The controversy of Music journalism in Japan

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I wrote my first review when I was thirteen. Back then my main passion were Videogames, a medium I still keep very close to myself today that now finds itself at the second place of the most influent art forms in my life, where Music now steadily holds the top of my personal list. I still remember those times clearly: I used to write the draft on paper to then rewrite the final review on my father’s Pentium 133mhz. At first I didn’t work for any website, so the only reason why I was doing it was to express my opinions on certain works and let my passion flow through words, where the impossibility of sharing my point of views in a small italian town where no one cared about this medium was weighing on me as much as today.

Fifteen years later, I’m writing articles and reviews in english about Japanese music. Since I discovered this industry five years ago, my point of view on this medium has changed drastically, formerly tied to the stereotypes that too often lurk in the Western markets. I found an open minded approach to this important form of art and a never-ending series of valid artists that gave new life to my passion for music and for a country I always loved since I was a child. After the initial period full of excitement and great discoveries, though, some controversies came to light, and as a passionate writer the first thing that I couldn’t avoid to notice was the worrying lack of information on music. I’m talking about the way Japanese music headlines cover music, a controversial scenario where every information seems to be available for everyone, but lacks in consistence and relevant content.

There are many examples that can be subject to analysis. Some of the most famous websites are news-only portals, usually tied to labels and companies to support breaking news and announcements of groups. It’s something mostly noticeable with triple A artists: whenever these acts make an announcement live, to make an example, the news is instantly up on these sites, showing an obvious link with labels showcased through brief articles written in a cold and systematic way that unavoidably make these headlines look like support bots to spread and promote artists under particular companies.  Updates are obviously a fundamental aspect in music journalism, and while even such sites are needed to spread basic informations on the industry’s happenings, news and interviews are pretty much the only source of music knowledge fans can get in Japan, except for a few english-written websites based in the country that offer a way more complete coverage. It’s understandable in a way: news take little time and can bring lots of visitors, making the vision of a a big audience gained in little time not far from reality, with the fame gained through this system acting as benefit for the websites that obtain an iconic status that people and artists alike rely to.

But what about articles regarding the many aspects and the state of the Japanese music industry? What about reviews analyzing music? That’s where the worst part kicks in.

Simply put, Japan doesn’t judge nor analyze its music and artists. No headline in the land of the rising sun will tell you if an album is good or bad, leading to the most disheartening scenario I’ve ever seen, which is people not caring about the quality of music. Someone would still buy the last Kyary Pamyu Pamyu single because of her huge popularity and not for the quality of the compositions featured in it, which is very low in this case. Another clear example is the case of Ayumi Hamasaki: one of the most famous and successful singers of Japan has seen a huge decline in popularity during the last years, yet, when asking for opinions about it to the fans, most complaints are aimed towards her age, her tormented sentimental life, her posts on twitter, and so on. Only few mention what actually is the reason behind it, which is overly uninspired music.

This obviously doesn’t mean people in Japan don’t have opinions on the quality of music. Many of them just don’t extern it. The cause of it is to search in the lack of an environment, identity or website that criticizes music and pushes people to discuss and face debates on the subject, probably the most beautiful thing that there is in having a passion. If no one talks about it, if there are no voices praising the artistic value of music, people is not inclined to do so. What’s worse, most headlines mainly use their popularity and iconic status to publish gossips on the artists’ private lives, which is a worrying situation that puts futile and disrespectful content before music: Would an artist be more offended by leaked informations about his/her private life, or by a negative yet fairly critical review?

All of this leads to a final question: Why Japanese headlines don’t care about analyzing music? My opinion here, that’s widely open to discussion as a very personal one, is tied to a particular aspect of the Japanese culture, that sees the individual avoiding harsh confrontations with others to avoid disappointment and incomprehensions. I apply the same concept to Japanese websites, not analyzing the quality of music in order to avoid controversies with labels, fans and artists, yet feasting on gossips to attract a certain part of the audience, a controversial behavior that sees benefit only from the mere commercial standpoint, leaving behind the passion and the art that permeates music.

The truth is, judging music is a weight on a website’s conscience. Reviews can be enormously supportive or brutally truthful, and highly influent on the general public. Japanese headlines don’t want to deal with this uncomfortable burden, creating an environment where journalists as well as the audience don’t care about discussing music quality. And knowing how I always struggled with this issue due to the reality of a hundred inhabitants town, it’s really sad to see the same situation in a huge market full of innovative artists like the Japanese music industry.

– Alex

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