Pop culture is a complicated mix of superficial imagery and deeper meaning that is often tied to the experiences of a select group. The initial imagery (or sound) spreads across the globe and gets adopted by youth in other countries, but understanding of that deeper meaning is often lost in the process. This is especially true in the growing level of pop-culture sharing between Asia and the West.
Okinawan rock is one of the earliest examples of this. American military bases in Okinawa and other parts of Japan had large entertainment complexes catering to American soldiers which peaked in the 1970s. Local musicians would mimic popular American songs without understanding the anti-war and civil rights foundations of most of that era’s rock music. Eventually, executives in Tokyo took notice and commercialized this music even further away from its counterculture roots (Toshimaru).
This was just an early example of a still growing trend among Asia’s Gen-X and Millennial generations. One example, also from Japan, is Babymetal; a fusion of Japanese idol culture with heavy metal music. The band’s music videos include some “dark” and controversial imagery that is very much at odds with the otherwise “kawaii” (cute) idol culture. For example, Babymetal’s promoters have rebranded the “devil horn” hand gesture of heavy metal as the ears of the Fox God (Rosenthal).
J-Pop and K-Pop are some of the most visual aspects of Asian pop-culture borrowing from Western hip-hop, pop, edm, and other genres. These lyrics and images of these source genres have roots in a wide variety of Western sub-cultures; from social justice and political protest, to hypersexualized party anthems. While K-Pop emulates this and even includes snippets of English lyrics, it generally ignores the original meaning and just tries to make a catchy tune (Jin & Ryoo). Asian idol pop is almost entirely manufactured and commercial so not only are the original meanings blurred, the performers themselves are radically different. Indeed most idols (both K-Pop and J-Pop) are required to sign very strict behavior agreements which mean that even though these boys and girls sing songs laden with sexual innuendo, and promoted almost exclusively on appearance and sexual appeal, they are not allowed to even date (Bryford)
It’s not just music. China is a country where pornography is highly illegal and conservative ideals about sex and gender relations are common. Despite this, the Playboy Bunny symbol is everywhere; from sweat suites for grandmothers to shirts for young girls (Hunnwick). Instead of associating the symbol with sex, it was seen as a status symbol because it was a foreign brand. Just like the music, Asian youth don’t seem to be concerned with the roots or possible other meanings associated with music styles or brands. They are attracted to the novelty of foreign brands backed by powerful marketing by the brand holders.
- Byford, Sam. “Dating AKB48: the J-pop cult banned from falling in love.” The Verge. 8 Feb 2013. Web. 9 April 2016.
- Hunwick, Robert Foyle. “Playboy Is Ditching the Sex and Betting on China.” Foreign Policy. 15 February 2016. Web. 9 Apr. 2016
- Jin, Dal Yong, and Woongjae Ryoo. “Critical Interpretation Of Hybrid K-Pop: The Global-Local Paradigm Of English Mixing In Lyrics.” Popular Music & Society 37.2 (2014): 113-131. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Apr. 2016
- Ogura, Toshimaru. “Military Base Culture And Okinawan Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 4.3 (2003): 466-470. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.
- Rosenthal, Jeff. “Babymetal: Gaga’s Kooky Find.” Billboard 126.24 (2014): 57. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.