the Time is Now, my revolutionary Western music critics

Ian Martin recently interviewed Yasutaka Nakata, one of the most prolific Japanese producers, as well as song-writer, DJ, and overall badass, for The Japan Times Online, and what strikes me as most important about the advertorial for capsule’s upcoming greatest hits compilation is the things he has to say about music criticism:

“Especially in Tokyo, […] someone who knows a lot about music, they play something and people think, ‘OK, this must be popular now.'”

“The power of music critics is less in Japan now. […] And partly this is because they’ll talk about music saying that ‘this’ or ‘that’ is really fashionable, but the [sic] themselves obviously have no sense of style, so people react like, ‘What? Why should we listen to this guy?'”

“In Japan, […] if something sells really well, the singers will be all over the TV and everywhere, but no one cares who made it. But overseas, when they hear the song, they think, ‘Who made it?’ not ‘Who’s singing it?’ Not just songwriters, but also the arrangers, the sound engineers — they respect all the people who are involved in making the music.”

I’ve been working on an essay this past week (it will be finished and posted eventually) about the (non-existent) state of  serious Japanese music criticism in the West, and this just reinforces all the points I’m making in three tiny blurbs: that Western style of music criticism/journalism is extremely respected, well-informed, and important, while the Japanese style is a joke and treated more like an almost pure hybrid of marketing and payola (and it’s no secret!), and that this respected, well-informed, and important style of music criticism has yet to be adapted to Japanese music (or East Asian pop in general). But I’ll save the rest for the essay.

Most profiles are generated with a desperate sense of summary and little original content, crafted to promote an artist and filtering sense or meaning out of what little a pop artist has to say, which is usually nothing about anything. But Yasutaka Nakata is addressing something that I think is fundamental to the English-speaking J-pop revolution.

Music critics of America, are you listening?

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2 thoughts on “the Time is Now, my revolutionary Western music critics

  1. tanuki July 20, 2010 / 11:39 pm

    I loved that essay that you wrote! It was so informative yet entertaining and EASY TO READ!

    Kind of hoped it would’ve been about the lack of serious music criticism within Japan, but understanding your interests and standpoint it’s more relevant to you. Because I am Japanese and love their music and although you get your niche magazines you only get scathing “this is crap” blunt kind of response from user-based sites like Amazon. Everything else is “this album uses Jazz elements”, descriptive but not critical. There is some real crap out there and even though everyone agrees, no one says it out loud, constructively. Therefore the same kind of thing gets reproduced over and oooovvver again. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough but I sure hope there is a Jap equivalent of Metacritic because when I saw how most of the albums reviewed on Rolling Stones Japan online were all around 3 stars without pointing out why they are, made me really really despondent.

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