Guide for the Perplexed: Namie Amuro

Cover of Namie Amuro's Checkmate albumThe second in our series on The Learned Fangirl called “Guide for the Perplexed” is focusing on Namie Amuro. We’re hoping to describe corners of fandom that may not be known to mainstream audiences and aspects of fandom culture that demonstrate larger cultural phenomena, so if you have any suggestions for subjects you’d like covered, leave a comment!


Namie Amuro is one of the best-selling Japanese musical artists of all time. Unlike much of the Japanese music industry, where idols stars come and go quickly, Namie Amuro has been popular since the 90s.

She is the self-proclaimed “Queen of Hip-Pop” — also one of her album titles. The use of the Pink Panther in the Wowa music video *is* licensed. Her latest album (March 2011) is called Checkmate!, so extending this framework, she is the Queen calling Checkmate on her opponents (in song collaboration). I’m not saying the metaphor works, but she is definitely *the* queen of Japanese hip-hop influenced pop.

But like many J-pop and K-pop stars, the line between licensing, merchandising, and actual music is blurred. For example, her mini-album 60s 70s 80s was sponsored by Vidal Sassoon. She is well-known as a fashion icon, and if you watch many Namie Amuro videos you will notice that yes, she does wear those same style over-the-knee boots in almost every video!

Also, unfortunately it seems like her record company has been pulling many of her music videos off of youtube. Oddly enough, it is still possible without any difficulty on other video sites to find music videos, including her entire concert DVDs.

I Read A Book: Hip-hop Japan: rap and the paths of cultural globalization

Americans are often separated from the musical traditions of other countries and unaware of the cultural influence of American music, Hip-hop Japan: rap and the paths of cultural globalization covers one small corner of cross-cultural music that needs more explanation.

While many of the artist examples are dated in this 2006 book, as would be true with much cultural anthropology, overall the book includes discussions of the issues of perceptions of race, gender and music, and the influence of sales on the production of music. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in an academic view of the Japanese music industry, and there are some fascinating charts that discuss the interaction between fans, artists, record companies, and media.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t places where more discussion would have been appreciated (especially about cultural issues surrounding race and gender)  — and I am dismayed by yet another book that lumps together hip-hop music, rap, and hip-hop culture. But the biggest failing of the book is not actually of the book — it is that there is so little discussion of Asian music outside of small subcultures — whether it is Japanese hip-hop, K-pop, K-rap, etc.

And when there are discussions, they are not mainstreamed! — SXSW 2010 had a very interesting panel discussion of the global influence of Japanese music, with a large focus on visual kei. Unfortunately, the podcast has been pulled. I know that many pay lots of money to attend SXSW, but it would be nice if the podcasts would be available after, say, six months. And no matter how much the website says earlier podcasts are available–they aren’t “(Also be sure and check out our extensive list of full panel podcasts from 2009.)”

The video above is from Suite Chic, a one-album Japanese collaboration; the singer is Namie Amuro, one of the biggest Japanese pop stars, the self-professed Queen of Hip-Pop; and the rapper is AI, a Japanese-American Japanese rap/singer (known in these parts as Japanese DaBrat). And they aren’t mentioned in the book.

Transformative Reinterpretation or Total Rip-off?: Namie Amuro and Copy That

At what point is copying

  • homage (as a way of honoring and being respectful of the original)  even through direct copying?
  • transformative (in the traditional copyright sense) as building upon the original to create new meaning?
  • or copying as a means of economically exploiting copyrighted works?

This first post in a series about the difficulties in making this distinction focuses on three different examples of how difficult it is to carefully draw these lines, focusing on Japanese pop star Namie Amuro’s Copy That (official Vidal Sassoon music video-ish commercial above), and later posts will focus on Glee’s Madonna and Lady Gaga episodes, and Christina Aguilera’s Not Myself Tonight video (and dance responses), and other similar situations.

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When is 1000 true music fans not enough?: Faith No More, Kylie Minogue, hallyu, and J-pop

If you don’t know the artists (Faith No More & Kylie Minogue) and musical genres (J-pop & hallyu) mentioned in the title of this post, that doesn’t make you odd. You just aren’t aware of these music more popular outside of the U.S. (and the “hallyu wave” is not limited to music).

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have fans — they have many! The U.S. music audience often doesn’t get to hear the music popular elsewhere, yet American music is popular worldwide.

As Frederick Stiehl in his article about J-pop/Hallyu artist BoA,

America has known few foreign artists outside of Latin America or Britain. Indeed, America has proven itself to be quite resistant to foreign singers, and especially to non-English artists. A few exceptions include Icelandic Bjork and German Rammstein …. However, both of these artists demonstrate a specialized style, known to but not followed by “mainstream” Americans.

So where does subgenre begin when it includes an international superstar like Kylie Minogue?

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