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What is J-Pop?

On Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 (I give you the exact date so you can see either how much I’ve been thinking about this subject, or how much I’ve procrastinated on this post. Exactly which of the two is a matter I leave to your imagination.), my Twitter feed was bombarded by a bunch of tweets from Taku Takahashi of m-flo fame. Well, the bombarding was actually quite normal. It turns out DJ Taku has a lot to say.

Back on topic – the main subject of these tweets? The use of “J-Pop” as a category.

Y’see, I am one of those people. I’m anal about the tagging of my MP3s. I’ve gotten called out on it, and I’ve verbally displayed my annoyance at people who don’t. I don’t care if you know what the song is, why the hell would you leave “[insert mp3 site that you probably didn’t get the song from here!].com – [Generic Song Title]” in the Song Name tag? For one thing, you’d have to wait for the site name to scroll past before the actual title comes up; for another, sometimes the title isn’t even in there. To say nothing of it fucking with tag-reading things like Last.fm, any iPod games involving music information, or MP3s uploaded to tumblr.

I like to think I’m not too bad about this obsessive behavior. All I really need is the

  • Song Name
  • Song Artist (as styled officially, whether in kanji or with Up AnD dOwN letters)
  • Year
  • Track Number (# of # – even if all I have is the one MP3 from a release with 30 tracks)
  • Album Title
  • Disc Number (Only if there’s more than one CD)
  • Genre
  • Album Art – preferably in a size at least 300×300, but I’ll put up with less if that’s all that is available. (JOHNNY’S! I SHAKE MY FIST AT YOU!)

I usually fill out “Album Artist” with either the romanized name (if in Kanji) or an associated grouping (every one of the 188 tracks on the BEMANI BEST for the 10th anniversary compilation is under “Beatmania”) and I’m a bit less anal about composer – I’ll fill it in if the information is available, but I won’t hunt it down like everything else.

“No,” you’re telling me, “All that’s pretty anal already. Isn’t all you need for the tag stuff the name and the artist, anyway?”

Well, here’s the kicker, then – for someone so anal, I’m guilty of just shamelessly labeling the genre tags with “JPop” over and over and over. It matters not whether it’s Johnny’s or Pay money To my Pain or SOUL’d OUT or Vocaloid that I’m tagging – ctrl+I in iTunes, “JPop” in the genre box, and I am satisfied.

Not so much since that tweet.

“J-Pop”, obviously, is Japanese Pop. “Pop” being pop music, and quoting Wiki:

Pop music (a term that originally derives from an abbreviation of “popular”) is usually understood to be commercially recorded music, often oriented towards a youth market, usually consisting of relatively short, simple songs utilizing technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes.

So is there something wrong with saying that a track has popular appeal? Just take m-flo, seeing as the tweet sparking this post originated from one of the members. Though categorized as hip-hop, the fact that they are chart toppers alone speaks to the fact that they have popular appeal. The music in question was undeniably a hit with the younger generations (teenagers and early twenties) – and besides, as he says in the original tweet “I think it is ok to make something ‘pop'”

Perhaps it’s the Japanese part? Well, it is Japanese in origin, debuting in the Japanese music market, with Japanese lyrics. And he does admit, generally, m-flo is jpop. He also tweeted this and this, and let’s face it – Japanese pop, as mass-produced can be corny, stupid, or both.

But let’s make it simple. Here, he just says outright that he thinks the term “JPop” is lame. And going back even further, here he asks if the term “JPop” is necessary anymore, for both users and people working in the industry. When you get down to it, he’s got a point – music is globalized. Even if you don’t listen to Japanese music (and what the hell are you doing reading this blog if you don’t?), at some point, you have very likely listened to something that has played elsewhere in the world. Perhaps it’s time to drop the language boundaries. Away with the K, away with the C, away with the J, away with the Euro – wait, europop is a legitimate genre. Never mind that last one. But the terms “JPop”/”KPop”/”CPop” and even “Anison” (anime songs) are admittedly extremely loose. As long as it’s Japanese, Korean, Chinese, or tied to an anime, it will technically fit into the respective “genre”. And when you rip a Japanese music CD, the automatic MP3 genre tag is “DOMESTIC POPS” – which doesn’t work quite as well when you’re overseas, but makes it very clear that, of course, to the Japanese, J-Pop is just pop.

So saying, would you tag Nightmare‘s the WORLD as Japanese Pop? It was in the Japanese music market, after all. Japanese Rock? Since it is undeniably Japanese, and undeniably rock. Or perhaps the more specific subset Visual Kei? (Though that technically applies more to the visual style than the musical style.) Can we say it’s an anison? It was the first opening theme song to the Death Note anime. Do we drop it altogether and let them be the rock/heavy metal they are?

And furthermore – should you tag each song in a release individually? Take a mixture album like the Dance Dance Revolution soundtracks where there are many different musical genres. Is this one trance, this one happy hardcore, this one ska? Or are they all just unceremoniously filed under “Soundtrack” or “Game”? CHEMISTRY is primarily a R&B duo, but if you listen to their regeneration album (also primarily R&B), second track Period is clearly rock-tinged pop. Oh, it was a theme song for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, too. How to squeeze anison in there?

I know. I’m making a huge deal out of this. All this really comes down to is – in the end, I want my MP3s tagged properly. And yet if an artist is going to say that s/he doesn’t want to be called “JPop,” I want to respect that. Until I figure that out, and manage to retag over 25000 MP3 files*, my music library is going to give me a headache.

*Barring Johnny’s and other idol groups, of course. C’mon, those are unrepentantly Japanese pop.

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