Billboard vs. Oricon, Round #1

I find it increasingly bizarre that the Black Eyed Peas are still #1 with “I Gotta Feelin’.” Twenty-six weeks after they debuted with “Boom Boom Pow” and moved in to replace themselves and that song still hasn’t gotten any less annoying (like, oh my gawd!). The Hot 100 is a bit sketchy to use as a comparison, having no real Oricon equivalent, but it’s the closest we’ll get before delving into those pesky genre dividers. But the Oricon Top Singles has a completely different turn over rate which tells us a lot about the fickle music choices of the Japanese. Westerners may spout cliches about constantly looking for the next big thing, but it seems to apply less to individual trends than the names behind them. In Japan, the opposite seems to hold true: #1 singles no longer hold the spot for longer than a week or two before the next single takes it place. But forget about hoping boy bands or idols will just go away; unless there’s a scandal involving drugs or a sudden death, you can be sure to find the same names still charting every three months or so.

While this may say more about the importance of the single in Japan than in America, where iTunes and radio play are really the only markers of track popularity (though the prediction about the death of albums increasingly point to the return of the single’s dominance), it also speaks to the larger conundrum of consumer interest. The longest #1 on the Oricon singles chart was Shiro Miya and the Pinkara Trio’s “Onna no Michi” in 1972, which reigned for sixteen weeks. Although data on these things are a bit tricky to find (so please correct me if I’m wrong), the most recent best selling single was Southern All Star’s “Tsunami” in 2000 which stayed at #1 for two weeks, was kicked out by B’z for one week, and then returned to #1 for three weeks. Three weeks! Even Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” managed to stay sixteen weeks at #1 in 1995.

In Tom Ewing’s Pitchfork roundup “The Decade in Pop,” he says, “The appeal of pop, for me, is that its definition of effective keeps changing. […] The constant dance of “what’s great” and “what works” is what keeps me a pop fan: It’s as close as art comes to sport.” Although we can debate which artists have the means to steal the spot, with its constantly shuffling #1s, it seems the Japanese sport of pop is a lot more exciting.

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3 thoughts on “Billboard vs. Oricon, Round #1

  1. Kerensky97 October 5, 2009 / 5:54 pm

    Perhaps another cause for the Oricon shakeup is the top heavy music industry in Japan? Even though western music is dominated by the big 4 labels there is significant indie competition when compared to the Japanese market. By having a large number of fans in the “long tail” of music the tops spots have less competition.

    I wrote a related post after reading an article in the guardian a few days ago:
    http://www.smallfish-bigpond.com/index.php?virtualpath=item/2009/09/japanese-music-scene–indie-vs-big-labels

    In Japan Universal J, Avex, and Sony Music (and their sub labels) all fight for the top spots. With more fans listening to major labels there’s alot more movement at the top. Plus each big label has a few big names they can rotate each week. One week is a big Ayumi release, next week a big Koda release, then a big Namie release. By time they get through the big names of their roster they have new singles coming out and start again. With all the fans at the top of the popularity curve and money from the big labels to market them they end up with a frenzied top 10.

    • Anna October 5, 2009 / 9:42 pm

      I really enjoyed reading your article and it got me making a lot of connections, particularly the one about the Japanese believing that music is entertainment and not art because I think that’s one good reason why modern criticism of Japanese music is moot. Why examine something deeply if it doesn’t matter? That’s one answer, anyway, I’m sure there are a lot and I’m open to learning them as it continues to puzzle me. In addition, the bit about the big labels having routine chart dominance with four or five big selling artists makes a ton of sense. Even so, it doesn’t exactly explain the high consumer need for the constant rotation; if the charts are genuinely propelled by the number of sales (ahem), why do the tastes of the Japanese change so quickly and frequently?

      The most heartbreaking thing in the Guardian article was reading that “[t]he music magazines these days are like catalogues for major labels – there is no such thing as a music critic.” Sigh.

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