Category Archives: Music

Great happy J-Pop sound: Perfume

Today we covered J-Pop in class.  I spent a long time discussing the impact of postwar American sound, tracing Martin Denny’s Firecracker to YMO’s electronic interpretation of it, and then the later remixes.  We also covered Kimi Ni Mune Kyun and Tighten Up (listening to originals and reimaged covers…I’ll post on that later!) A student of mine introduced the more info

class today to the Japanese female pop group, Perfume.  They are fantastic! I love their sound and it is very upbeat while the lyrics are refreshingly inane.  Here are a few samples to enjoy!

Article on J-Pop music in America

Poignant and explicatory as ever, Roland Kelts’ new article at 3AM magazine called “Soft Power, Hard Truths: Japan’s Music-makers in America” demonstrates how cool J-Pop music does not necessarily need the validation of American audiences to be considered great in and of its own self. Historically there has been a reason for this need for validation, outside of popularity within the US or the West.

This reminded me of something. Longtime Japan antropologist Joy Hendry noted that historically, much of the reason newer and more avant-garde Japanese artists had to seek validation external to their own culture was in many ways because of the rigid iemoto system:

It has been described as ‘feudal’ and artistically inhibiting, and an abundance of new forms of art and artistic cooperation have been tried out, influenced by many different countries…and many innovative Japanese artists have had to make their names abroad before they could be accepted in Japan. These include Seiji Ozawa, film-maker Akira Kurosawa, architect Kisho Kurokawa and designer Issey Miyake, to say nothing John Lennon’s Wife, the mischevious Yoko Ono. Like Ono, the artist Yayoi Kusama traveled to New York in the early 1960’s, wherewhe made a name for herself that later became known in Europe as well. Now she lives in Japan, but she has setup her studio in a mental hospital. Other Japanese artists respected abroad, such as the photorapher Nobuyoshi Araki, have experienced considerable disapproval in Japan (Hendry, Joy. Understanding Japanese Society. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003. 190)

Perhaps as the iemoto system means less to non-traditional, non-elite arts and consumers, Japan’s cool, new artists will begin a new journey of a priori self-validation? Just a reflection.

Kraftwerk and YMO

Ok, first up, Kraftwerk’s “Das Model” or “The Model”


The lyrics:

She’s a model and she’s looking good
I’d like to take her home that’s understood
She plays hard to get, she smiles from time to time
It only takes a camera to change her mind

She’s going out tonight but drinking just champagne
And she has been checking nearly all the men
She’s playing her game and you can hear them say
She is looking good, for beauty we will pay

She’s posing for consumer products now and then
For every camera she gives the best she can
I saw her on the cover of a magazine
Now she’s a big success, I want to meet her again

And next up, YMO’s “La Femme Chinoise” or “中国女” (Originally, 1978, but this is the live Budokan 1983 version – my personal favorite.)


Compare the riffs in the bass line and the arpeggio, as well as the melody lines and the choice for synthesizer. Lyrics are “Fu Manchu and Suzie-Q, and the girls of the floating world; Junk sails on a yellow sea, while Suzie Wong at Shanghai knows. Suzie can soothe away all your blues; she’s the mistress, the scent of the Orient.”


This is a 1978 version…

What interests me is that they have so many similarities, but the YMO version tends to mystify the feminization of the Orient and the old fantasies that go along with it. They mention “Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer’s personification of the “Yellow Peril” and the “Floating World.” What are they saying? Especially in contrast to the Kraftwerk song?

YMO, or “Yellow Magic Orchestra” was an attempt to be tongue-in-cheek about Asian culture and often were cheeky with their ironic anti-stereotype-stereotypes.

Both Kraftwerk and YMO were kind of iconoclastic and anti-establishment with their social commentary, but in totally different ways.

Or, as this website puts it,

“Yellow Magic Orchestra took Kraftwerk’s blueprint for synthesizer driven dance music and exploded it. Where Kraftwerk were rigid and precise, Yellow Magic Orchestra were loose and sloppy. Where Kraftwerk had a seriousness of purpose, Yellow Magic Orchestra were playful and whimsical. Where Kraftwerk had an unwavering thematic unity, Yellow Magic Orchestra were all over the place. Where Kraftwerk sang in German about dancing automatons, Yellow Magic Orchestra sang in English and French about Suzy soothing away all your blues. Where Kraftwerk picked one sound per song and hammered it for eight minutes, Yellow Magic Orchestra took plenty of left turns. Where Kraftwerk were fun in a German, “I’m mocking you and myself on another level that you’ll never understand” kind of way, Yellow Magic Orchestra were fun in an overt, lifting-the-outhouse-up-with-a-crane-while-some-poor-guy is taking a s**t kind of way.”