This post is part of an ongoing series on Asian pop.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room shall we…the Stereotype. As mentioned last time, the artists in this category are usually female, use high pitched vocals, and focus mainly on the aspect of being ‘cute’. These artists are the stereotype because let’s face it, when people think of Asian music, this is what they think of. No one thinks of artists that could be on par with artists in the west, they think of cute teenage girls singing silly and cute music. While this genre may be what people think about when they think of Asian music (not just even pop), there are some great artists in this category. This category is either a love/hate thing – so many of you may not find yourselves loving it, but try and have an open mind and appreciate it for what it is. It is a very unique style of music, childish or not, and for me personally, it’s a very cultural experience and reminds me of the great time I had when I was in Japan. I am going to show off a few artists and notable songs to listen to so that you may further explore this subgenre within Asian pop.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (Japan)
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu may seem the stereotype, but she is actually very different from a lot of artists in this category. She uses lots of electronic beats, retro vibes, and modern melodies. Despite all of that, she has a very distinct vocal style and appearance. The video above, Ponponpon, has over 70 million views on YouTube from Warner Music Japan alone. She is very popular, and despite being absolutely adorable, her music videos that accompany her singles are incredibly bizarre. They are a fusion of incredibly cute and weird stuff right out of a 70s claymation foreign film. While it doesn’t really make any sense, it makes perfect sense at the same time. Japan can be downright bizarre when compared to places like Canada or the United States. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu mixes catchy pop hooks with straight edge rock and electronic beats, but makes the visual accompaniment something out of an acid trip. She has said that she loves scary things and loves to take something horrific and make it tragically cute (1). While she is actually quite bizarre compared to many of the artists, she is a good representation of how different and unique the culture is in Japan compared to western countries. The reason I say that is, while her music videos may be a little different from other artists in Japan, it is completely accepted, which makes Lady Gaga seem like Taylor Swift. Her music may not be overly inventive, but she definitely has captured the west with her strange and out of this world music gaining her more success.
Kira Kira Killer (2014)
Fashoin Monster (2012)
Invader Invader (2013)
Flying Get (2011)
AKB48 is one of (if not) the biggest girl super groups in Japan consisting of over 140 members. 140 members you say? How is that even a thing? AKB48 is not the first music act to include a large amount of members, and the reason is so that instead of having to wait until the group does a large concert, you can see the group perform everyday because it is split into teams. Granted, each team is around 20 members, but that way it gives people a chance to actually see them live and perform their hits because there are so many members. Many ‘idol groups’ in Japan do this, and it is very much a Japanese concept; such a thing does not really exist in South Korea or other Asian countries. The audience for these girls is primarily older males, which then leads into the question of whether or not the group is just made to entertain creepy older men. While that may seem true, there are many young fans who love the group and enjoy their music, which is generally very happy and positive. While it does fit into the category of ‘The Stereotype’, it is very different from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who we just listened to above. These type of groups are so popular that people even collect trading cards of the members that you can find in various shops in and around the district of Harujuku in Tokyo. When I went to Japan in 2011, the song ‘Heavy Rotation’ was one of the most popular songs in the country and I heard it CONSTANTLY, whether we were shopping or in a restaurant. These girls are very popular. The theme of conformity is used in their videos with the girls generally being dressed in school uniforms. They generally all look alike, which is a huge part of Japanese culture: conformity. No one wants to stand out; they utilize a group mentality instead of the individualistic one used in the west. While Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is bizarre and strange and represents Japanese culture, AKB48 does just as much but in a different way. The girls generally all have black hair too; they do not tend to have brown or blond hair like many of the girl groups in South Korea. They dance in unison and their dance moves tend to be easy and fun so that fans can mimic the movements while at a concert. AKB48 may be the ultimate stereotype for Japanese music, but they do so in such a way that you can’t help but love them. While their musical style may be childish at times and for the most part ‘cute sounding’, a lot of their musical style is definitely influenced from 80s punk with the odd little bit of ska. In a weird way, sometimes you want to start jumping and fist pumping the air when listening to them… Almost all of their songs could definitely be theme songs to an anime too. Love them or hate them, they are a huge part of Japanese culture.
Labrador Retriever (2014)
Chance no Junban (2010)
Various Songs Live at Tokyo Dome
Momoiro Clover Z (Japan)
Neo Stargate (2013)
Momoiro Clover Z is a newer female idol group from Japan, but they differ from groups like AKB48 because rather than going for the cute school girl look, their look is more futuristic and they tend to dress up as ‘sentai’ characters, which basically means Japanese superheroes. Rather than play it safe, the five member group use all sorts of elements from other genres including dubstep, traditional folk music, and metal. Many of their songs could easily be theme songs to various anime; in fact they sing the theme song ‘Moon Pride’ for Sailor Moon Crystal which is the 2014 reboot of one of the most popular anime, Sailor Moon. While their music is ‘super cute’ so to speak, they incorporate enough ‘non-cute’ elements to balance it out and create a unique fusion of cute vocals with melodies that would not necessarily fit, ie. creepy choral vocals. Momoiro Clover Z is not as popular as AKB48 (at the moment), but has the potential to easily surpass them in popularity in the near future, especially with having the honor of singing the theme song to Sailor Moon Crystal. Their music videos are definitely something you would only see in Japan with elements of science fiction and magic, sometimes even pirates. Anything goes with Momoiro Clover Z, and I like that because it’s nice to see a female idol group take a different approach to the squeaky clean image that most of them use. I think we will be seeing a lot of great things from this group in the near future, and I am glad!!! They have easily become one of my favourite acts from Asia.
Moretsu Uchu Kokyokyoku Dai 7 Gakusho “Mugen no Ai” (2012)
Otome Senso (2012)
Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimitachi yo (2012)
Hatsune Miku (Japan)
Viva Happy by Mitchie M (2013)
Seeing a trend here? All of the groups/acts that I have selected to feature in this article are from Japan, but honestly, most of the stereotypical Asian pop music comes from there, and Japan is generally not a country that tries to be western. The best part is, not everything has to be westernized in order to be considered quality. This next act though…well, it’s a love/hate kind of thing, and you may find yourself mesmerized by her, or pounding your fists on your keyboard in anger that this could even be a thing. Hatsune Miku is a vocaloid star, which basically means she isn’t real; she is a holographic image that sings and dances for people on stage. Her voice isn’t a real person’s either, it’s made from a computer program that anyone can use to create songs for her to sing. I had the privilege of seeing her ‘live’ as the opening act at Lady Gaga’s Artrave Tour earlier this year. Most people were genuinely confused and upset, and that’s to be expected, even at a Lady Gaga concert. North America just isn’t ready for vocaloids, especially those that sing VERY cute stereotypical J-pop songs. Hatsune Miku doesn’t bother me in the slightest, because a) I know she isn’t taking over from real pop stars and b) it’s something unique and niche, so I am definitely interested. Because Hatsune Miku is simply a program that you can purchase, anyone can make songs with her voice, so the amount of songs sung by her on YouTube are outrageous.
Burenai ai de by Mitchie M (2014)
Sharing the World Live on the Late Show with David Letterman (2014)
World is Mine (2008) Live
Now that we have explored a few predominant artists whose music is representative of Stereotypical Asian pop, I have a list of a few other artists that are worth mentioning in this category. Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t include girl groups like Girls Generation in this category, and my reasoning for that is that Girls Generation and groups like AKB48 are night and day. While to the average person, they are both Asian pop groups, their musical styles are incredibly different, and groups like Girls Generation from South Korea, and even the E-Girls from Japan are more westernized in their musical styles. This category is certainly not for everyone, and I realize that; it’s really a love or hate thing. If you find yourself feeling that you hate it, don’t worry because I purposely started out with this category because it is so bizarre. There are more categories to come with completely different musical styles than this one. If you did like this category; however, chances are you will probably like what I have in store in the upcoming categories!
Here is a list of a few other artists to check out in this category if you are interested:
- Perfume (Japan)
- Morning Musume (Japan) – these guys were one of the first groups in Asian music that I ever listened to and they are still going strong!
- SKE48 (Japan) – sister group of AKB48
- HKT48 (Japan) – another sister group of AKB48
- S/Mileage (Japan)
- Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku (Japan) – idol group consisting of nine girls who are mostly in junior high school
- Capsule (Japan) – very electronic and similar to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
- Crayon Pop (South Korea)
- JKT48 (Indonesia) – definitely check these guys out because they are the first sister group of AKB48 to be outside of Japan AND they definitely have a different sound from AKB48 while still making it obvious that they are related.
There are obviously a lot more bands, so do some exploring if you want to learn more! There is basically no limit to the amount of music in this category you can find. Stay tuned for the next post where we will take a look at the Girl Groups and Boy Groups from South Korea primarily. Stay tuned!
1. Interview Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (2013). The Fader. http://youtu.be/35FbwCIxT0ghttp://youtu.be/35FbwCIxT0g