As much as I love idols, I very rarely focus on the music. For me, it’s all about spectacle and excess and the shameless commodification of hot young things – I see it as more of a cultural milieu where music is secondary to the idols themselves, and their existence as weird Baudrillardan simulacra of desire.
Alvy of Plastic Candy sees things differently. His love of Japanese pop culture is clearly centered on the music and how the music enriches his life. And he’s laid down his thoughts on the proper attitude towards music in general, as well as writing about music, in this wonderful blog post that I think everyone should bookmark and keep in the back of their heads whenever they blog or write about music.
Many of the points made are about tolerance and courtesy: keep an open mind, don’t judge something before trying it, don’t let others guide your opinions just because they’re peers, and so on. A part of me can’t help but think he wants to take the bad internet attitudes out of writing on the internet, and I have to applaud him on that. Other posts, though, are all about making music the center of one’s appreciation… and quite frankly, that’s an obstacle I won’t be able to overcome with Japanese pop cult.
I do appreciate music on its own terms, in the way Alvy’s guide describes, but most of THAT kind of attention is devoted to Western groups like Sunn 0))), Wu-Tang Clan, Pussy Galore, and other noisy motherfuckers. There are Japanese groups whose music I take quite seriously, too, such as Bennie K and SweetS. However, my love for Jpop is more often than not a case of surfaces and attitudes, of the machinery which pushes product rather than the souls that attempt to create beauty. Given a choice between scandals and chord progressions, I know where my loyalties lie.
So admittedly, reading Alvy’s post makes me think I often do the music created by idols a disservice, that I’m losing the forest for the trees. One of his main points is that music comes first. He writes, “I think this is really hard to focus on because music is so deeply rooted to promotion nowadays, but whenever you’re listening to music, you should try to concentrate your opinion solely on what you’re listening to.” And yeah, I’m guilty of exactly that.
His last point had a special sting to it: Don’t Take Music Lightly. I quote in full: “Last but not least, don’t take music like it’s there just to be there. Every song has a purpose, and every song can be deciphered in a very particular way by each one of us, throwing that away just to label it at first glance is a waste of the many layers that can go into a rich song, or the degree of entertainment that can go into a song made for that purpose. Music can trigger so many different things, and it’s fascinating how we respond to it! It’s never just music.”
It’s good advice, and useful in many cases… If I was applying this to my love of Sunn 0))), I’d be going, “Hell yeah!” But I do wonder if this frame of mind would deepen my enjoyment of the idol world or simply direct me towards a different set of values than what I currently hold. I have a very definite outlook on the idol industry and what it does, what needs it fills, and yes, this outlook tends to marginalize music as being simply another product in a long line of products meant to promote the idols. For me, the idol is the thing, is the totem – not music.
I appreciate what Alvy is attempting with this post, especially the parts about tolerance and keeping an open mind and appreciating music for what it is. However, I also think that there are other values, other things one can focus on – especially in the idol world – that means I’m going to fall short of the ideal Alvy stands for, that focus on music qua music which moves him so deeply. Maybe I’m resigning myself to cynical boorish bastardhood with that refusal to embrace music in such a primal fashion, but I’m just going to have to live with that.
That said, I’m also probably going to listen just a little more attentively the next time a PV catches my eye, or when a song from a favorite group gets on my playlist. I may give it the same kind of attention I give to “Aghartha” or “Death Becomes You”, if only because Alvy’s words will be in the back of my mind. So that’s a start. But I’ll tell no lie: once the contemplation ends, it’s back to the eyecandy and scandals and misappropriated postmodernist theories that make my own soul sing. Like Alvy, I gotta be true to what I love.
I strongly encourage all of you to read Alvy’s wonderful guide, stop and think about it, then give it another read. And afterwards, I strongly urge you all to buy and listen to Sunn 0)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions. Because when it comes – and you know it will – Intl Wota Version 4.0 will be known as INTL VRRRMMMM MRRRMMMM VMMMRRR.