OK, now this isn’t the sort of thing I’d usually waste time with, but it’s interesting for a number of reasons. First, it’s a comeback single by Max, who emerged in the mid-late 90s out of Namie Amuro’s group the Super Monkeys, so it represents an era of J-Pop where idols were practically non-existent as any kind of mainstream phenomenon, and where J-Pop was pitched up somewhere quite close to where K-Pop is pitched now, albeit with a relationship with the international music scene that only ever really flowed one way. Tacata is a cover of a Euro-dance hit from a couple of years ago by the Italian group Tacabro, and Max have past form with this, having in the distant past covered Whigfield’s hit Saturday Night.Max: Tacata
It’s not really a case of Japanese pop seeking out inspiration and revitalisation from overseas though, so much as an exercise in nostalgia for Max’s fans and for all those thirty-somethings who remember them vaguely from their teenage years. You can see this right from the start in the cheesy 90s computer graphics that display the group’s name. Still, it’s J-Pop made by real actual women rather than children wearing shy, fuck-me smiles and flashing as much of their upper thighs as they dare, and it’s a welcome reminder that this was the sort of thing that used to be normal back in the day.
It’s also weird in all sorts of little ways. It has this ridiculous spoken word intro that seems to pastiche the sort of sassy intros CL from K-Pop superstars 2NE1 does, but delivered in such a cack-handed way. My lo-fi bedroom-new wave band Trinitron did something like this sort of spoken word intro in our song Music To Watch Boys By as a deliberately bad (if affectionate) parody and experience regularly makes me aware of how easily irony can be misconstrued as deadly seriousness — still, are Max also doing a parody, or is it a genuine, failed attempt to be cool? Because getting deeper into the song, the Japanese lyrics are also delivered in a bizarre, stilted enunciation, as if by a foreigner unfamiliar with the language, and that has to be deliberate.
Obviously the song’s horrible, albeit sort of fun in a summery kind of Ace of Base/Macarena sort of way, like the soundtrack to getting pissed on sangria and carelessly acquiring sexually transmitted diseases at an Ibiza beach resort in 1997, although 2NE1’s forthcoming Korean Falling in Love single, released a month prior to Max’s effort, manages to channel a lot of the same 90s cod-reggae cheesiness in a rather more musically sophisticated, modern sounding way.2NE1: Falling in Love
The comparison between the two songs and the two groups is relevant because despite the contrast between the naive charm of Max and the more aggressive modernity of 2NE1, they both represent something similar in terms of contemporary pop performed by women who don’t act like children. There is a difference in that Max are stuck in the 90s, while 2NE1 are still very much about now. In fifteen years time, however, both groups will sound equally dated and all that will be left for listeners of either, if such listeners even exist, will be nostalgia. In any case, Max is back, and this summer might be the battleground that decides whether or not nostalgia is the new modern.