Slyme and SweetS

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

For the past few days, I’ve been listening and watching to Rip Slyme and very little else. Which is funny for me, since I’m so strident about enjoying the eyecandy preteen aspect of Japanese pop music. So I wondered… am I falling for the boys of Rip Slyme? Will Ilmari be my new Momoko, or DJ Fumiya my new Chinami? (Hey, Fumiya gets as many solo lines to sing in a typical RS song as Chinami gets solo lines in a typical BK song. Zing!)

I don’t think so. I thought about it and even considered various debased fantasies, but I just don’t find any homoerotic attachment to any of them – not like, say, the way I felt when I first watched Matsudaira Ken perform “Matsuken Samba II”, or the way I feel whenever I watch Tim Gunn on Project Runway. (Especially now that Santino does such dead-on impressions of him.) I just happen to like Rip Slyme’s music a lot and their PVs almost as much.

I actually don’t like their new single so much, though. As a result I’m not disappointed that I’ve got a copy of their PV downloaded that I can’t watch. No big loss at this point, though I know the song will grow on me if I let it and then I’ll want to see the PV. But that won’t be for a while.

Beyond the above observations, there’s some other things I’ve noticed from my recent swim through the Slyme…

I can name all of Rip Slyme already. I’m still struggling with new dream and C-Ute, which is a crying shame. But I can not only tell apart Ilmari, Ryo-Z, Su, Pes, and DJ Fumiya by sight, I recognize each of their very distinct voices and rap deliveries. It wasn’t all that difficult, once I set my mind to it – kind of like figuring out each of the Wu-Tang Clan, you just need to be attenuated to the specifics.

Jrap still brings up issues of language for me… sorta. I’m going to put off learning Japanese for as long as I can, mostly because I’m a contrary bastard and it’d make the wife happy. That said, rap should be about the words, right? When I listen to American rap, the lyrical content is often quite important. So aren’t I losing out when I don’t understand the lyrics of Japanese rap?

Well… yes.

But for the very best rappers, flow and delivery has its own aesthetic role. Chuck D comes to mind – his voice is controlled rage and authority. Or Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, whose flow is smoother and more subtly menacing than anyone else I can think of. Or for that matter, the way some of the Wu-Tang Clan – most notably Method Man and RZA – sometimes subsume straightforward meaning for the sheer play of sounds, which itself has a rich tradition in poetry.

In a similar way, I find I enjoy the lyrical delivery of each of Rip Slyme’s MCs enough – and especially the way they interact with each other – that whatever meaning is lost from a lack of translation isn’t as important to me as I thought.

Their PVs are often brilliant, but defy deeper analysis. It’s a lot of fun to take some Jpop PV and put it through its semiotic paces… but I don’t see the point in doing so for any of Rip Slyme’s PVs. Which is strange, because they’re ridiculously great videos and worth watching over and over again… But to try to read any hidden layers of meaning would seem ridiculous to me.

Like, I could argue that the “Galaxy” PV uses puppets to discuss the way artists are manipulated in the music industry and so on and so on… But I don’t believe it. It’s a great use of puppetry and low-budget special effects, but it makes no commentary beyond that. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am – rap is all about semiotic play, an often postmodern use of references of various kinds. Part of the charm of Rip Syme’s PVs is the lack of such effects in favor of creating straightforwardly entertaining tableaus. Sometimes there’s a narrative, sometimes it’s just about having fun… but the point is that the pleasure is unapologetically surface, which may be part of why I’ve come to like them so much.

Now that I think of it, the same can be said of Halcali’s PVs. At least until “Tip Taps Tip”, but I think even that’s just playing baby peekaboo with its semiotics.

The girl in the “Dandelion” PV is ridiculously hot. And yeah, I know she looks fourteen or fifteen, but she completely stole my heart with her boots and Nancy Sinatra stomping, that yellow knit cap, and the pout on her face. If I could, I’d devote a whole blog to her.

And is she a geinou of any reknown? She looks familiar on some level, but I can’t place her.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking now. Tim Gunn?

Today I also found myself listening/watching the SweetS 5 Elements singles DVD… twice. The first time was just listening to it while getting some work done. The second time I just sat and watched it again, like familiarizing myself with a long-lost friend. I haven’t listened to much Berryz lately, so it looks like I’m swinging to my SweetS phase again…
And I came to some new truths about the Penty Five. Actually, I think I just remembered some old truths…

That 3-nin SweetS single really sucked. Just to repeat: not the girls, but the song and its production values.

The post-Bounceback singles improve over time. Well, some of them, at least. I’m thinking “Grow Into Shining Stars” and “Sky” especially. Very little can save “Countdown” and my opinion of “Mienai Tsubasa” as a song couldn’t go any higher for a non-Bounceback song than it already is.

But the Bounceback singles are now absolutely legendary. Honestly, if I’m left stranded on an island with only one CD, the first SweetS mini-album is my only choice. I don’t think I ever wavered on that, but listening to the songs again reminded me of this. I guess this was already preying in my head again, since I put “Lonesome Cherry” on my radio blog over the weekend…

Aya is destined for greatness. No denying it. I still love Haruna best, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Aya and Airi Suzuki are the superstar divas a decade from now.

The girls really butched up for their PVs last year. Wifebeaters in “Mienai Tsubasa”, the heavy black leather of the 3-nin song. I’d noticed it before but now it really stands out for some reason. There’s a reason behind it, too, I’m sure…
I’m not sure if I like where SweetS is headed musically… but that may not matter too much. When I picked up the 3-nin SweetS CD / DVD single, I watched the DVD with the two concert performances… and then quickly put it back in its case. Haven’t watched it again. Couldn’t make myself. It was painful – the songs they performed weren’t as good as the singles, and seemed a bit pedestrian to tell you the truth. And while the performance by the girls was enjoyable on an eyecandy level, it didn’t capture me the way their PV performances do. I haven’t watched their concert DVD yet, and quite frankly can put it off a while longer.

I know the girls do great live performances – Santos of Idolizing St. Anna has been very good about describing the ones he attended. And I’m sure I’ll have fun if I ever attend a SweetS show, just from the proximity to the idols. But I wonder if SweetS will wind up a generic idol band in sound, if not personae. And if they do, will I stick around? Will it be worth it? I still listen to Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me but that sure as hell doesn’t mean I need to pay attention to anything J Mascis has done in the past decade or so.

But of course, the difference is that Jpop is as much about the personae as the music. And I’ve been looking at the SweetS photobook and realizing how attached I am to the girls as idol personae, and won’t let go no matter what. (Well, maybe if Tim Gunn releases his own photobook, I can be swayed away…) And watching the girls grow up is certainly one of the pleasures of this whole U15 I enjoy so much…

Solo photobooks will make up for generic songs, at any rate. Though I’m still holding out for the return of Bounceback sometime soon.