Never Heard J-Pop January
Having put them through the wringer twice before, we tossed our friends in the opposite end of the music pool and forced them to listen to Japan’s most saccharine genre, J-Pop! Back once again to ingest and rank five J-Pop records are Jimmy Evans and Meghan Klassen. We don’t know why they keep letting us torture them, but the results are as amusing as ever. Sugoi!
Meghan Klassen is 23 years old, with almost none of the wisdom that comes with it. She enjoys ugly dogs, tragic war romances, and oil-barrel-sized servings of Coca-Cola. Here’s what she had to say about this assignment:
True to form for this journalistic experiment, I can honestly say that J-pop did not even register in my head as being a thing, let alone ever cross my eardrums. In any case, I was too busy kissing the ground that I wasn’t raked across the coals this month with another sub-genre of metal. As an ignorant whitey born and raised under the cultural steamroller of the USA, musical styles from other countries are a big ol’ question mark, with the unpredictable nature of Japanese culture just adding further question marks to the list. But hey, any country that can crank out precise works of art like sushi and Mario must have high standards of excellence, right? I was ready for an energetic and interesting ride, and was certainly not disappointed.
Jimmy Evans likes liking stuff and thinks you should, too. He writes movies, books, bad tweets, and never fortune cookies. Here’s what he had to say about this assignment:
J-Pop terrifies me. Let me explain. First, American pop music terrifies me because I can’t escape it. Step into any business where “coolness” isn’t on-brand and somewhere beyond the opening door AC blast Taylor Swift lurks in the aisles, waiting to rise up and envelop you in her cold, pale arms. Of course, the only thing more mind-numbingly boring than the Top 40 is complaining about the Top 40. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t occasionally get buckwild to it.
But as someone who works at one of those unashamed-to-be-lame businesses, forced to switch their brain into standby mode for sanity’s sake, nothing sends a stronger shiver up my spine than standing at a party and realizing I know all the words to a Demi Lovato song I’ve never heard before. But I have heard it. Over a thousand times, maybe. I just didn’t know it.
What does this have to do with J-Pop? J-Pop made me understand. You see, once I looked past the cuteness and the novelty of foreign lyrics I realized I was staring into the swirling candy-coated void of fakery and emptiness hidden in the hearts of all beings. Yes, yes, I saw the hollow face of god and it was five 20-year-old girls trying to act like sexy robot babies. And in them I saw my own terrible face. J-Pop made me understand that I can’t escape pop music because I am pop music. Or maybe I’m just going a little crazy binge-listening to all this music, hahahaha.
Perfume – TRIANGLE
Meghan: Holy Moses, I have found the solution to the world’s darkness. It might be impossible to be unhappy while listening to this album. Every song is a smoothly composed blanket of sweetness and light, swaddling me in funky electronica melodies and distracting me from the terrors of the world. The whole effect is that of taking molly at a My Little Pony disco, and honey I want to DANCE. The vocals are pleasantly robotic, smoothly floating through the middle of the sound as a complement. There were even some moments that harkened back to vintage autotuned Britney Spears, even if that darn Japanese language barrier did get in the way. I understood little, but enjoyed everything. My early 90s girlhood has been wholly validated and my bitter heart is cleansed. I will live to review albums another day! 1st Place
Jimmy: This album stood out for being danceable as hell but without the seizure-inducing diabetes beats I’d become accustomed to after giving some of the other albums a listen. It’s got a strange lack of clutter to the production, everything focused around creating a playlist perfect for throwing the funkiest house party ever thrown in the circuit-land of some sleek TRON planet. Rising, falling, and pulsing, it’s music with movement, and the tweaked, spacey vocals provide an effortless layer of supplementary rhythm, almost disappearing into the beat. If there’s anything to hold against the album it’s that each song drags on way too long, though if you’re just spinning it to dance then it’s perfect. 3rd Place
Utada Hikaru – DEEP RIVER
Meghan: Props, Utada. You have the breathy crooning diva-tude that keeps Mariah Carey tossing and turning at night. The vocal talent is (rightfully) the centerpiece of each track, backed by what sounds like the world’s hardest working drum machine punching up the atmosphere. It’s pretty hard to nail down the musical influences, of which there seem to be many. Jamming guitars create the occasional pop-rock edge, whereas stripped down piano and guitar serve up a sound that can be most accurately described as “post-Disney movie credits jam.” The fleet of backup singers helps transform the majority of tracks into the kind of sleek, female-driven R&B that is not really heard this side of the 2000s anymore. While it was a fun throwback for a while, mid-tempo ballads can only remain so novel and interesting when they are played back-to-back-to-back. This album was fun, but I’ve definitely heard it all before; been there, done that, bought the cassette. 3rd Place
Jimmy: Listening to this gave me the lovely sensation of thinking I suddenly forgot how to speak English. The cheeseball production and whispery singing style is so similar to the old R&B-infused pop I’ve known that I could have sworn that I’d heard it before. And what works there, works here, and what doesn’t, doesn’t. This means that you’ll have danceable, smacking beats under impressive vocals with catchy hooks and then 11 other songs you can pretty much ignore. Beyond the songs that utilize whatever sounds the research-perfected corporate machine spews out to make you move, you’re left with an album full of indulgent, sleepy power ballads and Garageband beats made of all the usual burps and skips. But surrounded by all the filler is “Shiawase Ni Narou”, a stone cold banger with a hook I’d like to shout from a rooftop if I understood a word of what I was saying. It’s that one hit single your pimply self actually shelled out the buck for and put on your fatboy iPod back in the day. 4th Place
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – PAMYUPAMYUREVOLUTION
Meghan: Since the word “Pamyu” is used approximately 8 million times throughout this album, I decided to look up its meaning. From the mouth of Mother Pamyu herself, it really has no meaning. It was just added on to make her name seem more cute and “kawaii.” As it turns out, that is a fantastic analogy for this album ‒ cute as all hell with absolutely no deeper substance. I realize now that this might be the farthest inverse there is to our previous metal assignments; syrupy sweet and full of childlike sunshine to the point where I might be getting a cavity from thinking about it too long. To paint a picture, this is precisely the kind of manically happy music I expect to be playing while precocious teens absolutely shred a Dance Dance Revolution routine in the local arcade. Between the peppy video game backing music and the (hopefully) pitched-up vocals, there is nothing technically wrong with this album’s decision to wallow in the land of make-believe. It just wastes no time in becoming annoying to anyone who has already undergone puberty. I feel a little bad disliking it, like I’m openly criticizing a puppy running through a field or a child’s dream to become an astronaut. But life isn’t all smiles, Pamyu, and neither was this experience. 5th Place
Jimmy: Okay, look, it’s all very simple. Everything is Pamyu. I am Pamyu, you are Pamyu, yu is Pamyu, and even Pamyu is Pamyu.
Even Pamyu is Pamyu. 1st/5th Place
Kalafina – SEVENTH HEAVEN
Meghan: If this group proclaimed to be a bunch of mystical mermaids who got their start DJing in undersea clubs, I would not even bat an eye. Though the style and energy of each song varies, the three voices swirl together and bubble up through constantly shifting layers of instrumentation to deliver some prolonged notes that could appropriately function as the siren call to a watery grave. Even as this album travels all over the goddamn globe and tries out everything from rock music to jungle drums to fucking pan flutes, the unearthly chorus remains. Even at its techno poppiest, the sound is never simplistic. The effect is very intriguing for a pop act, which I don’t generally expect to be reminiscent of grand scale epics and other worlds. I’m not really sure what I just listened to or how it all fits together, but I always appreciate being provoked into thought every once in awhile. Rest assured, if I ever stumble into a supernatural adventure that relies on both the fortitude of my mortal soul and a soundtrack that can adapt to any setting, I’m loading this up on ye old iPod and getting to work. 2nd Place
Jimmy: While this installment of Never Heard has moved about as far away as possible from the sweaty screaming gibberish of metal, I’m still at a total loss as to what anyone is saying. This is frustrating since it’s hard not to imagine a whole strange story somewhere around the edges of this sweeping orchestral album. Snatches of English lyrics keep up the mystery but otherwise this soundtrack to a sad space fairy tale goes nowhere. Not that understanding the lyrics would necessarily change anything anyways. Recognizing the pop in J-Pop, it’s safe to assume whatever deep, moving tale of love and pain I’m visualizing from the music is actually describing the cinematic equivalent of the poetry I wrote in 8th grade, or just a static portrait of two people banging it out in a club bathroom stall. At least that’s the good ol’ American Way I know and love. 5th Place
Dempagumi.inc – WORLD WIDE DEMPA
Meghan: I’m convinced that the members of this group are having a competition to see who can maintain the most hyper-adorable voice at all times. After several ruthless songs of speed singing and pounding drumming, I’m assuming that someone had to have died. May their drummer be granted peace in the afterlife. Despite the obvious sweetness that comes from a band of human kittens, I was surprised to discover elements of toughness in their sound. Not only are these ladies winners of my “Least Likely to Have A Beastie Boys Cover On Their Album But Oh, Wait, They Do” award, but I could have sworn I heard a ska bass line at one point. Let us not forget that one of their tracks is called “Vandalism” and houses something suspiciously close to rap. Because of these random splashes of the unexpected, I grant this album only mid-tier overwhelming. At the end of the day, this group is doing what J-Pop does best: making music about the purity of friendship, or at least that’s what it sounds like. (Unrelated tidbit: the live concert videos of this group are truly fascinating displays of costume and choreography. I strongly identify with the blonde one who is always a little bit sweatier than everyone else.) 4th Place
Jimmy: This is it. This is the face of God. But wait, Jimmy, you say; what does a band composed of hyper-sexualized robo-toddlers on PCP have to do with the essence of existence? To that I say shut your disgusting mouth, you heathen, and let the truth fill your unworthy mind holes. To best describe the experience of listening to this album, imagine the physical embodiment of the cartoony, theatrical insanity of a daytime TV children’s developmental show, and then imagine that person snorting a hundred lines of whatever made-up sci-fi chemical shit sends the Millennium Falcon into hyper-speed, and now slit the throat of seven dogs ‒ are you sure you’re getting this? Ugh, never mind. I can’t explain it. All I can say is that some forgotten hour into this album I stopped thinking it was overstimulated madness and realized that the infinite levels of fakery were an artful and genius articulation of living in our modern world. And that sentence is precisely where Thomas Seraydarian’s G-spot is. 2nd Place
There you have it folks, Never Heard J-Pop January! Tune back in next month to see what we had in store for Meghan and Jimmy in February…