Writing about “Gangnam Style” for Pitchfork
Very important anniversary this month, as PSY’s “Gangnam Style” turned five. I wrote about its legacy for Pitchfork.
Earlier this week, “Gangnam Style” was knocked off its perch as the most viewed video on YouTube. Korean pop star PSY had held the title since November 2012, when he became the first person to reach 1 billion views, then 2 billion, breaking YouTube’s view counter in the process. Alas, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s plodding Fast & Furious ballad “See You Again” finally leap-frogged over “Gangnam Style”—a changing of the guard that arrives just as PSY’s hit celebrates its fifth anniversary.
Released July 15, 2012, “Gangnam Style” immediately reached the top of South Korea’s music charts, as one would expect from PSY (real name Park Jae-sang), a rapper boasting nationwide success over the previous decade. But nobody expected anyone abroad to notice. K-pop, with its controlled star-grooming system and skilled performance groups, was starting to get attention internationally and inspire an avalanche of trendpieces. “Gangnam Style,” however, looked and sounded nothing like the K-pop norm, its big EDM chorus poking fun at the upper-class Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam.
Talked to The Anime Man for The Japan Times
Met up with one of most popular Japan-based YouTubers around, The Anime Man, to talk about his path to attention and the current boom in anime.
“The Anime Man” has a busy summer ahead of him. The 23-year-old, whose real name is Joey Bizinger, will be on the road over the next two months making stops at anime conventions across the United States and Europe. It sounds like the kind of itinerary a musician would embark on.
Bizinger has been lucky in terms of timing. He’s a YouTube personality at a time when that world is providing society’s newest celebrities, and he specializes in anime at a moment of renewed interest in the genre.
“I would say the past three or four years has been like an anime renaissance,” Bizinger tells The Japan Times from a cafe on the outskirts of Tokyo. “People are starting to embrace it more.”
Sounding off about Twice and K-pop for The Japan Times
I’m sounding off about K-pop group Twice…and Japanese media’s coverage of Korean pop culture…for The Japan Times.
Last week, Korean pop group Twice made its “official” debut in Japan, featuring the release of a Japanese-language best-of compilation and a showcase at Tokyo Gymnasium on July 2. In between, the members appeared on the popular weekly TV show “Music Station” and posed in front of Tokyo Tower, which displayed the name of one of their most popular songs on its display.
Japanese media has primarily focused on the fact three of Twice’s members are Japanese. That’s fine, and almost certainly what the group’s label wanted when assembling the outfit. Yet absent from nearly all reports on Twice is musical context. Coverage treats the group like a viral phenomenon with a dash of patriotism stirred in.
Talking to tricot for The Japan Times
Caught up with tricot for The Japan Times:
It has never been easy for Japanese bands to find success both domestically and abroad. For the most part, they can muster notable attention on one side or the other, but rarely both — regardless of how many awkward English-language songs or cringe-worthy collaborations they attempt. However, tricot (pronounced tree-koh and spelled in lowercase) may have stumbled onto a winning strategy.
“In Japan, we’ve never really tried too hard to do promotion,” Ikumi “Ikkyu” Nakajima, the rock trio’s lead vocalist and guitarist tells The Japan Times. “We don’t really try to make it look like we’re some big group, we don’t play ourselves up as larger than we actually are. And we had no idea we would get attention from overseas — we kept our expectations low.”
Despite low expectations, tricot’s music was noticed by overseas fans and critics online, and praise spread. The group — consisting of Nakajima, guitarist Motoko “Motifour” Kida and bassist Hiromi “Hirohiro” Sagane — has toured across Europe, North America and parts of Asia, while at home they’ve appeared at major summer festivals such as Rock In Japan. Recently, the trio penned a high-energy theme for Sion Sono’s Amazon Prime series “Tokyo Vampire Hotel,” and it doubles as the lead-off track to tricot’s recently released album, “3.” The full-length came out domestically via the band’s own label, Bakuretsu Records, and through Big Scary Monsters (U.K.) and Topshelf Records (U.S.) abroad.
Writing about the state of the Osaka club scene (and Austin Mahone) for Japan Times
I went to Osaka recently and wrote about the state of the city’s club scene a year after the “anti-dancing” law was revised:
OSAKA – Around two dozen people shuffle about the dark interior of Alzar, a recently opened nightclub on the eighth floor of a building in Osaka’s Chuo Ward that also features a capsule hotel and sauna. Most hover near the concrete wall, watching a European DJ play house music. A group orders Champagne, taking swigs straight from the bottle before one of them stumbles out onto the dancefloor to a chorus of laughs.
It’s a small crowd for a Friday night. Alzar only opened last month, but Katsuhiro Nakano, CEO of Alzar’s parent company, New Japan, sees this place as a new opportunity for the city’s many electronic music artists and fans.
“I think for the majority of people in Osaka, clubs still seem scary,” he says. “You have to deal with nanpa (guys trying to pick up girls) and it’s just annoying. I want to change their minds.”
Also wrote about the biggest non-Japanese song of 2017 in Japan…it’s a two-years-old Austin Mahone song. Read that here.
Talking to AI about her new album
Last week in the Japan Times, I caught up with R&B and hip-hop J-Pop artist AI to talk about her new album, among other topics.
There was a time when Japanese music labels were concerned that Ai Carina Uemura’s music sounded too American due to her R&B style.
“Like, from the beginning of my career. They told me all the time, ‘People aren’t going to understand that type of music,’” she says from the EMI office in Tokyo’s Aoyama neighborhood. “I was like … why? They listen to Janet Jackson, Ashanti. Why can’t we do that type of music?”
It was important to Uemura (who performs under the stage name AI), who split time between Los Angeles and Kagoshima growing up. Her mother, raised in the United States, instilled a love of American music in her. She also prompted Uemura to learn more about the Japanese side of her family after relocating to the western side of the country.
Reviewing Kikagaku Moyo for Pitchfork
Reviewed the latest from Kikagaku Moyo for Pitchfork.
Japanese underground artists possess a flair for myth-making, from Les Rallizes Dénudés’ shrouded history to eventual Boredoms founder Yamantaka Eye driving a bulldozer on stage for a gig. Tokyo’s Kikagaku Moyo have their fair share of good yarns since forming in 2012. The first song on their debut album was supposedly “written over a night spent jamming on a suspended footbridge in remote mountains,” while drummer Go Kurosawa took a significant period of time before starting the group living out of a backpack in Central America. Stone Garden, the band’s latest release, was recorded in a Prague basement during several near-continuous days of improvising, and then pieced together back in their hometown. The real hook, though, is that the five-song album finds a band who’s attracted attention for a folk approach to psychedelic rock showing off their experimental and often messy side.
Talking to NECRONOMIDOL and writing about other bands pushing metal in new directions for Bandcamp
Caught up with the idol group NECRONOMIDOL, and also wrote about other Japanese groups pushing metal forward for Bandcamp.
In many ways, NECRONOMIDOL look a lot like other groups in the Japanese “female idol” genre, a corner of J-Pop in which groups of young women perform chirpy pop while dancing. The group consists of five members, ranging in age from late teens to early 20s, which is in keeping with the style’s emphasis on youth. But NECRONOMIDOL don’t perform the excessively upbeat, synth-driven numbers about friendship and crushes typical of the genre—NECRONOMIDOL are a metal group. They dabble in darkness; their associated imagery is heavy on skulls and ample violence, and their music makes ample space for industrial and the speedier varieties of metal.
But the group’s live shows are hardly typical of metal. For one thing, there are no guitars or drums on the stage; instead, a backing track plays while the five members dance in unison, sing, and occasionally deliver bloodcurdling screams. And while their presentation is atypical, they aren’t the only Japanese band seeking new sounds beyond the borders of heavy metal. They’re instead part of a scene that also includes the Osaka-based band Vampillia, Tokyo’s industrial and metal fusion rockers Legion of Andromeda, and many, many others.
Going to Niconico Chokaigi for Metropolis
Went to Niconico Chokaigi for Metropolis, soaked it all in.
As I waited for a kabuki performance to start, I watched a packed arena applaud a man who appeared on the venue’s big screen, dressed up as the defunct soda marketing character Pepsiman.
It was one of many surreal moments on April 29th and 30th at the 2017 Niconico Chokaigi, an annual event occupying the hangar-sized halls of Chiba’s Makuhari Messe. The event, now in its sixth installment, celebrates the culture and users of Niconico, a Japanese video sharing site once known as Nico Nico Douga. The Chokai offered a chance to bridge URL to IRL, giving the many quirky users a physical space to shine. Dozens of booths were also taken out by major companies, itching to reach younger, web-savvy types.
Writing about Cornelius’ new single at Pitchfork
I reviewed the first song from Corenlius’ forthcoming album — his first in 11 years — for Pitchfork.
Keigo Oyamada has kept busy over the past 11 years, but he’s often done so just outside of the spotlight. Since the artist better known as Cornelius released his last full-length, Sensuous in 2006, he’s played as a member of Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, and created soundtracks for an educational series about design and Ghost In The Shell: Arise. In these projects, and in his recent, high-profile collaborations with J-Pop singer Salyu and Japanese supergroup Metafive—his carefully constructed sound always stands out. Yet Oyamada has seemed content to blur into the background.