With a smile and a song…
There are obviously many reasons why people like Japanese music. One:
…actually, I’m too lazy to make them up right now, I’ll get back to you on that?
Regardless, in keeping with that, there are many ways to enjoy this particular fandom. But let’s focus on one in particular: karaoke! There’s a reason why those instrumental tracks are included with so many singles, and not just for appreciation of the music behind the vocals. By the same token, there’s a reason why karaoke is oft referred to as “the national pastime of (East) Asia”, and not just because Asians are crazy people who like to burst randomly into song on the streets. (No, actually, I think that’s just me. In the streets of New York City. Halfway around the world from East Asia.)
Admittedly, instrumental versions aren’t limited to just Japan’s releases, but given their music release system features singles more heavily than albums, it’s certainly more beneficial to include them. And while most casual fans and those more focused on the actual artists will have no use for the instrumentals as a tool to use in their fandom-inspired activities, they are seeing a use.
The more vocal fans of JPop have arrived. Or rather, their era has.
For the most part, they’ve been helped by various lyrics sites like Cori’s, the Cherryblossom Garden, Megchan’s, or AnimeLyrics (whether you’re a supporter of the .tv site or the .com site) for those who don’t know Japanese, don’t have a copy of the official lyrics, find it easier to read romaji than kana, or are just plain lazy. Then there are the torrents, uploading sites, IRC channels, and massive media communities, all of which make getting the songs (and instrumentals) much easier.
But the best part of gifts is giving, right? (Personally, I tend to like the receiving… you may shoot me now.) And the Internet is more than happy to oblige. There are sites like SoundClick, a site set up for promoting amateur musicians but used more often by the Japanese Music fan community to share their recordings. There are subforums dedicated to fan covers in various forums – most notably Soompi and Tokyo-Nights, but also many others, even those dedicated only to a particular artist/group of artists. Some places even hold “American Idol” style contests, like AnimeSuki. And naturally, there are the cover groups – Sekai no Melody, Ongaku! Project, ShuffleMoni, and other smaller ones who are just beginning to spread.
Actually, I’m surprised that so many of them are for Hello! Project (and as a side, anime). You’d think that with all these fangirls for these boybands, there’d be more cover groups for them, but with the exception of the 6-Feet-Under Do-ki Doki Project over at wFL Forums, I haven’t seen any. (As an aside, that was my own introduction to the concept of cover groups. Shame it’s become a bit of a ghost
Getting back, though… those who sing, sing because they enjoy it, and it shows clearly. A lot of them are relatively talented as well, with some nice voices to listen to and some covers turning out even better than the original song itself. None of these girls (and rarely, guys) are professionals, but they know what matters when singing, and isn’t that all that really counts?
It’s certainly been interesting to watch this sub-community develop out of the JPop-fandom, but even more so because it’s one that wasn’t done out of necessity. Media-sharing? News-conveying? Reviews/Analysis? Lyrics/Translations? All have been relatively important to the development of Japanese music fandom as we know it today and you might easily say that the people at the head can be considered the “Big Name Fans” of this particular fandom, spreading the word and helping fans gather.
But it’s time one of the more fun, lesser-known aspects had some light shed on it, too.
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