Does J-pop Suck?
Or, why music isn’t a universal language
By: Dan Grunebaum | Nov 25, 2010 | Issue: 870 | 21 Comments | 9,610 views

Illustrated by Phil Couzens

Coming second only to teeth sucking, J-pop is the one aspect of Japanese culture that Westerners love to hate. And let’s be honest, there are plenty of good reasons to loathe it: the talentless tarento, the excruciating English, and the indentured servitude of artists and gangland connections that characterize the industry, to name just a few.

But does the music itself really suck? I’ve long felt there was something else going on. In fact, a better question might be: why does J-pop grate so much on Western ears?

I suspect one reason J-pop irritates people is that, superficially, it resembles Western pop. It’s got the sampled beats and synth lines we’re accustomed to, as well as familiar production values.

And yet it’s all somehow wrong. J-pop relentlessly confounds our expectations. Melodies seem to start off in the same spot as in Western pop, but invariably end somewhere we didn’t expect, making us feel that a promise to speak our musical language has been betrayed. The contours are different: they’re based not on the major or minor but on pentatonic scales, and there’s no blue note. What’s more, the thin vocal timbres that seem so pleasing to the locals prove insufferable to Westerners raised on the full-throated likes of Aretha Franklin and Beyoncé.

Recent research detailed in books like Philip Ball’s The Music Instinct suggests that, as with language, people acquire a sense of musical “syntax” at a very young age, creating neural pathways that soon become entrenched. This can make it as difficult for adults to “get” foreign music as it is to learn a foreign language.

Since the frame of reference for J-pop is its Western trappings, we’re predisposed to judge it by Western standards. But maybe that’s a mistake: rather than a poor imitation of “our” pop music, J-pop may well be different at a more basic musical level.

Does J-pop Suck?
Dan Grunebaum is Metropolis’ music & performing arts editor
RATHER THAN A POOR IMITATION OF ‘OUR’ POP MUSIC, J-POP MAY WELL BE DIFFERENT AT A MORE BASIC LEVEL”

One clue is that East Asians, who share a common musical heritage with Japan, appear predisposed to like it. Ayumi Hamasaki can fill stadiums in China but registers not even a blip in the Americas or Europe. J-pop stars like Hikaru Utada who have tried to make it in the West fall flat even with English-language albums.

On the other hand, the bands that succeed in the West are often exotic or seemingly so, be it the Kodo drummers or Boredoms. The “problem” with J-pop is that it’s too close to Western music to be exoticized, making the differences grate all the more.

While “Cool Japan” continues to sell well in Western countries, its successes have mainly been in the visual realm: anime, cosplay, art, butoh, and so on. Visual “language” appears to be far more universally accessible, and a musical equivalent to the overseas success of Takeshi Murakami and Hayao Miyazaki, or even a reprise of Kyu Sakamoto’s 1963 US number one “Sukiyaki,” may be some time coming.

The further away a nation is culturally, the more difficult it is to learn its language or enjoy its music. The West’s encounter with Asian music is recent, and like Asian tongues, it’s difficult to get to grips with. I’ve been here long enough to learn a fair bit of Japanese, and even come to enjoy a smattering of J-pop (note: there’s a lot of other Japanese music I like), but I’ll probably never “get” either like the natives do.

All of which brings me back to that original question: does J-pop actually suck? Well, the Japanese music industry might, but whether the actual music does is a more problematic issue. Your answer may say more about you, where you come from and whether you believe objective standards can be applied to culture, than the quality of the music itself.

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  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/jamesch/ Charltzy

    I thought the X-Factor/American Idol contestants were the bottom of the barrel when it came to musical talent, but they are masterful professionals compared to any J-Pop artist that I’ve heard.

    They can’t sing, they can’t hold a note, can’t pronounce English and even their dancing (which seems to be the main/only reason some of these “talents” are hired) isn’t very good – have you seen AKB48 try to move?

    Anytime I have the misfortune to watch 10 minutes of one of those “let’s look back through the decades and nod our head with appreciation of No.1′s from the past” programmes I am gob-smacked at the absolute garbage that people feel nostalgic about.
    All I see is Japanese rip-offs of Abba, Spice Girls etc, who are so bad they actually somehow make me like the artists they are based on, despite loathing them usually.

    Anything that makes me appreciate Abba must be the epitome of vocal tripe.

    How many foreign artists would a typical Japanese person be able to name, or enjoy listening to? Quite a few.
    Ask the same question about Japanese artists to any of your friends back home.

    So, does J-Pop suck?
    Yes, in so many ways I could write a 27-page essay on the subject.
    I appreciate Dan tried to be diplomatic about it, but I think it should be banned from the airwaves and only sold in underground black market music shops, that’s how offensive it is.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to scratch a knife across a blackboard, put some beats to it and try and sell it to AVEX TRAX.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/thisisryanon/ Ryan

    Awful, simply awful. It’s the one part of Japanese culture that I can’t get my head around, no matter what. The nearest I’ve ever got is listening to vividblaze, and their sound is more Western than most Western music.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/aquameanie/ Summer

    Dan could be on to something, I suppose. I have heard this grew-up-on-different-music-standards argument before. But, Japanese people totally get Western music. Why is it not compatible the other way? It is like カレー? Sugary, watered down, unappealing to the senses and comes-in-a-box?

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/michiko/ Michelle Michi Eyre

    This argument has been going on for a very long time. Does JPOP suck? Depends on the ears that are listening. Within the west (North America, Europe, etc.), there is not a big acceptance of the genre, mainly due to the language and cultural barriers, especially in the USA. As mentioned in the article, what is “cool Japan” in the west is anything that is visual and anything that can be translated into English (or another local language). When Japanese artists are promoted in the west, the labels do a terrible job in promoting, especially for English fluent artists such as Hikaru Utada.

    J1 Radio is an internet radio station that plays JPOP 24×7 with a very limited amount of talk. J1 is the most listened to Japanese music broadcast on Live365 and has the highest number of listening hours of any Asian language station on the service. J1′s listeners are mainly from the USA and Japan. Singapore and Canada also have significant audiences. J1 is getting listeners from around the world showing that there is a niche interest in this genre.

    I personally find JPOP acts to be more appealing and distinctive than Western acts, especially the idol groups. Do you think that something like the concept of AKB48 or Morning Musume with the costumes and all make it in the USA? Most definitely not.. but it does work in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

    If anyone has heard popular music from other parts of the world, especially Latin America, it also sounds a lot like western pop music. Are we knocking that? If anything, I find Korean pop music much closer to the western style than Japanese pop.

    The nice part of any music genre is that you have a choice to listen to it or not. If you don’t want to hear it, there’s always Inter-FM, Eagle 810 or the many streams on Live365 that play music from every genre imaginable. (Plus, many Japanese FMs play a lot of Western music between the chatter).

    I feel that JPOP does have a distinct sound and I will continue to support it.

    Michi Eyre
    Director
    J1 Radio

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/applecat/ Heather

    I actually *like* J-pop. Well, some of it.

    Let me explain myself a little…

    I’ve often asked myself why I like it. Do I think it’s “better” than Western pop? No. I hate pop music in general, really. I would never be listening to artists like Katie Perry or Ke$ha and even in high school I never was a fan of N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, or any of the boy bands.
    And before someone questions what I listen to, I feel I must make it clear how diverse my music is (I think it’s diverse, anyway). I have over 3,000 songs on my iPod. When I put my library on shuffle, I can go from listening to Al Green to Tommy february6 or Ore Ska Band then to ACDC and The Darkness or maybe Judy and Mary, Beat Crusaders, or The White Stripes. Or maybe I start off with the Australian band Architecture in Helsinki and go to Bob Dylan, Queen (a favorite of mine), or Foo Fighters and then Bonnie Pink (my absolute favorite female Japanese artist) or L’Arc~en~Ciel or even Arashi (the one and only Japanese boy band guilty pleasure I indulge in). I have music in several languages, actually. A little French, Russian, and I even have some by a Chinese indie band called The Marshmallow Kisses.
    My point is that my iPod is very eclectic and I like to think I know what good music is. Well, good music for me anyway. Does that mean that I think all the J-pop I listen to is “good”? Not necessarily, but it’s fun sometimes. Even though I have a ton of music on my iPod, I actually consider myself to be pretty picky about what I listen to. I have a lot, but not everything makes my cut.
    I think the interest in J-pop, for me, comes from being an anime fan. My interest in anime back in high school has followed me into my adulthood. So I guess my attachment to the J-pop comes from there. My Japanese skills are very rusty (I’ve taken 2 years in college) and I don’t always understand the lyrics, but it never really bothers me. I pick up what I can. For me, I think the vocals start to become part of the music itself. The voice is just another instrument.

    So I can’t figure out why, but I like J-pop. I’m still asking myself that question because I know some of it really, really sucks. Like this article mentions, I’m not a fan of how the industry seems to work with the idols and such. And what is it with these groups with a ton of members like Morning Musume and the like? I really don’t understand the appeal there. But there’s also some J-pop that is really great. Well, I stay away from Ayumi Hamasaki, Kouda Kumi, and artists like that. So maybe what I listen to isn’t all pop? I love Ore Ska Band which is ska and then The Blue Hearts which is punk. But I don’t actually go for the J-rock scene at all.

    Also, I wouldn’t judge the fact that the bands and artists don’t get attention from the west meaning that J-pop is “bad”. For me, I don’t really care if they make it here or not. I really could care less if others like J-pop, but I enjoy it. Some of it really gets me going. I don’t expect anybody else to get it, but I have fun and it gets me through my day to day routine.

    Just thought I’d offer my rambling 2 cents as a Caucasian American woman who actually does like Japanese music and lots of Western music, too.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/steven/ Steven

    I think this a very good, non biased point Dan makes. And while I don’t particularly like J-pop, it’s a hell of a lot more appealing than hip hop “music” post 2000.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/bobbymook/ Rob

    Michiko you have to be joking, please name me a good JPop song and why it is good from a musical aspect…

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/dokool/ Dan

    Hey bobbymook, how about you name a good American pop song and tell us all why it’s good from a musical aspect. That strawman of an argument you’re trying to bring out cuts both ways.

    I think there are a couple problems with “J-pop’s” failure to break through in the West.

    1. A matter of terminology. I think a large (too-large) number of Westerners hear that a band is Japanese and think “oh, I don’t listen to that J-pop” crap regardless of whether it’s actually pop or not. Saying you don’t listen to the BEAT CRUSADERS because they’re J-pop is like saying you don’t listen to… actually I can’t come up with a good equivalent, but anyone who listens to BECR gets my point. There’s idol-pop, VK, indies, a fantastic punk scene which I’m proud to be involved in, and all sorts of stuff coming out of Japan, but if you slap the same “pop” label on all of it then nobody pays attention.

    2. There’s really only a few dedicated Westerners who are trying to expose the “outside world” to non-pop stuff, and even then it’s hit and miss and mostly limited to little blogs. And one of the reasons for this is that there’s relatively few foreigners in Japan who follow Japanese music. And the reason for *that* is… probably a chicken-and-egg thing. Are they not listening because they don’t know it’s out there, or is it not getting out there because nobody’s listening? Or are the people who are listening content with keeping it their little secret?

    Looking through Metropolis’ Japan Beat archive, I count 34 entries available in the archive (in the 14 months since Metropolis changed designs) and only 10 artists whose names I even recognize. Granted I’m more into the punk/melocore scene (so there’s a certain genre/obscurity threshold at which I will stop giving a damn), but the column almost seems like it’s trying too hard for a sort of smarmy hipster street cred that appeals to just about nobody. Hell, as far as I can tell you guys might just pick bands to interview based on whether or not one of the members can speak English, or maybe you either have to be big enough to sell out arenas or small enough to be selling CD-R singles, but nowhere inbetween.

    I can only speak to my scene, but with acts like Ken Yokoyama filling up Makuhari Messe, Maximum the Hormone (who do have international fame w/ several US/Europe tours to their credit) coming back after a nearly year-long hiatus, the BEAT CRUSADERS (who have played the main stage at just about every Japanese festival period and sold god knows how many CDs) breaking up, this was a hugely important year for the indies/punk scene as a whole. Yet when I read the Metropolis coverage of Summer Sonic and Fuji Rock, I don’t see a single word about any Japanese bands that played. And there wasn’t any coverage period of Rock In Japan Festival or Rising Sun Rock Festival, the two biggest Japanese music-centric fests that happen to go on at around the same time.

    I sound like a bitter scene kid and I may be just that, but it seems like there’s not enough discussion as a whole about bands that have a big following in Japan and have the potential to make it in the US.

    3. The industry just doesn’t care. I don’t think most Japanese record labels even know the first thing about how to expand their audience. When did bands posting PVs on YouTube start catching on, about a year or two ago? I’d be surprised if most labels had one staffer who spoke enough English to write MySpace profiles for most of their acts, and it’s also damned hard for bands to get visas to perform in the US. So why waste the effort trying to cultivate an audience when you can do 80-90 shows a year, sell new tee-shirt designs on each tour, and bribe Fuji TV so that your band is the theme song of the week for some news show that your demographic doesn’t even watch?

    4. Americans are, as a whole, largely ignorant of any culture but those that speak English. Visual Kei has its demographic of girls who like boys who dress like girls. Idol-pop has its demographic of creepy otaku. Punk/ska bands like Oreskaband (who have appeared on Warped Tour), the aforementioned MTH, Ellegarden (a wildly successful US tour in ’06 and a sold-out LA one-man show in ’07), the Cherry Coke$ (southern US tour w/ Flogging Molly a couple years back), etc all have their own niche followings. But how’s a band like 9mm Parabellum Bullet, or 世界の終わり, or the telephones, or any number of other great acts out there going to break through unless there’s people on both sides of the Pacific who are willing to help push them?

    So really it’s everyone’s fault, is what I’m trying to say.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/jamesch/ Charltzy

    Some comments going a bit off topic here, remember we’re talking about J-Pop and how it sucks.
    I’m sure there are some great underground J-Ska bands out there, but who listens to Ska??

    Some random points:

    Shakira sells records to people who don’t understand a word of Spanish, she’s a good singer and good singing sounds good to anyone. She can also dance in rhythm.

    99 Luftballon was popular before they translated it into 99 Red Balloons, and that was in GERMAN, the least-sexy most anti-English sounding language ever. (I speak German and have family there, so I can say that)

    The Spice Girls were chosen for their looks, only 2 of them could sing and a few could dance, but somehow they made it work – in almost every country in the world. (for better or worse)
    With something like AKB48, it’s like throwing a gaggle of random talentless schoolgirls in a blender and crossing your fingers that something good will happen.
    Oh, none of them can sing OR dance? Never-mind – stick ‘em in some short skirts!

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/jeffrey/ Jeffrey

    You need to be careful here because your thesis that we obtuse Westerners somehow can’t appreciate the essence of Japanese pop music is the same tired old Nihon-jin ron that helped explain why European skis wouldn’t work properly on Japanese snow and how the Japanese have a unique digestive system and therefore can’t stomach imported beef.

    As someone who I suspect has been listening to Japanese pop music for nearly longer than Dan has been alive, it’s not so much that J-Pop sucks, though it always has. The fact of the matter is that most of the pop music one finds in the T0p 40 of any nation sucks. I think Katie Parry sucks. I think Lady Gaga sucks. I think 99% of all rap/hip-hop sucks and R&B is pretty much dead.

    There are good Japanese pop bands who, against much greater odds than ever faced by their Western counterparts, do succeed. Being out of Japan now, I don’t listen to much J-Pop (mostly because it is er, um, crap ), but one band that comes to mind, though they are veritable elder statesmen now, is Spitz. “Hachi Mitsu” is a near perfect pop album.

    The idea that something mitigates against culture and language (lost in translation) is baseless. Think about the success of ABBA, YMO (though not huge), the Sugar Cubes/Bjork and, perhaps the best example since they sing in an entirely made up language, Sigur Ros.

    “Since the frame of reference for J-pop is its Western trappings, we’re predisposed to judge it by Western standards. But maybe that’s a mistake: rather than a poor imitation of “our” pop music, J-pop may well be different at a more basic musical level.”

    “J-pop stars like Hikaru Utada who have tried to make it in the West fall flat even with English-language albums. ”

    Of course we are going to judge it against the best. This is why so many Japanese baseball players want to try and succeed in the Major League in the U.S. Succeeding in Japan is one thing, succeeding while playing with and against the best in the world proves you truly are one of the best baseball players in the world. The same can be said to be true about pop music (where is Japan’s or Asia’s Radiohead?) or literature and films, both of which are historically Western artistic mediums . In the case of literature , much of the success relies on the skills of the translator. That being said, even an “imperfect” translation of “Snow Country” or the “Old Capital” wouldn’t do much to the underlying strength of the stories themselves. Likewise, Kurasawa’s “The Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo” were turned into what are considered classic Western movies, but are equally if not universally appreciated in the original.

    So, to answer the question you pose in your final paragraph: Yes. The primary problem with Japanese pop music is the people running the business. Unlike how things were done even in the “bad old days” of major labels in the U.S. and Europe, the executives at Japanese record labels don’t really know anything about pop music and, even more than the idiots running the legacy labels and commercial radio in the U.S. and Europe, care only about “moving units.” Until this changes, as well as bringing down the record label co-conspirators in radio and television, Japanese pop music will continue to be mediocre at best.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/kfinel/ Keith Finello

    I agree with the article. Except no one was “raised” on Aretha Franklin and Beyonce. That is like saying someone was raised on Frank Sinatra and George Michaels.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/dokool/ Dan

    Charltzy, you’re exactly what the problem is. Obviously plenty of people listen to ska otherwise bands like Oreska wouldn’t play at festivals (including Punkspring, Summer Sonic, RIJ, CDJ, Warped Tour, etc), perform themes for popular anime like Bleach, etc etc and so forth… and yet you dismiss it entirely out of hand.

    As far as AKB’s popularity in Japan, I think anyone who looks at the group in the context of the Japanese cultural zeitgeist understands that they were not really *meant* to have international appeal beyond maybe other Asian countries. Anyone who says that they’re 48 girls who have randomly been thrown together and given costumes really isn’t paying attention and has no grasp of Akihabara/otaku idol culture, because it’s pretty obvious that their army of managers and directors know EXACTLY what they’re doing. If the US military could plan things as well as AKB’s handlers, the entire Middle East would be nothing but flourishing democracies.

    Jeffrey, I’ve always heard that syrup16g was the closest thing Japan had to Radiohead, although the HIATUS are certainly trying to claim that mantle as well. Maybe Straightener? Again, there’s a ton of stuff out there, but the question is how much are you willing to look?

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/sobersteven/ Steven Chiang

    “How many foreign artists would a typical Japanese person be able to name, or enjoy listening to? Quite a few.
    Ask the same question about Japanese artists to any of your friends back home.”

    Quoted from Charltzy’s post.

    I find this really funny because I am not sure if you are trying to bash the listeners or the artists. From reading most of the comments here, I have came to a conclusion that music may not be a universal language after all, at least not for the majority who have posted here. Jeffrey also pointed out that it could mainly be due to the people running the business and I strongly agree with his statement.

    No, the years that one have lived in Japan or the years of exposure to the music does not determine one’s credibility. Hell, you could have been listening to the same few artists for decades.

    And the main reason why western artists are so successful all over the world is because English is the universal language. It is because the highest percentage of the world’s population can understand it. Why not try asking a few of the people who are from tribes or from remote regions that have hardly any access to electrical appliances. I am sure most of them wouldn’t even know what ABBA is , or MJ or just insert any greatest western artistes of all time.

    My point is, it is unfair to judge J-pop like this. Sure some of them may suck, but every country has shitty music, I will take a few hours if I want to list down the shitty western artistes. Jeffrey also pointed out that it could mainly be due to the people running the business and I strongly agree with his statement.

    I am sick of seeing stuff like ” Oh, name me 1 good Jpop song from musical aspect .” It is too narrow-minded and immature to make such statements.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/sigma/ Jon

    Hmm. Where do I start?
    As an American who is a big fan of music in general and who has been listening to japanese music for over 10 years, I can see from all sides of the issue.
    To start off, I felt like this article was overly harsh and overgeneralized but at least the author tried to some restraint (unlike Charltzy above)
    I think the biggest thing is that you can’t objectively say jpop is crap from an artistic standpoint.
    You can be as subjective as you want in your opinion but that does not support any tangiable conclusion or argument.
    Jpop is a huge genre comprised of many different types of artists as is any country’s pop genre.
    Saying jpop sucks is the same as saying all of American pop sucks just because I hate Britney Spears.

    Jpop has many types of music and dispite what has been said above, it’s not all about ripping off western music. Western music has been globalized for over 100 years so of course its going to have an influence. Artists see things they think are cool and try to incorporate that into their music. That happens not only cross culturally but also within the same country, so what is the point of attacking Japan so relentlessly?

    As far as the structure of Japanese music, I think this objectively varies from alot of western music styles. One can come up with many theories about this, but I tend to think it has a large part to do with language differences and how Japanese is structured vs. English.
    Unlike English, Japanese syllables can be nearly flawlessly matched with each note in a melody.
    This makes Japanese music much more clear cut and technical sounding in general.
    To a western ear which is used to roughness and rawness of modern western pop might be put off because the melodies seem too formulized and lacking some of the vocal stylizing that we here in the west.
    The second influence of Japanese on the lyrics is the difference in lyrical structure.
    This is almost completely different.
    Japanese lyrics on the whole tend to dirive from traditional eastern poetic styles.
    This is turn affects when and how words are stylized when the artist is singing a song.
    Especially when English is occassionally put in the lyrics this can sound unnatural to western ears.

    On the cultural side, there are a few influences that are foreign to people who don’t have a somewhat deep understanding of Japanese culture. One such concept is the Japanese idea of being norinori, which is the kind of feeling you have when everyone in a group is really excited and happy.
    In the west, we tend to be more individual in this aspect and to many people it’s not an emotion we can well relate with (I know I for one am not a fan of this myself). Nonetheless, this has an influence of groups like AKB48 and other groups that have tons of members jumping around trying to show themselves having a good time.
    This goes back to the Japanese group mentality I think.

    I could go on and on about the objective differences, but it would be a pretty try comment if I didn’t inject my opinion in it as well, so here goes.
    I personally don’t care for most Jpop as I don’t for American pop these days.
    The reason being that the top 10 hits tend to be radio safe songs that are overproduced just to sell and hit the charts.
    I tend to like music that has more heart.
    There are plenty of Jpop acts that offer this and they do occassionally do well so Im critizing the WHOLE genre. Mainly just what I hear day to day here in Japan.
    Groups like Exile, Homemade Kazoku, and Monkey Magic, while not the type of music I tend to listen to are all in my opinion highly respectable musicians who arent simply ripping off the west as it were.
    I am personally most fond of the 90′s when it comes to Japanese pop as I feel it was filled with the most heart and it many amazing melodies.
    These days alot of the manufactured musicians which plague the scene just sample or use other peoples melodies hardly showing any personal artistic creative.

    Alas, in the end everyone is going to like different styles of music so its pointless to argue. The only thing that can be argued is that you can’t objectively try to reach a conclusion that the music itself sucks only why (if there truly is) a tendancy for people from the west tend to think it sucks.

    Thank you.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/amperedo/ Apryl Peredo

    Well, like some of the above comments – I’d also like to start with some breakdown of what constitutes “j-pop.” One person says “j-pop” is the overall term for several genres of music performed by Japanese performers. I, on the other hand, would say that there are several types of music performed by Japanese performers and j-pop is but one.

    After all, we don’t call all music from North America “pop.” We would not say that heavy metal and hard rock are subsets of North American pop.

    I do however, agree that there are various styles of modern music being recorded and performed in Japan, and to say “j-pop” is what ALL this music is, and that it is universally disliked – at least outside of Asia, might be false.

    To me, and those I talk with, the consensus is that J-POP (and let’s throw K-POP in there too!) are these “music” groups consisting of several boys or several/many girls. They performers “sing” and “dance.” They do not play instruments. They do not write their own songs. They are dressed in fashionable and coordinated clothing.

    I put “sing” and “dance” in quotes – as I really would not put the quality of their singing and dancing at any higher level than a North American high school “Glee” club or dance team.

    So, why doesn’t J-POP (and K-POP) succeed outside of Asia? A couple of reasons. First, most people want to hear music sung in either their own native language OR English. So, unless more Japanese groups plan on signing in French when selling in France, Spanish when selling in Spain/Mexico or English for global sales – they will not do well in any market but Asia. 99% of the worlds top-selling music is in English. It’s not all from the US, UK, and Canada. But European artists, Latin American artists, etc know – if you want to succeed “globally” you need to sing in English.

    The other reason? I just feel that in the rest of the world, the heyday of the signing girl or boy group is OVER! Spice Girls used to sell out huge stadiums! They put together a reunion tour a couple years ago and had to cancel it – not enough ticket sales. Remember Backstreet Boys, NSync, Boys to Men? You do not see bands like that at the top of the charts anymore! It’s just a trend that has passed.

    As for “suckage” within Japanese modern music, their are plenty of rock bands (J-Rock?), Visual Kei bands, folkish style singer/songwriters, that are good, quality musicians. Will they succeed outside of Japan/Asia? Not if they continue to only sing in Japanese. Are they worth listening to in Japan, by Asians and Westerners? Yes, indeed!

    By the way, let us not forget that there is a Japanese band that is finding success outside if Asia, as well as in – Boom Boom Satellites. They don’t dance in sync. They don’t color coordinate their outfits. There are not groomed to “Johnny’s” perfection. They just make quality technically skilled music. And they sing in English.

    ps: I mention the need to perform in English many times. I am just saying that because English has become the global “tool” for communication. If a company wants to trade overseas – they do it in English. If a musician wants global success, be they from Japan, Mexico. or Canada – they do it in English.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/krystal156/ Krystal

    I really can’t wrap my head around J-rock at all, but I’m a westerner (Born in the USA and raised here) and I prefer listening to Japanese music over Western music because of how different it is from american music. I’ve been listening to Ayumi Hamasaki since 2003 and Koda kumi since 2005 and I’d listen to them any day over anything else. I think it’s a real big overgeneralization that ALL Westerners hate J-pop, when it’s clearly not the case. Go look up some forums about Ayumi Hamasaki or Koda kumi and you’ll see the diverse fans there is. I’ve met fans online from Spain, France, United States, Mexico, Singapore, etc.

  • Ahamkara

    I’m a fan of all kinds or foreign music, or world music as some call it here in the states. I can honestly say that I’ve tested whether I can play foreign music to my friends, co-workers, and even strangers. It actually came down to one defining problem for them that caused them to hate it, no matter what country the music was from. You can disagree with me all you want to, but this is the ultimate reason I came up with, “It simply isn’t in English”. When they’d listen to it, they’d ask me “What are they saying?”. If I can’t answer them right away word for word with what is being said, then they will reject the songs immediately. This is a serious problem cause it shows Americans will probably never accept most foreign music into the mainstream. Even with artists that chose to record their songs in English, those artists are labeled as copying traditionally popular artists in the USA already. Just cause you learn perfect English doesn’t mean you will make it big here. Even being BORN in America doesn’t guarantee you will be accepted here, especially if you record music for another country. (Utada Hikaru-New York Born) To Americans it’s like saying you have 2 home countries. You just don’t do that if you are an American, America is your home, that’s it.
    I hear from so many people that J-Pop is on it’s way to breaking into America. That was said to me in 1999, when most artists there were releasing their best material. Now 2012, most of those artists are writing totally different music, changing with the times and their personas have changed as well. The music they write now is very unpopular here from my experiences. Even when these people say J-Pop will become big here soon, a Korean artist like Psy comes along and trumps everything in Japan right now. I hear Gangnam Style everywhere and see his album in almost every jukebox and turntable here in US. Any J-Pop in the jukeboxes? K-Pop? Indian music? Popular German, Spanish, French, Italian singers? Barely any.
    The bottom line, and I’m not closed minded about this, is it’s not in English. When I play songs in English language, people are more accepting of them. Most though, will pick anything on the radio over a foreign song any day. Until America gets over itself and appreciates music for the expression and creativity, it will just be words they can’t explain and nothing more.

  • Tommy

    I think you should state a few more concrete examples/singers to explain why J-pop isn’t faring so well in the global music industry. I used to be an avid listener of J-pop but it all started going downhill for me since AKB48. Like most things Japanese, I believe that J-pop is catered only to Japanese fans and they don’t bother adapting to the tastes of the outside market. K-pop on the other hand banks heavily on training and promotion to get their talents prepped up for international stardom. I still think that not all J-pop is bad. There are some talented artists out there but they are being overshadowed by the likes of AKB48 who give J-pop a bad name.

  • dude2013tokyo

    The article states: “The contours are different: they’re based not on the major or minor but on pentatonic scales, and there’s no blue note”

    Actually, the problem with Jpop (for Anglo-Americans) is that the music is too major-minor (tonal). The music is NOT pentatonic at all — otherwise it would sound like 1930s exotica, which it does not. Anglo-American pop and rock, on other other hand, is more blues-based. Hence, you’re right about the blue notes (not singular), but woefully off about the pentatonic scale.

  • bang2tang

    Please don’t have high expectation from Idol group’s musicality…

  • Baudrillard

    There is no “Japanese pop per se, ditto K pop. It is merely the glocalized version of a western product, but inferior quality. The locals are in postmodern denial and jingoistically proud that it somehow represents “Japan” or Korea.
    When they put in real Japanese instruments, like Ryuichi Sakamoto does, only then is it interesting and worthy of a conversation and the attention of westerners, or anyone else.
    And why MUST westerners “like” J pop? Its such a loaded question with a nationalistic agenda. Its like saying that if you came to Japan you must like all things Japanese, from J pop to Shinzo Abe.

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