Whenever I’m writing, I’m usually buried in my Star Wars-looking headphones, listening to whatever matches my mood and the proximity to my next deadline. I listen to classical when I’m learning a new topic, pop/Rock when I need to focus exclusively on the task at hand, business-oriented talk when doing something that doesn’t involve words, and Goth, Goa-Psy, or The Matrix: Revolutions soundtrack whenever a deadline is nearing. In just about every other situation — about 60% of the time — I listen to Japanese pop music, or J-pop. This post is about J-pop, the good, the bad, and the dain bramage it can casue wehn smoenoe lstiens to tihs suftf too otefn.
Last weekend I was up in Tampa, visiting my parents. Having just gone through a hurricane the week before, The Wife and I decided we needed at least a day to clear our heads and get ourselves fully back on track. My parents’ house, though usually less than quiet, is ideal for that; my brother and sister are usually out of the house, my mother’s usually reading, cooking, or working on some project around the house, and my dad is either working on his real estate business or watching television, meaning that The Wife and I can have some time to just relax, sleep too much in memory-foam beds (mmm… memory foooaaaaam…), and eat some good home-cooked food.
This weekend my sister went off with her husband to one of his motor-cross events, so my parents were left taking care of my niece, Bell. Like just about every other four-year old kid alive, Bell packs more energy per square inch than anyone in that house could even dream of having. A thespian at heart, Bell is also the most melodramatic child I’ve ever come across; from putting on little shows, to crying and laughing on queue, to standing on tables and singing her favorite songs, this little girl is destined for the stage.
Sunday morning we were eating breakfast and along with Bell, watching cartoons. To be honest, I don’t even remember what we watched, since I was paying more attention to the all-natural, authentic Canadian maple syrup (mmm… Canadian maple syrup…)drenching my pancakes than to just about anything else. At one point I heard something which sounded pleasantly-yet-alarmingly familiar. I looked up to see what it was when, a sudden explosion of color filled the 60″ television screen and attacked my visual cortex. My heart raced and my pupils began to dilate. Luckily, I was able to turn my gaze away just before I started frothing at the mouth. “Holy crap!” I thought. “What the heck…”
The J-Pop Connection
I adventurously returned my gaze to the screen and watched as the explosion of color continued. It was the intro for a cartoon show, no doubt. As I listened to the show’s theme song, I started wondering why this sounded so familiar. That’s when it hit me. The music. The voices.
I’d heard these voices before when listening to the music stream from J-popsuki.tv. “This is… this is…” And that’s when I saw. This was Puffy Ami Yumi. This was the intro to their show, Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi.
Hello? Yes, Crayola called. They want their 160 colors back.
For those of you who may not be aware, Puffy Ami Yumi is a Japanese J-pop group comprised of two ultra-kitschy chicks (Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura) who were during some extended period in their life kept alive only with the help of sugar puffs and energy drinks. To say they’re the musical equivalent of Frosted Flakes and Capt’n Crunch isn’t too far flung of a description.
I must admit, their music has a pretty catchy sound — if you don’t listening to something meant for the ADHD-saturated color-explosion known as the japanese teenie-bopper, that is. (Don’t believe me? Check out Puffy Ami Yumi’s Sony website to see what I mean. To their credit, Ami and Yumi have been around since 1995, which says a good amount about their pliability and showmanship.) They’ve gained a fair amount of popularity in the US, helped in part by their writing of the cheesy, but delightfully catchy Teen Titans theme song. Mostly, their popularity is due to Sony’s exploitation of the ever-increasing cultural fusion between Japanese and American entertainment. (I for one welcome our color-saturated Sony-backed overlords.)
As I watched their cartoon, I felt myself only narrowly escaping the throngs of a seizure. Like most Japanese pop-culture media exports, this toon was full of flashing colors, quick movements, and Ritalin-esque goodness.
Puffy, am I yummy?
That got me thinking (or hallucinating, I honestly don’t know which): usually, when I listen to J-pop, I’m streaming from J-popsuki.tv. (Check out the links in the side nav bar for info.) Most of the time, the stuff they present isnâ€™t’ bad. In fact, most of the time it’s pretty darn good, save for the fact that they play the same 60 or so videos over and over again. Among those 60 videos are classics like Domo Arigato, Mr. Robato, awesome talents like Utada Hikaru (aka Cubic U, Hikari/Simple and Clean), the ultra-cutesy Morning Musume, and of course, Puffy Ami Yumi. Unfortunately, this mix also includes the almost unbearable Mini Moni, who — I can only hope — targets their music to three year olds with Down syndrome. (Why I’m listening to music for retarded 3-year olds, I have no idea, but there you have it.)
Anyway, back to the story. Bell watched on as excitedly and intently as if sitting in front of a big bowl of forbidden doughnuts (mmm… forbidden doughnut…). As for me, well I just watched her, half expecting to see her pass out from the sudden blast of visual stimulation.
Sometime in the middle of peeking (but never directly looking at) the cartoon, I heard my dad start to complain. “Why can’t cartoons be good, like The Flintstones? Why do they have to be all weird looking? You know, they tried to re-make the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, but the characters looked monstrous. I think too many people called in saying ‘take this off!’ You know what I mean?”
While discussing the evolution of cartoons, I noticed she was starting to get hyper. Real hyper. She started talking faster, moving faster, and her attention span dropped from a whopping 10 seconds to a meager 2. It was like if she was eating a big bowl of sugar coated candy-cotton balls soaked in high fructose corn syrup. It was… well, scary.
As my dad and I tried to stop Bell from swinging on the ceiling fan, ridding the dog, and re-arranging the living room furniture, a thought came to my mind: is this what’s happening to my brain when I listen to the online anime/J-pop music stations? Is this music like candy for my mind?
I must admit, at first the thought seemed silly. Absurd! How can music, no matter how happy and poppy it is, cause someone to act so… so… I mean, sugar does that because it infuses your body with over amounts of energy. Caffeine does it by turning on parts of your brain that were never meant to be turned on. But this…?
Effect on the Brain
After a little while I started thinking: doesn’t techno make people want to dance in almost tribal ways? Doesn’t goth make people wear black and look like they haven’t seen the sun in three years? Doesn’t rap make guys drop their pants and women grow large bottoms? Don’t Dave Matthews and Jimmy Buffet make people drink and stop bathing? Doesn’t Phillip Glass and his pampas attitude just totally piss you off? Anyway, I’m getting off course here. Given this evidence, it is obvious that listening to J-pop (and watching anything inspired by it) is akin to sucking down on sugar covered caffeine pills while snorting cocaine and rolling down the street smoking indo, sipping on gin and juice. While it won’t kill your insulin levels, it may cause tiny seizures in your brain which can over stimulate you, and eventually even leave you brain-dead.
Puffy Ami Yumi? Ha! Puffy Ami Brain-dead is more like it! Worse still is how addicting the music is. Like alcohol at first taste, listening to this stuff is repulsing at best. But then it starts making its way in to your brain. Its happy, poppy tunes start taking over your mind, and names like Megumi Hayashibara make their way into your vocabulary. Love Hina? Yeah, you know it. AnimeNation? You start becoming a regular! Soon, the rest of the world becomes more bland, more boring. Things just aren’t colorful or happy enough.
Those around you start noticing you, too. Your skin becomes paler and you smile a lot more, eerily so. Japanese members of the opposite sex suddenly become extremely attractive to you, and you find yourself wanting to — no, learning
JapaneseNihongo. And when you’re away from it all you want to do is play with your phone and read about the latest idols. (And if youâ€™re over 30, stay at home and pretend youâ€™re a 16 year old otaku.)
You find yourself thinking that there’s got to be more to life. What was well and good before is now boring, and sad. Then one day, you open an issue of Wired Magazine, catch a glimpse of their Japanese Teen Girl Watch series and — bam — there they are! The colors! THE COLORS!
It’s all downhill from there. Before long, your favorite color becomes orange, and color combinations don’t make sense unless they can kill on sight.
You know, I’ll just stop here. This was a lot funnier when I first started writing and now — well, now it’s just getting strange. Sorry to waste your time. J-Pop is not bad for your brain. In fact, it’s only as bad as regular pop music, which isn’t all that bad most of the time. But man, the colors… geez oh man, the colors…