Since I’m blogging from England this week, I thought I’d write about...Japanese pop! It's also simply called J-pop. A few weeks ago, the NPR music show Sound Opinions did a special on popular music from Japan. On that show, I heard about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a Japanese fashion blogger-turned-pop-star, and her crazy videos. Check it out (1):
I can't resist making the comparison of the craziness of this video, "Fashion Monster," to the craziness of the Fame Monster, Lady Gaga. While both visual styles seem to come from left field, clearly, their brands of crazy are different. While Lady Gaga is crazy in a shocking, sensual way, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is crazy in a cute, mystifying, maybe endearing way. It's craziness for the sake of crazy, instead of crazy for the sake of shock (2).
Musically, I would also argue that while Lady Gaga's songs are not without some structural experimentation, most have nothing on the interesting musical structure of "Fashion Monster" (3). On first listen, I felt cast adrift in "Fashion Monster's" structure, wondering how all this fit together, something that has never happened to me for a Lady Gaga song. After some repeated listening, I think I got the idea. While I don't have space to structure at the melodic or phrase level, I am going to dive in to a larger structure analysis. The song has four distinct sections (instead of the usual chorus, verse, bridge). Here's an undetailed map:
"Intro" – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – "Intro" – Bridge – Verse – Chorus – Chorus – Chorus – Chorus
(wordless) (wordless, alt.) (wordless)
- Usually, intro material is taken from another section of the music, like the verse or chorus, but here the intro material is distinct (though related). This material also surprisingly comes back in the middle of the song. And also surprisingly, instead of the second "intro" leading to the chorus, it leads to…the bridge!
- We hear the chorus before the verse, but without words. I think this has the effect of making the music more celebratory (clearly what the video is portraying), but keeping the stakes lower and allowing the worded chorus to still have some extra impact when it finally arrives.
- A song's bridge is a contrasting section that arrives near the end of a song to break up what being repeated the most, usually the chorus. Instead of being a normal, short bridge, "Fashion Monster's" bridge gets stretched out, hanging out on the same chord. It is such a relief when the music finally changes, but unexpectedly, what follows is not the chorus, but the verse! I think this transition between the chorus and verse 2 is the most effective moment in the song, and it comes a long way from a chorus, usually the big payoff in a given pop song.
- While the second verse is structurally almost identical to the first, the slight timbral differences make all the difference.
- After the second verse, we predictably return to the chorus. Usually, at this point we would expect the bridge, but the bridge has already been used up. "Fashion Monster" instead goes back to the wordless chorus—but this wordless chorus is different than the first wordless chorus, taking the chorus to the song's climax with new harmonies. We then get another chorus and a wordless chorus to close out the song. While four choruses in a row is a bit much, it does makes some sense structurally. And these final choruses have some timbral variance to make their repetition a little more interesting.
"Fashion Monster's" words are about having the choice to be creative and free, and I think it succeeds in being both of those, both visually and musically.
What do you think about "Fashion Monster" and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu? Are you as fascinated as I am, or do you think this just sheeny pop music with a crazy video to grab your attention? (If you are fascinated, you should see this, too).
Vocab: texture, bridge, timbral
(1) Extra credit if you can catch the Hayao Miyazaki reference.
(2) To understand a bit more the culture Kyary Pamyu Pamyu comes from, do a quick image search on "Harajuku fashion".
(3) It's somewhat impossible to tell who actually wrote the music to "Fashion Monster."
(4) Many women in the U.S. also speak lower than they naturally should, leading to all sorts of voice problems.