YAO! (noesunexito) wrote in geinouron,
YAO!
noesunexito
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[Discussion] Johnny is not so L.A. after all: Why Japanese artists can't break into the US top 40

Hello fellow members!
Although the community has only been established a few days ago, I want to waste no time in starting discussions.

This topic is actually something I've been mulling over a while ever since cis and I discussed it several weeks ago. That discussion, combined with how many times Johnny's has tried to introduce some of its more popular acts to america (i.e. the Four Leaves and Shounentai) had me thinking: just what is it about Japanese popular music that American consumers dislike? Granted, recently there has been all sorts of budding industries for J-pop such as Tofu Records and Hyde having an overseas tour or whatnot, but why can I see commercials for say, Caesar's Palace and Reggaeton Hits 20 on primetime Japanese TV whereas only the most elite of my music snob friends are cognizant of certain Japanese bands?
Incidentally, do you think that underground Japanese bands attempt to metaphorically "straddle the Pacific" (i.e. Cibo Matto and Pizzicato Five who more or less garner cult followings in both nations)

My initial theory for this is that I feel "authenticity" in American music tends to be stressed more than it is in Japanese music. Whether it is a good thing or not, most popular music world trends originate in America, so when the majority is confronted with say, a very young Shounentai in the 80's wearing "street" wear and dancing to a choreography that heavily borrow from hip hop culture, there's just something amiss about it. Regardless of what that "amiss" quality may be (perhaps an unsettling sense of mimicry that calls to mind the french made satire of Meiji elties ballroom dancing? Or is it still the ever popular sense of "otherness" that is only highlighted even more when the "other" tries to not be the "other"?) Similarly, based on international artists who have garnered popularity in America, it seems like those who manage to break into the mainstream have something of their indigenous culture in the music, be it the Spanglish coupled with Latin trumpeting in Ricky Martin's songs or the Lebanese/Reggaeton influences in Shakira's songs. I think Utada tried to work in "You're easy breezy and I'm Japanesey" but the fact of the matter (besides the fact that that was sub-par pop) is that the song itself had nothing "asian" about it. Thus, it was pop anyone can find anywhere (and done better) with nothing but Utada in a bathing suit in the music video that only adventurous iTunes music video perusers and avid MTV watchers on a specific date saw.

Okay so maybe that did turn into a mini-essay.
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Um, technically you're not supposed to comment unless you have membership. You should go to the application post and say a few words to get in...
oh ok... sorry.

noesunexito

10 years ago

Hmm, if you don't want non-members to post comments why don't you make the community entries friends-only or screen non-friends comments to filter out the unintelligent comments?

Personally I like the sound of this community and I'm glad you didn't friends-lock it because I'm enjoying reading the entries and the responses so far. I didn't want to join because I thought the application was only for posting entries (and not comments too) and I don't know enough about JE (besides, yes, the typical fangirl stuff ^^;) to write entries. However, I'm always interested to learn more about them and it would be great if non-members like myself could post comments if we feel we might have something to share with the community. I think that being too restrictive might prevent this community from reaching it's full potential.

Guess what? I posted this because I wanted to share my two cents about this entry. #_# Since I'm writing this comment already, I hope you don't mind I just spout it anyway. I think the main reason is really the language barrier. Many people dislike listening to songs they can't understand, simple as that. I have many, MANY friends who are bloody xenophobic and refuse to listen to Japanese songs/watch Japanese shows just because they cannot understand the language. >\ For JE to overcome the language barrier problem, their songs would have to be really spectacular, but uh, after all they just churn out pretty mainstream pop (though I much prefer their lyrics to American mainstream).

Yeah well, feel free to delete my comment since I'm not complying with community rules. However, I hope you'll take into consideration my above comment regarding this community. :)

noesunexito

10 years ago

amatsuki

10 years ago

noesunexito

10 years ago

This is a great first post! LOL I thought you were saving it for Nazia!

ANYWHOOT. Let's get into this. My thoughts are definitely going to be scrambled and I might contradict myself, but you can call me out on it and we'll have a great time discussing this.

I think if you compare American boybands to the JE groups, the probable reason why JE just doesn't work internationally is because American boybands are classified as good, wholesome, American kids. Or, if not good and wholesome, then bad-ass (ROFL I still think bad-ass is just an act) and OOH!CONTROVERSIAL. Either way, I'm not about to say that Americans are racist or anything, far from it, but I think the majority of the US wouldn't feel like they have a connection to JE groups. I still kind of think that in the big picture, even though acts like B'z and Hyde get to do tours in the US, their tours are still pretty small (in comparison to other groups and solo artists in the US) and confined to obviously the minority of Americans who are into Japanese culture and follow the music scene. I guess maybe rock gets better coverage and that's why JE doesn't succeed in the US because they're very much infused with pop (LOL sometimes cheesy pop but hey, we think it's cute) and that might not be appealing to girls who drool over Fallout Boy (gag, I hate FB with a passion).

Hmm wait a minute. Lemme think about this. Utada and even Coco Lee tried their hand at being the "Asians" in the American music business and they failed too. I dunno, maybe America just isn't ready for Asians to dominate their charts just yet. For now, I think the US is only willing to accept Asians as imports into their visual media. Music-wise, they're probably very disinterested because Japanese music is basically like English pop but with Japanese words. So perhaps yes, the "others" trying not to be the "other" is just not eye-catching. LOL I'd bring K8 into this because they're the most versatile JE group I can think of, but I still don't think they'd succeed if JE introduced them to the US.
I don't know if I agree with the fact that American boybands are classified as "good and wholesome" because as you said, there's always some sort of bad-ass type. And interesting point that you implicitly brought up is Fallout Boy and wether they are a boyband or not. Maybe the concept of "boyband" is changing, and not just because pop punk is now becoming the norm, but you forgot about R&B boybands like Boyz II Men and 112, who definitely don't fit into the stereotypical "wholesome" front. The one thing (that is debatable even) is the vocal abilities of said groups. American aesthic generally deem Japanese pop stars as "bad singers" because we value a full, melodic voice that can hit a variety of octives. If you take Arashi and compare them to N'Sync let's say, only Ohno can keep up with them.

I think it's still a difference in aesthetics. If K8 decided to come over, I doubt they'd hit the top 40 because popular music that is not rock is increasingly bass and drums heavy, with R&B becoming "pop" more and more each day. I'm no American Music major, but America is guilty of taking music made popular by black and latino minorities (what can I say, they make the best music) and "soften" it for the entire nation. Now, we have "good old southern sweetheart" Britney Spears getting "dirrty" with the Ying Yang Twinz and Justin Timberlake shaved his head and now talks about getting you naked. Maybe if Koda Kumi wasn't such a blatant ripoff of Xtina, then she could cross over....if she didn't speak Engrish.
Right, I did forget about the R&B boybands. ROFL Ohno sings like an angel, end of discussion! No, but you are right about the vocal abilities. I mean, I watch American Idol and I totally forget that their level of singing, even as amateurs, is a lot better than lots of Jpop groups. There's also the whole thing about how most American performers actually sing live and some of them sound DAMN good live, so there's another point of comparison. I mean... most, if not all JE groups lip synch and while that's not necessarily considered bad in Japan, it makes American artists a huge target, ie. Ashlee Simpson. I guess that's why only certain few Japanese people can come to the US and do their touring because they are rock, and they are really talented, but they're still minorities and most Americans would be like "who?" Oh god, I think I just opened up a can of worms by saying that, but I'm saying it in the context of artists like Hyde. And for sure, K8 wouldn't make it anywhere near Top 40 charts because nobody would appreciate their geeky dancing and cute songs like we do.

squints63

10 years ago

cis

10 years ago

squints63

10 years ago

squints63

10 years ago

cis

10 years ago

squints63

10 years ago

noesunexito

10 years ago

squints63

10 years ago

noesunexito

10 years ago

squints63

10 years ago

As main mod i should make my comment eh?

Well, let's see.

I think a major thing with the US is that a certain type of music usually appeals there. Honestly, from what i can tell (looking at the Billboard top 10 chart and the US MTV awards) music that is big there is mainly r'n'b, rap, pop and rock/emo/punk/indie (whatever the angsty bands call themselves). While Japanese music does cover similar stuff, a lot of what they come up with is inferior to their US counterparts. It's due to image maybe and probably bad vocals. And like Yao said, there's something a bit strange seeing a Japanese person rapping about hoes and money. They're just too polite. And the fact is that this is not their culture at all.

One thing about black and hispanic music is that the US does have a large black and hispanic community so in a way there already is a built in audience for those such as Ricky Martin and the various rappers to break through. Who knows, if there was a bigger Japanese community they might encourage a better influx in Japanese music. I mean, here in the UK there is a big South Asian music scene and that's due to the huge SA population. Some of it has also crossed over even to the US (strangely in a lot of rap and r'n'b music) and we've seen hit Bollywood-style films too with South Asian music used (Bride and Prejudice as an example). Another thing is language. Spanish is like the second language in the US right? So a lot of what people sing in their songs can be understood. Same goes for South Asian music. Who would understand Japanese? The very few people studying it and the small Japanese community but that would be it right? And i know that the US (well, a great part of it) isn't interested in a completely different language to English. That;s why foreign films aren't as big as in Europe say. There are so many languages in Europe that it's pretty much accepted. Which makes me wonder if Japanese pop music would cross over to the UK a little better than the US. Hm...

An important thing i'd say is what makes the music so special it becomes big. American Idol is huge in the US and it always generates big (not necessarily good) stars in a way that the audience will like. "Person from nowhere is picked as the next big thing! It could be me!" Rappers all have a background where they've been shot 10 times and were sent to prison for something or other. Basically, a crappy homelife which they break away from and become a big rapper person (except for Kanye West i guess). Indie (etc) bands are people who became friends who got together, jammed a lot and then got a deal after gigging for so long. Each group genre has a usual tale. And when you compare it to say Johnnys, the latter just seems very, very fake. Or maybe that's just me.

Course, there's also the fact that a lot of people hate pop and think it beneath 'real' music.

And looking at the example of Utada i gotta say that her song was just bad. And this coming from a woman who's supposed to be a dual citizen.

::is tired now::
That's a very interesting point there, about the minority communities. There is a large Chinese population in the US (and if you're talking about it state by state I think they show Japanese dramas on tv in california), but I wonder why that asian population doesn't seem to buy asian pop records? I mean, Coco Lee tried to release a CD here (Lol i bought it) but that flopped, even though statistically speaking Chinese-Americans should have snapped it right up. I haven't read much on this, but I should look into it.

That another really good point I didn't think of - the whole rags to riches thing. Americans eat that stuff up and yeah, with foreign acts it so much harder for the artist to tell his/her story. I think being charismatic also factors in, which of course requires a command over the english language and having a certain "charm" that is not so valued in Japan.

squints63

10 years ago

noesunexito

10 years ago

squints63

10 years ago

noesunexito

10 years ago

mikan_purin_ame

10 years ago

noesunexito

10 years ago

that original discussion, if anyone wants to check back on it. (though ideas may have changed since it was written XD)

disjointed thoughts:
1. I think it's (counter-intuitively?) easier for niche genres to cross over - in 1997, you could hear Pizzicato Five on the Evening Session, a programme on UK national radio that catered to the 'indie' market (that's what got me into japanese music!). The 'alternative' market is i think slightly more open to foreign-language music than the mainstream market, but it's not open to music that sounds recognisably like chart pop. In that indie/alternative/musicsnob market, the kind of japanese music that's acceptable tends to be along the lines of mid-/late-nineties shibuya-kei - that's the template by which 'j-pop' is measured. It costs a lot less to create a success in the indie market than a mainstream success - but the rewards are less, as well.
(For some reason, I remain convinced that Cibo Matto are an American group, two nisei-japanese girls from NYC.)

2. You basically covered this already, but 'Latin music' has taken so long to get any sort of representation in mainstream american chart culture despite the huge numbers of spanish speakers/immigrants from South America in the US - most Latin American music that sells in the US has been niched away in specialist radio stations if not to pirates, is often sold in ahem non-charting fashions. And then it's easily categorised as 'latin' due to the beats, or the guitar work - East Asian music doesn't have something as simple, musically, that acts as a general identifier. Chinese violin is not the reggaeton riddim, you know? Plus there's a very long tradition of latin-influenced music being behind chart pop music - bossa nova rhythms in sixties lounge, eg - and practically zero tradition of East Asian music in the western charts that's not 'sukiyaki'; I think this means people don't really connect the sound of East Asian trad music with the sound of western pop, they find them pretty incompatible as a whole. So being nihonrashii or ajiarashii would be hard to use as a selling point. (NB I don't know how you fit the brief banghra fad in to this, maybe if someone did a sweet remix of a K8 track using a well-known sample and got Jay-Z to add a guest rap then a few units might get shifted?)

3. elephant in the room of QUALITY. The Japanese music market is so structured as to let pop creators get away with some absolute shockers (what proportion of the recent koda kumi releases have been really catchy, really good, of 'single release' quality? what proportion have people bought just so they could have all twelve releases, or because they were at reduced 500-yen price? it's hard to tell). When Justin Timberlake started his solo career (ha i so wrote 'debuted' there, dear JE get out of my head) he was working against his previous pretty cheesy image as nsync's cornrowed cherubim or whatever: he did it, though, with some amazing songs, first-class production (big names at the top of their game), a much more solid and consistent pop album than any of the nsync ones, than most pop albums really. A lot of the time, don't we love j-idols for things which are completely extra-musical? Because they're adorable in tv shows, because they can't dance, because they wear silly clothes... (okay i stop this here as i am getting into my 'don't i love j-idols partly because they are kinda lame and lame things are easiest to love?' theory which is long, tangential, and will probably make me no friends lol)

That Chinese-American rapper Jin, with the album "Learn Chinese", what did happen to him again?
Also I had never heard that Shounentai tried to break America! noesunexito, tell us more!
I must admit I heard it from [Bad username: seinentai"] who is several years my senior and had a first hand account of it but originally JE was going to debut them in america first and then bring them back to Japan (i think they were even in an american teen magazine?), yet the america part of it failed so they debuted as normal in Japan. That's why they had that pre-debut video that was really "american."

1. I didn't mention sub-mass culture music (because that would have been the nth subject that I brought up lol) but yes, to music "connosoirs" language and such is not the issue. I may even argue that the exoticism of it all only adds to the appeal, as I have heard many of my music snob friends gush about how much they love "japanese experimental music." Maybe the world market just loves Japan when it's trying to be "different" and is wary when it tries to "fit in"? Seeing as how popular cult films like j-horror and adult oriented anime is.
2. This is very true, I forgot how long it has taken for latino influenced music to finally gain popular acceptance. Apart from asian instruments, (and I guess "asian" melodies, although it's hard to pinpoint what that would entail) and maybe a few words of japanese thrown in, i agree there aren't many musical signifiers of being oriental. I can recall certain hip hop songs sampling asian loops (i'm thinging of Between Me and You by Ja Rule lol), so i agree that if any genre has hope, it would be a hip hop+ enka/shamisen/taiko drumming crossbreeding. Yet, i doubt an asian rapper would have much street cred (although Jin has been shot several times and that's pretty thug, but i doubt he's exactly large and menacing looking). I do remember that collab between Foxy Brown and Utada Hikaru for Rush Hour2, but I don't think that ever got much publicity, although it could have gone somewhere.
3. Oh geez, I need not say anything about the Koda Kumi singles. (I do agree Justin Timberlake's album was very good, it was so good that he did get the much needed image change). I'm dismayed as why Utada didn't release Exodus first because Timberland produced it and it was probably the best song on that album (if not the only good song lol). I also firmly believe that half of being an idol is that infectiously adorable personality that can only be displayed through tv programs that just simply cannot be brought over.

noesunexito

10 years ago

boyz_kure

10 years ago

Deleted comment

noesunexito

10 years ago

cis

10 years ago

Just why is Sakamoto Kyu the only Japanese artist to have hit number one on the American charts? That's something that's often puzzled me too.

Although when you think about it, there's come to be somewhat of a negative connotation to "boy bands," so I suppose that could be one thing preventing Johnny's groups from making it. But I can't be too sure about other artists. Perhaps America's ethnocentrism could be a factor, although that seems to have weakened in recent years.
I have ue ni muite arukou (lol "sukiyaki") and I was wondering too, especially after hearing the song the Four Leaves tried to introduce to America too. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it was released in the 50s? I feel like music has changed so much since then, because back then broadway musical numbers were chart toppers too, which would be uncanny if it happened now.

I agree, because boy bands represent everything that is consumer and "shallow" in america. I also think the west still hasn't "figured out" Asia yet because of the large gap in language and culture which could be another big factor.
One example I can think of is the outrage/ridicule that was generated by the discovery that Ashlee Simpson lip-synched her performances, while we watch Johnny's boys and the like with full knowledge that they're lip-synching. I suppose America is meant to focus "keeping it real."
Hello, i guess i should post my opinion too.
Since many things have been said in the previous comments, i'll try not to repeat them.

What i think is what i saw in my country.
I'm from Peru, i know it's not the US but it's kinda the same with Japanese music. The problem much people have is to embrace something they don't understand. Not many people know japanese (or are interested in learning/knowing) because it's a different culture, different language and it's far from our reality. Besides, like everyone said, America has its own singers, so why would they bother listening to something new that cannot be listened in the radio or watched in any popular music program? I'm not trying to be mean, but i have showned my friends the japanese music i hear (rock, pop, punk, etc) and they all like it but at first it was weird to them since neither of them thought that japanese people can sing like this, In fact, it's kind of funny to them (don't know why). It's like many foreigners have a wrong concept about my country but that has nothing to do with the topic.
And i totally agree with the fact that most JE groups have only one member that can actually sing!

I would be very but very impressed if i get to see japanese music in a US chart, even in my country (not to say how much shocked i was when i heard a TV program that had kinki kids music as background =S)
But how well do english songs do in Peru? I guess it all boils down to the fact that english has basically become the international language of choice.

makito

10 years ago

Deleted comment

I was very surprised at how badly Utada did. She could have followed the pattern of attempting a cd domestically (Cubic U), then going abroad and getting fame, then using that capital and fame to try to break back into the market. That's what backstreet boys and many other groups have done, but Utada just did something horribly wrong.
I wonder how well Rain will fare...maybe he'll suceed whereas his Chinese and Japanese counterparts have failed, but I don't know much about him, is he fluent in English? Otherwise he has little hope...

Deleted comment

noesunexito

10 years ago

I've heard Rain has been taking very intense English classes, and that's why the release is later in the year - because that's when they predicted he would be "ready" by? I'm not too sure.

makito

10 years ago

This question has been lurking in my mind for the longest time as well...

I'm thinking that Americans are very picky about their music and also that as far as the music world, there aren't much changes or conversions. I may be wrong, but I mean, how many Christina Augilera typed belters were passed through the American Idol auditions? Isn't the introduction of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince in our music world, the last time we were exposed to something really different and we were actually nodding our heads in agreement?

On the other hand, Japan is very open to anything. DJ Ozama? Gorie? I find it rather comical. I can see why America may not like the same thing as us because we seem to like anyone, whether they can sing or not.

However, I think some Japanese artists are good enough to make it, if they brush up more on their language barrier. And Hikki, who doesn't have the language barrier had much potential... Yao, I agree that she should have put more of an asian spin on her music. Afterall, she is supposed to be representing Japan right?

In my opinion, I do think that in the future, J-pop may take America by storm. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But, look at artists such as the Backstreet Boys. America didn't agree with their music at first, but after a fews years and hitting it overseas, they became the "It." Maybe we just need to give America some time... A lot of time?

I'm really jumbled in my comment, my apologies. It's sometimes hard to express everything on my mind. I hope it's not confusing because I say "we" and "us" for both Americans and Japanese.
LOL well, I think American's aren't too picky (can we please talk about how bad some maroon5 and other pop rock band's songs are) but I think they do get really iffy about music that's not in english. I don't think pop is stagnant though, i mean remember back in the mid 90's when eurobeat songs were all the rage and how it slowly became more and more R&B and now I feel like pop is trying to be more 80's new wave sounding. I think the american music charts do like new things, but there's just something about Japanese pop that just isn't right. I'm thinking that it's actually not that different, and hence that's why americans don't like it. (And about prince, the 80's were filled with wonderful shockers like him, like Duran Duran, Eurhythmics, hair bands, death metal, etc)

Japan is pretty open to lots of music, i mean, I karaoked to Daddy Yankee's Gasolina, which was very surprising to me.

Yeah, I think where she went wrong is that she stuck herself in a very ambiguous middle; she didn't go all out american nor did she have enough asian influences. Not to mention a lot of her songs (most i think) just were not good.

I think jpop needs time too. Anime will help weaken the barriers, it'll just take a few more years and a lot more anime on tv with the original opening themes.
I think American's aren't too picky
Emphasis on the too right? You still think we are picky to a certain extent right? HA HA HA I don't know, maybe I'm just basing my thoughts on the artists nowadays. I really don't see much variety. You're right, Duran Duran and other artists did come out in the 80's and took America off their feets but I didn't really think they were as out-there as Prince. Just my opinion of course.

Which songs did you like from Exodus?
about Japanese music making it onto English-speaking charts...
I don't remember too clearly, but I do remember seeing articles from time to time about artists making it onto foreign charts with, like, their dance-mix album. (I vaguely remember one time it may have been one of Ayu's Euro-mix albums.)

Whether or not one considers dance charts, euro-beat to be main stream though... ?