Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big in Japan.

Recent coverage in The New Yorker of the Japan earthquake and tsunami aftermath included a mention of song requests at Tokyo FM. It got me curious about which pop songs were speaking to the Japanese at this horrible moment in time for them. I remembered that right after Sept. 11, for some reason "Trouble" by Coldplay was the song that kept surfacing in my head, and then I turned on the TV and saw that it also happened to be the No. 1 requested song on MTV.

Yes, Coldplay, lame, haha. You can also laugh at the fact that the Japanese apparently love Cyndi Lauper, and that "True Colors" now sits at no. 29 on the Japan Hot 100 Billboard chart. But I think it's pretty awesome how pop -- however banal, ridiculous or beautiful -- can still unite people in ways that other institutions no longer can.

Here's a survey of what's going on pop-wise in Japan, near as I can tell.

"Samurai Soul," Ulfuls

This song isn't new, but was one of the requested songs mentioned in the New Yorker piece. The first thirty seconds of it is rough, but soldier through. This song is completely radical in every way. It howls triumphantly. The video is hilarious. The lyrics are touching. Listen to this and see if you aren't singing it for at least a day (to the extent that you can).

"Slow," Rumer

This British sensation's single is right behind "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga on the Japan Hot 100. My friend marceltr had already alerted me to her popularity in the U.K. Her other single, "Am I Forgiven," is a nice Burt Bacharach throwback, but "Slow" is the song that really has captured me, as it has Japan. What's fascinating to me about Rumer is that she defies pop convention in the sense that she has a very languid, seemingly mediocre alto voice, and she does not fit the superficial requirements of the pop machine (usually non-slender, average-looking singers only merit success if they are powerhouses like Adele), but she has earned comparisons to Dusty Springfield, Karen Carpenter and (from me, at least) Basia, not to mention a ton of play internationally. But is her voice really that much of a find? It must be, given the response she's getting. Call me a sucker, but I am sold too. Also, the harmony on this song mesmerizes me and I'm trying to nail it down.

"Shock," Beast

I can't really endorse this, but offer it as a sampling of completely ridiculous pan-Asian dance-pop (in the top 10 on the pop charts) and invite you to check out in the YouTube comments how controversial it is.

Other links, per The New Yorker:

"Sunshine Sunshine," Superfly

"Michishirube," Orange Range

"Flowers," Mr. Children (I think??)

And footnotes from TV sound:

Discovered kd lang's cover of "Theme from Valley of the Dolls" via Nurse Jackie. Love it, and Dionne Warwick's original. God, if this hasn't been employed in Mad Men, can it be soon??

Richard Marvin is my new Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Six Feet Under title theme, this), in other words the person who composes quirky and/or haunting pieces of music for my dysfunctional white-people dramas such as "In Treatment" and "Six Feet Under." Thank you Richard Marvin. I want to go sailing on your halcyon river of piano calm.

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