“Seeing you makes my heart ache; You are falling to pieces
You look very beautiful, seeing you from here
So… smile”[1] (Matsumoto n.d.)

Rock N’ Roll is supposedly dead; Pop is sugar coating our airwaves – so what are we supposed to do about it? Eat another jelly donut and expect Britney Spears to be the next Ella Fitzgerald?  Is it that we’re this far gone in our knowledge and passions that we’ve come to a point where we can’t be bothered listening anymore it’s so sweet and syrupy?  Or; may I point out is it the issue that it all starts to sound the same after a while?

Starting an Essay off with an Introduction full of questions is abnormal; yet informal at the same time.  Does this mean that an informal way I should take what I’m fed and be happy with it?  Do you think John Lennon ever got away with just being THAT GUY? No; and neither has musicians like Yoshiki Hayashi, Camui Gackt or even Hideto Matsumoto.  Far beyond the lengths of your usual cookie cutter Louisa slice; you have Japanese Rock.  Much of it still to this day becoming harder to separate from the Visual Kei scene; and largely becoming popular worldwide in certain niche markets.  Gackt is considered Pop, yet his music is crossing genres and multi cultural boundaries by each and every album he creates.  From songs like Hoshi No Suna and Freesia; being two of his most romantic type ballads – Vanilla and Another World which are a cookie cutter Pop aspect, to Lust for Blood; a vampire-esque song filled with emotion[2].  While Rock and Pop music are very popular one must consider the other “brother” per se in the works; Enka is considered one of the most popular formats of Japanese Music[3]; despite its sales being largely low it is considered by sheer volume of production to be very popular (Yano 1997).  With that in mind you can imagine all the sub genres of Pop and Rock respectively in terms of American or British music; and multiply that by almost ten to get the varied types of music in the Japanese scene.

Before continuing this argument of classification and originality; I must explain the marketing and a little bit of the history included in how Japanese Music is popularized overseas.  This is imperative to use when comparing and researching what is original and what may not be.

Marketing strategies of music tend to either become a part of Animation theme songs such as TommyHeavenly6’s Pray which was in the Anime series Gintama[4]; or other television series.  Sometimes these strategies are talent competitions in which popular music bands have been created from.  Marketing[5] of course plays a huge part in how the music can be created; mostly in terms of popular commercialized music (Asai 2008). Figures state year by year in the popular charts magazine Oricon weekly (the Japanese billboard charts basically.) what has become large on each chart.

A mention is never a mention for music and marketing without the oblivious ANIME MUSIC VIDEO[6] (McCormick 2010).  Mostly made by fans, these are short song based fan made ‘music videos’ set to their favorite Animation or sometimes even a Fan Video from promotional and live clips of a music Artist.  These days with the advent of Windows Movie Maker, more musical slideshows and video representation of Japanese music’s lyrics are shown between Nico Nico Douga (Japanese Youtube) and Youtube.  These are one way to get music across and as Japanese Music largely becomes popular with subtitled Anime being more readily available; more Japanese music is being used with these.  Quite the marketing strategy, the Internet is a large format for popularizing outside of Asia, what is known as J-Pop and J-Rock.  As well as more recent inclusions of Chinese, Korean and other Asian music formats outside of Japan.

Although the internet plays a large part in popularizing this outside of Japan; in the last decade Anime and Japanese Culture Conventions have included acts from many genres that appeal to their fans. Much of this is to be explained through surveyed research by A Ngyuen of Carleton University[7] on Japanese Rock fans throughout North America.   Explaining the works of fans, and the way the fans interact can be found in Chapters Three and Four; with a lot of information being on popular activities such as fan fiction; fan art and other typical fandom activities (Ngyuen 2007).

Ngyuen does note that before the prevalence of DSL and CABLE internet services over the last decade; many fans did not use what is commonly known as “File Sharing”[8] (Peer to Peer or otherwise) (Ngyuen 2007). Although still considered highly commonly and ethically unsecure and typically illegal; until recent years many places were not as worried about copyright infringement to such degree as American and British record companies have been.  With the advent of the Viacom Vs Google debate; despite Google’s winning against the media giant in the United States, it has opened up the proverbial can of worms for debate on copyright infringement on Asian Music.

Much of the literal copyright infringement is waived on grant access that users of the music purchase the actual albums.  Seeing as that on YesAsia[9] even a new album release of Gackt or previous ones from Hideto Matsumoto are upwards of $40.00 USD, converting that into New Zealand dollars means that even with such a small fan base it’s hard to be able to purchase official memorabilia and products such as CD’s and DVD’s of the artists (YesAsia n.d.).  Marketing strategies of “bootlegged copies” end up with fans all over the world finding the music through TradeMe or Ebay, or even trading posts on popular music forums.

Interconnected global strategies have seen other nationalities enter the charts besides American and British as of recent years.  Moving forward in time, constantly; this industry is constantly making new moves, another issue to the argument of “is it original”.  In recent years music in Japan has almost revolutionized itself; and created a marketing strategy that is pushing itself forward across globally.

The current trend in Japanese Rock; namely Visual Kei ala X-Japan[10] is burgeoning on other venues including the United States and Canada; No longer is Japanese Rock just a sideline to the Animation and TV series you’ve seen imported. To take this away from an advertising tone; I should note there is a constant battle for originality still to this day (The Official X Japan Website 2010).  The largest issue in debunking this myth about Japanese Music; is that the categorization is simply not enough to prove what is popular and what truly is “Pop”.  This rings further into a formation of truth with a study into the Japanese Rock Promotional Video from the band “The Alfee”. In Refashioning Pop Music in Asia[11], Carolyn S Stevens delves into the motive in a Japanese Rock Video; the aesthetic of pushing boundaries (C. S. Stevens 2004).

The music in the actual video (Which can be seen in the blog project[12] accompanying this essay; and linked through the bibliography and video sources pages.) is quite unusual and hard to categorize.  The paradox of categorization is tenfold when looking over several categories and sub genres; can you really put this video in a box with other Visual Kei artists?  Style wise; yes – musical wise, well I’m not any sort of music professional so I can’t honestly answer that in an academic sense. Although of course this becomes enough alone to raise the question on “Unoriginal or Unimaginative” in terms of Japanese Popular music; and I continue to look into this question with critical concern.  I note my resource project[13], and explain that this critical eye was used in a professional sense (yet not in a formal academic tone, like the essay.) to explain my opinions and research into this problem (Haldeman 2010). This issue of unoriginality is largely hard to pin point when you aren’t able to classify properly the type of music you are listening to.

Where do we start with the accusation that Japanese Music; including Japanese Rock – or even largely Japanese Rock in a popular format such as this– is unoriginal, very typical and sugar coated with unimaginative styles of imitative nature.  We start by disproving the theory; while maintaining a sense of security and knowledge over the subject.  However; the theory disproval of course has to be broken down into bits because unlike the American or British music scene, there is a large amount of broad spectrum area to cover.

Japanese Pop[14] no longer just means the same as any other scene; Japanese Rock no longer just means the same thing as it does on the US Billboard Charts.  De Ferranti[15] goes on to resourcefully explain popular music as certain types of artists. These being more the “contemporary” sort (De Ferranti 2002) i.e.: Ryuichi Sakamoto and other contemporary musical artists.  In terms of the basic question of originality, Japanese Rock became my sole focus because it’s where my knowledge base is.  The mark point of genres lies within the style of Visual Kei[16][17], a multi categorical, multi sub genre musical style that marked the late 80s and forward.  (Harajukustyle.net 2008) (ROBSON 2009)

While there are little actual books on the official style and music of Visual Kei[18], it being a classification of Japanese Rock I feel that this essay so far has begun to continue the argument of originality. Visual Kei of course being a sub-classification by default of Japanese Music and Japanese Rock; with the pioneers out of the 1980s band Boom being X-Japan, Buck Tick and Color.  A widely known statement about X-Japan is that their original name indeed was X; but in order to cause less confusion when attempting a jump into the American market in 1992, they changed it to X-Japan.  There was an LA based band of the same name (X) during that timeframe.  A large issue in originality comes out of the Indies subsection of Visual Kei and how some of these could be classified as just “copying”.

The disapproving theory of unoriginality is assumed towards all of Japanese Music ; however when classification comes into play especially in a book like the Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music[19]; I remember noting the incorrect statement that popular Visual Kei act ‘X-Japan’ was classified as “DEATH METAL”(Ashgate:2008).  As a natural follower of this type of music I was appalled at the lack of research done to properly look into the sort of music that this was.  As my research states in the blog (Haldeman 2010); there is no real way to classify music like this with the broad spectrum that is Japanese music.  Of course how can you classify this, beyond the broad spectrum from an outside perspective if you aren’t versed completely in one subject?  Would it be alright to reference and IBID every other referenced book in musical history?

If not let me summarize what I feel; Opinions vary, and when you are doing musical research and you are unsure of classifications or even how to put something in a box; things can become very hard.  Mind you, which my academic and personal opinion stands on the fact that if you need to put music in a box to categorize it, then don’t.  I do not seriously believe there is ever such a thing as a category for music; and that the term Rock is just another word, another box to place these things in.

This originality battle is where the proverbial rope is tied to less of Japanese Visual Kei; and more of Pop and Commercialized Rock.  One example of this is Japanese born Crystal Kay[20]; of Korean and African American parentage; she is a popular image across the Japanese Hip-Hop scene (CNNGO 2010).  While supposedly very original to the Japanese industry; this sort of music proves to be a dime a dozen on the American airwaves.

How can we continue to prove originality when the style; the sound and even the lyrics are very similar if not almost copying previous hip hop in the United States, as well as in my opinion Utada Hikaru one of the foremost popular music artists in Japan.  We can’t prove literally without directly speaking to the artists, and their companies themselves; including the fact that we literally cannot prove this even with previous research.  I feel that this is a topic best for a larger research, larger book per se. [With that notation, I almost feel compelled to be one to do this sort of book; even if in a wording format similar to the blog.]

Although when it comes to Japanese Rock there is as I have previously stated a large vast spectrum within that area itself; not just music in Japan, and when you’re off trying to research exactly where the originality lays sometimes you have to look at the source.  Yet; I’m not sure people understand that when Japanese ROCK is exercised as a word- like the US market; there’s a LARGE difference between Proper Commercial Candy Rock[21] and Commercial Radio Rock.  As well as explaining that the music that pushes boundaries and shakes conservative households is a comparison to Visual Kei. Yes I mean in a forceful example Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and even sometimes Madonna; Visual Kei isn’t always “ROCK” so I guess my essay is more on the differences on originally between Pop and Rock; and there is a large difference between VISUAL KEI even in a commercialized format and COMMERCIAL ROCK.

X-JAPAN isn’t directly a Commercial band by nature; they’re Artistic by nature as well as your usual “Shock Rock” type. While it’s not that Commercial Bands are not artistic, they’re just restricted by what their labels mainly want; and what the charts are proving in terms of popularity making them very held back in terms of creative juices. A consideration into the source and influences of X-Japan and other bands such as Luna Sea starts with the idea that Glam Rock’s death reincarnated itself into Japan[22].

Glam Rock started in the 1970s[23]; and by definition supposedly died with the Disco Era.  Many bands such as T-rex (Marc Bolan), Alice Cooper (He was Glam?), David Bowie, KISS[24] and supposedly even Elton John has been included in many references. While I can literally personally point out examples of influence and source to shocking people out of their shells; it’s certainly becoming an open ended anomaly – how do you classify influence, and keywords and compartments on things that are defying the common knowledge of western music?  While there is direct classification of influence from KISS; in interviews etc – how can you go about classifying the other influences when there are language barriers, and so many other ethical issues in between?

I neglected to answer the question of influence in the essay; because as my research became further I noticed my opinions were ethically largely based on fandom.  When researching against the grain for the answers on originality; I had to push against my nature of a fan and move with professionalism and academic nature to look through the magnifying glass. If all of these bands were original; would influence be needed?

While Hideto Matsumoto has passed away In 1998[25], many fans will say that his music still lives on in future formats.  The neglecting of answering this question of influence was even further delayed by the fact that fans have a larger influence on opinion by creating rumors of what could be true.  While this sort of gossip is harmless, and blindingly silly and typical; it can create emotional spats and flame wars and what is considered displays of ‘drama’.  The influence of Hideto Matsumoto’s originality is clear to many, but unclear to many at the same time.

The grief that has struck family, and friends akin to this man’s passing; as well as the fans which had even copycat deaths well after his own, only shows to prove that ethically it is not as easy as once perceived to research what is correct about influence in past and future.  In my own research, not all documented quite as yet (as my plans are to develop this project and essay further after the due date.) I have noticed the personal connection to the Rock Star that was once considered “Pink Spider”; and the emotions that these fans claim are “what got them through personal hard and rough times”.  Without discounting the fact that many fans (including myself) believe this, many other forms of music and coping mechanisms have been in place for even thousands of years.

Is it that adapting and influencing is merely another term for copying and plagiarizing another one’s style?  Maybe not in these days; or even in the 20th century era of Rock – but the question still remains an open ended anomaly and remains a large problem when opening the proverbial ‘pandora’s box’ of music.  One could certainly argue that no music is original, that evolving doesn’t really exist; that we all just sample the same notes and same styles as once created in traditional folklore.

Just as with Enka you see that the styles are considered “traditional” almost as if the music is the “heart of the nation”.  This is much comparable even in style to the United States Country Music market, the heart of the nation and the pride of the nation.  Despite maybe not being the popular choice in sales, and everyone on the radio market; one can only imagine the criss cross between line dancing and sorrowful Enka karaoke in bars.

A quote from a fan inside Ngyuen’s[26] research states that largely in the days when internet wasn’t as readily available for some, that the only bands really known overseas were the major labels.  Without knowledge of personalities, style and other factors it was hard to classify just what indeed this music really was.  Without proper information, fans are quite often lead down a very long path of gossip and rumors, and sometimes due to mistranslation even further incorrect information is found. I distinctly remember a time when fans were misleading information about Hideto Matsumoto and X-Japan; and “hide’s” English language project Zilch.

Many fans were believing it was a form of plagiarism on the former band members part, and that Hideto Matsumoto had no part and choice in how to make these English based songs; ‘ripping off’ previously recorded Japanese language editions of popular songs he’d either written himself, or co-written for X-Japan.  Without directly speaking to the ex-members of Zilch, and finding proper translations of interviews from the late 1990s; we can’t directly pinpoint if a rumor like this is true or not.

So the idea that everything is original; much like an essay or research is a grey area; is research and looking in books merely plagiarizing and summarizing what someone else feels?  Is using influence from the past the same? Can we say that The Ventures; copied United States bands like the Monkees or the Beatles?  Can we say that Ayumi Hamasaki is merely the Mariah Carey of Japan?

So no; I still do not believe that Visual Kei is unoriginal; but that Commercial Pop and Commercial Rock are always hard to classify as original.  However; the notion of what is original and what is not is always hard to debunk with so much information and so much little time to process it.  Can we as academics continue to debunk myths like this without spending more than the required time on it?  I apologize if I have created a new can of worms, or offended anyone with this essay; my passion is Japanese Culture –specifically media and Visual Kei.

So with that in mind; in Conclusion I seriously believe this essay is not finished; not by lack of time or lack of research by the time due; but by the fact that scholars in this subject should look harder into the magnifying glass and feature their skills into debunking the ethical nature of a question like this.  Can we source the reason something is unoriginal and unimaginative if most of the music from the American or British or even Australian and New Zealand scenes are just as unoriginal?

Is there a limit to how much music can sound the same?  Can we lyrically copyright a phrase and cry like a baby when someone takes it for their own song?  No, I don’t believe that we can,  the ethical nature is to show that on the whole Japanese Music in its popularity has a lot of originality, but that inside that you have to use a toothpick to pick literally where these musicians fit in categorically, and even there many influences can be classified as where artists are “Copying”.

While as unimaginative as J-Pop and Commercialized Rock that isn’t Visual Kei can be; my conclusion states that the aforementioned question is largely correct.  However that it applies to most music in the sense that even with Classical Music; Jazz and Blues and other popular formats – what can be deemed as ‘influential’ is always seemed to be a ‘ripoff’ to others.

As the final conclusion proceeds to the Essay; my passionate interest in this subject and research will constantly continue inside what I have created as the side project to the requirement of my Asia 201 assignment.  Please note that the bibliography does not include the Video list used on the blog, it will be on another page.  An optional index has been included to reference words and phrases of interest.

[1] Matsumoto, Hideto (Lyrics) “Genkai Haretsu” Psyence (Music Album) 1997; Retreived from http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/h/hide/#share 9/20/2010 18:41 PM

[2] Haldeman, Jillian Elizabeth. Ongaku No Resource (Japanese Popular Music Resource Blog). September 18, 2010. http://ongakunoresource.osharecurry.net (accessed September 21, 2010).

[3] Yano, Christine. “Inventing Selves: Images and Image Making in a Japanese Popular Music Genre.” Journal of Popular Culture, 1997: 115-129.

[4] Sorachi, Hideaki. 銀魂 (Gin Tama). Japanese Animation, DVD, Manga. Directed by Shinji Takamatsu and Fujita Yoichi. Produced by Sunrise. Performed by Sorachi, Hideaki. 2006.

[5] Sumiko, Asai. “Firm Organization and Marketing Strategy in the Japanese music Industry” Popular Music, 2008: 473-485.

[6] Phade’s Guide.  Kris McCormic/Anime Music Videos.Org. 2010. http://animemusicvideos.org/ (accessed September 21, 2010)

[7] Ngyuen, A. Cyber Cultures from the East. Ottowa: UMI Dissertation and Thesis Service, 2007.

[8] Ngyuen, A. Cyber Cultures from the East. Ottowa: UMI Dissertation and Thesis Service, 2007:68

[9] YesAsia search term “hide” http://www.yesasia.com/global/search/hide/0-0-0-bpt.48_q.hide-en/list.html (accessed September 21 2010)

[10]The Official X Japan Website. The Official X Japan Website. 2010. http://www.xjapanmusic.com (accessed September 21, 2010).

[11] Stevens, Carolyn S. “Refashioning Pop Music in Asia.” In Refashioning Pop Music in Asia, by Ned Rossiter (Editor), Brian Shoesmith (Editor) Allen Chun (Editor), pp127-143. Routledge, 2004.

[12] Haldeman, Jillian Elizabeth. Ongaku No Resource (Japanese Popular Music Resource Blog). September 18, 2010. http://ongakunoresource.osharecurry.net (accessed September 21, 2010).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Stevens, Carolyn. Japanese Popular Music. New York: Routledge (Media, Culture and Social Change in Asia Series 2009), 2009.

[15] De Ferranti, Hugh. “‘Japanese Music’ can be popular.” Popular Music, 2002: 195-208.

[16] ROBSON, DANIEL. “Versailles get dolled up for visual-kei fest.” The Japan Times. October 3, 2009. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fm20091023a1.html (accessed September 21, 2010).

[17] Harajukustyle.net. Harajuku Style. 2008. http://www.harajukustyle.net/visual_kei.htm (accessed September 21, 2010).

[18] Ngyuen, A. Cyber Cultures from the East. Ottowa: UMI Dissertation and Thesis Service, 2007:18-23

[19] Tokita, Alison McQueen; Hughes, David W Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music, 2008: 354

[20] CNNGO. Crystal Kay guerilla live comes and goes in a flash! June 10, 2010. http://www.cnngo.com/tokyo/life/crystal-kay-guerilla-live-comes-and-goes-flash-917649 (accessed September 21, 2010).

[21] Brownlee, Nick. Bubblegum: The History of Plastic Pop. Sanctuary Pub. Ltd. (U.K.), 2003.

[22] Haldeman, Jillian Elizabeth. Ongaku No Resource (Japanese Popular Music Resource Blog). September 18, 2010. http://ongakunoresource.osharecurry.net (accessed September 21, 2010).

[23] D’Agostino, Giulio. Glam Musik: British Glam Music ’70 History. I Universe, 2001.

[24] Thompson, Dave. “20th Century Rock N Roll: Glam Rock.” In 20th Century Rock N Roll: Glam Rock, by Dave Thompson, 5-16,126-130. 1971.

[25] Seno, Alexandra A. “Isolation in Their Grief.” Asiaweek, May 22, 1998: 40-41.

[26] Ngyuen, A. Cyber Cultures from the East. Ottowa: UMI Dissertation and Thesis Service, 2007:84