m-flo’s Taku Takahashi Finally Clears Up His “F*ck JPop” Tweets

As some of you may know, I recently started writing for the English language Japanese newspaper The Japan Times.  Through them, I was recently given the opportunity to interview m-flo’s Taku Takahashi when he was in New York City for the Japanese pop culture festival Waku Waku +NYC. It was exciting to be able to meet and interview someone who I’ve been a fan of for over a decade. m-flo was one of my starting off points when I entered the world of Japanese music. Taku’s a cool guy. We sat down in his hotel room, and over the course of 2 hours we discussed a variety of topics, including his “F*ck JPop” tweets, his current thoughts on KPop, and singers he thinks that are actually talented. That part of the interview can be seen on The Japan Times site.

Due to space constrictions and my general loquaciousness, I ended up with a lot more content than I was able to include in my article for The Japan Times. Due to the graciousness of my editor, I am now able to bring the outtakes from my Taku interview here.

August 24 marked 10 years since the release of the m-flo album “Beat Space Nine.” It was your first #1 release. How has the industry changed since then?

It’s very different now. Before, it was based on how many cds you sold. Japan still sells more cds than any other country, but we’re declining. A lot of people look at the numbers and are mistaken. They think we’re selling a lot, but it’s only one particular group which has a very unique fanbase. I think you know who I’m talking about: AKB48. But they’re a rare case.

We’re like the US, but we’re adapting slower. Before, if the label had the money, there was advertisement on tv and in magazines. But now that people don’t buy cds, it’s totally different.

The Japanese music industry is conservative, it’s always been so. But things are getting more liberal now. They’re getting ready for something new. For the past 10 years, few people have been trying to bring out something different.

m-flo was one of the main urban acts last decade. What do you think of that scene today?

There was a hip hop / R&B movement around 1997 / 1998, with Sanpin Camp and LB Nation. I always say that’s the beginning of the end of the first Japanese hip hop boom. It got big and things started to go downhill from there. Major labels tried capitalizing on it, but didn’t succeed, so it went underground again. But now, we’re having a renaissance with rappers like AKLO, KOHH, and PUNPEE. I don’t know about R&B though.

Could you see m-flo going back to their old, urban sound?

Possibly.

You’ve worked with a variety of acts. Who was your favorite?

I have a few. Maki Nomiya, since I’m a big Pizzicato Five fan. Chara, Kato Miliyah, Crystal Kay, I could go on.

What was it like working with Ayumi Hamasaki?

Never met her. I mean I’ve met, but not during the song making process. Sent her the demo, she sang, we got it back, and we did the mix. This was for her song (“Merry-go-round”) and her song with m-flo (“My Way)”.

The same day “Merry-go-round” came out, you had another production come out: Hey! Say! JUMP’s “Ride With Me.” What was it like working with them?

Yeah, that got to #1. With Johnny’s, you don’t get to work with them because they’re always busy. We sent them like 5 demos, until they said ok. I had to please their management, and since it was a theme song (for the tv movie “Kindaichi Shonen no Jikenbo Gokumon Juku Satsujin Jiken”), I had to please the tv producer too. But since they were working with me, they expected something different from what the group normally does. It was a challenge.

If you could work with anyone, who would it be?

Utada Hikaru. We asked her like 5 times and she said no every time. We asked her for all of our “Loves” albums. I think we’ll keep on bugging her though.

How is LISA (m-flo’s former vocalist) doing?

She’s fine. She’s living near my house. I talk to her once a month. We talked about making some new music like almost a year ago, but it didn’t happen. I think it will soon though.

You do soundtracks. How’s that going?

Next week, I’m finishing the one for the movie “Nobunaga Concerto.” I’m also working on one for a Square Enix game that I can’t reveal the name of. Making soundtracks is my dream job.

How does it feel performing in the US?

Wonderful. I was overthinking it at first, but then I realized that I’m just playing in front of other human beings. I’m not as nervous as before, but a bit nervous still. I’m always a bit nervous before I perform.

Do you think speaking English has helped you?

Yes, that’s how this interview is happening. I can connect with foreign fans and artists by speaking English. I can see the outside world. I wish our stupid politicians would do that so they can see how offensive the things they say are to the rest of the world.

Why did m-flo stop releasing singles?

Because singles don’t sell. It’s not only our decision. It’s the label’s decision too.

Speaking of your label, what is going on with Avex right now? There have been some complaints about how they’re throwing everything at the wall recently to see what sticks.

Well, Avex is the biggest label. And they’re the one most up for a challenge. I’ve seen other labels, and they’re more conservative. Avex is much more willing to do something new. That’s something I like about Avex. Some things work, and some don’t. But if you don’t try, nothing happens.

You recently did a promo video for Avex’s streaming service, AWA. What do you think of streaming?

It’s like Japan is skipping a step. The US was ready for streaming because a very large catalog could be found on iTunes. The same can’t be said for Japan. A lot of big acts aren’t on iTunes Japan. The catalog is the important thing with streaming and the same thing is happening. AWA doesn’t have a lot of the newest stuff. They should have some exclusive things though since they’re owned by Avex, like Netflix does.

Any parting words?

I wished Japanese music journalists asked the questions you do, because Japanese journalism sucks. You asked a taboo question when you asked about “F*ck JPop.” A Japanese journalist wouldn’t have the guts to do that. But it’s great to ask these questions so that the artist can explain more.

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  • Comments

    • Thong

      Great job on the interview Ronald! I’m super curious about why Utada have said no to m-flo so many times. Perhaps musically, she didn’t think they are the right fit? I haven’t gotten to read your article on Japan Times yet but if I’m not mistaken, we need to subscribe to read their articles, isn’t it?

      • No, it’s free for the first 10 articles you read I think. But after that, you just have to sign in via social media. You don’t have to pay.

    • sumomona

      wow, thanks for the interview, ronald! this was a great read
      hope they keep bugging utada haha

    • Let me say this again: Good job!

    • Ok everyone, please read The Japan Times article as well because that is the main part of the interview!

      • Jurippe

        Congrats to your gig at the Japan Times, I don’t know if you’re in the journalism “industry,” but if you made it through pursuing a hobby that’s good on you!

        • I did make it through this being a hobby!

    • elsupertai

      It’s so amazing to have people like you working for The Japan Times. Can’t thank you enough for sharing this!

    • Krys

      He made a great point in his closing statement, but there are still some things about him that irk me.

      • Like?

        • Krys

          He’s too focused on prizing what the collective West is doing in regards to music and comes across like he’s pushing the idea of purposely imitating Western artists in order to “improve” J-pop. I mean, his idea of helping J-pop was to start an Internet radio show where he highlights largely foreign artists while ignoring the underground innovation happening in Japan right now — if that doesn’t say “our own artists suck,” then I’m not sure what does.

          I think Japanese artists are capable of creating something that is inspired by their culture, country, and musical history without turning into replicas of Western artists. It sounds like he may be taking m-flo in a more progressive direction soon but the past three albums from them have been a sharp decline into the same old crap that gets pushed at me in my home country. It’s not innovative, it’s imitative.

          • He does support the electronic and urban scenes within Japan though. His main realms have been urban and electronic music so it’s not as if he’s going to support idols just because they’re there. He wants alternatives, and electronic and urban are those alternatives. He’s not a fan of the mainstream. It’s stagnant and needs a kick in the ass from the underground, whether that be Western music or not.

            • starlightshimmers

              You can say the same exact thing in Western music too, that mainstream Western music is becoming stagnant, journalists have written plenty of articles about it and studies have even been conducted how Western music is becoming “less diverse.” A lot of people turn to J-pop because it offers something different from mainstream Western music. I have my own music taste, I don’t exactly follow mainstream music, whether it be Japan or Western music. I suppose this is not solely a Japan problem but a global problem. I don’t find artists like Fifth Harmony or One Direction appealing, they’re like the Western equivalent of AKB48 or Arashi, which I don’t find appealing either.

              • I don’t listen to Western mainstream music either really. And it’s not as if the Western music he’s playing is pop music either. It’s mostly EDM and other forums of dance music.

                • starlightshimmers

                  That just goes to show that Western music has its own problems and therefore people should stop criticising J-pop for not being Westernised. J-pop has its own problems but copying Western music is not the solution.

                  • The thing is though is that the parts of Western music that people criticize aren’t really the parts that he’s praising.

    • Christine P

      Thank you for sharing this, great job. I’ve read the Japan Times article too and I agree with Taku.
      Almost everything he said pretty much sums up my sentiments towards Japan these days, not just towards the music scene, but also the anime/manga culture too.
      Japan is still ‘conservative’ and yes, ‘Cool Japan’ is not cool XP

      • I would pose a question to him based on what my experience as an international fan and my experiences with other international fans, and he was in total agreement. Things need to be on YouTube, things need to subbed, thinks need to be on iTunes internationally.

    • nothingsover

      Had no idea you were writing for the Japan Times! I read them quite often. Great interview though (on both fronts). I appreciate his honesty, and like he said, the fact that you’re willing to be direct. I’ll be the first to admit that I listen to what many consider mediocre music – I like the cutesy sugary idol songs – but there is definitely a lot of unrecognized talent in Japan. I’d love to see Japan expand more to the global market. Some acts, like ONE OK ROCK and Babymetal, are really moving that way and we’ll see whether they can succeed. Furthermore, I definitely agree that the Japanese music industry needs to find a way to adapt to the new market. CD sales are better than elsewhere, but they’re gonna have to find a solution before they sink below the waterline. Idols might be able to survive on lives and merchandise like American acts who rely on touring and merch, but I don’t see that as sustainable for most acts.

    • Yoreruu

      Oh, I left a comment there yesterday about translating it to portuguese and I had -just- finished translating it when I saw the tweet with this post’s link. lol
      That’s best though, since now I can also translate this and credit both sites back. (If that’s not okay, please tell me.) I’ve read the article and felt like I just have to let more people know about it. There are still many people who don’t know those details and I believe knowing and discussing it is important, too, when you’re a fan.

      I wish more people would be that honest about the industry! It’s not like we didn’t already know those things, but having him say it is BIG. I also feel like we’re moving on to something new and I really hope it’s so – japanese music desperately needs that right now. And we do, too.
      It’s rare for me to agree with everything someone says, after reading an article… So I’m glad (and surprised) to say I agree with absolutely everything he said there. It’s funny because I was talking to my friend about m-flo the other day and how things used to be fun and interesting with their “m-flo loves…” project.

      Anyway… thanks so much for this! Awesome article and interview! I’ve been trying to bring this discussion back recently and all I needed was an excuse to do so – but THIS was so much better. I hope we’ll get to see more signals of that so-called change soon!

      • This conversation does need to be brought up more. When I found out Taku was going to be in New York, I knew I had to talk to him because he was so outspoken. I do feel a change is on the horizon and part of my goal here and with The Japan Times is to document that. You can credit The Japan Times and this post since they are talking about 2 different parts of the same thing.

        • Yoreruu

          Thanks! Will do. And I’ll send you the link when it’s ready. You’re doing a great job btw.

          • Thanks! I look forward to it!

    • eureeka

      I just want to say congratulations to you and I wish you the best in all your journalistic endeavors!

    • eplizo

      Brilliant interview. I love him. You never quite get to hear Japanese artists speak in depth like this about the industry, so it was great to read this. Taku not being the sort to sugarcoat or shy away from anything either made it even more interesting. I agree with most of what he said honestly. The industry around the world is kinda at a really awkward phase. I enjoyed reading about what he had to say about other artists too, especially the part about vocals.

    • Hey congrats on being able to interview with him, Ronald! Taku’s always felt super down to earth, it’s good to see he’s as sensible and upfront as he’s always seemed.

    • Jo

      He sounds hella chill and down to earth. Good job interviewing him!

    • > It’s like Japan is skipping a step. The US was ready for streaming because a very large catalog could be found on iTunes. The same can’t be said for Japan. A lot of big acts aren’t on iTunes Japan.

      If you want to listen a real sound of the music/track you should buy a physical copie. But if you like to listen a compact cheap shit (which iTunes provides), then yes, it is necessary to develop streaming.

      • Lossless streaming is a thing…

        • Lossless — yes. But it’s only streaming, I want to buy it digitally from iT or GP :(

          • That’s what Ototoy is for: http://ototoy.jp/top/ But even here, it brings us back what Taku said, nobody has a complete catalog.

      • mee-KE-le

        Today’s codec are nothing like in the past. You really can’t tell the difference between aac and CD on blind tests. This is coming from someone who loves (or maybe loved) the CD format and imported J-Pop CDs (which cost me a fortune) for years.

        • Lol
          If you can’t hear the difference it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist :D
          Lossless is the original sound, not m4a or mp3.
          iTunes gives his shitty mastering with rising high frequencies and cutting low. And you just hear plastic dirt.
          But not iTunes, not GP provides you to buy a lossless. They sell air. Which is sad. Because no one can suprass CD.

          • mee-KE-le

            Well, actually you can buy Hi-Res music up to 24-bit/192kHz, which is way better than CDs. iTunes isn’t the only digital store.

        • Gisele

          I agree with Hana. I have made blind tests, mp3 320 kbps vs Flac, and my score in one of them, for example, was 5/6. I don’t even have a high end setup. AAC is not that much better, Itunes is expensive for what it offers, I would rather buy a physical copy, only if I have no option I go for Itunes. Not to mention that it usually comes with a nice package, booklet, etc.. Also, I subscribe Deezer, and IMHO some material is not even 320 kbps, more like 192 kbps.

          • mee-KE-le

            I agree with both of you. AAC files are way to expensive for what they are and it’s not uncommon to find the respective CDs at a lower price.
            But you need to consider that most people are perfectly fine with youtube and free streaming packages. This is what is popular today. The CD format will be tomorrow’s vinyl, a collectible item for a niche market.
            But streaming is not the only option. The Hi-Res market is also growing and they offer an even better audio resolution than CDs. Yes, you don’t get the physical experience. Even if Western CDs are not that great today. They often come in cheap cardboard sleeves (that I loathe) and barely have a couples of pictures in the booklet with no lyrics. The only CDs worth buying are the Asian presses (Japanese in particular). But even those are not as fancy as they used to be because it’s a market in decline.

            • Gisele

              Totally agree with you, I only buy japanese cds, no way I buy the western ones, they suck. I received a pack of cds from Japan last week and damn, BUCK-TICK’s yume miru uchuu is absolutely gorgeous (you should google it). Things like this makes me happy to support my favorite Japanese artists.

      • risotto

        You sound like those hipsters that insist vinyl is better than CD. Or like my uncle who will go to the grave with his 8-track player in hand because the sound quality is “better” and you can play them on infinite loops. People like them will pay more at specialty shops to listen to the same thing on a different format.

        Point I’m leading to here is: the sound quality does not shift as much between what’s on iTunes and what’s on CD. The price and availability is what makes aac or mp3 ideal over a physical copy. When I lived in Japan from 2001-2004, I’d have to pay somewhere around the equivalent of $30USD for a CD. WTF! Sorry, I’d rather have my “cheap shit” all concise and in one small 100GB universal device than to have to carry it and switch it out while looking for somewhere to play it (and pray it doesn’t scratch or skip), because of the minute and arguable decrease change in sound.

        • Again.
          If you can’t hear the difference it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist :D

          iTunes gives his shitty mastering with rising high frequencies for tighter specter.
          What we get at the output – less dynamic range and secured the top of which specific trace is not present in the original. But this rate is higher before transcode that it is why later they equalized whith limiter. Close to the original? No of course.
          But If you can’t hear all the plastic dirt, this is your problem. You can’t compact a song which is normally 60 mb in 7-10.
          I’d rather buy a CD and copy to pleer everything by myself without losing quality :)

        • Seekaii

          Admittedly I’m one of these hipsters I refuse to buy digital copies lol.

        • Gisele

          Storage is dirty cheap these days. Also, if you are short on money you can always buy used cds that are waaaay cheaper than Itunes and rip them to flac. There are differences between lossless and lossy, if you can’t hear them, fine, but the differences are still there.

      • starlightshimmers

        CD is superior though for the sole purpose that it comes in physical form which lasts forever.

    • Omnirosa

      It’s nice to see KPop being given the recognition it deserves for their innovation in appealing to overseas fans. I got into KPop a couple months ago and I’m still shocked at how much overseas fans are catered to. There’s multiple websites where you can legally stream even the most recent K-dramas, every music video is available on YouTube with at least 50% including subtitles, and a large amount of acts are available on Apple Music. Hell, KPop’s availability on Apple Music is the only reason I put up with that piece of junk.

      I feel like I’m reliving the glory days of when I was really into JPop except now I get to actually do things legally. I hope one day JPop is made more accessible again and there’s a large initiative to push content overseas. The quality control in KPop is seriously something else. The producers are great, the directors are great, and the groups are usually all great too. KPop realized there’s so much money that comes from overseas fans that they know mediocrity doesn’t cut it. It’s amazing.

      • Seekaii

        IA. Even Netflix streams k-dramas. If Japan did this (and not just anime) I’m sure they would make cool Japan a real thing.

      • Derek

        The AkiP and Kikegawa cartel is making sure the fans remain complacent.

        • gee

          Who’s Kikegawa?

          • Derek

            Kitagawa.

      • starlightshimmers

        I find K-pop music mediocre, a lot of people do, therefore I don’t really understand what you mean by quality control. If I wanted to listen to Westernised music I might as well just listen to European or American music (which I do).

        • Gisele

          THIS. Also, I think you were being nice calling k-pop “mediocre”.

          • starlightshimmers

            I’m glad I’m not alone. I’ve been listening to J-pop for 20 years now, I like how it’s different. I do agree that improvements can be made but I don’t agree that copying the West is the solution, J-pop should remain true to itself.

        • Omnirosa

          Meh, I hate European and American Pop music. I honestly regret getting into the scene after Japense music started becoming so inaccessible. KPop does westernized music better even though European and American Pop probably have way more potential, I don’t think of it is ever realized, and if it is, it’s not supported. The amount of popularity people get worldwide for simply speaking English (and being of certain race) is one of the biggest things that dampens the quality. KPop actually had to rely on quality to get people into their Asian celebrities, English speaking countries never had to rely on quality which is why, imo, there isn’t any.

          I actually misspoke when I said I was into JPop because I really wasn’t outside of very few artists. KPop is probably the only Pop music scene that I ever truly enjoyed as a whole. I think the worst side of the Japanese music scene is actually the Pop music. It’s mediocre. Outside of Shiina Ringo, the rock bands are probably where it’s at.

          • starlightshimmers

            I’m the complete opposite, I find Western artists make better Westernised music than K-pop artists. There are excellent American and European pop music beyond the mainstream, you just have to look for it yourself. There are J-pop artists too that blow K-pop artists out of the water. I think it depends on what type of artists you’re looking for, if you’re looking for connectivity and style then K-pop is suitable. If you prefer live performances, J-pop artists are excellent live performers. I actually find Shiina Ringo boring, so our music tastes are different.

          • iGleaux

            I get that you have the right to hate what you want but I seriously roll my eyes when I see people make this their argument for why they hate western pop especially in relation to K-Pop of all things. You said so yourself you got into K-Pop a couple months ago. I’ve been into it for almost a decade. These idols work with a lot of western people behind the scenes and follow a lot of western trends (a lot of the times they are tardy to the party).

            Like honestly it isn’t that much different other than the album packaging is better, it gives us the boy/girl groups that died in the west a long time ago I guess, and it’s way more gimmicky to get to get teenagers attention. I would say fandom experience is different but look at Rihanna and Bey both have fanbases that have their own names (Beyhive and Navy) just like Big Bang has VIP and DBSK has Cassies. Bey and them just don’t have light sticks and family/town/nation concerts with that weird label worship (even though in Urban music a decade ago you had labels like Bad Boy, Def Jam, Rock-A-Fella that was just as famous as the artists).

            Also Koreans complain about the lyrics to idols songs being stupid all the time. Language barrier and it being foreign puts the blinders on a lot of people.

            I find solid pop music all the time from western artists but then again I don’t listen to the radio and I get off my ass (not really) to look for it so…

            • One thing that KPop fans say that I get when it comes to how KPop is better than Western pop is the performance aspect. Like nobody in Western pop really dances anymore. And it’s not as if they’re bringing the vocals to back up their lack of dancing.

              • iGleaux

                I forgot about that one too.

                I know my girl Dawn Richard dances her ass off, her visuals are everything, and her music is amazing so I have my western Pop artist to freakout over lol.

              • starlightshimmers

                The performance aspect? Western pop artists can out-dance and out-sing any K-pop artist. You need to watch the music festivals and tours.

              • starlightshimmers

                Show me any K-pop artist that can out do the following artists in dancing and singing combined. They’re all singing live and dancing non-stop for 60 minutes. These are just from the female soloists in Western pop music that I listen to. I don’t know which pop artists you’re listening to for you to conclude that K-pop is superior in performance.


                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqzXtWPfrmQ

                • Beyonce is the only relevant one you named. Nobody has checked for Nicole or Shakira in years. I’m talking about the current top girls: Katy, Rihanna, Taylor, Ariana, Miley, and so on.

          • Yeah, very few people I know who are into Japanese music are into actual pop music anymore. Everyone is a lot more interested in other genres of Japanese music now.

      • Everything in KPop is so standardized though for the very reasons you said, and it results in a stifled market. Not everyone wants pop music.

        • Omnirosa

          I’m normally not into manufactured music but I tend to enjoy it when it’s of great quality which can’t be said for most industries except in Korea.

          I actually was never really into JPop, I guess I forgot how much more of a JRock fan I was over the years, but I was mainly into Japanese music for Shiina Ringo and rock bands. The Japanese music scene definitely is my personal preference but one country is too costly to enjoy, the other one isn’t.

          After finally venturing outside of Japanese music, I’m starting to realize that not every industry has someone like Shiina Ringo. She’s such a great artist (not just a singer who steals all the “genius” from producers) and there are actually people buying music and supporting her career. All the other “true artists” in other industries either suck or they don’t make bank.

          • Hmm, I can see your point. Ringo really is a special case.

    • mee-KE-le

      You really asked him interesting questions and I like how honest his answers were. Good job!

    • Derek

      Try persuading Kikegawa, AkiP and their cadre of Yakuza loan sharks who makes sure their industry succeeds and pays off lawmakers to pass anti piracy laws not meant to prevent piracy but ensure their bubble economy stays in business

      • Krys

        Damn, run me over with the truth. I like to pretend the mainstream music industry isn’t fundamentally mired in corruption, ok. :(

        • Derek

          I am sorry, but Kikegawa and AkiP is not letting go of their golden throne any time soon and I am very unapologetic about telling people that this is how fucked up Japanese media industry is. Let KPOP and JPOP’s current situation be a lesson to other Asian countries lookign to expand internationally. One has gotten the total adoration in the midst of getting attention while the other is constantly getting shat on even from their own international translator news.

          • Krys

            Oh, no, I know, it’s a very valid and important aspect of the issue. Kitagawa/JE has had a monopoly on the male side of the idol industry for years so it makes me concerned that the 48 group reign will become a new, long-lasting fixture.

            I can’t see another Asian country ever turning out the way Japan has. Political history and economy has a lot to do with how a given country’s pop cultural media plays out, and how they participate on a global level.

          • KPop is not getting total adoration. There are a lot of pieces about how manufactured and inhumane it is. And honestly, after speaking to Taku, the term “JPop” needs to die. It’s served its purpose and we need to move on. The people who do write about Japanese music do tend to shit on JPop, but it doesn’t mean we are shitting on Japanese music as a whole. I think you forget that sometimes.

    • He does play Japanese music on block.fm, as do the other djs. Several of the other djs on there are producers as well, such as Shinichi Osawa, banvox, and Carpainter. Playing Western music helps expose the Japanese audience to new sounds.

      You made it seem like he should be playing idols, ie straight up JPop. It’s pretty clear that he’s not into that scene. He’s looking for alternatives.

      The idol infrastructure is keeping the industry afloat, but it’s also holding it back and giving it a bad name. The Japanese idol industry needs to learn from the Korean one and actually get people with talent.

    • Caprikjpopcorn

      His ”controversial tweet” describes how I feel about Jpop in 2015 (okay not reallyXD) .
      A lot of people might say that Jpop has gotten better, but for me it hasn’t really gotten better. For me was 2009 one of the best years of Jpop. Exile’s and Koda Kumi’s songs old songs are gold compared to their songs today, that doesn’t do the justice for me to consider them good enought. Even thought I’m not a C-ute fan, is C-ute an exception (the only one, that comes to my mind) , where I prefer their newer songs over the old ones.

      • I don’t think anyone has said JPop has gotten better. People are saying the things outside of the mainstream are getting better.

    • Great job and congrats! This is the kind of thing I like to see. :D

    • starlightshimmers

      Pizzicato Five fan myself. Interesting.

    • starlightshimmers

      I’m a Pizzicato Five fan myself! I’m pleasantly surprised :). Pizzicato Five introduced me to J-pop with “Sweet Soul Revue” in 1994, literally had J-pop in my childhood :).

    • gerorin

      Well, Kpop does know how to cater to the international market. But really, it’s also because there’s not a big jump between mainstream Kpop and mainstream Western / US music. You either get your hip-pop-ish stuff or your disco-pop stuff. For people who never ventured outside of Western music, it’s really easy to get into. There’s almost no ‘musical culture shock’ involved. When I was getting into Japanese music Puffy was sharing stage on TV with Pornografity. Its true that mainstream music in Japan now is rather homogenic (and yet still not similar sounding to US music), though,.and that’s a shame. But just like other have mentioned the same thing is happening in the western music industry. When the top 40s in the US was capable of putting The Chemical Brothers along with Bjork along with REM in the 90s and early 00s, the Japanese music scene was brimming with diversity too, so it’s not just a Jpop conundrum.

      The worst thing that could happen to Japanese music is if their pop acts starts trying to copy US music flavors and styles like Kpop too, though. And Taku is almost talking like Kpop isn’t just as manufactured as J idols.

      • Derek

        There is room for change in kpop. Idols keep the same concept in japan until disbandment. And Jidol is what is considered “mainstream”

        • Not all idols are mainstream in Japan though. There are a few that appear to be mainstream, but are really just supported by large fanbases, just like in Korea.

      • He acknowledges that KPop is manufactured, but it’s a better quality product. If it’s going to be manufactured, at least make it a product that can sing and dance well, as opposed to just looking nice.

        And I think that the Japanese mainstream is changing for the better these past few years. The idol trend is dying and other things are moving into the mainstream.

        • risotto

          “If it’s going to be manufactured, at least make it a product that can sing and dance well, as opposed to just looking nice.”

          Thank you!!!!! Everyone knows, whether it’s Madonna or Britney Spears or Las Ketchup or Katy Perry or SNSD, there’s still a certain level of quality put into the artist’s singing and/or dancing…

          • gerorin

            But there’s a lot of mainstream western artists whose voice are nothing write home about, they just have good producers that package them well. The thing wit idols in Japan is that that’s the culture of that industry, of unpolished barely-able to sing girls and boys. The culture is to watch them grow. Some of them get better at singing, or others abandon singing entirely and go to acting or MCing, but that’s the culture. Even back in the day, you go for Onyanko Club for cuteness and if you want skills you go to the real singers like Agnes Chen. In the 90s it’s Momusu for cuteness and Utada for performance.

            They’re not trying to make a Britney Spears though, those are ‘artists’ and that’s not what thoseidols are trying to be. Again, it still seems like it’s just trying to fit western convention into J entertainment because Kpop does it. I’m not a fan of idols, but if I want to demand better production values I’ll demand it out of actual artists like Amuro, etc. The idols are a whole different genre.

        • gerorin

          See, that’s why the term Jpop is useless. If it’s just about comparing kpop with jpop where jpop = j idols, then yes, he has a point. But Yuzu or Ikimonogatari is pop music and they’re mainstream and they’re of good quality.

          If he’d just say Fuck J Idols he’d have better legs to stand on.

    • kiryu

      I’m glad a Japanese artist is finally being honest about j-pop. I know some j-pop fans would argue that I’m talking nonsense and j-pop is fine the way it is, but sadly I’m here to tell you from an outside perspective (and possibly on behalf of the 90% world population), it’s going downhill and leaves many uninterested. Like he said, the Japanese music industries needs to be more internet-friendly if they want to expand their music and make money. And screw the whole piracy argument! Your music is still going to get pirated either way (Like the other day, I found a website solely devoted into pirating Japanese music. There’s just no escape with piracy no matter how hard you guys try! So don’t be afraid to make your music available on iTunes! You have no idea how hard it is to try and purchase music from Japan when you don’t even live there! So please consider making it available on iTunes, it’s more convenient for fans overseas). Also, he’s right about the singers. A lot of Japanese artists (mostly the idol groups) cannot sing! I’m absolutely baffled by this! How is it possible that the singers in Japan can quickly become so awful? It was only 40-50 years ago when they actually had good singers and promoted only good singing, but today you rarely come across any. The majority of singers within the music industry are just terrible and pathetic! Even if Japan was to expand their music overseas, the squeaky, high pitch voices of their singers will not appeal to western audiences (In a way, I’m actually grateful that these idol groups don’t try to promote in America and humiliate themselves. I would literally experience second-hand embarrassment for Japan). Japanese music industries need to invest in artists that actually have talent, not just on people with bishounen and kawaii looks (Johnny’s and that AKB48 group, and pretty much any idol group with this same concept). The only artists I have faith in gathering fans from western countries is the groups from the entertainment company LDH (such as Crystay Kay, J Soul Brothers, Generations, and E-girls) and of course many underrated singers out there in Japan (there’s just too many of them to list out). A good example would be J Soul Brothers’ RYUSEI. It was able to reach the music charts in Europe, and it was a song that even the Japanese people enjoyed despite its obvious influences from western music. Heck, it even won Song of the Year at the Japan Record Awards, beating those idol groups. And the sudden popularity of k-pop is due to their music industries playing smart by taking advantage of the internet (such as Youtube), which allows other countries access to their videos and music. This results in k-pop having a big fanbase not just in South Korea, but also in Asian and western countries. It’s these big fanbases that solidifies k-pop’s future and will help magnify it throughout the world. Also, another fact that helped k-pop’s popularity is how they slowly changed their music style to appeal more to western audiences (A good example is BIGBANG! They have a huge fanbase outside of Korea and big success doing world tours wherever they go). Japan shouldn’t look down at the success of k-pop but instead be inspired by it. I feel like if Japan was to stay with this idol concept, they will go nowhere and the Japanese music industry will falter in the coming years. As a follower of j-pop (who watched its evolution from the last two decades), I’m truly disappointed by its development. Please get it together! (NOTE: I’m not writing this out of hate but more of a plea for the Japanese music industry to renovate themselves. That is all.)

      • If you want to purchase Japanese music overseas, you can use Ototoy: http://ototoy.jp/top/

        Also, you can always get around not living in Japan to buy things on Japanese iTunes.

        The pop scene in Japan is pretty horrible. Most people I know who are into Japanese music have moved onto other genres of Japanese music.

        One reason that there are so many bad Japanese singers is because idol fans want basicness in their idols. They don’t want someone truly talented. They want someone they can push to be better through their career. Therefore, someone who is a finished product from jump wouldn’t suit that.

        I don’t think idols should be the only thing that Japan pushes internationally. I’m very against Japan pushing its kawaii / weird stereotype.

        There are plenty of talented acts that Japan should be pushing instead.

        I don’t think that Japanese music should become a mimic of Western music, because then it will lose its charm.

        After following Japanese music for over a decade, I can see how it looks like things have disintegrated. The pop scene has gone to complete shit, but several other genres are doing well still, maybe even better.

        • “I don’t think idols should be the only thing that Japan pushes internationally.” – Well, I think that’s what they should not be pushing at all. Of course Babymetal is a different case, but internationally, no matter what you do, akb or any regular idol groups will only strengthen the idea of the Japanese being perverted pedophiles and that’s the last thing JPop needs.

          • Mmm, I used to have the same thought, but I’ve changed over the years. I think including idols is fine now since they are a significant aspect of the industry, whether I like them or not. I’ve made peace with them. The fact that their trend is dying now doesn’t hurt things, LOL.

            • Yeah, they are significant and all, but just not the kind of stuff that should be pushed internationally, due to what I said above and also because most idol groups are musically… well, let’s say… uninteresting. :D Sure, some of them could be passed as novelty acts (that’s how Babymetal got so huge internationally), but I’m really not sure if that is what the Japanese music industry needs.

              • Japan needs a new pop cultural image besides kawaii / weird.

    • Great work, this turned out to be a pretty awesome interview! And it was especially interesting to see that the discussion about Avex’s way of handling new artists (from that Ayu thread a few weeks ago) ended up as a question. :D
      And actually I was always wondering why certain subjects are avoided in most Japanese interviews: because the artists does not want to talk about them or simply because the journalist are just not asking questions about touchy subjects. But for Taku it is obviously the later.