My cable company just added two more music channels, meaning I have six total music channels to be upset about. But I agree with those new Wieden + Kennedy ads: MTV blows me. For all those people who whine about “I remember when MTV played videos,” I challenge you to spend time watching a music video from start to finish. You are also probably remembering back when “pop music was good.”
Since the Japanese music market is melting down like a butterscotch sundae in a toaster oven on Venus, we are limited to singles that the genius marketing teams have determined interlock perfectly with collected consumer research. Besides Denki Groove’s videos for “Shonen Young” and “Mononoke Dance” (amazing punchline), the suits no longer greenlight anything approximating a “creative idea.” Spike Jonze would be outright rejected as an arrogant auteur for daring to come up with his own concepts. The Sukima Switches, Monkey Majiks, and Yamada Yu’s have taken over 100% — dragging J-pop into a dark hole between the poles of pop-punk and uta-hime barefoot female singers. Now the rock bands have to be salt-of-the-earth, the idols have to be unambiguously robotic, and the song titles have to stick to words that everyone knows like “Arigatou.” Seriously, can you imagine naming a song “Thank You” and then performing it in front of a camera and letting your record label show it to other people? “I Just Called to Say I Love You”? You think these kids read Keats or something?!
Objectively, however, I learn more and more about this elusive “youth generation” with every video. For example, the band Monkey Majik’s new single “Together.” Japanese youth apparently love hearing their own hack pop lyric conventions improperly coming out the mouth of Canadian English teachers. Monkey Majik are the musical equivalent of the giant posters of white people that decorate the façades of discount suit stores in the Japanese suburbs, but hey, those suit stores sell a lot of suits! Between MM, Jero, and Leah Dizon, North America seems to be the new recruiting ground for Japanese talent. The mirror phenomenon would be Japanese people moving to the USA and joining the American Enterprise Institute.
More seriously, the new Kato Miriya — sorry, Kato Miliyah — song “19 Memories” is probably our greatest possible window into the female Japanese psyche. First and most importantly, the song “samples” Amuro Namie’s “Sweet 19 Blues,” which only came out 11 years ago and is probably the worst Amuro Namie song of that era. Miriya must have heard from a friend that recent “Black Music” likes to “sample,” and immediately demanded that they sample her last single for her new one. But when they told her to sample an “old song,” she went all the way back to her roots in 1996, when she was 8.
The video follows three young Japanese women, who I am guessing are 19. One is an aspiring painter. One is a “normal” OL type. One is a clubbing “gyaru.” If you think being 19 and a female in Japan is easy, Kato’s got some shocking news for you. A man (the dad?) suddenly starts viciously beating the aspiring painter. The OL gets pregnant by her boyfriend, who then flees when informed. The gyaru is dancing at a club, approached by two guys, and then sleeps with both of them at the same time. I never knew the “accidental menage a trois” was an important narrative scenario for young women in Japan, but that’s why I watch Kato Miliyah videos. Things look up at the end though: the painter wins a prize for her art, the boyfriend proposes to the preggie OL, and the gyaru has enough willpower to not be bullied into another regrettable orgy. What is odd, however, is how the good news comes to the first two girls. The painter has to read about her prize in some sort of trade journal, and the girl receives the incredibly romantic proposal —「結婚しよう」 — via her cell phone. I used to bemoan the “soft appeal” — the marketing strategy of “soothing” the youth generation instead of stimulating/educating them — but now this video makes it look like their lives are much more tragic than “I can’t get a white-collar job.”
Meanwhile in the otaku world — which is significantly less prone to accidental menage a trois — everyone is gaga over Perfume. The new single “Secret Secret” doubles as a commercial for ice cream treat Pino. When the video ends and they cut to commercial, Pino has a commercial to go with the Perfume commercial-esque-music-video, featuring Perfume and their new single “Secret Secret.” What’s more, MTV runs commercials for the new Pino/Perfume video for “Secret Secret,” featuring Pino ice cream and Perfume. I almost feel like this “capitalist chic” thing has “sold out.” Are we finally allowed to go back to songs being songs and commercials being commercials or is that some hippie shit I need to get over?
The actual track to “Secret Secret” is the latest product roll-out from Nakata Yasutaka’s Fordian factory of insanely treble-heavy, super-compressed robot pop. Thanks to technological progress in mastering science, he can make your ears bleed without even amplifying the volume.
I wish I could blame American music for providing bad aesthetic leadership to young Japanese artists, but J-pop is too obsessed with itself these days to even notice how terrible the new Mariah Carey single is. DJ Ozma is like a bad copy of Kishidan, which was a moderately-interesting yankii parody. Everyone’s reference set now extends three weeks in the past and ten minutes into the future. In a half-year, every new video will double as a commercial for Dr. Scholl’s in-soles and sample loops from that Kato Miliyah song. J-pop, we know you are hungry: just eat yourself already.