J-Pop Will Eat Itself
Dreams Come True



we’ve come to the point when our decadent Western tastes have become so jaded that we are forced to look for sweeter and more sugary morsels wherever we can find them….

At least that’s what happened to me. What I need is Trimalchio’s cook Daedalus from the Satyricon, who could produce “a fish out of a sow’s belly, a pigeon out of the lard, a turtle dove out of the ham, and fowl out of the knuckle.” Or if you prefer your cultural analogues more modern, think of me as Futurama’s “Hedonism-bot.”

Now, after years of boning up on pretentious IDM, bitter indie-rock, imaginary glitch, and twee video game soundtracks, I’ve finally learned to love J-pop. Although I lived in Taiwan for two years and Japan for 16 months, I always found the local pop music too cloying and sweet. Heavily influenced by Air Supply and Bon Jovi, it’s as if the music scene there has never heard of Kurt Cobain—well that’s not true, but in the early nineties Nirvana made Styx, Def Leppard and Warrant instantly obsolete in the West, whereas it was just another drop in the bucket in Asia.

So I’ve begun this series to try to introduce some J-pop to our curious, bespectacled readers. It’s an umbrella term for mainstream music combining a variety of genres: pop, R’n’b, ballads and rock. I’ll be looking at songs, not albums, and trying to list standard forms of Romanization so that the they can be found without a language barrier. What with all the EPs, singles, compilations and albums that top singers release, it’s tough to maintain accurate discographies—and who knows if these albums are even for sale where you live? You might have to locate these songs through alternative conduits.

Despite the title of this series, I’ll be looking at a few Taiwanese and South Korean modern pop songs too, because their modern musical styles are so heavily influenced by Japan. So put down that copy of Edward Said’s Orientalism and read on…



Dreams Come True
Ureshii! Tanoshii! Daisuki! (15th Anniversary Edition)


DCT’s track begins with a flourish of acoustic guitar and a conga roll. The orchestration is not typical of J-pop, which often leans toward a stadium-filling production style. But there are many more down-tempo tracks like this one—especially on collections of music based on TV commercials, a phenomenon almost unknown in the West.

I find this production strikingly catchy and unusual. There are three or four acoustic guitars strumming away, while congas playing an odd transliteration of a trap kit drum pound in the background. The rhythm is laid down by a woody, round bass that has more depth and timbre than anything you’d ever hear on MTV Unplugged. And DCT’s lead singer has an incredible voice that seems on the verge of overpowering the band behind her.

You don’t have to understand the words: her emotion is palpable. The only three words I understand are the title—“Delightful! Enjoyable! I Really Like It!” But in her voice you can hear fierce loneliness, impossible optimism, and sunny afternoon spleen. Her upper register is particularly spectacular and tonally diverse.

I hate to confine a song to a season, as I’ve said, but this again is music for Julys and Augusts. Porch barbeque music, sweaty headphone music, unrequited lust music—it’s pointlessly exuberant. Life is very long, the summer incredibly short. I always play this song in the morning and it makes me want to start running. If I listened to it in the evening, I’d become nostalgic and broody—my beer quickly becoming diluted with tears.



By: Francis Henville
Published on: 2004-07-15
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