Turning Japanese

Does the future of music lie in East Asia?

By Scott White

Over the past few years, both Western music charts and listeners have come under Eastern influence. Is this a sign of things to come, and should we be looking to Japan and Korea for tomorrow’s superstars?

“Go West” sang The Pet Shop Boys in 1993, and yet less than a decade later, they were using Japanese television and culture as a theme for their Flamboyant promotional video.

Indeed, it has been the flamboyance of Japanese artist, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu that earned her a following in the US. Listeners with no prior knowledge of Asian musicians and Japanese fanatics alike were drawn in by the camp kitsch imagery and catchy melodies, sending her music videos viral and gaining her the media adorned titles “Queen of J-Pop” and Harajuku Pop Princess”, and claiming the top spot on Sputnik's Top Pop Albums of 2012 list with her second album, Pamyu Pamyu Revolution.

As a further testament to the level of success and notoriety, she achieved through her promotional campaigns, both Stereogram and Dazed & Confused who awarded her with video of the week in January 2013 for her furisodeshon single, she signed a distribution deal in the US this year and has appeared in internationally recognised magazines such as Elle, the Wall Street Journal and The Fader. and been a guest on French, British and Swedish radio spots. Kyari was attracting the attention of media outlets for her music as much as her image. Her visuals gained the fan-base, but it was ultimately the music that is maintaining the following.

Perfume, who are also produced by Kyari’s writer, Yasutaka Nakata, have shown equal levels of success on foreign shores. Last year, the group switched record labels to appeal to the overseas market, releasing the JPN album in 50 countries. Within the same year, the trio conducted their first ever English interview. The following year they performed in London, Paris and Cologne as part of their second world tour and a special performance at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

But the biggest sensation of them all is undoubtedly the South Korean musician and television personality, Park Jae-sang, known by the hundreds of millions who viewed his Gangnam Style video as Psy.

Psy exploded onto the Western media and caused a craze by where world leaders, comedians, sports personalities and even other musicians were galloping to the now infamous Gangnam Style dance. President Obama used the song to demonstrate just how engulfed in South Korean culture the world had become after the single hit the number one spot in fifty countries.

The Asian footprint on the modern Western pop world is no longer coming in the form of Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls dancers. Instead they are being recognised as formidable performers in their own right. Appealing to foreign markets, not by conforming to Western styles of pop, but by showcasing their own nation's culture and identity.


Published December 8th, 2013

Scott White is a musician, freelance writer and Japanese translator. Follow him here; https://twitter.com/endote and here; https://www.facebook.com/endote