fly to high

Nishino Kana (Or, How Visual Performance Relates to Music)
May 4, 2012, 1:38 am
Filed under: Jpop


I finally started listening to Nishino Kana last month – I know, where was I all of the last two years when she was the top of everyone’s list?  I’ve enjoyed what I heard so far (though I still think her music is fairly one-track and similar sounding.)

Getting off track though: before I listened to her music in the car of a friend and got hooked, I had avoided listening to her not out of spite or dislike, but out of just boredom.  I got most of my j-pop exposure from the internet, where video is king and youtube (or other streaming or download or mysterious ways of acquiring media, your mileage may vary) is the hand that feeds us all. However a big fan you are of her, you have to admit: on live performances, she has fairly bland stage presence. Her PVs are all fairly similar, she looks like a fashionable girl dropped straight out of Shibuya, and her voice is good but not particularly unique.

As I started to listen to her more, I can really appreciate her music – it’s well produced, well written, and is refreshing to see such a sweet voice sing R&B. More respect abounded from me when I found out that she actually takes an active role in the lyrics of her music.

When you think of the major female musicians of recent times – Utada Hikaru, Hamasaki Ayumi, Koda Kumi, so on and so forth – all of them had considerable visual artistry in their work: artistic PVs, distinguishable outfits, flashy covers. Utada Hikaru’s unconventional PV works might be as remembered as the songs they accompany; Koda Kumi might be better remembered for her fashion and nails than for her music. Even one of my personal queens of Japanese music, Otsuka Ai, draws my love due to her quirky images and artistic videos. (I won’t even touch on Perfume.) They are charismatic performers, and from the little bits I see, either funny or quirky on variety shows.

How important is visual artistry to music? To idol-dom it is necessary and music is probably only a filler to the imagery (let us not mince words here: Heavy Rotation is prolific because of “OMG that video with those AKB girls all in lingerie!! In pink!!”) Is it as necessary in music?

I would never begrudge an artist for bringing different media formats into their work – after all, music is an art, and art is an experience. I don’t know if “Sakura Drops” would be as amazing if not for the magnificent video that accompanied it. I don’t know if Amuro Namie would be in her queenly position today if, instead of donning great retro costumes, she just wore some random dress for the “60s 70s 80s” promotions. And Ayu with her record-breaking budgets for PVs is no stranger to making a visual spectacle.

Should we require that amount of visual artistry of our musicians though? Nishino Kana is greatly popular, but the common valid complaint I hear around about her from those not so fond of her is simply that she is boring – great song but her PVs are all the same or she doesn’t dance on stage. Are those even valid criticisms for someone who can release great sounding songs? Does that make her a lesser, less distinguished artist than someone else who might not have her range of voice but can dance and smile up a storm on stage? Or does that make her a more distinguished, though possibly less popular, musician?

I’m not sure – I possibly enjoy the visual aspects of the artist as much as, if sometimes not more than, the music itself. But I will continue to enjoy listening to Nishino Kana – though I will probably still fast forward through her PVs.


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