Why the world needs a new “Feel the love” PV

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Although Ayumi Hamasaki’s 15th studio album, currently untitled as of this date, won’t be released until July, several previews have already been released, including the digital single “Hello new me,” the dub version of “Terminal” (produced by mega-trance mastermind Armin van Buuren), “Angel,” “What is forever love,” “NOW & 4EVA,” and “Lelio.” Based on the list of producers alone, including RedOne and Fedde Le Grand, the album is touting itself under the massive umbrella term “EDM,” perhaps in a bid to update Hamasaki’s typical sound, and step as far away from her last three albums as possible. This isn’t entirely new musical ground for Hamasaki, at least in terms of original material; remixes aside, 2009’s NEXT LEVEL was heavily influenced by electronic dance music and back in 2002, she collaborated with famed trance producer Ferry Corsten on “connected.”

What remains to be seen is just how much of this album is really a “new me” and how much of it is the same Hamasaki cocktail we’ve come to know and occasionally crave. What you’ve expected for the last ten years: pop/rock songs, heavy on the guitars, poppy ballads, drama, tragedy, grand-scales, heavy-handed declarations, specific references to who-knows-what events, personal revelations — but only behind an I know something you don’t know smile — and a handful of extraordinary risk takers, the few songs penned by new or unknowns that leave us wondering why someone didn’t push Hamasaki further into that vast territory of the au courant. Here are the missing variables: Is Hamasaki sabotaging herself by insisting on more of the same? Has she lost her touch for recognizing moving and exciting material? Is she resting on her “brand”? Does she seriously think “Hello new me” is anything new at all? Are the intriguing songs like “Lelio” just luring us into believing there is something of relevance here, or are they just echoes of a trendy genre, desperate to sit at the cool table? Maybe more than correcting the musical missteps of the recent past, there’s clearly a desire to correct the mistakes of the present.

The music video goes like this: A blonde, overweight girl with big glasses sits in her bedroom, taping a picture of herself onto another picture with a good-looking, fit, muscular man she has a crush on. She leaps up with determination, goes outside, and starts running. This profile shot of the girl running extends almost throughout the rest of the video, interspersed with an animated version of the girl swimming and/or doing anything else they didn’t have the budget to accomplish with live action. The girl stays the same size throughout her many days and nights of running, only stopping towards the end to get a haircut and go shopping for dresses (there is a scene where she dances a little, and another where she’s gnawing a chicken leg while running because overweight people just can’t stop, can they?). She runs into a park and sees the man from the photo, but he ignores her. She trips, and when she gets up, she’s Ayumi Hamasaki wearing a short, revealing pink dress. The guys sees her and immediately takes notice, amazed at her beauty. Ayumi makes girlish hand gestures, touches her face, winks, saunters over, and they walk off into the sunset together happily ever after. This is not irony, or satire. This is the actual music video for “Feel the love,” the Tetsuya Komuro-penned single released late last year.

In short, the video encourages changing the most fundamental things about yourself to be noticed by a man, the idea that a man will only accept you if you are thin and beautiful enough, a preoccupation with unnatural or unrealistic standards of beauty, and the willful acceptance that you are inferior and unworthy as you are.

A few weeks later, the “full version” of this promotional video was released. Hamasaki herself addressed fans’ concerns over the video by tweeting: “Of course I will listen all my loBely’s [sic] opinions anytime. But thing is that you all haven’t seen the real ending yet. Don’t worry ;)”. The “real ending” consisted of a four second epilogue where Hamasaki turns back into the overweight blonde girl mid-hug while the guy looks at her in disbelief, confusion, and possibly horror. Now, this obviously does not change or make any apologies for the rest of the video, including the part where the girl tries to run on a treadmill and falls on her face — presumably, because fat people are just really funny when they try to exercise. Even the most apologetic fans have to see this as mean-spirited, particularly after a video like “how beautiful you are” where people of all races, ages, genders, sizes, and sexual orientations are portrayed positively. Not every pop song or music video has to be a Statement piece, but when you are making one, your statement probably shouldn’t be: lose weight and all your dreams will come true. There is a way to promote health and fitness without using shame, portraying overweight women as caricatures, or using the attention of men as an incentive for weight loss. From Brown University’s Health Education web site:

“Then there’s the issue of romance. Media messages, particularly those from advertising, strongly emphasize the role of appearance in romantic success. “Getting” the guy or the girl is reduced to possessing a stereotypical set of physical attributes, with no appreciation for personality, background, values, or beliefs.”

In The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men-And Our Economy, Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett emphasize that “[t]he message to women and girls in all media is that their appearance should be, above all, tailored to the “the male gaze.” You exist at all times in a world where men are looking at you, and you must please them” (140).

Needless to say, the promotional video garnered a lot of mixed to negative reactions from fans after its release. Here are some reactions from fans on the Ayumi Hamasaki Sekai forum who weren’t really feeling the love:

“Dont know if it was funny or absolutely cheap and ridiculous” (Mirrocle Monster)

“Am I the only one who didn’t get the ending? When it finally seemed to me the girl accepted her body-shape…? What was that, if you run a lot and cur [sic] your hair you turn Japanese?” (Gustavopc)

“The main message is: Unless you change your body (and maybe your race), you’re a crap and the boy will run away from you” (Elednist)

“In my opinion, encouraging someone to change their appearance for someone they like under the guise of “working hard for something” is unhealthy and wrong.” (Becky)

“I don’t think they wanted the PV to look offensive but it can totally be seen as such.” (Maemi)

These comments were accompanied by several positive responses arguing that the music video is merely an encouragement to stay focused and work hard towards a goal. Working hard at what you want is a good principle to follow, but again, equating weight loss with success at anything other than weight loss, is a dangerous precedent. Reflecting on all her years of trying to lose weight, comedian and activist Margaret Cho remarked, “There were whole years that I missed. Those were the loneliest times of my life when I had the least amount of love. I just thought if I could get to a certain weight, then I could be alive. But that is a counterproductive idea. Like why can’t you just be alive now? … It took almost half my life to get there.”

Perhaps reacting to the negativity around the video, especially from girls who see her as a role model, Hamasaki is creating brand-new music videos for both “Feel the love” and “Merry-go-round” (why both is a bit of a mystery — the latter’s most egregious sin was being boring). Whether or not the damage can be repaired, it’s obvious Hamasaki is gauging feedback and using it to tailor an album that’s more satisfying for both its viewers and listeners, though perhaps at the expense of genuine creativity, change, or even insight.

T-t-t-T.O.P.’s “Turn It Up” PV

If you have not seen the music video for T.O.P.’s “Turn It Up,” it’s worth an admiring glance. Lovely, moving photographs that beg me to forgive the egregious placement of women as literal instruments (guys, the objectification is so uninspired, it’s almost like offensive), scattered like other luxurious paraphernalia throughout (the car, the canine, the couture). The black and white is an interesting choice, most likely done for aesthetic purposes that draw the eye towards all those figures in the foreground against the practically clinical high contrasts. This is consumerism at its most exposed and ritual. He’s “the official pimp T.O.P.” and he’s got a clean business to run here, you know? And a pistol to point at nothing in particular and a car he will never drive to stand in front of and beautiful women he must put muzzles on. That’s just how he rolls, bro.

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Five Quiet Disasters of f(x)’s “NU ABO”

Because this song is already critically lauded by just about the entire Asian pop community (finally! Our first consensus! If we had our own Singles Jukebox, this would surely crack at least an 8.00+), I’m not going to bother sitting here and talking about how great it is (it is!). Like 2NE1’s “Try to Copy Me,” it’s just about the apotheosis of everything wonderful about Korean pop groups. And as f(x)’s first mini-album has a bit of competition from girl group 4minute, who released their first Japanese single, the girls have had to come up with some extra special material, which is mind blowing in its own right – aside from the two slower songs at the end of the album, NU ABO is hand-picked for supremacy. From the title track, to “ME+U,” the album manages to be fun, with more than a hint of indulgence in its own genre.

The video for “NU ABO,” too, has the requisite mix of street-dancing and clothes so loud, it could only take a unique combination such as f(x) to wear them before they wore f(x). Regardless, this mix also means giving in to some of the more absurd fashion choices. The following five are a few of the worst:

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2NE1′s “Try To Copy Me” PV: Everything I love about Korean pop

I would just like to preclude this by saying that you could screen grab anything from 2NE1’s “Try To Copy Me” and I would point to it and say EXACTLY, so my standards at this point are either totally unreliable or just plain obsessive. I like to think of them as eccentric.

Every moment in this promotional video is a photograph. Every shot, every pan, every object has been calculated to the point of mental instability. What is K-pop like in the 10’s? Everything I predicted and more. And like all the things I truly admire in this world, I’m torn between laughing at them and laughing with them.

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How to fashion a rock phase out of Ayumi Hamasaki videos: Koda Kumi’s “Can We Go Back”

Call it The Ayumi Hamasaki Effect: ever since Hamasaki has skyrocketed to fame, there have been dozens of acts attempting to repeat the formula, sometimes with variation, sometimes barely concealed, all in an attempt to hit the same idol jackpot. In the case of Rina Aiuchi, even when you model your first two albums off said artist’s first two in an attempt to experience the same popularity (although the first album is less a copy than another one of the proverbial uncomfortably close head shots that littered the streets of 1999 like Parliament cigarette butts outside a Spoon concert), you still end up plunging so far down the popularity chain, you forgo your rock phase for adult-contemporary lite and the next average to middling anime theme. And while Koda Kumi has managed to pull herself up by her own dominatrix bootstraps instead of wide-eyed staring in T-shirts and jeans, she’s still not different enough to pass up a chance to have her diva-rock phase, all seemingly culled from the back catalog of Japan’s own Empress of Pop.

From 2001’s “NEVER EVER” to 2007’s “talkin 2 myself,” Hamasaki has gone through all the permutations: mud-caked soul-searching, bouncy pop rock, faux-hawk, leather, and studs, mostly with anger. Lots of anger. Except when it’s sad. Then it’s not just sad, it’s slit-your wrists depressed. Koda Kumi’s new single “Can We Go Back” may not have the lyrical weight of a Hamasaki creation, but it certainly knows where to go for the appropriate pissed-off imagery (besides, of course, that very strange flag-raising thing, brought to you by Coldplay).

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All you need is Ai: “Is” PV

Ai Otsuka’s given name means love and she has never ceased to remind us this on every album she has released: LOVE PUNCH, LOVE JAM, LOVE COOK, LOVE PiECE, LOVE LETTERHer first greatest hits collection was entitled Ai am BEST, and her new collection, to be released November 11, is exactly the same: LOVE is BEST. It’s a tad more inclusive, ditching the “clever” wordplay for a more straightforward, in your face, in case you didn’t quite catch it the first time summary of everything Ai Otsuka writes and sings about. But everything in her world isn’t just filtered through the permutations, challenges, setbacks, and joys of love, it is love; “Is” being the key word. And I mean everything.

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Girls in the men’s room: BoA’s androgyny

I’m not saying girls dressing up like guys is anything new (nor vice versa), but when super-feminine waif BoA’s new single is still touting the same fedoras, three-piece suits, and all-male dance cast, it’s worth reiterating a notion I skimmed while gushing over “Eien.” At a time when popular Korean girl groups like SNSD, 2NE1, and 4minute are wrapped in layers of techno-colored wardrobes and purporting to sell tough girl images while skirts get shorter and suits come tailored in revealing short-shorts (and I would be making a completely different point if it wasn’t so obvious that they weren’t choosing any of it themselves and instead, kowtowing to image consultants and gender standards), BoA gets a short haircut (that isn’t pixie, or twee), a three-piece suit (that wouldn’t look attractive on anyone, and looks a size too big), and gender-neutral choreography (that has never showed off her talent better).

Hip-hop may still be a man’s game, but BoA has never been playing it better. A determination to keep her overseas Japanese urban reign has produced some interesting choices, among them “BUMP BUMP!”, her new collaboration with VERBAL. The music video initially caught my eye because it uses the same effect that Koda Kumi’s “Physical Thing” does wherein the edges of frames are dark and blurred so it seems the only light comes from a cheap camera flash, creating a keyhole view. This technique is often used in brooding music videos, a sort of updated film noir that’s supposed to let you know something seedy, sexual, or sinister is occurring. “Physical Thing” played up the stereotype, alluding to bodies littering a room but never taking the lens off Kumi, all the while watching her perform sexually suggestive gestures with wine bottles and grapes. But the effect in “BUMP BUMP!” is absolutely G-rated to the point where it’s almost dull; at least in “Eien” there were multiple settings. “BUMP BUMP!” takes place in one room with two masters of their craft doing nothing much but dancing, singing, and goofing around.

I’m deeply interested in the point behind this particular evolution: Appeal to a wider audience? Highlighting craft over image? Deliberate separation from younger, more stereotypical idol-esque pop groups? Interestingly, there was a completely different marketing strategy with the U.S. release of “I Did it For Love” at the same time the costume change was occurring across the ocean. In any case, no complaints about the turn around here. If at all successful, it will at least provide immunity from the pesky Japanese media who ignore whatever women are actually trying to do to field questions on relationship status, parenthood, and ex-boyfriends at charity events and promotional parties with which men don’t have to deal. I just wish I could dig the song as much as I do the concept.

Nightmare on amalgam street

Though inspiration can be found anywhere, nobody seems to have found it in a more eclectic assortment than G-Dragon. Since Big Bang’s resident rapper finally took off on a successful solo career, the world has witnessed some pretty outrageous fashion concepts. Though his fashion tends to be louder than his music, nothing speaks louder than  his elaborate music videos; but behind the telephone sports coats, hearts carved in apples, and ever elusive women, lurks the mysterious origins from which he draws. Glancing at his newest PV for “Breathe,” I think I may have uncovered a few.

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Koda Kumi’s “Physical Thing” PV

The title track of Koda Kumi’s forty-fifth single Alive is about as exciting as dishwater. Ballads have never really been her strong suit, after all, she doesn’t have the smoothest of voices, instead flourishing in sounds that easily drown her vocals in bass. But just when you think she has reached the apex of boundaries’ final frontiers, she turns into Darth Kumi.

And now, your Monday Evening Phallic Imagery brought to you by the the c/w track “Physical Thing” and Rhythm Zone (I’ve never said this before, but seriously, it’s probably not safe for work).

Physical Thing PV ░ [ View ]

But what, no fake smoke to go with the fake cigarette? Not even a little?

“It seems crazy to cut smoking out of textbooks but within a few years they won’t be allowed in movies either. A woman can throw her newborn child from the roof of a high-rise building. She can then retrieve the body and stomp on it while shooting into the windows of a day care center, but to celebrate these murders by lighting a cigarette is to send a harmful message. There are, after all, young people watching, and we wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea.” (David Sedaris, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, pg 251)

Koda Clueless has never been good with subtlety, often misunderstanding the line between sexy and sex, and there is little she hasn’t done for shock value. But unless there are sex tapes yet to be released, we’re going to have to be content to snark anything she brings near her promotional video-d lips, including that cigarette. Ah, cigarettes, one of the last bastions of moral rectitude. It’s almost the last “controversial” object or action she hasn’t been filmed singing with or doing, until they put together one of those mock-docs and we see her do a line on a sheet of lyrics.

But the whole thing looks unrealistic and clumsy, and the fact that it’s done purely as a means to put both parents’ and fans’ knickers in a twist is what upsets me. In some ways, it makes it twice as less threatening, turning it into something of a joke (the pressing question becomes: will it or will it not tumble from her teeth in the middle of a dance step and set the room ablaze?). Clearly, I have fallen prey to it: the conversation generated by one cigarette that doesn’t burn or ever seem to ash is the conversation they want you to have. But still, the cigarette-a-look-alike is only shocking in so far as most teens today are of the truth generation, already forgetting that smoking was common on television and movies until fairly recently.

In reality, the cigarette is only distracting us from the real problem of this video. Forget the music, I can’t hum a single bar of this vacuous song after watching this twice, but the image of her red wig and wine bottle hand-jobs has been sealed like a cattle brand to my retinas. But then I’m an old-school feminist; if you really want to assert your sexual freedom, go burn a bra or something.