Monday, March 05, 2012
Individualistic Second-Hand Japanese Vinyl
An enthusiastic and intelligent overseas student (Ng, 2012) wrote an interesting term paper about Japanese collectivism and Western Individualism as demonstrated by Japanese and American pop.
It is clear that at the moment in Japan, groups are in, whereas Solo artists (leading armies of backing dancers) are the rage in the US. As Ng points out, the number of people on screen in the videos may not differ but the appellation given to the ensemble is in opposition. Two singers and twelve dancers are called a group (Exile) , or "company", in Japan, whereas Nicki Minaj and her entourage of clones performing Super Bass, is referred to as a work by a solo artist in the USA.
At the moment AKB48 and other mass produced girl bands and boy bands (if they can even be called bands, they are more like a brand or football team) are very popular.
A quick look at the Oricon Charts and the Billboard 100 showed me that while 6 out of 10 of the Japanese top ten were bands, 7 out of the top ten US acts were solo artists.
As I have argued before, the existences of collectivist/individualist heroes does not necessarily portray the reality of a society, but rather what it aspires to. And what a society aspires to, may be that which it lacks, the latter being the position I champion at the present time.
As the Japanese in the digital age return to their roots, they become more and more enamored of groups, just as they loose their ability to join them.
Has it always been that way? I happened to be in second hand store in Japan and went through a bin of second hand vinyl, mainly 80's pop. Of the 14 Japanese LP's that I sampled there was one duet (top right), two bands (The Checkers and The Kaiband) and eleven LP's by ten solo artists. Does this mean that the Japanese in the eighties were individualists? Research by Hamamoto and Harihara, on the contrary argues that individualism is on the rise in Japan.
There also happened to be two Western LP's: Dire Straits' Making Movies (including one of my favorite songs of all time) and an LP by the Carpenters.
Pop music is an area of Japanese culture that is tremendously influenced by the West, so even if it were the case that 80's Japanese liked solo artists, it could easily be argued that this is partly due to the Western influence. In any event it would be interesting to do a historical analysis of the Japanese Oricon charts and Billboard to see which has more groups.
Ng, Y.. (2012) "Analysis of the Music industry in Japan and America via cultural psychology," unpublished term paper.
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