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J-pop industry taking the music out of music business

62 Comments
By Masaky Ogasawara

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 Freddies 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in a time where music has lost all purpose and meaning, a time where lyrical expression and instrumental virtuosity has been replaced by a group of young Japanese boys and girls with an entire industry behind them, an industry more than willing to spend millions of marketing yen each year in the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, its 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

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

62 Comments
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Freedom of expression a basic human right, which you have exercised here. You are of course entitled to your opinion but so are the fans of these bands who you say "take" the music out of the music industry. I wonder if you have even listened to all their songs. The artists work extremely hard and is it their fault for wanting to earn a living. I personally don't know of many people who would refuse money for appearing in an advert, which might also raise their profile. You only mentionned western artists in your article of having "real" music and artists which are long past their prime now, does this mean you think no-one in the entire world are musisicians now.

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Just wait a few decades. Then the meaningless music you're lamenting about will be filtered out. The good songs will be remembered.

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Jpop is an absilute abomination and it should be quietly taken outside and disposed of.

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I am no fan of J-pop, but it is no worse than the music industries of many other Asian countries. And to presume that the UK or US music scenes are any more talent-driven is selective thinking.

What is the purpose of comparing dead music legends to modern J-pop? Hendrix, Morrison, Elvis etc. could just as easily be compared to a bunch of over-produced, semi-talented Western musicians of the past decade. Spice Girls anyone? Britney? Paris Hilton? NKOTB? NSYNC? the list goes on and on.

The Japanese music industry, like the music industries in most countries I am familiar with, has A LOT of crap, mingled with occasional brilliance. I suppose one is free to write off the whole Japanese music scene based on what they see on the oricon charts, but to do so would be to also deny themselves the discovery of some of the most original and talented artists coming out of Asia.

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You're comparing the legends of Rock(NOT pop ) with 1 hit/year wonders,totally unfair..as a whole today's Jpop is no worse than any other country's pop

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Japanese music is crappy like.

They don't have nothink to compare with Formby, Gracie Fields or Tommy Steel.

It is all like factory manufactured mediocre, and it aint entertaining, otherwise other countries would be really interested in it like.

Strewth, i don't know anyone "artist" from Japan except ONo and that's only because she was married to Lennon.

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And then they blame pirates for taking the business out of music business.

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maplebee, sorry yr defending the utterly indefenseable, j-pop is much worse than the western manufatured varieties, j-pop virtually all sounds the same or very similar. And there are slews of REAL talent one can pick from in many kinds of music outside Jpn but little in Jpn.

In Jpn musicians with real talent/imagination have a tough time, but at least the indie market is quite big due to Jpns small size, large population.

Popas, nice to see someone who knows that j-pop aint all thats out there, but thats all you hear & its mindnumbing, but thats what the vast j-population WANT so thats what gets delivered.

You want to change J-pop you have to change the J-people, good luck with that!

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Rants like this drive me ABSOLUTELY INSANE.

There is ALWAYS vapid music made by pretty people. There is no point in pop music history in which this has not been the case. Yes, even the time periods from which the above musicians were taken from...THIS IS NOT A NEW THING.

That in and of itself doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that these people complaining about a lack of "good" music (1) have clearly put absolutely no effort whatsoever into looking, and (2) judge the music purely by its image, while complaining about how "it's all image."

No. YOU only NOTICED the image, but the music is (often) not all image.

First thing that comes to mind: there's a song on the latest Kaela Kimura album called "No Reason Why" that is a perfect power pop song. Her last album had a couple as well. Power pop is a subgenre that has been going strong for about 40 years, often going underground but never disappearing. But since most power pop musicians aren't as cute as Kaela Kimura, they get ignored. Then we hear about how there's no good music.

Conclusion: people who complain about how there's no good music are REALLY complaining that there's no good music being made by people pretty enough to attract their attention...and even then, they're obviously not looking very closely.

Go here...

http://www.jrawk.com

A lot of it is avant garde, or relatively inaccessible, but there's also some stuff that is pretty commercial (sometimes even...gasp!...Jpop.)

It's not the world's job to figure everything out for you. Try being a little more curious.

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The path of least resistance is their only way.

The safe method the Jpop way with blinkers on, destroys variety and diversity.

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most popular music anywhere is rubbish, nothing new.

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It's hardly a rant...just an opinion.J-pop IS horrible horrible stuff.I remember Utada Hikaru saying that J-POP music made her so embarrassed,and was making it really tough for her to be taken seriously as a singer in the US.She mentioned the Japanese language was half the problem,being a difficult and rather ugly language to sing in.

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I remember Utada Hikaru saying that J-POP music made her so embarrassed,and was making it really tough for her to be taken seriously as a singer in the US.She mentioned the Japanese language was half the problem,being a difficult and rather ugly language to sing in.

I think reason for her failure was the fact that she came out with a stupid song called Easy Breezey that had an even ridiculous hook with the lyrics " Cause you're easy breezey and I'm Japanesey "

.... If a Japanese song sounds good and has the umph it'll get the western exposure. Not if its stupid crap like that.

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I work in music and J-pop is shelled out, there is no talent, although they think they have talent. Japanese buy it because they really have no choice to buy it. You might like it but it's churned out much faster than other countries.

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No musically extraordinary talent being shoved down your throat is happening everywhere. The only difference is in America ours start with Disney churning out the teen idols that all have this awful nasel vocals and when they have to sing live without lip sync, then you know the truth. They were groomed and packaged. They can all be singing in a group and you can close your eyes and wouldn't be able to pick one singer from the other.

It is sad, just as sad as remaking movies, and good songs from my generation. I notice that today talent has a hard time coming up with their own original material.

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IT will get even harder, no one buys music anymore so there is no future in music unless you're pimped out on TV and have your own range of products, no room for real talent anymore.

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I agree that disposable manager-created pop is not unique to Japan. Similarly, not all Japanese pop is disposable J-pop. E.g. Pizzicato Five - non-disposable Japanese pop that stands up to serious appraisal - their single Twiggy Twiggy gets the occasional outing on Mark Radcliffe's BBC Radio 2 show, and the late lamented John Peel played them on his show - it doesn't get more credible than that.

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I actually like many of the J-Pop acts. Some song arrangements are quite good. Maybe they are not everyone's cup of tea but what music style is? They sell lunchboxes and t-shirts to pay the bills just like any other managed act on earth...so what? Someone mentioned that Japanese is not a very pretty language to sing but I would have to disagree, I think it can be quite expressive. I love music!

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no one buys music anymore so there is no future in music unless you're pimped out on TV and have your own range of products, no room for real talent anymore.

you are still talking about a business. that has nothing to do with music or talent. J-pop is 100% garbage. it's purpose is solely to make money and manipulate people. Japanese music however is very healthy.I know hundreds of talented Japanese musicians who make a decent living from their music, tour overseas, sell plenty of CDs and haven't lost their integrity at all. they were never on Countdown TV and that's they way they want it.

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First off, J-pop is NOT rubbish! I am not in any way a Japanese citizen, but I love J-pop...personally, i think it is the only music industry that produces good music that has really good substance. Other music industries just go with the flow of what is in, producing music that means nothing but additional earnings to them as producers and artists...

I am open to listening different kinds of music and I find Japanese music to be the best...of course not all could appreciate one kind of music but i think j-pop deserves respect from people who could not appreciate it...

I love a lot of japanese artists because only in the j-pop scene could i find rock artists who sing clean songs...songs that have substance and lesson...and i think that is what making music really means..

Of course making music entails business because after all being an artist is a profession..it is the same as any other profession. Why do you think you pay for medical services? Why do you have to pay a movie you have to watch?...It is the same for the music industry not only in Japan but also in other parts of the world...Like doctors, engineers and other professionals, music artists are doing their own kind of job and that is to bring music and entertainment to people..

It's a good thing that even with the changing preferences in the music world especially in the West, japanese music doesn't lose its identity...It is full of substance, life-lessons and are very-touching...It has a wide variety of a style of its own..of course not all of it is perfect and good but the great majority of it is what matters as in any music industry in the world..

I wouldn't agree that Glay, L'Arc en Ciel, GrEEEEn and the many other j-artists are rubbish!

The Japanese language is also not rubbish...If the thing about Utada Hikaru is true, then i am very disappointed with her for she doesn't know how to stand up for her country. What if the people from the US doesn't appreciate Japanese music, there are a lot more people who appreciates the essence of a j-pop song...Besides I know a lot of people from the US who loves and appreciates j-pop music...

Each of us have their own preference and I think respect is the most important thing in this world because not all people are the same...

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j-pop is vapid and image oriented and cookie cutter boring. But there are a lot of underground scenes in Japan, and alot of live stuff. planty of crazy and original bands with the most bizarre band names on the planet. Its a pit the people marketing pop the world over are so good at thier job in selling to kids what they are supposed to like. the biggest market is always teens who dont have other concerns for thier money, and who do not even earn it themselves. Hopefuly, as they get older, a large enough percentage of them will discover some originality in thier own tastes and move onto some of the cool stuff that is bubbling up from teh underground. There iss o much good music here, but its outshined by the sparkly clearasil comercial faces of pop. POwer to the ugly folks with tattoos and a chip on thier shoulder writing and performing real songs out there. Video really did kill the radio star. Even American rock and metal is getting filled up with pretty boys in makeup playing the same formulaic "woe is me coz my mom made me clean my room" songs.

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I disagree with almost everything you typed. Jpop is no different at all from the crappy popular music in any other country except perhaps it is even more of a manufactured/tailored product. pop music is pepsi, it's a product and you bought into it. good for you if you enjoy it. Japanese music is amongst the best in the world, but you won't see any of the good stuff on TV because to the true artists it is not a profession.

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it is the only music industry that produces good music that has really good substance. Other music industries just go with the flow of what is in, producing music that means nothing but additional earnings to them as producers and artists...

as for this I really dont know what to say other than hahahaha you must be joking.

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jihan...are you tone deaf ??!!

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only one person in japan that does japanese music justice and has real singing talent GACKT CAMUI aka gackuto

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There's a lot of non-mainstream Japanese rock, hip hop, club-to-the-beat and whatever that is so cool. This stuff never gets a look sideways from the media coz it's all so controlled.

J-pop is so bland and innocuous.

Pop music of all ilks, need to have creative melodies first & foremost. So much of J-pop is repetitious & lukewarm & forgettable.

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hm being a music fan well ok being as music runs my life i tend to agree with most of what this says. J-pop though it's just like pop music everywhere it's a required taste. But I am disappointed when music industries take talentless people and then market them to the point where when they get older they think they can make it on their own and well they can't. In the US Disney is a prime example it started off with the mickey mouse club and went on from there, Nickolodeon studios is not any better. They take these kids market the hell out of them and then they grow up with problems. In my opinion if your going to try to be big in the music field wait until your out of high school try then but also go to college so that you have a back up in case it doesn't work out. I'm tired of hearing these teenage singers sing about love...ok your 15 how the hell do you know what love is like? how do you know what loneliness is like? Now I might just be biased because I have always liked bands who well had talent and could play an instrument which is why I like the Visual Kei scene and the J-Rock scene. One they waited until after high school to try make it big. Two because they have more life experience and three they are mentally prepared better. This is my opinion though. Pre-Packaged johnny's and cute little girls who have no talent need to go away. the only j-pop star I like is Ayumi Hamasaki I like some of Koda Kumi's work but not all and I have never liked Utada Hikari's music..ever. well i'm done ^^

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J-pop in the 70's and 80's used to be really good because the most effective way to impress fans from all different markets during those days is through great music. With the advent of multi-media exposure the 'visual' aspect of music has taken on more prominance because visual elements can create a stronger impression than the audio ones. Anyway, some modern J-pop music like Mika Nakashima is really quite good.

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First, the music industry is pretty much the same the world over. Crap is crap, just with different cultural packages. J-pop is just Japan's answer to what Disney has been doing in and to the U.S. all along. Japan is different in that from the womb they are taught to follow, not lead. This makes J-pop easier to prepare, package and market than anywhere else. There are a few (artists) who sneak in that have real talent, but they usually get lumped with the trash that runs rampant in the industry. Second, most, but not all pop music is for kids, sung by guess who...kids! This makes a sick kind of sense. I'd rather drive nails thru my ear drums than listen to most of it, and that's why I choose not to. (insert whitty line about making sense again...) There's good music coming in from all over, but you aren't going to find it listening to the radio or watching TV.

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you are still talking about a business. that has nothing to do with music or talent. J-pop is 100% garbage. it's purpose is solely to make money and manipulate people. Japanese music however is very healthy.I know hundreds of talented Japanese musicians who make a decent living from their music, tour overseas, sell plenty of CDs and haven't lost their integrity at all. they were never on Countdown TV and that's they way they want it.

I'll bet you these are pre 2000 artists, their fan base is before the valu e of music died. Artists pre 2000 are fine, they have their paying fan base already.

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90% of pop music in any country is crap, maybe 95% in Japan. That being said, this article is pretty poorly written and is the journalistic equivalent of J-Pop.

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Sadly UnagiDon is pretty much on target. Most pop music is pretty terrible. They use the same old formulas to keep the zombified masses coming back.

Why do the masses come back? Because the whole music industry has become about lifestyle packaging. We have idols that represent personalities that the mainstream want to imitate or actually be. The cute pop star, the rapper, the indie station performer etc... Boy bands are one of the more obvious example with the little bit hip hop boy, little bit bad boy, boy next door boy and vaguely mature boy so that the band fits a wide demographic.

I am a musician and I play out in Tokyo with a lot of other bands. The sad truth about Japan is that there is a REAL music community here with some very talented people in it. And some very original and engaging music being created.

But these bands don't fit the models that will help sell things like sunglasses, girl's outfits, cars or applicances. These bands are not so beautiful, maybe not so young, not so marketable and not so sold out that they would compromise their music to secure a deal.

These are artists who play and perform for the music. Like Janis, John Lennon and others in the past.

So what is the solution? Stop buying and listening to the commercial crap that companies are flooding the markets with. Let the Avex's and other mainstream grinders go out of business.

Turn to the web, to local indies, to the live houses in your town and discover the real music of the 21st century. It is out there and it is worth listening to.

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Everybody is a critic. To sum up every post in this thread:

"My music is awesome and original, you have no taste in music" and "Back in my day music was great, now it sucks! wahhhhhhhhhhh!"

Get off your high horses and realize that music is subjective.

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I like the marketed aspect of J pop in as much as appearance is important so we are not insulted by people who think you paid for a concert to see them not even be bothered to dress in much more than sandles and jeans but the musical talent of jpop is of such a low standard its disgusting. I am insulted that pro musos who get no recognition except money, do high quality backing tapes for little girls or boys who just sing and dance karaoke poorly. I know the karaoke style happens all over the world but how often do you see a real band in Jpop. I guess money talks.

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jericho8 forgot to read every post that he summed up. Either that or he just really loves pop music and is staring at his backstreet boys poster as we speak.

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Japan has loads of different bands and genres. J-Pop is as bad as this new RnB soup westerners are given through TV and FM. You can be in any kind of music, you can find what you like in Japan. Just switch off your TV: I am into metal, and there are loads of excellent and talented bands in Town, not to mention many eclectic live houses.

I don't really get the comparison between rock icons and J-Pop cheap stuff. The correct comparison would J-Pop VS Beyonce, Rihanna, and all those worthless stuff (that is also produced by huge industries as well).

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There are a lot of talented musicians and intelligent fans out there, but they get next to no publicity. A lack of underground/college radio stations makes it even more difficult to seek out interesting stuff.

Watch a j-singer on one of the music programs - they're usually backed by a full band, string section, piano and DJ, yet they unfailingly provide the most bland, insipid accompaniment imaginable. I blame karaoke.

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As I remember, some music can be used as torture in enemy combatants. I am sure the US probably has J-pop in their arsenal as the ultimate weapon of torture. And it is probably used as last resort.

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Hahahah so funny this rant ...at least in japan I can dress like a gay and listen to Morning Musume while driving in a pink cabriolet . .that's called freedom of speach and expression . . in the west I will have a monkey on every street corner insulting, agressing me how bad my taste, my looks and my music are. Fooking Western double standard.

Listen what you like and don't listen what you think you should listen in order to feel cool or because other people think it's cool. Stuck to your true taste , whatever the monkey in front of you likes it or not.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The Music bussiness has always been the same everywhere, The japanese just industrialized it.

And The King went from singing Jailhouse rock to some Hawaian song for the masses is not the samething?

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Jihan,

Man thx for the laughs..........agggh you made my day! Looking fwd to more posts, laughter is good medicine

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Surely Janis would be driving a Mercedes Benz in heaven?

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The music scene in Japan is one of the reasons I stay here. Excellent rehearsal studios, thousands of 'live houses', street busking, thousands of dedicated, talented and down-to-earth musicians... I love it. It's a shame the mainstream media ignores all that entirely and just excretes J-Pop.

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Of course some of the Jpop songs are plain and boring. It's exactly the same with all mainstream music in every country. Listen to Britney or fellows, most of their songs are crap. And don't even get me started on hiphop or rap, god that's not even music!!

There are some true jewels of a song within Jpop-scene, just like in western mainstream music.

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taiko666...wow ! are you SERIOUS ??

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please everyone, give Japans music more credit than the jpop steals. Try to ignore the mass media and find some live stuff, or go online and look for something that suits you, rather than being blinded and deAfened by jpop

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Before I came to lilve in Japan, I really loved J-POP. Now, I can't stand it. I used to think it was "refreshing", compared to the stupidities called songs in my country. Now that I'm living here and I can see how (almost) all artists has the same style, almost the same song we sometimes can't even remember the tune 10 minutes later, I cannot stand it anymore. It's like an overdose of J-POP ... To me, the worst is the 4-5 guys band ... One day, one had the idea to create such a band. It worked. Now, all the other do the same and we have all those so-called "singers". They are only cute faces without so much of a voice but we can't hear it mixed with the others ... However, I am shameful to admit I like some songs of the band named "arashi" ... (-_-)

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Side Note: Most peeps on here probably just look the 10 standard channels in japan, as they anyway won't live here long enough to pay the complete payTV. Japan has very good music TV shows, even showing the underground stuff from other countries, you will never see on normal TV oversea.

So please don't rant about Arashi, as this is absolutely not relevant for the true japanesee music scene.(even if it is also music and has a right to exist)

Other thing also many peeps posting here don't get is the fact that J-Pop is no clear definition. J-Pop is not only the mainstream stuff from TV, the magazines and general Music stores.

And then ask your self the question why should you listen to some original underground music from some ultra creative artist from the London gutter, when you actually listen to Parfume? Well the answer is : because you like to listen to Parfume and you have a god damn right to listen to it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Masaky Ogasawara,this really is a well-written and amusing article. I enjoyed reading it.

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Guys, I am not entirely familiar with the J-pop industry but I enjoy listening to Seiko Matsuda, Hitomi Shimatani, Mika Nakashima and Shokotan; are these crap music too?

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I think the author of the article is a newcomer who doesn't understand Japan's music scene.

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I agree with taiko666. it's a big plus to living near Tokyo ot Osaka

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I'll take J-pop over any of the crap they throw out over the American airwaves any day. Real music is always out there in your local bar scene but no one really wants to support them. Welcome to the world of remakes and recycling! Go 2000's!

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I guess I don't see what the change is. Hasn't J-pop been more about the personality cult than the music for about 30 years? There was some real music in Yoyogi Park on Sundays a while ago but I haven't been there in a while.

At least with J-pop I don't have to worry about what the kids are listening too. Try that with Rammstein!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Utada Hikaru > any American female artist

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UA, Dreams Come True, Southern All Stars are good. Not too much these days I like but also liked Bz, Wands, T-Bolan. God I must be showing my age. Utada is ok. and my favorite not because of her music but her ... stunningly sexy look is Amuro chan. Her music though is an acquired taste. I'm still having a bit of trouble with that part of her.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow.. what a great article! I'm with ya 100% on this! for J-pop as well as American pop music.. But then again, its just that..P-O-P Its sad and it sickens me :(

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Megumi Hayashibara is my hero!! she is the best singer ever!!

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j-pop is just one of the many sides to the fantasy that the j-people take part in

in my church, growing up, there were about 10 singers who sounded better than half of these 'artists'..

why do they sound so nasally when they're trying to sing pop but kind of sound normal when they sing enka?

if they're so great why don't they tour internationally?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If 1% of J-POP is good then thats good enough for me. 1 out 100 is not bad and probably better than many other countries. You'll be lucky if you find 1 out 100 good books, movies, games.... from the thousands out there. That said I listen to more J-POP then Western POP which I find sounds all the same anyway.

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Mongol800 (from Okinawa) made it big without any advertizements, commercials, or music videos. Good on them!

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There is some decent music in Japan, it's just hard to find it in the tsunami of crap. The problem is that the Japanese music business itself is rotten to the core, and seems to exist mainly to provide "product" for the TV networks.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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