An Autoethnographic Project: The World of J-POPジェイポップ

 

Following on from my previous blog posts about the initial stages of planning for my digital artifact exploring the phenomenon of J-Pop, here I will present the findings of my research and final conclusions. As I have mentioned in my last blogs, the reason that I chose this topic is that it is something completely new to me. Therefore I was interested to see how I would interpret this field site given my own cultural framework and understanding, how I make sense of the world. I also chose to look at J-Pop as it seems to be less popular as K-Pop, its Korean counterpart. Intrigued as to why this may be, I endeavoured to find out more.

Before I go into my personal experience with researching this aspect of digital Asia, it is necessary to first explain what it is by understanding its history and evolution.

What is J-Pop?

J-Pop, the nickname given to Japanese pop music both in Japan around the globe, is the mainstream form of music within Japan and has now garnered a large cult following all over the world. AsiaFinest defined J-Pop as “Western-influenced Japanese popular music”. I was interested to note that it has origins in Western culture, something that I didn’t know prior to this investigative project. Through understanding the history of J-Pop I endeavoured to find out why this may be.

The history of J-Pop is marked by distinct periods. Its earliest days can be traced as far back as the 1920s, when Western jazz and blues began to rise in popularity within Japan. The introduction of jazz music into Japan added an element of ‘fun’ to its music scene, and this feeling carried on into the music videos that I watched for my field site. I will go into this further on, in explaining my epiphanies.

However, its true origins lie in the 1960s and 70s, with the emergence of kayōkyoko – literally translating to “lyrical singing music”. This term refers to a Western-style inspired music of Japan, which mixed Japanese compositions with Western elements, and is what is considered to be the true origin of modern J-Pop. Japanese vocalist Saori Yuki defined it to be like “…foreign food with a Japanese style… its got a little swing, a jazzy blues rhythm, with Japanese lyrics.”

J-Pop evolved from this initial stage of kayōkyoko and has seen many different styles throughout the years. City Pop was a popular style in the 1970s and 80s which focused on urban themes, with electronic elements and jazz fusion. In a move away from the jazz influences of its origins, J-Pop has evolved in more recent years to many sub-genres. These include Neo-FolkShibuya-kei, and, in my opinion the most bizarre: Kawaii metal (don’t ask questions – just watch). However, for this project I narrowed my research on just one aspect of the all-encapsulating term that is J-Pop – and that aspect is Girl Idol Groups.

J-Pop Idol Groups

I chose to research this style of J-Pop in particular as it stood out to me as something that I wanted to focus on more in my research. They seemed fun, outrageous, but also held a sense of that ‘bubblegum pop’ genre that I thought might remind me of certain types of Western girl pop groups/singers. Western stars such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande all came to mind when I though of this style of music.

FastJapan defines a Japanese pop idol group as being “young manufactured stars marketed for their cuteness”. You can see just by images of the most popular groups that this is certainly the case.

 

My Experience

To experience the J-Pop genre, I thought it would be best to fully immerse myself and dive straight in. I selected a number of music videos, and decided to live tweet my experience of watching. This would give me my initial reactions to analyse and understand. Once I narrowed down the field site to Japanese female idol groups, I specifically decided to look at girl group Momoiro Clover Z, who I had discovered in my initial research of the J-Pop genre and stood out to me mostly for their extremely unique and, on initial reaction, bizarre style.

My initial response to sourcing the videos to watch was that even before I had started watching, there was a cultural barrier in the fact that most of the captions and titles to the videos were in Japanese. I had no idea what I was about to watch.

To collect my data, I watched two music videos from the group. The first video I watched was one called ‘Push’ from 2012.

Straight away, I was overwhelmed. The sounds, colours, visuals and movements were unlike anything I had ever seen before in any of the Western pop music videos that I am used to. It was a sensory overload!

While this is out of my cultural comfort zone, I have been to Japan. Watching this video immediately transported me back to the vibrant, bustling streets of inner-city Tokyo. Memories from time spent over there involve the same overwhelming feeling of being immersed in an array of loud noises, unique smells and bright, vivid colours which seemed so different to the streets of home.

Enjoying the feeling of this video, I watched a second more recent video called ‘Xiao Yi Xiao’.

As you can sense from my initial reactions through my live tweets, I noticed a big difference in the style of these videos compared to the usual music videos that I am familiar with. The biggest difference that stood out to me was the attitude of the videos. All that I watched had an overwhelming attitude of FUN. 

I mentioned previously that when initially beginning to research the girl idol group genre, it drew links in my mind to other artists I was familiar with such as Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga. I was surprised the find that upon watching the music videos of Momoiro Clover Z, I couldn’t make these comparisons. I had never seen pop music videos that had so unashamedly used a palette of loud colours, mixed with an attitude of pure joy that I just can’t seem to compare to other pop music videos. This epiphany most stood out to me when analysing and understanding my interpretation of the field site.

The Global Spread of J-Pop

Campion (2005) described how television is J-Pop’s natural medium, unlike the West where radio has traditionally played the primary role in the promotion of popular music. This is interesting in understanding perhaps why Australian TV network SBS has its own ‘PopAsia’ channel, one of Australia’s primary ways of receiving J-Pop on its own screens. In this way, SBS’ dedicated Asian music channels have facilitated the global reach of J-Pop to countries such as Australia. Other major ways that have spread J-Pop globally are YouTube and Spotify, which is how I accessed J-Pop for this project.

In order to further develop my autoethnography, I decided to create my own Spotify playlist with songs that I had sourced from the J-Pop and Idol Group genres. Just from doing a quick Google search on ‘Top Japanese Girl Idol Groups’, the top names that came up I researched on Spotify. These tracks were some of my favourites. I feel that when you listen to the playlist, you get a good sense of the style and genre of the Idol Group music.

Conclusions

Overall, I found this research project extremely interesting, exciting, engaging and eye opening. I not only learnt a LOT about this cultural object from Japan that I knew little to nothing about, but I also learnt a lot about myself. It was interesting to learn about the way in which I understand foreign or culturally different texts and experiences based on my own cultural framework and perceptions.

I hope that you have come away knowing a little bit more about this extremely unique and exciting genre of music, and have become a fan of the style as I have. If you ever want to feel a sense of pure joy, then I highly recommend watching a J-Pop girl idol music video or listen to my curated Spotify playlist. Until next time…

Arigatou gozaimasu!

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References
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