I have this recurring dream. It is more like a nightmare actually. I am walking along a dark, narrow hall, getting closer and closer with each passing second to the red door at the end of the tunnel. For some reason, I am not afraid. Instead, my body is filled with a certain sense of anxiety, an anxiety I cannot fully understand. As I open the door and walk into the room, I see a round table, dusty, withered with the passage of time. I see seven people sitting around it; it kind of reminds me of C.M. Coolidge`s 1910 painting Looks Like Four Of A Kind, known more commonly as Dogs Playing Poker.
As I inch closer I begin to recognize their faces. I see Jim Morrison and Freddie Mercury sharing a toast of what appears to be vodka. To Freddie
s right is Janis, wearing a satin dress, fiddling around with the keys to her psychedelic Porsche. I see Jerry Garcia and Jimi lighting up a couple of smokes taken from a box of red Gitanes. Finally, I see John Lennon talking politics and war with a thin Elvis. “Surely this has to be what Robert Smith was thinking about when he wrote The Cures “Just Like Heaven,” I say to myself. And then I panic. The seven faces turn to me in unison, their glares cold and dark. Slowly, one by one, they take off their masks and the terrifying truth dawns upon me; I scream. They are not musicians! They are J-pop idols!
I swiftly wake, covered in sweat, saddened to realize I am not a child of the 1960s, but a 28-year old living in 21st century Japan. I live in a time where music has lost all purpose and meaning, a time where lyrical expression and instrumental virtuosity has been replaced by a group of young Japanese boys and girls with an entire industry behind them, an industry more than willing to spend millions of marketing yen each year in the attempt to sell everything from lipstick to lunchboxes and T-shirts, while hiding the little musical talent of their proteges behind great production and a pretty face.
When I think of J-pop, I think of Toyota and Sony, I think of Panasonic and Nintendo, I think of an industry, a streamlined process, a packaged good created in a factory under strict and meticulous supervision. The components are different; there are no doors, seats, high definition screens or chips. Yet, the formula and ultimate outcome is the same, just as precise, equally profitable. We have A, a young guy (4 or 5 young guys to be more exact) or girl with a pretty face and a 1.5-octave voice. We have B and C, a catchy electro/hip-hop beat and a dance coach. We have D, a song in Japanese with a chorus including two or three lines in English saying something like “I love you,” “yes I can,” or “do your best.” We have E, F, G, and H: an apt photographer, an image consultant, a tough-as-nails, no nonsense PR rep, and a spot in primetime television. I is the last piece of the puzzle, a short, overweight, balding producer in charge of putting the parts together. A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H+I = J-pop, assembled, packed, and ready to go.
“Come on man, it
s a business,” my friend tells me. “The formula has worked for decades. If it were my cow, I would milk it just as much…wouldn't you?” I answer with a resounding NO, hoping to myself I have yet to become so cynical. But I see his point. I understand his argument as I remember the words of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke from an interview a couple of years ago: “Being genuine…thats a tough thing for anyone,” he answers when asked about the seemingly never-ending struggles associated with making a decent album.
I, for one, wish they would at least give it a try.© Japan Today