Saturday, October 24, 2009

Latest column for the Yomiuri / 3:AM on Miho and J-Pop in the USA

My latest column for the Daily Yomiuri, and co-published by 3:AM magazine in the UK, features interviews with Miho Hatori, formerly of Cibo Matto, and Reni-chan, a 'maid cafe' performer, both of whom have been transplanted from Tokyo to New York to make it in America. It's a little riff on the status of Japanese music performers in the US, via AKB48, of course.

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Japan's music-makers in America

When Japanese pop idol group AKB48, a heavily produced amateur team of late-teen and twenty-something dancers and singers, took to the stage in Manhattan's aging Webster Hall club last month, we all clapped. These were cute young Japanese girls making their debut in the heart of the West's media maw. Why not welcome them?

But the truth was, as always, more complicated. AKB48 flew to New York to make a splash in the world's biggest media pond. They had already sung and danced to devoted American otaku types at the New York Anime Festival. They filmed a music video in Central Park. A few New York media outlets promoted them heavily.

But during their 5 p.m. performance on a Sunday in the East Village, they were hardly noticed by most New Yorkers.

Although today's Asian pop music scene in America is led by the Japanese, there is a perception in the industry that it all depends on anime soundtracks.

That perception must change.

Last week in New York, I had tea with Miho Hatori, formerly part of the duo Cibo Matto, which was successful in both the United States and Japan. "I came to New York in 1993 and never looked back," Hatori said, sipping from her mug of hot green tea. "It's the most chaotic city in the world, and I love it."

There are just a handful of precedents in today's American music business: Yoko Ono (via John Lennon), Shonen Knife, Puffy AmiYumi. And for eclectic listeners, The Boredoms. Japanese pop music hasn't survived the flight to the United States well, despite the twin successes of anime and manga.

"Today, without anime soundtracks, we're nothing," a New York-based Sony promoter said to me. "We need to [move beyond] anime."

Is that possible? [more HERE, and HERE]


Carl said...

I'm an American born in Cleveland Ohio a baka gajin, and I lived in a wonderful and beautiful country were the majority of the people are still humble and trustworthy and care for one another....Japan is the place I'm talking about, Oh how I miss my home away from home. The girls who came here are the girls I have fallen in love with, I don't believe the rest of America could accept AKB48 or any other girl group or any Japanese group....but if there is a slow emergence of this type of music into America and more news of these types of groups/bands got out people here would accept them.

Roland Kelts said...

I graduated from Oberlin College, not far from Cleveland, and fondly recall that part of the US. Do you think you'll ever return to Japan as a resident?

Let's hope technology can help Americans embrace the wealth from Japan. Touring is tough these days--and very expensive.

ArthurFrDent said...

embracing the wealth... sure, except. You know the one where I am at this moment typing to you Sunday evening at 10:20pm Mountain Daylight Time US. and you are somewhere else. My friend's blog widget says it's 1:20pm Monday in Takayama, or it's 12:20am Monday in New York.

And yet this is all happening this moment. This is the most important feature of technology that the Business World is having an issue with IMHO. I saw some questions on how Ponyo was doing in the US [OK, but worldwide is amazing], and a side question about EVA1.0 theatrical "release" in the US. Funi might well have NOT bothered, because it has been so convoluted a rollout, and they have made so little. Both Funi and Gainax/? should have released it closer to it original Japanese date. IT takes you 2 years to get distirbution deals in the US? You lose all forward momentum by then. People who really want to see it here already did, but not in a way that they could drag their friends to... Friends who might want to see more...might be interested in something else in addition.

The face of what we see coming from Japan, is like the face of a distant star, where it took 2 years for the light to get here. They are already on to something else.

It is the shared experience missing. I watched the F1 at Suzuka on the speed channel, while my friend was there watching in person. I ONLY did that because in some way we were both watching the same thing at the same time half a world apart. I see Tokyo audiences watching EVA2.0 and I think, well that would be cool to see, but it'll be another year or more. By then will I care?

I bought Utada's album [not really my style but I'm willing to support her in the US] but ONLY because I hapened to like Beautiful World, so I saw The One on sale in BestBuy and bought sight unseen. I dunno who at Island is promoting, but they don't seem to be doing much. She prolly has the chops to hit it out of the park here, if only the promo went better. But, perhaps the disparity between her succes in Japan and her anony. status here may make it not worth her while anyway.

It's complicated, but at the least we should consider the world as one place at the same time. The Americans are no better in this, either. Guess it's just the way we tend to look at our own city as being our world, with the rest of it as tiny bits at the margins. You and I know it is more expansive than this, but we have to bring everyone else around to the idea...

Roland Kelts said...

"It's complicated, but at the least we should consider the world as one place at the same time."

How true, Arthur. Thanks for commenting. You ought to be publishing essays about this.