As I have mentioned before, I was raised in a religious cult. Music was an important part of the cult, but it was treated more as a ritual than a celebration. We had our hymns which we sang (some were beautiful, some were depfressing, all were treated inexpertly), there was “special music” (which was nearly always performed by inexpert musicians who half the time didn’t know what they were doing), and I was starving. But I didn’t realize it at the time.
See, I have the heart of a musician, but my growth was stunted. It’s like a language to me, no different than English or Japanese, and it has dimensions to it that are only teased out with training and experience.
I was watching a couple of episodes of AKBingo recently, where a number of girls from different AKB groups were being auditioned for the role of “Dorothy” in a Japanese production of “Wiz”. The guy doing the auditions was looking for something specific, that going in I just didn’t understand – I still don’t completely understand. But the interesting part was that I knew which girls he would pick. The girls who won had a quality to their singing and dancing that I couldn’t describe if I wanted to, but it was the difference between a boring and uninteresting performance and something special.
In the finale episode, there were six girls. The first three did not do well. The last three did progressively better. When the fourth one sang, I said “she did well, but there wasn’t a lot of control.” I thought the fifth one was better than the fourth, though the auditioner said something about her expressions not fitting the role. I’ll have to look at that more, because I didn’t see it. But the sixth one was a girl named Masuda Yuka. She was not perfect – she lost a bit of vibrato control on the last high pitch. She was certainly better than the others. But she had people – including the auditioner – crying. And after she finished, so was she.
The auditioner said “You let it all out, didn’t you?” And she nodded, thanked him, and ran into the hall where she sobbed it out. She won the audition, and she deserved to.
That, in my opinion, is the difference between someone who makes music and a musician.
I haven’t known many musicians, but I’ve known a lot of people who play an instrument or sing. The difference is jarring when you finally see it.
I think that’s why I like J-Pop, J-Metal, anime music, etc. They’re not distracted. They’re not making the music because it’s going to make them a lot of money – I think most of the artists who are idols, etc., actually don’t make much money. But when they do it, at least the best one, aren’t distracted. They aren’t thinking of other things, they don’t phone it in. They sing their hearts out and put everything they have and are into what they’re doing. Even to the point where they make themselves cry.
That’s the Japanese way. That’s the majime way.
And you can tell.
All told, I think this is why I prefer Japanese music. No one in the entire chain of musicians – from the lyricist, to the backing track, to the featured performers – no one has phoned it in. And at the end of the day, that matters.