Thursday, 7 February 2013

Johnnies and Their Sparkles - what does everyone else see?

This post is, above all else, a bunch of opinions, so don't get pissed if they clash with your own.
And, don't allow yourself to be mislead, this is mostly a post about homosexuality and the world's perception of it.
My two favourites in KAT-TUN, sparkling away in typical Johnny's fashion
Any Johnny's fan knows what to expect, especially when  it comes to concerts - surges of sparkling sequins and glitter galore. It takes some fans longer than others to fully accept the blinding barrage of these glimmering get-ups but we all learn eventually. I, for one, was fully embracing of it all quite early on, but I already quite liked sparkles as a whole. Though, that being said, I've developed a stronger desire to have everything sprinkled with sparkles, naff as it potentially is. However, some people never really come to terms with it. Some brand the overuse of sequins as ugly, which is fair enough because, in many cases, it is, especially where Johnny's Jr are concerned. Honestly, I'm a Hyphen, and KAT-TUN get the easy end of the stick. The abuse of glitter in their outfits is often more tasteful than is the case with some other groups. But the problem lies in those who are put off for another reason. They are men.
This whole thing really came to mind when my friend, not a fan of Johnny's and an extremely casual fan of Japanese and Korean music, at best, insisted upon continuously ridiculing all the sparkles when I was, quite innocently, trying to watch KAT-TUN's QUEEN OF PIRATES and NO MORE PAIИ cons, particularly where Koki was concerned. She told me Koki was too punk or too goth in these concerts to be that sparkly, which is funny because I wouldn't say Koki was either of those things. Actually, during QUEEN OF PIRATES, he was still leaning towards the Yankii look and, from what I remember, those guys are pretty glammed up. However, what really irked me was her claims that Kazuya could get away with it on the basis that he looked kind of like a girl, because being pretty and feminine are now one in the same thing, but, more than that, he looked kind of gay anyway.
Yankii glam. Definitely.
Now, if Kazuya were gay, I, frankly, wouldn't give a flying fuck. I mean to say, it wouldn't change my view of even remotely, so I didn't take the comment as an attack on  him (I mean, I shouldn't care even if she had said something insulting, but y'know, he's my bias, my oshi, whatever you want to call it). Still, the comment made me feel like dying on the inside, just a little. And, why? Because it was actually pretty homophobic of her to say that. She's not a generally homophobic person but she's one of these people who spends their entire life being pretty nice about homosexuality and stuff but doesn't really get it enough to realise that making less than favourable jokes about sexual orientation isn't actually cool. She's the type who'll say something pretty insensitive and claim it's fine because she has friends who are gay. Now, I'm not trying to bitch about said friend here, not at all. What I'm saying is that this viewpoint is actually surprisingly common. It happens with all kinds of issues - people who 'aren't racist but-' , people who seem to think racism is limited to black people, people who are pretty nice about religions such as Catholocism and Judaism but don't trust Muslims, people who are nice to women but demand the right to be actually pissed off when they don't want to shag them. This is harsh, but people are stupid like that.
Basically, at least in Western culture, if a man 'looks gay', and by this I mean he fits into a stereotype created by narrow-minded idiots, he isn't attractive. Granted, there are quite a lot of people who don't care how 'gay' a man looks, if he's nice he's nice, but there are still a lot of people who think otherwise. Apply the situation to women who 'look like lesbians' and it's even worse, but this is an article related to an all-male entertainment company, so let's not get too out of hand here. A prime example of this split in views in British culture is a certain Rylan Clark. Obviously, he was the novelty act on The X-Factor, partially because of how camp he was, but mainly because he was over-the-top, he had a sense of humour about him and he fit the whole bill set by the recent Essex trend perfectly. Lots of people disliked him, some because he was the weakest vocalist in the contest (though, his pitching was probably better than District 3's, just saying), but many because he was so camp. Oh, and openly gay. However, he still had a fanbase. And, thanks to his gig on Celebrity Big Brother, people actually like him now, seeing as they've realised he is just that over-the-top and he's not just playing up the whole gay thing (cause people make these fucking stupid assumptions). Thankfully, Britain seems to be a country quite ready to embrace openly queer celebrities (okay, to an extent, I don't think we really stand that well on the whole trans and intersex issues), so Rylan has come out being well-liked. When he was in The X-Factor, though, he was hated. I don't know how other countries would handle stuff like that but I have a feeling that America would be less open. I'm not saying America's full of homophobes but there seem to be more homophobic attitudes there.
I'm guessing that, in Japan, that's not an issue. Actually, I'm quite sure it's not. If it were an issue, it wouldn't be fanservice when you get two boyband members having 'moments' on stage. This is pretty common with KAT-TUN. Honestly, for all Kazuya's jokey flirting, shoving his face in Koki's crotch, pretending to get it on with Koki, poking other members up the arse with his fingers, my friend decided he looked gay because his outfits sparkles (and because he does that whole hip thing). Really, though, you can't look gay unless you're humping another man or something. Or doing one of the above-mentioned things. But, in those cases, I'm quite sure that was the intention...except for the finger thing, maybe. That may have just been for the sake of being a total pain in the arse (I mean this figuratively, but I guess it works literally too). Well, whatever. If Kazuya does something that might actually look gay, he's sure to have a whole load of fangirls screaming excitedly at him. Same goes for the other members of the group...though, it's most common with Kazuya. Maybe because he's the most popular. Maybe because he gets shipped with everyone, so, no matter what he does, he's probably latched on to someone's OTP. Maybe because a lot of people genuinely believe he might be gay or even bi. I, however, have no real opinion on this. He is what he says he is and he has said in a recent interview that he's never had any feelings for someone of the same sex.
What looks gay in this picture? The sparkly trousers? Or could it maybe be the hand being shoved down one man's shirt and the shove that seems to be headed for the other's crotch? Hmmm
So, I do have a feeling some of this is to do with Western perception, or, at least, foreign perception. While Japan has no kind of protection of gay rights, I've read that there is little need for it. That is to say, little effort is made to deal with abusive and discriminative behaviour because there aren't, apparently, too many issues with it. Obviously, there'll be the cruel slander and offensive slang. That happens anywhere. Though, Japan is also a country with openly trans celebrities (known as 'Newhalf Celebrities', which is something few other places have. However, they do have Hard Gay, who kind of ruins the whole thing. Now, I'm not saying Japan are actually that good with homosexuality since it's not actually that widely accepted but it seems to be less the subject of ridicule. As such, a perfectly attractive man maybe 'looking gay' won't have the same effect it does over here. I mean, as long as we're on the topic of KAT-TUN, it goes without saying that Akame found its roots in Japan, where it's actually known as AkaKame. I've known Akame fans to get angry if you imply that Jin and Kazuya are anything but gay and madly in love with each other. Don't mess with an Akame fan. They're fierce. For the record, I think Akame is a load of bollocks, but that's just me.
Haruna Ai is a pretty well-known Japanese TV personality and singer. She won first place in the 'Miss International Queen 2009' trans beauty pageant. And, y'know, what, I love Ai. She's brilliant!
So, what is this stigma we have towards men in sparkles? I've never found that it takes away from anything. In fact, when I watch the DVDs, KAT-TUN seem to stay looking proper bad-ass even though they're glittering gloriously under the Dome's spotlights. Glitter is associated with girls, though, isn't it? This makes them girly, and, therefore, gay. Apparently. So, really, this whole idealogy is a peculiar blend of sexism and homophobia. But mostly homophobia. If you didn't realise before, yes, that's homophobia. Maybe you don't like sparkles and they put you off. Fine.  Put if they put you off because they look gay...well done, you're a homophobe! If not that, you're a bigot!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Who knew some simple Autotune could result in such nonense? - A quick look at the constant debate between J-Pop and K-Pop

These are just opinions and speculations - my personal views. Don't take them to heart, no harm is intended.
When J-Pop and K-Pop collide...that's right, Momoko and Seungri perform Momochi! Yurushite Nyan ♡ Taisou
I've heard more claims that J-Pop is trying to be K-Pop than I have the other way around and this is half the result of K-Pop anti-fans freaking out and half the result of K-Pop fans getting pissy. I don't feel either are justified, mind you. Being worried that J-Pop might sound like K-Pop might make sense if you just don't like the common style apparent in K-Pop, but, then, you should really say that it's because you don't like the genre K-Pop tends to deal in, not that you don't like K-Pop - a lot of the time, that sounds kind of bigoted. As for the K-Pop fans getting pissy...of course, not all K-Pop fans are like this, but, really, get over yourself. That sounds harsh, but, more often than not, these people seem to be angry Koreaboos who won't accept anything other than the belief that Korea is the home of perfection.
 It seems that the most common thing that has people throwing hissy-fits is the use of autotune. Yes, this is common in K-Pop and, yes, it's probably true that some artists started using it in their songs as a result of the Halyu wave. But, really, it's like everyone thinks that South Korea owns autotune or something.
But, really, let's consider the facts. Autotune wasn't common in K-Pop until 2008 or 2009 when it was popularised by artists like BIGBANG and, in their final years of relevance, SS501, yet people do seem to conveniently ignore that. Okay, granted, it was used prior to that but it wasn't something that could be associated with mainstream K-Pop. Most of the newer K-Pop fans joined their fandoms after the big autotune booms, though, and after SS501 lost relevance, so these details don't really come to light that often. Obviously, there were tons of fans before but, it can't be denied, in the last 2 years, K-Pop has hit it bigger than it ever has before.

 However, autotune has been present in J-Pop for much longer. Think about it, Perfume, who have been around since 2000, made their major debut in 2005 and, with a discography featuring robo-voice tracks galore, they've done extrememly well. Furthermore, several artists have thrown some occasional autotune at their songs. KAT-TUN's '12 o'clock', a pretty autotune heavy song, was released in 2008 as part of their 3rd album. This was before the K-Pop wave really hit off in Japan and the only artists with much relevance were Tohoshinki (or TVXQ, but they're still THSK in this case) and BoA. Of course, SS501 were fairly popular at this time, too, as I'm sure other artists were, but BIGBANG were the real catalyst in the Hanryuu chain reaction, and they didn't break Japan until 2009. Okay, that's not true, they did release an album in 2008 but that was all in English and I don't remember their being too many autotuned tracks (though, there are some). In the same year, though, Yamashita Tomohisa released 'MOLA' as part of NEWS' 3rd album, and, really, that song is extremely autotune-heavy. Actually, though it's not as true for the KAT-TUN track, if MOLA was released now, it would be a song quickly accused of having ripped off K-Pop. At the very beginning of 2009, GACKT released GHOST, which also features a lot of autotune, mainly to achieve a robotic feel. This song could never be classed as K-Pop, granted, but it's a prime example of autotune being used to create a specific image rather than to just copy Korea.

Changmin and Junno sit and look like each other, Ueda looks intrigued, Yoshie looks distraught and Maru looks he really needs to move his head cause he's getting totally in the way of Kame which just isn't on

A lot of the occasions on which I've heard people making these accusations involved Morning Musume and KAT-TUN, actually. Morning Musume have recently started applying a lot of autotune to their songs and, sure, maybe it was inspired by the Halyu wave but that doesn't mean much. Tsunku's clearly picked up on an aspect of today's music scene that is considered trendy by most listeners and, as a result, has decided to make songs using some of those elements. However, he's not copying anyone. It's pretty obvious that these elements have been taken and experimented with in order to make something that will be popular but also still sound like Morning Musume. And he succeeded. I'm sorry, but, what K-Pop group could you see singing Wakuteka Take a chance? Or Help Me!!? These two songs, the latter especially, have a uniquely MoMusu feel to them and I don't think another H!P group could even get that same feeling across. Actually, to be honest, even since 2009 (maybe earlier, I'm too lazy to look into it), MoMusu have been using autotune. Just listen to 'SONGS' from their 9th album. It hardly sounds like a K-Pop song, does it? Though, the other accusation for MoMusu is normally that they sound like VOCALOIDs. This also pisses me off because VOCALOIDs aren't autotuned. They're synthesised voices comprised of every syllable in the Japanese language being spoken by some seiyuu (or GACKT) that can then be edited according to pitch and tempo. Not the same at all. And it doesn't even sound the same. You do get autotuning that makes a person sound kind of VOCALOIDy but that's not the way MoMusu's autotune tends to sound.

Now, as for KAT-TUN, people only started pointing the finger with the release of 'Going!' and I feel that some of that was purely 5-nin hate. Some people honestly prefer KAT-TUN as a 6nin group, to the extent that they dislike 5-nin, and vice versa, and I respect that, but hating on the current group just isn't on. I don't remember there being much fuss with all the autotune in their previous single (and Jin's last, may I add), so, what's the problem? As for other people, I think it was more of a surprise than anything else. Some people dislike autotune and that's fine, some people wanted KAT-TUN to stay rocky, but others were just surprised. KAT-TUN hadn't really released any auotune-heavy singles prior to 20010 but they had released a good few songs like that as B-Sides and album tracks - take for example, LIPS' B-side 'MESSAGE FOR YOU', the afore-mentioned 12 o'clock, RESCUE's B-Side '7 DAYS BATTLE', the album track 'WATER DANCE'. It wasn't as recent a phenomenon as some people made out.

THE D-MOTION was  really autotune heavy

 One track that some people really got at (though, it wasn't a huge deal in the end) was 'RIGHT NOW' from their 5th album. I admit, it does sound a bit closer to K-Pop than other KAT-TUN songs (just a bit), but it was also produced by Steven Lee, who produces quite a lot of songs for K-Pop artists. He's American, but he's ethnically Korean, too. By god, how dare a Korean-American, who has worked in the K-Pop scene, create anything that sounds remotely like K-Pop! Besides, one of the first songs he produced was 'Never Again' from KAT-TUN's first album. He's also produced a bunch of other KAT-TUN songs, Kis-My-Ft2 songs and even a song for the Hello! Project duo, W (Double You). As for K-Pop, he's responsible for many SS501 songs, all but one track of HyunJoong's solo discography and even some SHINee songs. So, really, who cares if something he made sounds kind of like K-Pop?

It's SL Once Again!
Or so goes that song by Kim Hyun Joong

But, all that nonsense aside, autotune was initially an American creation. And, yes, before the Halyuu wave, I had a thing against autotune, though it was extremely brief. And, what was my problem? I thought autotune made things sound too Americanised. Not even that they were ripping American pop music off, though. Just that it sounded kind of like American pop music. I now realise that was a load of bollocks and thoroughly regret being such an arse. Actually, at that time, I had this idea that Western pop music was basically the devil. I'm a lot more tolerant now, though, I wouldn't say there are many artists I properly like, music-wise. Though, I have to say, I've developed a fondness for a few of Nicki Minaj's songs, thanks to my sister being obsessed with her. Actually, Nicki herself is hilarious, so, whatever. I actually think she's pretty cool in her own way. I'm not going to spend my life thinking she's a freak for dressing the way she does because 1) I love some of her outfits and 2) a lot of her outfits are inspired by J-Fashion trends, which I happen to love. Nicki Minaj actually uses a lot of autotune in some of her songs but she still just sounds like Nicki Minaj. It goes to show that autotune can be used and you can still sound like your own artist.

When I first got into K-Pop, though, I always thought it sounded Americanised because of the autotune as well. Again, that's something I quickly got past. Why? Because it doesn't make sense. Besides, K-Pop draws obvious influence from both Western and Japanese pop music. Actually, that's a well-known fact, even among K-Pop fans. Obviously, it has its own specifically Korean twists
 on it, in the same way that 'Western music' is a really loose term (for the record, I'm referring to American and British pop music, but, it is possible that Europop plays its part, too - it certainly seems to in J-Pop). It goes without saying that music from different countries will have a different sound. A different country means different people with a different cultural upbringing which, in turn, produces different tastes. I feel that's a given. As such, to say that music from different countries sounds exactly the same because of a voice filter is ridiculous. Actually, it's pretty ignorant, in my opinion, seeing as the holding of this view would require you to completely ignore the cultural influences on a country's music.

But, more than anything, this idea that J-Pop sounding Korean, or vice versa, tends to be a direct result of racist attitudes. Of course, some people just don't like the style of music most commonly associated with Japanese and Korean pop music, some people just don't like pop music, but many people seem to believe that the song is purely bad for sounding like it's from the wrong country. I think that's a disgusting way to think, actually.

Don't get me wrong, though, the point of this point is to prove that K-Pop is not a uniquely Korean thing (obviously), that autotune has reared its face in J-Pop plenty of times before, and not to prove that Korea is clearly copying Japan. Because it's not. Autotune is a global thing, quite clearly. Autotune does not make something sound like it's from a specific country. That's not how music works. No country is musically superior to another, so, please, anyone who thinks that, get off your fucking highhorse already~

When a fangirl meets her idols - Ai-chan & 2NE1 Edition