“Why Jpop?” Revisited

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Some days I just look around and wonder, Why invest so much of myself into Jpop? There’s the money spent, and the time passed, and the ridiculous amount of thought I’d given to this interest. Making screencaps and downloading PVs and writing this blog. If my interest in Jpop is a Lego set, I’ve created a rather elaborate cathedral in a rather short amount of time, with winding mazelike corridors and hidden passageways reflecting the more esoteric lines of thought I’ve indulged in.

I could be spending that money on other things, that time on other pursuits. I could be a more "productive" member of society… whatever that means. (I could never figure that one out.)

But that wouldn’t be as satisfying, would it? It wouldn’t give me the big, wide grin that another crackpot idea about idol hierarchies and U15 semiotics brings me. It wouldn’t make me sigh in admiration at how kakoii or kawaii a favorite idol is in her latest PV.

After much thinking about this topic today, I came to the usual conclusion: there’s a crossroad where intellectual effort and visceral emotions intersects, and that’s where I always want to be… Where you feel something so intensely that you need to understand that feeling better. And when this happens in relation to pop culture, the artifacts of this crossroad open a different way of looking at the world around you. For decades (literally), comics and literature were my main crossroads. I burnt out on the intellectual aspect of comics years ago, though reading it is still enjoyable (and still brings out the fanboy critic in me, albeit a less sharp fanboy critic than in the past). And the crossroads that literature offers has become a workplace, thanks to my freelancing; the urge to play on that crossroads is dimmed by deadlines and obligations.

And so there’s Jpop. I’ve discussed in past posts how I discovered it, what it means to me… But in the specific terms of this intellect / emotion crossroads, I’ve discovered that the visceral emotions that Jpop brings out in me is ridiculously strong. And the more intense the emotions, the more satisfying the intellectual inquiry that it brings out in me. It also seems to bring out a wider range of reactions – Berryz seems to make me more playful in my thinking, SweetS more intellectually rigorous, Morning Musume more historically-minded… But it’s all about a passion that’s equal parts feeling and thought.

The analogy I most often use is "falling in love" – and by this, I don’t mean developing a crush on a particular idol – at least, not only that. Rather, it’s the potent, heady mix of emotions – sudden elation, a flash of insight, an empowering self-awareness – that happens in the first throes of romance, the thrills and chills when one is unexpectedly focused on somebody or something else. The existential thrill of romance that John Fowles described so powerfully in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The reasons Jpop feels like falling in love are obvious. Good music stirs a certain range of emotions, especially if it’s as upbeat as the Jpop I prefer. The range of media input is wide thanks to the sheer commercial aspect of the Jpop industry. And of course, there are the idols themselves – feeling passion is a lot easier when there’s a pretty girl to lead the way. (Look at any car magazine if you doubt me.) I think because these idols are expected to be judged on their looks as much as their other abilities, it enters the discussion without as much debate and is thus more fun to consider. It’s a postmodern "and / and / and" as opposed to the classical "either / or" – the considerations of looks don’t get in the way of the discussion of abilities and talents, but augments it in Jpop. crs of undoing the mercator projection made this point a while back, and it’s something that needs to be recognized to help appreciate just how special Jpop is.

So if I said I think a certain actress is hot, that often seems to flummox a serious discussion on her acting abilities. But for me, at least, the opposite is true for Jpop. If I said, "I really respect Hinoi Asuka’s singing ability and her past work with Tommy," well… yeah. But who are we kidding? She’s prime eye-candy and watching her shake her ass in the "King Kong" para para PV is one of the better guilty pleasures in life. (Though in my case, guilt isn’t all that important.) The music is part and parcel of the Jpop experience, but so are these other "superficial" criteria which are allowed to take center stage.

So, reeling it all back in a little, I can think of a handful of comics that felt like falling in love (to start, Jaime Hernandez’s "Flies on the Ceiling"); I can name a couple dozen works of literature that felt the same (to start, Nabokov’s Lolita and "The One Girl at the Boys Party" by Sharon Olds) and some clear examples from American music (start with Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising and Yo La Tengo’s "Barnaby, Hardly Working").

But for some reason, Jpop offers the steadiest rush of "falling in love" with pop culture that I’ve experienced in many years. (Not since I first discovered the writings of Don DeLillo, I suspect. Those were heady times for me, back at SUNY Albany…) And that love I feel for Jpop proliferates in so many ways. I love having "Ajisai Ai Ai Monogatari" running through my head, my arms sometimes swinging into that stupid clock choreography from the PV. I love Haruna of SweetS deeply, but more as an abstraction of an idol ideal than as a flesh-and-blood human. (Momoko, on the other hand… um…) I love finding a new bunch of cute girls like Harenchi Punch and deciding whether or not I want to be their dog. I love that Koriki dances so well with Hinoi Team, even as he musically butchered their version of "Night of Fire". And when I saw the new Halcali video for the first time this morning, I felt like crying – partly because it was the return of a group I so enjoyed, partly because this wasn’t the Halcali I expected and felt some disappointment… but also because the song was so fucking beautiful, that I fell in love with it (and the PV) despite that initial disappointment.

And of course, I love sharing my crackpot ideas and latest passions on this blog. I’m sure I’d still be into Jpop if I wan’t writing this blog, but it wouldn’t be as much devilish fun.

But the criteria is different from real-life love; the expectations aren’t grounded in the real world, nor are they molded solely by the appetites of reality. For instance – and this’ll surprise some of you – but I really didn’t like all the skin the girls of SweetS were showing in the sleeve inserts for the 5 Elements CD. Too much leg, too much bare midriff. Which doesn’t mean I’m being a prude, or that the girls don’t look attractive – quite the opposite. (Especially Mai.) Rather, it didn’t quite fit my own ideas about SweetS, there was a conceptual disconnect that I have yet to wrap my head around. The unified theory I’d been devising of SweetS – a framework that’s a bit too obsessively theoretical but borne out of a genuine affection for the group – wasn’t accounting for this on some level, and I could feel that instinctively. So while I thought they looked hot, I still felt uneasy about what to make of it.

But it’s those kinds of surprises that make it feel even more like love – the unexpected obstacles and frustrations that pop up, and figuring out a way around them. Because, you know, true love always wills out against adversity. And love is what you make of it.

Which in my case, apparently, is Hinoi Asuka shaking her ass. 

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3 Responses to ““Why Jpop?” Revisited”
  1. Thea says:

    oh i have to agree. my passion for jmusic is really eating up my life lol. i’m sacrificing so much just to buy cds or dvds or photos =______=;; i think it’s not normal to some people lol.

    actually idols i love are my “idols” in life. i usually think i should also do my best with school too since they are also doing their best, etc etc. crazy fan stuff i guess lol

    and fandom varies so who cares if you like the Asuka who’s shaking her ass lol. as long as we agree on the same thing, i.e. love for our idols, i think everybody should get along XD

    hmm this comment was crap i guess lol

  2. Leanne says:

    You went to SUNY Albany? :O no way. I’m going to Binghamton 😀

    Anyway…JPop. JPop takes priority over food, over clothes, over everything that I suppose a normal person would spend all that money on. If I didn’t have JPop, I’d crack…it’s a drug I can’t get out of my system. Gah…and my fav singers are my idols in real life too -_-;; To some people it seems silly to “waste” 30$ on an album, but I see it as money well spent, and without that album in my hands, I’d go berserk, and they’d regret it later on. XD

  3. Johnny says:

    Seeing Hinoi Asuka shake her bottom is a great way to start your day. Woohoo! As for Halcali, it’s great to see them back.