On The Road To Siam With Younha

Timeliness may be a virtue but it’s not one of my best traits, so here’s another older video I should’ve written about when it was first released. In this case, one of my favorite songs from Jpop, Younha’s magnificent “Ima ga Daisuki”. As for the PV… well…

We start off with a real nice shot of Younha’s rack… I mean, her cel phone.

Okay, see that? That’s the real star of this video: this constant message that, No, your message did not get sent out. I assume. I can’t read it and refuse to ask Barbara what it means. (If I’m gonna get her to translate anything, it will be dialogue from Shining Musume.)

So this video’s like a bizarro Verizon commercial. “You can’t hear me now. You can’t hear me now.” Though now that I think of it, this PV would be so much cooler if the Verizon guy and the hundreds of other people were there, following Younha wherever she went.

Younha seems resigned to this lack of handy coverage and starts walking.

It’s at this point that we realize Younha is on one of those backpacking, see-the-world type deals. When I was a teenager, I used to joke about traveling around Europe before starting college, but never meant it. Instead, I traveled around colleges and attended four before getting my bachelor’s.

I must love Younha because this video features two things that I really can’t stand: cel phones and recreational traveling. I think it’s because I’m now old and crotchety, but I’ve done my share of moving around and interstate work commutes and crashing on friends’ couches and guest bedrooms in various corners of the U.S. I’ve lived in over a half dozen states during my adult life. At this point I’d rather sit at home and play with my daughter or blog or read than leave the house and face all the hassles that come with abandoning one’s personal stash of creature comforts.

And that’s just in the States. The idea of visiting other countries – with the exception of the airport mandatory cavity searches that I see so often in my favorite nekkid-guys-on-nekkid-guys movies – strikes me as more tiresome than exciting or edifying or whatever else. Barb’s always talking about us taking Haruna to Japan to see her omma and oppa (that’s German for grandma and granpda), and I say yeahyeahyeah but she knows I’d rather they came to us instead. Barb then tells me I can spend all my time going to H!P concerts and Akihabara and the AKB48 shows and so on, but I know what a trip really is for me – a visit with the in-laws.

Anyways. Yes, I’m aware that traveling is good for the soul. However, I think I proved by now that I don’t possess a soul and therefore don’t have to take care of it.

I like how Younha decides it’s okay to sit down on railroad tracks to write in her journal. Maybe she also hangs out at airport runways to sunbathe.

So based on the map, she’s in Thailand. You know, American Wota gets a lot of visitors from Thailand, but most of them just check out the rankers and that’s it. Those who are reading this, though, I assure you that I believe your country is a beautiful place and is wrongly maligned by being so vividly associated with the sex industry in the popular imagination. Nevertheless, I am going to get there, because I’m a soulless freak who’s looking for smutty laughs.

Younha tries to make a friend but unfortunately he misunderstands what she’s saying. Careful of a possible sting, he says in Thai, “No, no, we’re not looking for any more performers unless they can blow out candles from below the waist or do that fucked-up thing with the ping pong balls.” 

Younha makes some other friends.

I love the GTFO look on that one cat. Where’s your aloha spirit, pussy?

Younha gets a bite to eat and continues writing in her journal when…

… A piano sends out a telepathic call of distress to her!

“Oh no! I’ve been taking medication to keep musical instruments from speaking to me! Now this!”

The stress of no-bars has apparently taken their toll on the poor girl.

So she walks over, and she’s tentative…

And at this point, the piano turns into a filthy-mouthed lech: “Come on! Why don’t you tickle my ivories, baby? You know you wanna do it! Why don’t you whip out some hardcore fugue-ing with me, huh? Huh? Your fingers are sex-say!”

The restaurant proprietor starts speaking to Younha. However, she’s speaking in Thai and there were no subtitles and we don’t even actually hear her voice in the video (she sounds a lot like Kim Carnes), but I can tell you with certainty what she says to our heroine.

“In this country, if you mess around with the piano and run your fingers on its keys, that means you become one of its brides.”

“However, if you can type fifty words per minute, I can get you a job as a secretary for some fancy Arab prince. You’ll have to be bound and gagged to be taken to your job interview, but I swear it’s a secretary job and not the slave trade or anything. You are in this country by yourself, right?”

“Is she talking to me?” Younha asks. Thankfully, she didn’t get any subtitles either.

“If you’ll just take a seat and maybe amuse yourself a few minutes with your new piano groom, my brother and his friends will come by soon to kidnap you and sell you to that Arab prince!”

And so, Younha settles in to sing her song.

In all seriousness, when I’m in the right mood, there is something poignant about this scenario. And the song does help get me in the right mood, most of the time.

Being alone in an unfamiliar environment, one seeks solace where one can. Younha is not only far away from home, she cannot get in touch with loved ones, and so her sole comfort is to play music. Her actual performance at the piano is as vibrant and affirming as the song itself, actually. I could’ve done without all the other crap and just had her sitting in a restaurant, then seeing the piano, then playing on it. Focus on the very best dramatic part of the video, the musician and her instrument in an act of spontaneous creativity.

But you know, getting up and walking across the room to play the frikkin’ piano – you don’t have to travel overseas to do that. I bet Younha wouldn’t even have to leave her house to do that.

Regarding the travel scenes, there’s a lot of shots of Younha just staring at the camera or into space, eyes closed then slowly opening, and I think eyes opened and slowly closing, too. I didn’t really keep track.

I think it’s supposed to convey that she’s real deep and thoughtful and going through a lot of deep thoughts as she’s thinking deeply.

Or maybe she’s just demonstrating how she can blink in slow motion.

Now that I think of it, it would’ve been fun to see more of the stuff Younha’s visiting. Like, she walked past some nifty looking statues at one point. And maybe close-ups of the food she was eating! Though I guess turning this video into an actual travelogue would’ve been a bit much.

Anyway, here’s the earnest young woman on the road, keeping tracks of her musings in a journal – perhaps to later turn into a song!

I love the boots, though. They’re sex-say! A video of Younha prancing around these Thai ruins in a thong bikini and those boots would’ve been a nice alternate version.

What we get instead is the earnest, soulful musician banging away on the keys, looking up into the air as she sings, growing pensive during the quiet parts.

And while I’m loving it here, I must confess to being hard-wired to hate such displays on principle.

I mean, it’s the kind of performance that usually makes me cringe because it usually seems so forced – “Look at me, I’m an artistic force! I’m a creative spirit!”

Such theatricality is often as blatant and painful to me as that stereotype of the well-heeled man sitting in his den in a smoking jacket and thumbing a middlebrow novel of some sort, a brandy snifter at the ready as classical music plays in the background.

Okay, so that kind of image dates back to when Hugh Hefner was still relevant, but it’s all about pretension and putting on airs. It’s the painful spectacle of somebody patting their back so hard about being so damn special and insightful and creative – because they’re an artiste – that the noble act of creating gives way to the typically loathesome acting of a creator. It’s vanity laid bare, then justified as the birthright of an imagined cultured class.

And really, all those traveling scenes are indeed, on some level, self-congratulating theatrics about the Heroic Creator. She braves new lands, and suffers for her art, knowing the travails – and travels – will make her a more insightful human being.

Hence, all the slow-motion blinking and pondering of unknown unknowables as she works her way through the countryside.

And then there’s that damn cel phone message. Maybe she’s trying to arrange the purchase of several hundred kilos of heroin? Maybe it’s more Miami Vice than Masterpiece Theater? I wouldn’t mind seeing Younha snort some coke and then go on a Tony Montana-esque rampage.

On a complete tangent, you know what’s a good way to make a foreign place look run-down and poverty-stricken? Shots of random, theoretically domesticated animals lying around. This applies equally as well to redneck middle America dustbowl havens as to strangely exotic foreign country with telepathic pianos and railrod track seating.

Oh my God, The Amazing Race is coming through! (I assume that’s the standard smug guy-buddies couple.) Younha, be the guide for them! If they can call ahead to the airport, maybe they can find out the results of your Olympics performance enhancement scandal!

Now, having ranted earlier about absolutely hating the narcissistic posturings of certain creative and pseudo-creative types, let me add a caveat: Younha is indeed a creator of high caliber, this song is indeed a fantastic song that never fails to move me, and – as a result – her piano performance in this PV doesn’t feel like posturing at all. I’m not sure if this is the exception that proves the rule or another case of my being open-minded because there’s a very pretty face involved. 

All the travelogue blinky scribbly cel-phone-angsty stuff – yes, it’s overdone. But Younha pounding away at the piano and singing her heart out is perfect – I wouldn’t have her do it any other way.

Younha strikes me as having a very powerful presence – it doesn’t seem that way at first, but just watch her perform and suddenly you understand how driven she is, how much the music she makes means to her. Sure, it helps that she’s such a gorgeous young woman – but it’s considerably more than that, the earnestness of how she carries herself does indeed lay bare a beautiful soul. And having such a soul, perhaps she’s entitled to better it with a backpacking trip through Thailand…?

Though really, do we know if she really did such traveling on her own, or was it just set up for this video? Never mind, that ruins the mood.

Here’s Younha on the train, again messing around with her phone. 

Nope, nothing yet. Maybe she’s checking on auditions she’s made, wondering if she got into AKB48 before slumming a little and trying to get into Hello! Project?

You know, it’s a shame that Younha didn’t do as well in Japan as she wanted to. However, I find that I’m enjoying her as much in her native Korean as in Japanese. It’s not like I understand either. And it’s not like the music is any different, or that singing voice.

And that singing voice is indeed impressive. To me, it’s up there with H!P’s Mikitty and Miyabi in how it can reach me emotionally. She’s one of the few singers whose voice I can instantly recognize, and almost never find fault with. Certainly, her vocal delivery here is fantastic – not perfect, but having a powerful clarity when it needs to, and a more rough-hewn edge when that’s called for.

Damn phone connection…

Okay, I got it! She’s trying to find out if she’s pregnant with Orange Range’s child and has to abort. Oh wait, that would be somebody else’s scandal – I’m getting mixed up here.

This is the part where the song stops and there’s this fateful pause… 

Then she begins to sing again, acapella, before the instruments kick in. I guess to some people this would seem contrived, corny – but I lap this up every time. I’ve drunk the Younha Kool-Aid and am asking for seconds.

And at this point, the tenor of the travel scenes becomes more positive, somehow. She seems less tense, more willing to appreciate her experiences.

What was that pause, then? A moment of epiphany? A chance to finally be still enough to find that inner peace too often obscured by the daily demands of living?

Anyways, things look much brighter for Younha. She gets to try out at the guy’s club, after all, wowing them with a trick she learned that involved candles, ping-pong balls, and the kittens she befriended in that alley!

Leaving that audition, she prays to god that what happens in Thailand stays in Thailand.

Also, she’s so moved by her pause and epiphany that she risks having her arm torn off by a railroad post…

Seriously, don’t ever stick any appendage out of a moving vehicle. It’s just asking for trouble.

And here we see Younha walk to the center of the shot…

Stops, drops her bags…

And then bask in the – the aridness of the ground? Well, it’s Younha and it’s a powerful part of the song, so let’s just move along.

Really, moar cool statues would’ve been great. Or maybe a scene or two from The King and I.

I’m being unnecessarily harsh about this video, I think. Mostly because it clashes things that I love deeply – this song, this artist – with things I loathe. Moreover, I think I just don’t have much need of the video. While much of Japanese music is a visual affair for me – I need the PV to appreciate the song – in this case, the PV is superfluous to my enjoyment of the song. I’d just as soon listen to this song on its own, completely unadorned of any visual cues, and love it for what it is. The powerful voice, the beautiful piano playing, the chime-like passages, the skittish guitar…

I used to say that Yo La Tengo’s electric version of “Barnaby, Hardly Working” is what falling in love sounds like. For me, “Ima ga Daisuki” is what feeling alive and grateful to the world sounds like. 

Anyway, back at the damn cel phone, Younha finally gets her connection and sends out her message. See, I can read the Japanese part that says “Sending”.

What did the message say? Who knows. Who cares. I don’t think I do.

I guess I should say something about how sexy Younha’s fingers are. But again, it’s only because they’re Younha’s.

Bacl at the post, she gets a message back of some sort… What? The kilos are waiting? Akimoto has decided to go in a different direction, thank you for dropping by? You’re in your second trimester and the baby’s two-thirds Okinawan?

Um… whatever this says.

I know some of you reading this are dying to tell me what it means, to show you know Japanese. There’s no need. Let my filthy imagination continue to roam free.

This seems to satisfy Younha and she smiles a little. I guess her trip is going well, after all, despite the tension from the beginning.

Though really, that may just be a lesson in making sure to get a good meal at regular intervals.

But what the heck? Her best signal for her phone is in the middle of train tracks? Is this some plot to get tourists killed? Like when I used to live in New York and tell visitors to try out the free 1 AM concerts by the dark bridges of Central Park?

It’s a weird position, being so in love with this song and being only ambivalent, at best, about the video for it. However, the video doesn’t spoil the song for me, and Younha’s actual performance scene actually adds to my enjoyment some.

As a post script, Younha was mistaken for a hobo trying to jump the rails, got locked up in a Cinemax-style lesbian prison for a few weeks, then was sold as a slave to a rich Arab prince. He realized who she was and set her free, because everyone should love and respect Younha because she is so awesome. The end.