XXX of Wonder: Meiseki Yume Madonna

A recurring theme in my writing over the past couple of years and I think a key idea in understanding the layout of the Japanese music scene these days is the idolfication of the indie scene and the parallel indiefication of idol music. As subcultural scenes like anime and manga fandom, and indeed idol culture itself, have been led out of the shadows and into the mainstream by an entertainment industry attracted to the consumer patterns of otaku, elements of those subcultural roots have been caught up in the net and found themselves with a route out of obscurity by employing some of the same commercial practices.

Those subcultural figures are often the most appealing aspects of this new indie commercialism simply because the things they do in order to sell themselves are things they were already doing purely for the love of it anyway. Julie Watai could perhaps be seen as an example of such a figure, packaging and promoting herself in a distinctly idolesque way, but at the same time quite clearly a massive nerd in her own right. And this is where XXX of Wonder enters the picture. A collaboration between Watai (whose musical role in the group is rather ambiguous), pop singer Shiho Nanba, illustrator Mel Kishida, lyricist Frenesi and composer/producer Dr. Usui, it is a project born of people who all exist somewhere around the nexus between pop, otaku and indie culture.XXX of Wonder: Meiseki Yume Madonna

I have some issues with this kind of thing, in that by opening up this particular path towards commercial respectibility it reinforces a certain cutesy, idol-ish pop orthodoxy. A producer as talented as Dr. Usui could have put his skills to work in the service of something like The Knife, but there’s no established protocol in place for promoting something like that, so short of doing full-on idol or anime music (both of which he has also done), this sort of twee, pastel coloured pop is the only route on offer to people like Usui.

And it must be said that in this kind of thing Usui is a past master. Through his work with Motocompo in the late 90s and early 2000s he had a pioneering role in introducing Daft Punk-influenced electro into technopop and the moribund remains of Shibuya-kei — an idea later applied by Yasutaka Nakata to the idol trio Perfume to massive commercial success — and melodically, structurally and productionwise there’s a lot in Meiseki Yume Madonna that could easily be part of one of Motocompo’s later releases.

All of which is to say that it’s a rather fine pop song and refreshing to see Usui back doing what he does best. It does, however, leave me still dreaming of what kind of sounds he might produce were he able to really cut loose creatively. Also, while we’re in the realm of speculation, if this project is to continue long term, it would be fascinating to see what might result from Frenesi being given space to play around melodically as well as lyrically. A terrific composer in her own right with wonderfully eclectic taste (her DJ sets are superb journeys into both familiar and unknown places), XXX of Wonder could be a great canvas for her own songwriting.

In any case Meiseki Yume Madonna is a slick piece of synthpop that while it’s superficially very much a product of squeaky-voiced contemporary kawaii aesthetics, has a classic pop musical heart that reveals itself most clearly when the song sheds its cutesy eccentricities and leaps into its soaring dance-pop chorus. The music itself may be only part of a project that, in tune with current music industry trends, spans various media including visual arts and fashion, but it’s clear that XXX of Wonder has at least gathered people who are genuinely invested in the various niches they explore. If the future of music is as a relatively small component part of such multimedia projects, then Meiseki Yume Madonna demonstrates that music’s diminished status need not go hand in hand with a loss of craftsmanship.

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2 Comments

Filed under Reviews, Track

2 responses to “XXX of Wonder: Meiseki Yume Madonna

  1. This “idolisation” phenomenon reminds me of this track as well http://vimeo.com/101711200
    Good exemple imo, where the production sounds great yet all the focus is on this Sakurayura girl barely acting, with a lot of makeup and a very underwhelming and annoying voice.

    • Yeah, that’s a really good example. With XXX of Wonder, it’s more of a classic pop song in terms of structure and production, so perhaps the dissonance between the cute and alternative elements of it is less extreme, but here it’s really clear. I guess a lot of people grew up along with otaku culture’s growing acceptance and influence, so it’s natural for them to mix hip foreign electronic music with otaku-ish elements like anime and idol aesthetics, but still I think a lot of it’s just down to labels picking this stuff up because they know how to sell it.

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