Monday, May 29, 2006

Pop music meme through DJ Doc and DJ Ozma

I love youtube! It's a great way for me to stay current on the music scene, and I can easily access music videos and compare them side by side. In fact, it's a great tool to keep up with popular culture in Japan.

American and European pop culture has become a sort of worldwide common culture among the young urban educated people in places like South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Young adults in these places listen to Eurobeat or hip-hop music, dress like gangstas, watch American movies, and learn years of English in middle and high school.

You can easily see how a meme (cultural idea transmitted from one mind to another) transforms, as a song is covered by people from different countries.

Check out Boney M's video here
For example, start with Daddy Cool by the Europop group Boney M. This group featured West Indian singers and although relatively unknown in the U.S. (except among disco intelligentsia), I read that this group was quite big in Asia. Here's a video of them singing this 1976 classic and try to remember the strumming bass that runs through the song: "dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah."

Watch DJ Doc's video here.
Now fast forward to the year 2000, to South Korea. The hip-hop group DJ DOC released a very catchy song titled, "Run to You". Look at this video and see how they took Boney M's song and made it into a rap.
(Note: there are Internet claims that DJ DOC released an anti-Japanese single called F_CK ZAPAN. I checked DJ DOC's Japanese website, and they emphatically deny that they were the group responsible for this single. Rather, it's by an unknown indies band called "Paekche" ("Kudara" when read in Japanese). There seeems to be an Internet rumor going on.

Watch Alex To's video here.
Now jump to the year 2004 to Taiwan. Singer Alex To made it more Nelly-like (just like "Hot in Herre") by adding an element of taking off one's clothes in his version of the song, "Take Off" and a bit more English, which is the lingua franca of East Asia. Note the evolution of this meme as seen in dance steps or people stripping their clothes.

Watch DJ Ozma's video here.
And in 2006, the Japanese group DJ OZMA (really a side project of the group Kishidan) released their version, titled, Age Age Every Night. (pronounced "ah-geh"). It's known in Japan that DJ Ozma is doing a cover of DJ Doc's song. He kept Alex To's visual message to take off one's clothes, and added a bit of 1970s disco in a seeming act of homage to the roots of Boney M! You can see their tongue planted firmly in their cheek with their homage to MC Hammer's style of dancing and DJ Ozma's crazy afro. Note how the dancing has changed, especially how people hold their hands out and go from side to side while chanting, "na na na na na." (compare to dance steps in the Korean original by DJ Doc.) And yes, those scantily clad girls and topless men are tame by American music video standards, but are pushing the envelope by Japanese ones. I guess it might have the tacit approval of the Japanese government: after all, something has to be done about the falling birthrates!

It's good to know that despite all the tensions between governments in East Asia, pop music and hip-hop has the potential to unite us all. After all, young people don't have to speak the same language to appreciate a nice beat, fancy dancing, and lots of sweaty bodies.