What is your current earworm?
Mine is Morning Musume. ’18’s “Are you Happy?”, which was released last month. The Japanese pop idol group Morning Musume. or their sister groups have been mentioned here many times before. I am a huge fan of the group, and this year marks my 14th anniversary of being a fan of Morning Musume. and their umbrella group, Hello! Project.
People have asked me “Why are you in love with such a generic, marketing ploy that is described as an idol group?” This was especially the case this week with my annoying coworkers, who don’t know much about Japanese music. Their perspective of Japanese music is AKB48 singing “Heavy Rotation” in lace underwear or thinking that para para (a dance that was popular about 20 years ago) is still the main dance style for Japanese performers. Pfft, it isn’t. My co-workers only watch performances whenever they randomly come upon a TV music show, a video on their social media feed, or a hear it come up at work. So, their point of comparison is tiny as they don’t know much about the Japanese music scene. (They even said that Whiteberry’s “Natsumatsuri” was a piece of trash even though they only listened to one second and instantly rejected it because of their close-mindedness. Dummies.)
Japanese music is not perfect, by all means. I’m also not saying it is the best music on the earth. Even American music, as well as the other countries’ music, face years where their own music is either garbage or pure gold. But, there are some golden nuggets in Japanese music. You got to look deeper for them.
What still attracts me to Morning Musume is the songs. I used to be all about the members (True diehard Maki Goto fan here). But as I got older, I became more interested in the music than the members. I recently read the translations for the “Hello! Project COMPLETE SINGLE BOOK” series featured on the blog Wota in Translation. There are a lot of fascinating reads from the various lyricists, managers, producers, composers, and arrangers that worked with Hello! Project. In these articles, musicians talked about how they drew their inspirations from such acts like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Queen, and 70s’ disco, and then putting bits and pieces of those influences in Hello! Project songs. Lyricist talked about placing various feelings and current world situations in the lyrics. Managers also explained their processes behind marketing groups. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it reading the interviews (which I linked above) as they are an in-depth insight into how Morning Musume. and their sister groups are marketed and how their songs are made. It will also expand your horizons as you will let go of the biased idea that Japanese idol groups are just a “generic, bland music group.” They are much more than that!
Many international fans criticized “Are you Happy?” as being too generic with its lyrics, choreography, musicality, and instrumentation. It is true that some parts of Morning Musume.’s current discography feel like the producers have either given up or are trying to ride on the dying wave of EDM’s popularity. But, “Are you Happy?” does have nuggets of gold at specific points.
The first thing that comes to my attention is that introduction. For me, the heavy synthesized, brazen pulse on each downbeat makes me just want to get up and do a couple of chest pumps. Whenever or not if I can do those chest pumps accurately, “Are you Happy?” makes me want to dance from the start. The same goes for the 1:41 mark when the song goes “bum-bum-bumbum-bum-bum-buuuuum-bum” and you see the girls jump like rabbits on the music video. That move could look very stupid and childish to adults at first, but once you try it, the movement will seem fun and addictive. Yet, not all parts of the song’s dance routine might be addictive and fun as you may even need to adopt it with your own moves.
The second thing I love about this song is the harmonies! The harmonies are alive in this song. It has been a long time since Morning Musume really used them prominently in a song. One of the things I enjoyed about Morning Musume. has been the rich harmonies. Every time “Memory Seishun no Hikari” comes up on my iTunes playlist, I just want to sing along with the harmonies as they are rich and adds a texture full of deep feeling to it. With “Are you Happy?”, the harmonies aren’t exactly the same but do add a rich texture to it, especially during the “Motto watashi dake” part. I am glad that Tsunku or whoever thought it was a good idea to place rich harmonies within the piece.
The last thing that I like the song is the lyrics. You heard me right, I love the words. I have been reading posts from various Morning Musume fansites that either favor or criticize the lyrics. They may seem generic, but I like them. Something that I love about Tsunku is that he tries to capture the feelings and ideas of young girls and woman in an honest way. A lot of Morning Musume and Japanese pop songs’ lyrics have messages that have stricken a chord with me. One example is DEF DIVA’s song “Suki Sugite Baka Mitai” which was my theme song for my first breakup back in high school. Another would be DREAM COME TRUE’s “Kakusareta Kyouki” which was a song that could relate to my feeling of wanting my first love to come back into my arms. And, I could relate to the loneliness and pain from a broken heart with the song “Koi wo Suru Tabi ni Kisukiyasuku…” by Cui-ling.
The part that I can relate to the most in “Are you Happy?” is the chorus part where the group sings about envying someone else and wishing for love to be a certain way. We, well maybe most women, had experienced this, especially when we are young and have “stars in their eyes.” I have. Yet, I also interpret this part as not only rivalry in love but also may be in academics or sports. And for me, that hit close to home as I had an academic rival when I was very young.
As for the musicality, there are some hits and misses. The miss is that the song is an EDM-like tune, and for me, EDM is the blandest kind of dance music out there. In EDM, there is no diversity with the instrumentation, instruments and vocal parts are more united as there is no stand instrument at any given point like a blazing guitar solo during the interlude of an 80’s rock song. Everything in EDM is electronic — well except for the vocals — and maybe too much at times. But, there are a few golden moments within the song. For example, the short, staccato-like notes during the “Mou osoi yo” part. Or the speed-up six-note instrumental interlude between “Suggoi suki dakara” and “Suggoi samishii”. An interesting thing to note is that “Are you Happy?” is written in a minor key. But, when the song reaches the “Suggoi samishii” part, it seems like the phrase naturally cadences into a major key for one second (due to the power of relative keys), then back to the minor key at the beginning of the second verse.
The most important thing to highlight is that not all idol songs are as generic as people think. There are a lot of golden nuggets of musical genius in Japanese music that most non-fans tend to overlook. I also believe that it is the same case with “Are you Happy?”. Of course, the song isn’t an award-winning tune, nor it wouldn’t be “a super hit that will be remembered forever” like Morning Musume.’s 1999 hit “LOVE Machine”. Yet, there are little golden moments found inside the tune that had me listening to it over and over this past week, thus becoming my current earworm.
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