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Worldwide Appeal of JRock and KPop: Proof of Universality of Music?
As of this writing, Asian bands are hitting the global charts. Korean pop groups and Japanese rock groups were landed in markets and cultures earlier by Western music.
The videos of KPop girl groups (that’s Korean pop, for the uninitiated) such as Wonder Girls, are viewed in their millions on YouTube. Their single, “Nobody”, was an international hit. Meanwhile, the pioneers of JRock (ie, Japanese rock) and the kei scene – XJapan – performed concerts in the United States, with tour dates on several American cities.
Undoubtedly, Asian music has achieved great popularity on the global scale. And their fan following from countries other than Japan and Korea is growing. But KPop and JRock remain to be objects of curiosity.
Although their music is rooted in contemporary Western forms – rap, hip-hop and R&B (rhythm and blues) for KPop, and punk, rock and metal for JRock, their songs are mostly in their own national language. Meaning, non-Korean and non-Japanese fans don’t understand the message to the songs! It seems that the global slogan of today’s youth is “Don’t touch the word; They do not understand the lyrics of the songs. Still, they came in droves to hear them in the plays. And even download them legally and they are paying for it. Amazing, yet true, the “kids of today” even look and dress like their idols. The Japanese scene of Cosplay (again costume play, for the uninitiated; where fans dress up as their favorite anime/game characters) is also a global phenomenon.
The question, therefore, are both cultures evidence of what we call “all music”? Is music a universal language?
A friend of mine would beg to differ. He said, both are examples of “cultural imperialism”, where a culture from an economically dominant country directly and indirectly influences and subjugates the culture of more backward countries. In simple words, he sees KPop and JRock as the control of Western music over the cultures of Japan and Korea.
I don’t agree. Although I am aware of the “pressures” – direct and indirect – of economic demands (such as the Western monopoly on production, distribution and advertising in the world music industry) on cultural issues between countries language, his view focuses only on the issue of “musical form”.
I believe that if we follow his logic, the only pure and true music (and culture in general) will be the “ethnic music” (or ethnic culture) of different countries. Such thinking, I think, is “narrow puritan-ism”.
Music – and culture – is constantly evolving as people of different backgrounds interact and relate to each other. National cultures are dispersing into a multi-ethnic and global melting pot, facilitated by the development of the Internet and other forms of modern technology. Actually, there is only one race – the human race.
However, the authority of the United States in the relationship of nations cannot be denied. The influence of western music on Asian music was a by-product of the global economic boom after World War 2.
But the more important question to me is not the “form” of music but its message or its “material”. Debate in musical form should be regarded as mere comic pursuits. On a lighter note, my sister and I made a website that pitted JRock fans against KPop addicts but just for the fun of talking about it. But that is another story. Therefore, more important than the medium (musical form) is the message.
Sadly, art (and music in particular) is in an industry driven, primarily, by profit. It is in business not to promote artistic freedom and expression but to make money from talented (sometimes non-gifted) people.
But there are the “chosen few”, who may come from different – even different – musical forms but they are given the opportunity to truly express themselves, even if such expression is not profitable. To quote guitarist and industry veteran Eric Clapton, he said in his autobiography that the percentages in the music industry are still the same: say, the ratio is still the same: 95% dirty and 5% clean. And those who disagree? “Clapton is God”, he said in late sixties London. And God can’t be wrong, right? (laughter)
So we come back to the question, is the world of JRock and KPop a reflection of the world of music? Yes, but only partially. Because when they use different gimmicks like having Korean girls wear skimpy shorts to sell their songs, that’s when music takes a back seat and “profit” takes over the steering wheel. But still, they are fun to watch, aren’t they? Rolling! (just) #
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