Sunday, April 25, 2010

Beyond Bubblegum Pop

The first AKB PV's I was exposed to were Aitakatta and Baby! Baby! Baby! Personally, I wasn't very impressed, they were too bubblegummy, and I didn't find the lyrics or the song themselves interesting or creative enough. Then I saw their JCB Hall 2008 and NHK Hall 2009 concerts, then I fell in love with the group. Besides the impressive theatrical merits I could mention another time, one more thing I loved was the variety and quality of songs they performed. From then on, I exposed myself to more of their songs and found even more variety, from rock to hip hop, love songs and songs about different aspects of life, light, frivolous songs and dark, serious ones. I knew I didn't just like them just because they were cute when I started listening to their mp3's on my player; I love them so much that I don't need to see their cute faces and great performances to enjoy their cool music.

I'm one of those guys who may not like the song released first for an album, but I might absolutely love a track on the same album that will never get played on the radio. The ones usually played on the radio are meant for a mainstream audience, which makes sense since they would like to appeal to as many people as possible, but sometimes I find many of these songs just boring.

Singles aren't very popular in the Philippines, albums are, since they contain around a dozen songs, but in Japan, where a single can contain 1-3 songs only, I can imagine very little variety. But another great thing about AKB is that their songs aren't only the ones in singles, which they release around four a year, which would mean very few songs, but rather they have 12 or more songs for their stages (stage performances at their theater), and considering different teams have different stages, and stages change every so often, that means a huge number of songs, which allows them to do so many genres and so many themes. So chances are, if you dislike one song, there are so many others you might like. AKB likes to push the envelope too, with a lot of daring songs with daring lyrics and performances, and yet perform such encouraging songs such as Yuuhi wo Miteiruka? and River. Aki-P, Akimoto Yasushi, the producer and creator of AKB48, is also great at writing original lyrics at various points of view, which you could see with songs such as Renai Kinshi Jourei, Tsundere!, Itoshisa no Defense, Kioku no Dilemma, Dakedo..., Squall no Aida ni, among so many others. One of these days I'll give a list of sorts about the various genres and themes that they do.

I originally didn't give much credit to Aki-P's creative lyric writing with Aitakatta and Baby! Baby! Baby!, but after hearing way over half of the over 200 songs he has written for the AKB family, I am quite impressed. My first love with Japanese music was another creative lyricist, Utada Hikaru, I believe Japan's most successful recording artist. I first fell in love with Hikki's music with the song First Love, (although I loved Automatic way before that, I just didn't know it was hers that time), but my favorite from Hikki is Distance. The variety and quality of her lyrics was superb. The only thing about Hikki is she releases albums so infrequently, around once every two years. (Of course, Hikki is a totally different genre.) But since AKB fans don't only rely on singles for AKB's music, we get tons of new songs each year, from the released tracks and additional tracks of singles, to subunits and stage songs, we get quite a good dose of fresh tracks pretty much throughout the year.

And if you're thinking I like AKB because I like Japanese stuff and Jpop in general, you're wrong. I once got a hold of hundreds of different Jpop songs from various artists from a Japanese girl I know, and discovered that I only liked maybe ten of the songs. I think many of the others were bubblegummy or plain old uninteresting for me. So actually, I'm not into Jpop in general, I like AKB, Hikki, and only a few others. I actually don't even watch anime nor read manga either.

So if you're kind of like me and you're quite sick of the generic "I love you, I need you, my heart wants you," kind of lyrics, take a listen to AKB's stages and concerts. There have been AKB single cover songs that I'm not really crazy about, but like I said, these single cover songs are to attract more audience and is set to mainstream, but if you want fresh and true alternative (not the supposed alternative rock that is actually quite generic and mainstream now), AKB's got them in their stage songs, many of which they perform in their concerts too. And if you do like the generic "I miss you, I want to cry, why did you hurt me" lyrics, well, they have those kinds too.

Even if you don't understand Japanese, you might like the songs anyway, as they're musically great even if you don't understand the lyrics, especially if you expose yourself to the various genres and themes. And once you read a translation of the lyrics, you might fall in love with the songs even more.