PVs Before Music: Is It So Wrong?

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

A week and a half ago, I got more goodies: Koda Kumi’s Best and SweetS’ 5 Elements. Both are very generous three-disc sets, two CDs and one DVD apiece.

In the ten-plus days since, I’ve watched the DVDs for both time and again. Actually, the SweetS DVD is on permanent replay, I don’t ever ever tire of it despite my long-ambivalent feelings about the groups’ career trajectory. I’ve watched the Koda Kumi DVD at least a half dozen times, sometimes just going to favorite songs (though it annoys me that "Shake It" isn’t on there) and a few times playing it straight through.

However. I think I’ve listened to the actual CD of new material by SweetS maybe… twice. The SweetS single compilation CD, I’ve listened maybe four or five times. And as for the two Koda Kumi CDs, they’re pristine, untouched, unplayed…

Which only reinforces something I’ve stated time and again, but seems extremely obvious now: in Jpop, the promotional videos are often much more important to me than the music by itself.

I can point to Jpop songs I enjoy that don’t have a PV of any sort. Oddly, most of the examples that immediately come to mind would be from SweetS – "Lonesome Cherry", "Tear Lemon Drop" (though I’ve got a live performance of it somewhere, so maybe that doesn’t count), and "Into the Daylight"… All of which were written by the Bounceback team. And I remember listening to Tommy February6’s "Ready" repeatedly before finally watching the PV. Actually, when it comes to Tommy whatever 6, I think the music overrides the videos time and again, as it takes a certain frame of mind to enjoy the deep-dish irony she enjoys so much. I’ve never been able to locate Minimoni’s "Hanamatsuri" PV (does one even exist?), but it’s one of my favorite songs by them.

But these are exceptions, not the rule. For the most part, if there isn’t a PV, I’m not likely to listen. Even if the singles are available for download, I find myself less prone to listen until there’s a video to accompany it. I don’t buy Jpop singles or albums unless a DVD is included, and I’m sure I’m missing out on a lot…

That said, once there’s a video for me to watch, it’s easy to fall in love with the song itself. I truly love a good deal of Jpop music, it’s just we need to be introduced in the right circumstances – you know, some dance moves, proper lighting, an interesting plot if that isn’t too much to ask for.

The best analogy is something like: I need to know what a girl looks like before I find myself attracted, but once I know how she looks, I’m more willing to find out what a great personality she has. (What’s truly odd is this doesn’t apply to real life: several of my major relationships were initiated or took place primarily on the internet, sight unseen at first, and they all turned out well enough. I even married one of the girls I met that way.)

There are reasons I can give. Jpop is certainly about an overall package to me, about an image and a concept as well as the music. If it’s all of a piece, if each part is supposed to reinforce the other, then wanting a PV with a song is only natural. Certainly, the Jpop industry encourages this thinking by packaging DVDs with singles – or selling DVD versions of their singles, in Hello! Project’s case. If I want to go into esoteric filmic theory, maybe I can come up with the notion of the gaze reifying existence in the postmodern marketing.

And there’s the American music industry – at least the music I listened to in the past, particularly noise and alternative – which was anti-image, which demanded a purity in the music. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Helmet video but that has never been a liability for them. (Though, y’know, Page Hamilton was quite dreamy when he was younger.) Dinosaur Jr’s  You’re Living All Over Me didn’t require music videos for it to become an integral part of my life.

So in a sense, I’ve been conditioned for years to believe that music has to stand on its own or it’s just not worth listening to. Which isn’t a stance Jpop would necesssarily take, I’d argue, though certainly they want the music to be of a certain quality, as well as their videos and photobooks and so on. In a sense, it’s the same kind of resistance I ridiculed in my students when I found out they didn’t like the crass materialism in the Wu-Tang Clan’s "Wu Wear" – they argued that musicians shouldn’t be hawking goods, when I argued that rap music only made plain what’s been a fact of life of pop music all along, that art and commerce need to work together for the form to survive and that art unsullied by commerce isn’t necessarily any nobler or more "real" or even any good.

But I still I feel guilty. Not intensely guilty, but certainly as if I’m cheating myself out of some excellent music with such a capricious methodology. And yet I know I’m not going to change. I’m going to give 5 Elements the CD many more chances, but it’s still not likely to make as much a dent on me as the DVD does.

And just to note: from watching the DVD, Koda Kumi only became interesting when she began being outrageously slutty instead of just slinky sexy. This is reflected in her music as well as her videos, where she finally seemed to veer off the R&B treadmill and began more playful musical approaches. And SweetS… ahh, you all know I love the first phase of Bounceback singles best. It pains me how much I love and feel those early songs, only to be moved considerably less by the singles that followed. Don’t get me wrong, the songs and PVs that followed are very good – and as a song, "Mienai Tsubasa" is incredible – but they just don’t match that initial spark of genius and talent. The 3-nin Haruna SweetS may provide new surprises, so we’ll see how that goes.

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3 Responses to “PVs Before Music: Is It So Wrong?”
  1. Freya says:

    Just as a short note: yes, there is a PV for Mini Moni’s Hinamatsuri!

  2. Alice says:

    I’ve pretty much lost all interest in Kumi Koda since she started acting really slutty. It’s best summed up in the Cutey Honey video, why I like Japanese music, why I tend to not like American music, and what the difference is.

  3. Freya:

    Thanks for the info, now I gotta hunt down a copy.

    Alice:

    Can you go further on this? I’m intrigued, as “Cutey Honey” is right when she began to be more slutty / self-indulgent but it didn’t strike me as particularly American in tone. I can see her aping Christina Aguilera in some videos, but not this one.