to read through the original, but it seemed like Friedman was a kind of naive choice for what they were trying to do. It’s like, “What’s our best celeb? Just get him up there and tell him to be nice. Nuts to the content.” I’m sure there are good points in his presentation, but I think what they probably needed was proper, detailed analysis of business practices and audience behaviour, preferably backed up by some incisive market research data.

      I don’t know idolminded and doubt it’s the sort of thing that would hold my attention for long (I just had a glance now and features on idols’ haircuts really aren’t my speed). One place I think I diverge from whoever it is who writes Appears is that she (?) seems to have some kind of background in the J-pop fan community and seems to want to keep at least some of them on side. I just don’t think they’re relevant at all and the article I linked to the other day suggests that Appears kind of understands this. Western J-pop fans have a totally different audience profile to mainstream pop fans — they’re basically otaku but without the consumer power of Japanese otaku, who themselves are pretty much confined to idol music fandom. Someone trying to market mainstream Japanese pop abroad, if they have any sense, would steer well clear of currently existing J-pop fans. I’m reminded of some of Colony Drop’s hilarious blogs from New York Comic Con as a parallel.

      • miffy

        Yea, I commented on her article (I think her name is Anna) because I thought she made a connection to that Neojaponisme article about otaku spending power

        Its hard for Jpop to market outside Japan outside the usual foreign poser otaku crowd. Back in the 90’s, what was popular in Japan, was popular in Asia. And that was mostly driven by youth culture/money. An example will be SMAP or Morning Musume circa 1996-2001. Always been horrible but I and many other South East Asians understood why they were popular. Now compare that with Sexy Zone or AKB and it doesn’t make sense anymore.

        If Jpop is supposed to steer clear existing foreign Jpop fans , then they might as well give the same marketing budget to AKB, Perfume, Hyacca, Love and Hates, Momoclo Clover, or Satoru Ono. They all have an equal shot for failure or success.

  2. I suppose the first thing anyone trying to sell J-pop outside Japan will need to know is who actually are the existing J-pop fans. I think judging from the “J-pop is sooooo much better than boring American pop fuck Lady Gaga LOL,” attitude a lot of them seem to have, J-pop’s appeal to them comes in large part from having something special and private that they like and that the masses don’t understand, which is an otaku mindset, not a pop fan mindset (and one that probably wouldn’t welcome the idiot masses encroaching into their rose garden in any case). In fact I was talking to a friend from the States last night and he was saying that liking anime or manga would be considered pretty much socially acceptable but liking Japanese pop music too would push you over the edge into the desperately uncool and possibly a bit creepy. That’s not the sort of thing any label or talent agency should want to be associated with.

    The bottom line though is that just by virtue of being from Japan, any music you try to sell is going to be weird to mainstream American audiences, so the only way you can successfully sell it is if you find a substantial enough niche. Part of the problem is that advertising agencies came up with this mythical idea of “Cool Japan”, which the artist Takashi Murakami I think correctly pointed out earlier this year was a complete bullshit idea designed to make Japan feel good about itself but which had nothing to do with how Japan was actually perceived by others. “Cool Japan” was good at selling otaku culture to the Japanese mainstream by pretending it’s considered cool overseas. When you look at the Japanese culture that has actually gained traction abroad, it’s the stuff that’s retained elements of its own Japanese exoticism but also managed to get hooks into compatible elements of the local culture (Cornelius remixing Blur, Ghost in the Shell tapping the cyberpunk thing, that sort of thing).

    So (1) the mainstream is dead to J-pop abroad, and (2) otaku culture has neither credibility nor the commercial cachet to compensate, which means (3) they have to find other compatible niches that have both potential to expand sales and also will make them seem cool. This means being creative and flexible (which I’m not hopeful about), and probably means forgetting about something like 99% of what’s already popular here. Perfume might have a chance, but Sexy Zone definitely don’t.

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