Music Has No Language

August 13, 2011 at 12:00 am | Posted in ~Special | 8 Comments
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When I first started getting into J-pop I thought it was the most amazing music I ever heard because it was different from what I normally listened to. I immersed myself in it and continuously searched for Asian artists to add to my music library. After about two years J-pop was the dominating force in my library while I only had a handful of western artists. At times I felt that J-pop was better but the main reason for that train of thought was due to the lack of western musicians I liked. In the last three years I’ve discovered so many new western artists and the majority of my favourite singers are now western ones. Thus, being a listener of both western and eastern music it’s shocking to see that the two are pitted against each other. I’ve come across many topics on the subject of “American versus Japanese music” and it’s interesting to see people’s opinion on it. I’ve also seen debates that focus specifically on just Asian languages such as “K-pop versus J-pop.” Eastern music is praised as being more superior whereas western music is considered bland and uninspired. For me, the answer to this never-ending debate is simple. They’re both great and all you have to do is look for the good music.

English music, out of Japanese and Korean, seems to be regarded as the most lackluster. I constantly see people saying how terrible it is and how they don’t like what plays on the radio. To judge western music based on what the radio plays is a ridiculous thing to do because it’s not indicative of how incredible the music can be. Radio stations play popular music which, in most cases, is the uninspired side of western music. Even then, the music radios play is still fun and enjoyable to a certain extent. That’s like judging Japanese or Korean music by what is played on their radio stations. Another complaint is that western music is too safe and that the artists follow trends to make hits. I can say the exact same thing about J-pop and K-pop. The majority of K-pop groups sound exactly the same and if you put them together I wouldn’t be able to hear a difference or tell them apart. I hardly see any popular K-pop acts stepping outside of the box. Mainstream music is meant to produce hits so it makes sense that most mainstream artists will follow trends to appeal to a wider audience. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t mainstream artists that push boundaries and are creative. I find it ignorant to think that all artists are the same when there are many who write and put a great amount of effort and passion into their music. To say that it’s nothing special is an insult to those artists.

The thing that gets me the most infuriated is when people say western music lyrics are bad and that almost every song deals with the same subject like sex. That’s completely false and makes me question where exactly they listen to western music because even the music played on the radio varies in subject matter. The complaints mostly come from japanophiles who believe that everything that’s not Asian sucks. It’s funny that these same people can’t understand the lyrics to the music they listen to and still have the audacity to say that’s its better. Western lyrics can be as deep and thought-provoking as eastern lyrics. You can’t judge a song that’s meant to be fun as a deep ballad or mid-tempo. J-pop has fun songs that do not have deep lyrics so I don’t see what the problem is. Just because a language sounds better does not mean that the lyrics are automatically better too. I’ve heard countless J-pop songs that deal with the exact same topics so that argument is invalid. Some Asian artists also use sex to sell just as some western artists do. I hate how western artists get lumped up into one category and people just assume that they’re all the same. What’s ironic is that J-pop and K-pop sometimes borrow heavily from western music. There’s a lot of Asian music that resembles mainstream western music and to say that Japan has superior music when some of it sounds like western music is unreasonable.

K-pop gets criticized as well because its mainstream acts resemble each other and most of the music sounds exactly the same. This isn’t exclusive to K-pop because Japan has girl and boy bands that do the same thing. The biggest issue that I have with K-pop is that it’s hard to put a name to all of the faces in the groups. Some groups have so many members that I can’t tell them apart by appearance or voice. That makes it hard for me to get into the singers because I don’t even know their names. I prefer solo artists to groups and because there are not that many solo artists in Korea my music library for K-pop is quite small. I do like a few K-pop groups and some of them make really good music. If I were to judge K-pop like some people judge western pop I would have missed out on some fantastic singers. Underneath all of the manufactured groups there are singers that move away from the typical electropop sounds and make deep, rich music. There are some who do delve into electropop but take it in a different, more unique direction. Like western pop and J-pop, there are artists that rely heavily on auto-tune/vocoder while others have powerhouse voices that leave you speechless.

These same people who trash western music listen to mainstream Japanese music which has the same problems they complain about. Japan has its fair share of generic and unoriginal music. There are so many J-pop acts that I have listened to that make generic music with similar themes as western music. The biggest problem with J-pop fans is that don’t broaden their horizons when listening to western music like they do with Japanese music. They don’t take time to filter through the popular music and search for great artists who actually have talent. Instead, they assume that western musicians are all alike and because they’re not singing in Japanese they aren’t worth their time. It’s one thing to enjoy a language more than another but when that becomes an obsession and you start bashing other languages it’s crossed the line. If I recall correctly many eastern music fans defend the music by saying something along the lines of “as long as the music is good it doesn’t matter if I understand it or not.” Too bad they’re not bringing that mentality to western music.

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  1. Hi~ I’m Italian, and here people tell me that I’m crazy just because I listen asian music instead of Italian and English sung music. They say that asian music is something very far from our idea of music, but that’s not true. They say: japanese, korean, chinese, where is the difference between them? They look all the same, and their music too… Music has no language, but people has a lot of prejudice toward person and their race…this could be a barrier….
    (sorry 4 my bad english, I’ve tried my best but there are a lots of mistakes >_<)

    • A lot of people said that to me when I first started listening to J-pop. It was really frustrating at first but after awhile it got old and I stopped caring about what other people said. It sucks that people judge Asian languages like they’re all the same because each one has it’s own beauty. People’s prejudices are definitely a barrier and it shows how close-minded people can be even when it comes to things like entertainment. Thanks for commenting and don’t worry your English isn’t bad.

  2. I think there’s more to it than just generalisation and stereotyping. A lot of it has to do with the language itself. When I first started getting into Jpop and Kpop, my friends would ask me if I even understood the lyrics – sure, I didn’t, but did that make my jam of the week any less a good song? No. But according to them, that made a difference. Because we couldn’t understand what was being sung, that made the quality of the music lower.
    As for electro/synth/techno music, I think people tend to underestimate or degrade it. People assume that because a person uses autotune or vocoder, they can’t sing. This isn’t necessarily the case, as electro is just another genre of music. It’s a stylistic thing, not necessarily a reflection of a singer’s vocal skill. It’s unfortunate that some do resort to autotune because their vocals aren’t up to scratch – something that can ruin the genre in the long run.
    All in all, I believe that music itself should be in a way, regarded as both art and a language. Music is a ‘language’ that is universally understood and where a certain song comes from shouldn’t have an effect on the judgement on whether a song is good or bad. It goes without saying that Jpop/Kpop/Cpop should not be lumped together and judged that way.

    • I experienced the same thing when I started listening to J-pop and K-pop. It’s obvious that for some people the language of the music will have an affect on them liking it or not but I never thought that English-speaking Asian music fans would say the same thing about Western music. J-pop and K-pop fans can be just as bad as people who say that listening to Asian music is weird.
      I think electro music only started to get a bad reputation in the last few years because it’s much more popular than it was before and artists who don’t have strong vocal abilities can hide it beneath auto-tune/vocoder. The use of vocal effects are hardly used for stylistic purposes now and when an artist who has tremendous vocal talent steps into electropop people say that they shouldn’t be wasting their voice on that type of music. It’s very contradicting.
      Your last point is really interesting and while I agree with you that music is a language I feel that at the same time the language aspect isn’t crucial. When people listen to music they can pick up on what the song is trying to convey by the emotion the singer puts into their voice and the atmosphere that the melody creates. I think the feeling that the song evokes is more important than the language itself and most people can interpret a song regardless of what language it’s sung in. It’s like with a piece of artwork. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. What’s important is the feeling that it conveys to the person viewing it. Sorry if I misunderstood what you were actually saying and I hope my comment makes sense.

  3. I have been a fan of K-Pop/J-Pop ~2009, and I have loved it. I have recieved a load of flack for liking it, and people called me ChingChong for about 1 year. People said I disliked normal music (English). However, I have discovered possibly the best English music band ever, iamamiwhoami.

    • I love iamamiwhoami! The whole project has been intriguing since it began last year. I hope they come out with an album soon because all the songs they’ve released have been so good.

  4. Damn it!!! I posted a lengthy reply and deleted it by mistake, and “undo” doesn’t work…

    sigh.

    Anyway, good post. I’m a fan of different music, predominantly Kpop followed closely by English, then Cpop and Jpop. Kpop is very, very good at certain things. The entertainment factor for one thing, with all the variety shows, the humour (though a lot seem forced and drilled into when the singers are trainees), the dancing, and of course the looks. This is probably why Kpop is so successful, and why so many other Asian countries, and even those outside of Asia, are trying to replicate the “Korean formula”.

    However, without the “full package” and stripping down to just the music, the appeal of Kpop would be seriously diminished. I don’t see them as innovators, but the idols have mass appeal. And with the scene peppered with genuinely extremely talented musicians such as rappers Tiger JK, LeesSang, 4men, Brown Eyed Soul, Norazo… etc, the korean music scene has something for everyone. Another thing is because the quantity of singers/groups are of limited number (although new idol groups are seemingly introduced on a weekly basis nowadays!), at least in comparison to the US/England, fans won’t be overwhelmed by it all, and after some months/years listening to Kpop, you can easily recognise all the singers from all different genres. This surely can’t be said for Western music.

    One final point I have to agree with you is the large groups with so many members, Super Junior, Girl’s Generation, etc. Pointless. It’s such a gimmick. But then again, I’m a hypocrite as I adore Taeyeon and Jessica 😀

    • Thanks for the informative comment! When you put it like that their mass appeal makes a lot more sense. I’m actually more overwhelmed by new K-pop acts than I am with the one’s from the US/England. It’s probably because I don’t follow the K-pop scene all that much :p.


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