J-Pop And Its Galapagos Syndrome

Lately I have experienced a huge rise in terms of popularity when it came to J-Pop, groups like Sandaime J Soul Brothers (specially them), E-girls, AAA, SEKAI NO OWARI and AKB48 have scored a decent amount of views on YouTube recently and are spreading all over the internet and are often mentioned in social sites like Reddit, 9gag, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook etc. J-Pop is getting more popular in the world. Now that’s good after so much time being underrated and massively overtaken and overshadowed by its relative genre K-Pop. Yet today I’m gonna give a deep inside look to J-Pop and explain how it works and why it will always remain as a sub-culture phenomenon. Why? Because I see many newbies to J-Pop around that have no idea what they are dealing with and what they should expect from J-Pop. This also goes for many K-Pop fans that casually find out about J-Pop and start liking it or they are just too tired of the current generic K-Pop groups and want to try something different. Consider this a guide and review of what J-Pop is like and will probably be like for the rest of the times, ever. To do this I will go through the most important points of J-Pop and what defines it the best among these.

Social Media

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Namie Amuro, probably the most liked J-Pop artist in Facebook and most known in social websites.

On Facebook, J-Pop star Namie Amuro has over 2m likes and rock band ONE OK ROCK recently hit 1m too, L’Arc~en~Ciel has 750k likes and the recently created Facebook page of Sandaime J Soul Brothers (mind it was created 4 months ago as I write this) has already gained a total of 413k likes and Kana Nishino has another half million likes too add up too.

In Twitter is where Japanese stars have most followers. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has  over 3 million followers, followed by AKB48 member Mariko Shinoda who has about 2.2 million followers. AKB48 ex-member and singer Atsuko Maeda has 1.5m followers, queen of J-Pop Utada Hikaru gained a total of 1.88 million followers and vocalist Fukase from SEKAI NO OWARI also has 1 million followers.

In social texting app LINE, J-Pop group EXILE has around 7 million followers. Again alternative pop band SEKAI NO OWARI has 2 million has well. AKB48 and AAA recently hit 1 million on LINE too.

Also solo artist Jin Akanishi has reached approximately around 2 million followers in Chinese social website Weibo, even though Jin hasn’t really promoted in there as much as he may have promoted in Japan or USA.

This shows how in terms of social media J-Pop is still expanding, slowly and steadily but it grows as I blink. Sandaime J Soul Brothers has gained an approximate of 20 million views in barely 3 months for their MV of R.Y.U.S.E.I. and already have 13 million for their latest song Eeny, meeny, miny, moe (hope is spelled that right). Avex official channel has already surpassed the 2 million subscribers mark and AKB48’s channel too has 1.5 million subscribers. Also comedian duo Kumamushi have 5 million views in a month for their promotional debut song “Attakai n dakara”. Kind of absurd the latter one if I’m honest but still, remarkable.

Trendings Each Year

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BABYMETAL was the trending thing in 2014.

Overall 2015 was good for the first quarter of the year for J-Pop, now hands down, what shall we expect from now on? JSB already has pulled up a more than decent beginning. ONE OK ROCK is done promoting their new album as it was released back in February. AKB48 hasn’t seen a 5 million views mark in months now. And I doubt SEKAI NO OWARI will make a decent comeback after not uploading their MV of hit song “Dragon Night” on YouTube and being inactive for a year now. Let’s not even think about mentioning any Jhonny’s boyband please… Not now. So now what? What can we expect from J-Pop for this year?

If I recall properly, each year experienced a new J-Pop artist rise and several good comebacks. In 2010, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu debuted with her hit song “PONPONPON” which went viral worldwide and made her the queen of J-Pop for a few years. AKB48 also had a perfect 2010 with their songs “Heavy Rotation” and “Ponytails to Shushu”.

In 2011, Kyary continued a less popular successful comeback, hip-hop group Ketsumeishi also jumped to popularity with “Parade” and that was it for the year.

2012 was “The Beginning” of ONE OK ROCK popularity worldwide and new authentic J-Pop groups like E-girls rose to fame with their song “Follow Me”.

2013 which was probably the best year for J-Pop together with 2010, saw a massive rise of J-Pop groups starting with SEKAI NO OWARI and their single RPG. AKB48 made a strong comeback in the last quarter of the year with Koisuru Fortune Cookies and AAA had released their breakthrough single Koi Oto to Amazora.

Then last year 2014, we welcomed new kawaii rock sensation, BABYMETAL and Sandaime J Soul Brothers strongest comeback with their chart topping songs R.Y.U.S.E.I and O.R.I.O.N.

So what will we have this year? Can’t tell, honestly.

PVs and MVs

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J-Pop as a whole is very unpredictable, each year we hear new names and the next year we don’t see those same names around that much. J-Pop stars are promoted in many different ways and work completely different from what the normal marketing system is. 60% of J-Pop artist never release full versions of their PVs. People ask why? Precisely because they are PVs! Promotional Videos, not Music Videos. The term PV is widely used in Japan and J-Pop, and is more common than MV. Yet I find myself confused sometimes when I watch a “PV” but the title says Music Video/MV yet is not a full version? And then agencies like Avex randomly upload full versions of their artist. Oh yeah, also many J-Pop videos have been featuring a very average quality. In recent years you get to see the 720p option at least on most MVs but not so long ago the maximum resolution you would get would be 480p.

This is something you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Why do they do it? To make you but the physical CD which includes the full PV (not always in HD but DVD quality). Nice. Seems legit. And then they upload full versions every once in a while. Why? No explanation. Can’t they do the same for the rest of MVs? No explanation.

If J-Pop was to be promoted worldwide (which oftenly is not, because of Japan’s music market) they’d probably struggle to do so, mainly because of the system in which J-Pop works.

Second Largest Music Market

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Japan has the second largest music market in the world and has been having it for the last decade at least. Japanese artists don’t need to promote overseas because Japan’s music industry is huge, so huge that K-Pop artists learn Japanese to be able to promote in Japan since the country is three times bigger South Korea itself, which means more audience, therefore more money, resources, financial options and more venues and domes to perform at.

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TVXQ a.k.a 東方神起 (Tohoshinki) is the most popular K-Pop act in Japan to the point they are considered J-Pop artists too.

But not only K-Pop artists promote in Japan. So do Taiwanese or C-Pop acts, going through the same process of learning the language and making a career in Japan examples are Mayday, JUNO and recently Taiwanese idol Aroon Yan. And even if you don’t know about it American and British artist promote in Japan just as much as K-Pop and C-Pop artists do. In other words, the Japanese music industry is wealthy enough to sustain their own music acts without the need of promoting overseas while hosting foreign acts that later on evolve and progress musically because of their own Japanese career.

International Activities

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Ironically enough, there have been some J-Pop artist that promoted overseas, such as Jin Akanishi who made his American back in 2011. He had a decent career topping iTunes Dance Charts with his single Test Drive featuring no other but Jason Derulo. The song was well received overall and Jin made a really good job promoting in the estates for the next Year too with Sun Burns Down.

J-Pop queen Utada Hikaru also released two English language albums that somehow also had their respected achievements. Both of her albums charted among the top 5 albums in the Billboard Heatseekers charts. Overall a good enough performance for J-Pop artists in general.

In the last two years more J-Rock acts have gone on international tours all around the world. VAMPS, Miyavi, Dir En Grey, ONE OK ROCK, L’Arc~en~Ciel, X Japan, LUNA SEA and many others have been spamming concerts in America, Europe, South America and of course Asia. Among many highly acclaimed venues, L’Arc~en~Ciel and X Japan have both performed and sold out in Madison Square Garden (New York) which is very respectable coming from the two only Asian bands to do so. J-Pop artists also have started going on international tours, Perfume and SCANDAL are the latest on the list.

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ONE OK ROCK in Argentina in 2014.

 J-Pop group AKB48 however does promote overseas a lot, for an instance, the whole group has sub-units in Indonesia called JKT48 (JKT=Jakarta) and SNH48 in China (SNH=Shanghai). Apparently they are just as popular in South Korea, Taiwan, China, Indonesia and other Asian countries as they are in Japan.

Also there was another J-Pop artist that made a huge success that nowadays would be the equivalent to PSY’s Gangnam Style. Kyu Sakamoto, back in 1963 achieved the number one spot in the Billboard Hot 100 charts in U.S with the then internationally known song ‘Sukiyaki’. Keep in mind that back in the 60s there wasn’t such a thing as the internet or YouTube to help promote the guy around you know, in that matter PSY had it the easy way, the easiest to be honest, so when you compare how they both achieved the same thing in such a different ways PSY should really be bowing to this man (if he was still alive) who was not just the first Japanese, but the first Asian solo artist to achieve such a thing.

No Plastic Faces

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Probably the most average looking J-Pop star ever.

In K-Pop almost every idol has gone through some type of surgery, be it a simple double eyelid surgery to a quick nose job. However here in the J-Pop world we don’t have so many people who have gone through that, I mean just look at Daichi Miura… not saying that the guy is not talented because he sure is but it may be really obvious he doesn’t follow Korea’s beauty standards. There are also another fails around, like SMAP’s Tsuyoshi Kusanagi or RADWIMPS’s Noda, the two latter are more decent though. So yeah, every once in a while you will find some derp faces disguising between cutie manly idols. Also most of Japanese idols are very manly looking or cute looking but in a unique way where they all look different from each other and not like clones (*cough* KPop *cough*).

Kawaii,  Sexy or Pedophilia? 

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….Okay.

There are tons of girl groups that are considered kawaii in Japan. Yet some of the way they are portrayed may seem wrong for other countries, and it might just be wrong after all. AKB48’s Heavy Rotation is a good role model on this. Watching the whole MV, I don’t know if I should feel attracted to them, and if I should I don’t know in which way…I mean just what on earth is even the concept of the video about? Over sexualised girls’ sleepovers?

And if that wasn’t enough you can also see them wearing bikinis in half of their videos. Why? Because it’s summer time and it’s a summer song. You’re gonna see kawaii girls trying to be sexy, dancing a beginners choreography all for the sake of summer. God bless summer and bikinis. I guess.

On the other hand they can have a slightly sexy looking concept every once in a while (MV of UZA is probably their most badass MV to date) . But still the whole thing is very confusing to understand.

Region Locked Content

Very low, the online availability of J-Pop music is very restrained mainly because of region locked content. You can’t purchase Sandaime J Soul Brothers latest single, because is only available on the Japanese iTunes Store. Same goes for many other Japanese artists. And to top it off many MVs on YouTube are region locked and copyrighted just to make sure if you are not in Japan or you don’t have a VPN service you will never see your favorite artist’s new MV, nice. Here I leave you three examples of what I’m talking about.

Conclusion

J-Pop is region locked, doesn’t need to promote anywhere but in Japan, completely focused in Japan, merchandised and is not perfect. There are J-Pop acts that are reallly good and there are others that are just ephemeral to people’s likes. There is absurd J-Pop and there is badass J-Pop. There is a whole range of music within J-Pop like J-Rock, anime songs, vocaloids, R&B, Visual Kei, kawaii pedophile groups etc. If you know how to handle it properly and find the right J-Pop artists than you will really like it. But to do so you really need to get used to how J-Pop works. Is a completely different system from the rest and can only exist in Japan, therefore its Galapagos Syndrome.

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One response to “J-Pop And Its Galapagos Syndrome

  1. i agree but then again i do have hope japan opens up kpop is taking the world on cause its south koreans nature to want to expand i think japan closing itself is because of history they fear being accused of expansion so they just remain in there own borders but its a shame there politics has invaded there entertainment business
    im a huge exile fan from the uk
    i the uk akb48 or its sister groups wouldnt be ok cause it would be seen as pedophillia we would see 50 year old men oogling over 14 year old girls its gross
    also kpop is more western influenced musically so it will apeal to the west

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