“Japanese music is more complex than that of the United States. It has many ideas such as the impressive melody, chord change and key change. The American music is a little simple, repeating and a little boring. Japanese music gives me freedom.” CINRA.NET
These are the words of Rivers Cuomo, front man of the internationally popular rock band Weezer, a musician that actually loves J-POP. In 2013 he release a full Japanese album with Scott Murphy, former ALLiSTER member, under the name “Scott & Rivers”. This is how he responded when he was asked the differences between Japanese and American pop music.
Rivers is not the only musician who thinks this way. Marty Friedman, former guitarist of Megadeth, who in recent years is based in Japan, had the following comments:
“The complex toward western music that Japan used to have is now totally gone, and creators proud in their work. I think it’s in the music they make. They should be proud of it! There is no other music industry as wonderful as this! Boldly happy. Boldly showy. Boldly colorful. Japanese music is shining!”GQ JAPAN
As they point out, a kind of pop music that has evolved to a unique form has started to take root in Japan in the 21st century. While Billboard’s TOP10 ranks the hit charts similarly in Australia and in Singapore, and a “globalized pop scene” covers the world, there is a different situation in Japan. A special kind of music culture is growing in this music market, which is the second largest size in the world.
The situation started to change in the mid-2000s.
Until then, the aspiration toward the U.S. and England ruled the ways of Japanese pop music. Of course, there were indigenous music culture such as enka (演歌, traditional Japanese popular music) and folk songs. However, from the 60s onward, the majority of pop music trend were made by quickly importing the new western music and translating them into Japanese. The new styles that were born in the U.S. or England, such as rock, folk, techno, and hip-hop would blossom in Japan a little later. Such movements were common at the time.
However after the 2000s, those values started to change. This was because there were more and more creators who grew up being influenced by J-POP instead of international music. The expansion of music markets that are unique to Japan, such as VOCALOID (ボーカロイド, pop songs created from voices using a speech synthesis software) and ANISON (アニソン, music used in Japanese animation accepted as a category of pop music) is one of the factors, too. The boom among teenagers and young people in their 20s created the basis for Japan to evolve a unique music style.
As a result, what difference did this make to Japanese pop music? In short, it has become “complex”, as Rivers Cuomo said. The melody had become miniaturized and the tempo became faster. It does not only repeat the verse and the chorus, but the music unfolds as if the scenes were changing one after another. Moreover, changes in the rhythm modulation are now used often.
In other words, a totally new type of music emerged in Japan in the 21st century. The situation differs greatly compared to the situation of K-POP, the music of Korea, also a country in Asia. There are a number of K-POP artists who are globally active, but a majority of their music is based on R&B and EDM. The main idea is to localize the pop music stream born in the U.S.
On the other hand, a new style of pop music has emerged in Japan and it does not fit in the existing genres such as R&B, EDM, rock or hip hop. Its features are that a wide variety of melody, rhythm, sound color pattern and ideas are stuffed into one song. As a result, it becomes a pop song that has highly-condensed information. The writer would like to name this “High Compression Pop”.
You can tell just by listening. A typical example of High Compression Pop is a song called “Sakura Apparition (サクラあっぱれーしょん)” by Dempagumi Inc., a Japanese idol group consisting of 6 members.
A major example of High Compression Pop using a VOCALOID is “Brain Fluid Explosion Girl (脳漿炸裂ガール / Nou shou sakuretsu girl)” by rerulili.
A common characteristic of these songs is that the melody moves around rapidly. For example, if you compare it with “Story of My Life” by One Direction, an idol group from England, you will see that the density of the notes of the melody are clearly different.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that just singing fast will make a High Compression Pop song. The important thing is that many musical elements are stuffed into one song. In that way, BABYMETAL, an idol group who is rapidly developing their popularity in the U.S. and European country’s metal fans, is a symbolic figure.
BABYMETAL is a group of cute low-teen girls who sing and dance to dark and loud sounds, under a catch phase of “metal x idol”. Their concept, fusion of idol pop and heavy metal first attracted attention, but the reason they gained the support of many fans is not just their new look. The high quality of their songs is a major factor. As it is remarkable in their representative piece, “Megitsune (メギツネ)”, various ideas and changes are put into one song. The sense of High Compression Pop is used here, too.
In this series, we will unravel the origin and scheme with “Japanese Pop Music of the 21st Century That Made a Unique Evolution”. Why did this idea of odd music develop in various fields of idol pop, anison, vocaloid, and rock? We will be discussing its background and its future prospects.