Japan’s Stereo (using English)

"You can’t even understand what they’re saying!", parents complain of the almighty racket coming from their teenage offspring’s bedroom speakers.

The implied meaning is that music without comprehensible lyrics is as pointless as an inflatable dartboard. But where does that leave your average Japanese artist, or indeed any musician whose native language is less universal than English? If the listener is foreign, do a band’s songs become worthless? If a Japanese tree falls in an American forest, does it make a sound?

Perhaps the wish for a wider global appeal is what prompts many Japanese artists to sing in English. These days it’s rare to find a pop song that doesn’t at least stick some in the chorus.A Actual linguistic ability doesn’t seem to be especially important, leading to such original, insightful song titles as this:
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["Baby Cruisin’ Love", by Perfume]

Often, English vocals from a Japanese artist are a pretty good sign that the singer in question doesn’t really have anything interesting to say. The country’s better lyricists use their own language, utilising their knowledge of its unique sounds and rhythms.

A good example is (Soutaiseiriron), who appear to create harmless, unhurried pop numbers with a cutesy feel. A closer examination of the lyrics, however, reveals a wide range of unusual topics, from time travelling lovers to philosophising ghosts. One song describes a schoolgirl’s unnervingly strong crush on her teacher - a plotline that gives Soutaiseiriron a sinister edge that is completely hidden from non-Japanese-speaking listeners.

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Thankfully, cases like this are the exception rather than the norm, and removing the meaning from a song’s lyrics often does has little effect on a listener’s enjoyment. It’s not that Japan’s devoid of lyric-writing talent. It’s just that, as any racket-appreciating teenager knows, music is sound, not poetry. The instruments say as much as any vocalist, they just communicate in a language that doesn’t use words.


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Posted: December 10th, 2010
at 7:05am by mnp

Tagged with , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: youtube,music

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