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The Pop Conundrum

I died and came back to life!

Actually, no, no. That’s an outright lie.

But to say I’ve been thinking for a while how to go about this… wouldn’t really be a lie. I’ve been gone from blogging for just over a month. (3 weeks of vacation, 1 week of school.) And other than just plain laziness, one of the things keeping me from blogging has been how to best return. And hopefully this is a good enough entrance. I may not be fashionably late, but I still intend to come back with style!

Back when this blog was still let it beat!, I made a post likening JPop fandom to parenting.

But looking on the other side – I’m only 20 (or about to become 20). And actually, it’s more like, I’m already “20”.

At this age, all my peers (and I would define “peers” as “fellow Asian college students that I personally know and am friends with”) are into rock. (Nothing against rock.) American rock bands. Indies rock bands. European rock groups. Hey, Japanese rock bands too. (You’d think with the original definition of “pop music” being “popular music”; rock would become the new pop already. Apparently musical genres aren’t as interchangeable as colors.)

On the other side of the music spectrum of my peers, you have some techno/trance. You know, the clubbing group. Some oldies. Those who appreciate the classics. A bunch of Chinese soloists. Well, I’m Chinese, it’s to be expected that amongst my “peers” are those who listen to Chinese music.

So why am I still giddily chasing after what is essentially a boyband with two girls in it? (Yes, I refer specifically to AAA. Lovely girls they are, and some beautiful boys too, but for the purposes of this post they are what they are.)

Music tastes change as people grow up. And there are the influence of the people around you. What was cool several years back may not be as cool now. (Hello, Britney Spears.) Stars get replaced, music styles upgraded – but one thing stays the same, and that is how blatantly the pop industry is aimed at the most impressionable age groups, the teenagers and pre-teens.While in Japan, the pop music industry is a bit more widespread in its sphere of influence (especially being one of the three main musical genres – the others being rock and enka), Japanese look young for their age (and even more so if they’re under 30) anyways so the corporations may as well be attacking the teens and pre-teens. No, that’s mean, isn’t it? Fine, we’ll say it a nicer way. Japanese people have little else to listen to that comes readily available directly from the Land of the Rising Sun – and as exotic as American pop may seem, I’m sure even that will get tiring after nonstop replay. (I know. I’ve had it happen to me a number of times with Japanese songs I absolutely adored.)

But I’m Chinese-American. I don’t have to listen to Japanese songs. And I especially don’t have to listen to Japanese pop – most of which tends to be generic anyways. (I do enjoy Japanese pop culture, though, so let’s go with that as my excuse for listening to Japanese pop.)

Which leads to the the point – I like plenty of other pop acts. Pop-rock bands HIGH and MIGHTY COLOR and UVERworld. Acoustic pop princess YUI. Soloists (but undeniably with a bunch of pop worked into their discographies) Shimatani Hitomi, Miura Daichi, Tamaki Nami, Kimeru, Kayou Aiko, Domoto Koichi, and Kishimoto Hayami. Actual pop artists who have a hand in their music like m.o.v.e, the ladies of I’ve Sound, and D-51.
So why does AAA invariably stand so high upon my list of favorite artists? They don’t really have a lot going for them. Their vocals are good, but not the best I’ve heard. They look gorgeous, but a lot of people with avex do. (Case in point – their manager.) Their dancing undeniably attracts me, but a lot of younger pop artists dance. And the music is clearly generic – I’ve listened to 7/8-nin dream songs and realized that AAA could sing it and it wouldn’t be all that different, and the opposite holds true. (The major exception is any song where rapping is involved, because Hidaka brings an attitude that no one in dream could pull off – as clearly shown in each group’s version of Bomb A Head!. But again, if I wanted rap there are others I could listen to.)

After mulling over this for the better part of last month, today I came to the conclusion that, perhaps, this is my way of refusing to grow up. I don’t want to stop being a teenager, so I’m going to continue with teenager-ish pursuits. In this case, AAA, both as a whole and for their individual members.

I don’t have anything against urban/rock/electronika/oldies when it comes to my music. Nor anything against music sung in the Chinese language – when I did watch TV during my days in Hong Kong and China, a large portion of it was dedicated to MTV Asia. There’s really nothing separating me from my peers in terms of musical taste.

But I do have an aversion to developing responsibility and maturity and all of those “adult-like” mannerisms. And unfortunately, I do need to have them (oh cruel world that we live in), so I’m rebelling in a different way.

My subconscious has decided that I’m going to proclaim how much I love pop, especially the generically manufactured Japanese sort, pretty boys, and especially AAA instead.

I don’t think it makes my love for the group any less real, especially after the events of Otakon. I could easily have turned my attention to actual boybands like NEWS or w-inds., but chose to stick with AAA. (I also don’t think this means the group has anything especially “magical” to it, but y’know. If Shuuta or Urata or hell, any of the members – Chiaki and Misako and especially ex-member Yukari included – ever wanted an American fling in New York City… just saying.)

But why does this have to be a form of rebellion? What’s wrong with liking such heavily-manufactured pop (other than the odd cries of “You have no taste!”)? Sometimes it’s fun to just enjoy music and not think about why you enjoy it. Or cringe to admit it to your friends. And while as far as record companies are concerned, if it sells, it’s good; if it’s selling, there has to be a reason other than the occasionally-pretty faces on the cover.

Amusingly (and to pose another side of the many-faced vixen that is pop), I’ve been told that I’m apparently not into mainstream music when I admitted to not yet listening to Utada Hikaru’s Flavor of Life a month after it was released. …say what? When did manufactured pop stop being mainstream? Or is this just the way of the Japanese? It is, after all, creative ladies like Utada Hikaru, Hamasaki Ayumi, and YUI who win the Oricon charts and hearts. But Amuro Namie, Nakashima Mika, and BoA also happen to be relative chart-toppers; and Johnny’s? Oh, Johnny’s. KinKi Kids got into the Guiness Book for having the most number of consecutive debuted-at-#1 singles (a whopping 25). Arashi, KAT-TUN, NEWS, Tackey & Tsubasa, SMAP – they all get the girls swooning money into their management’s pockets too. They’re selling, they’re talked about, how are they not mainstream too?

And that leads to the question – what is pop, why has it been made into such a guilty pleasure, and why can’t I just enjoy my dosage of AAA without feeling strange about it when I’m with my friends?

(Before you ask – why, yes, I was one of those pre-teen girls who squealed over Nick Carter back in the day before The Backstreet Boys still had a member who was a boy and not a man. And I liked the Spice Girls too. What’s it to you?)

Categories: AAA, avex, Blog-related, Fandom
  1. vinyabarion
    November 13, 2007 at 12:05 am

    I know, that somewhere, there was someone that could explain my strange obsession with pop… wow, that post really spoke to me. (And, by the way, I’m just really bored today and your site is really funny… so that’s why I’ve basically commented on like ten posts.) You have amazing insight. And I think I started listening to JPop when I realized that America was done producing the genre. It wasn’t a conscious descision, it just kind of happened. All I have to say is that I really hope you keep writing, because it is so very entertaining.

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