Saturday, February 4, 2012

Video: Jin Akanishi, "Sun Burns Down"

Adding to the ever-growing list of Asian musicians trying to make it big in the US is Japanese heartthrob/sex-symbol Jin Akanishi. I'm not as into J-pop as I'm into k-pop, so I don't know much about him except he used to be in a boy band and my j-dorama watching friends think he's the hottest guy in the world. I didn't even know he was trying to break into the US market until I saw him featured on the A-tunes blog. His first single, Test Drive ft. Jason DeRulo, was terrible, so I didn't have much hope for him, but this song is definitely better. I think because the last song was named "Test Drive", I can forgive him. "Sun Burns Down" is not the most innovative track, but it's catchy, dancey and everything that's hot in the US Top 40 right now. I dig it.

He's working with The Stereotypes, who were a major part of the creative team working on Far East Movement's breakout album, Free Wired. You could call it a safe choice or a smart one - by establishing himself  using their signature sound, he's placing himself into a category - I'll call it "party Asians" - that the American mainstream has gotten used to. Far East Movement have essentially paved the way for him, so maybe he'll have less of an uphill climb to his desired place in the music scene. I like that he's taking it slow and not simply throwing himself out there and hoping for the best, a la SNSD's random TV appearances last week. (I haven't seen them, and I probably won't ever see them, simply because I don't think they'll show me anything I haven't seen before). He has a full album in the works which should come out in March, as well as a national tour, and I expect he'll release at least another single before that. I hope his album is good - from all I've heard along the lines of Asian pop in America, I think this is the best crossover track, and Jin is currently the most promising artist to make the break through to the American mainstream.

Fans have noticed that Jin has been covering his face up a lot in his videos. I can't help but speculate as to why that is, and I think stereotypes about the attractiveness of Asian men have a lot to do with it. I mean, he's good-looking, for sure, but in that bishounen/kkotminam way that's become ridiculously popular in Asia, but not so much Stateside. (Anyone curious as to why can read my post about attractiveness and race from a while back where I put in my two cents). Many a handsome Asian man has failed to capture the hearts of the American public with their looks (example: Daniel Henney). By covering himself up, he gives himself an aura of mystery (playing on ninja imagery?), and also shifts the focus away from his looks and onto his music. That's probably a good thing in the long run, but it's also an example of how much Asian artists have to shift their personas in order to fit into the American mainstream. I mean, the dude can sing, but let's not get it twisted - he's popular because he's hot. I think it's sad that artists have to lose a lot of their uniqueness just so that they can break into the top 40, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's even worth it.

Everyone seems excited about Asian pop in America, but I'm much more pessimistic. From what I'm reading in the blogs, it all just seems like one big fad, the same way indie music was about 5 years ago. All of a sudden the mainstream media discovered that people were making music that didn't sound like everything on the iTunes Top 40 and decided that that was the new cool. They lauded all these bands like MGMT as the next big thing, and yet nobody cares about them anymore. If you ask me, it's because they're not that great - saw them live and it was pretty awful). Now k-pop is the new media darling, and yet the songs they pick as representative of the genre are for the most part the least musically appealing songs that k-pop has to offer. If they were really interested in new, innovative music, you'd think they'd try harder and actually give credit to people making good music. I'm pretty sure that by the time I graduate law school, America will be on to the next fad. Pop music by nature is temporal anyway - it's not like it's music we'll be listening to years in the future. Or at least, we won't be listening to it because it's good music. And because nobody's making music for years to come, it's bound to fizzle out eventually. K-pop artists can ride this wave while it's still high, but they should be prepared for when the tide pulls them back to sea.

What do you guys think? Is Jin Akanishi the best contender for Asian breakout star? Or are Korea's girl groups (2NE1, SNSD, Wonder Girls) going to be the ones to do it? Sound off in the comments!

For more on Jin Akanishi and his US promotions, check out his Youtube page.


  1. I am pessimistic as well. Like you said I wonder why the songs picked to represent kpop are the least musically appealing. I was just saying that if they want innovative music, they'd at least be looking at k-indie pop. USA goes through its music fad phases, remember when Latin pop was huge? I don't seen all these kpop idols succeeding in the US at all. It's good that they are trying though, they should keep riding the wave. I personally can't wait for the tide to pull them back to sea so that we can concentrate on something else.

    Jin Akanishi may have a shot, maybe the sunglasses will help? Like you I don't think it's worth it for artist to lose their uniqueness in the name of 5 minutes of fame. At least Jin Akanishi is solo and his music is standard party fare.

    1. I remember when Latin pop was big! Those were the days of Ricky Martin and Paula Rubino and co. Then there was reggaeton, which has sadly died off, even though Pitbull is still around. Though these days they're mixing reggaeton and electronic music and that's the new big thing in the clubs.

      K-indie is actually doing pretty well for itself in the US. Seoulsonic is doing their 2nd North American Tour, making it the 3rd time they've brought artists to perform at American music festivals. One group, Galaxy Express, even decided to come back of their own accord outside of the tour. Yellow Monsters is supposed to be coming to my city, so I'm crossing my fingers that I get to see them :)

    2. Oh it's nice to know K-indie is doing well for itself in the USA! But imagine if they had the big agency backing that allowed them to perform on David Letterman O_O I wish K-indie bands popped in London every now and then.

      In other news, Akanishi is going to be a daddy!

    3. WHAT?! So the rumors about him and Meisa Kuroki were true??? dang. Oh well. I wonder if she'll come back after giving birth, like Namie Amuro and Anna Tsuchiya. Did you know Koda Kumi also got pregnant? Baby-making seems to be the new J-pop trend - they must have gotten tired of dubstep, lol

    4. Wha-? I'm pretty sure I replied to this comment. Where has my reply disappeared to :(

  2. Very interesting article. I dont have much knowledge about K-pop nor J-pop. Before I got into Jin, I was more a classic music person. I have been quite indifferent about Jin's US debut, since I'm not interested in US music in general.

    But still it's a very interesting topic to talk about. I think the difficulty for Asians to break in US market is because of the huge cultural difference, so different that each party sees the other one exotic. so 1)if your style is Asian, American may think you are cute and exotic and but will not take you seriously 2)if your style is American, you lose your uniqueness somehow, and people might think you try too hard and look fake.

    So far the most successful Japanese musician worldwidely is probably Sakamoto Ruyichi, although he's more famous in Europe. His music has never been typically Japanese, more like it's universally beautiful with a deep Zen feeling flowing through. He's a very good looking Japanese young man when he made himself worldwidely by his famous piece Forbidden Colors for the movie Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and his soundtracks for the Last Emperor.

    But this is classic music. What matter most are talent and quality. Pop music is a different story.

    When Jin's US debut news came out early last year, Japanese TV interviewed a few critics and all of them were quite pessimistic about the possiblity of a Japanese to break into US market. One said the best way to break in was probably to go with an exported animation in US.

    I heard Korean has done years and years preparation to break into US, for example many idol/singer agencies have branches in US. Also they do music event like Kollaboration and such. Japan has done nothing in US so far, and Japan has complicated feeling towards US, some admire US culture and everything, some have cold feeling towards US due to the history. Unlike the positive attitude of Korean folks, many Japanese would think Jin's shaking off his Japanese nationality to became American.

    About Jin, I'm a huge fan of him. It doesnt matter to me if he's successful or not in US as long as he does quality music. TBH I prefer his Japanese stuffs. His Eternal is universally beautiful.

    I think Jin's trail in US will be different from those of Korean singers. First, Jin is a musician himself. He might not be superstar under spotlight but with time he may build a solid base. Second, Jin has been living with US music. It's already his life, so I dont think he will be considered exotic but is more likely to be accepted as one of the artists active in US if he's lucky to get his music pass around. Third, he does many genres. It's really his passion on music carried him through time, nothing else, so he might have the strength to stay longer in the music scene.

    All in all, my opinion is Korean pop singers are more likely to be successful in US. They already have big Asian American fanbase in US. Even if they keep failing to break into the mainstream, the industry will keep bringing others into the scene.

    While Jin came all alone. His agency and label actually had to use certain connections Korean industry built in US. Some Japanese media described him as Samurai and Dreamer, which I think is a precise image of him now.

    sorry for my super long comment.

    1. no - thanks for your awesome comment! i now know a lot more about Jin than I did before I wrote this post, lol. Great observation on the exoticism going on on both sides of the Asian/American divide - different kinds, but both groups are definitely "othering" each other.

      From what you've said, Jin definitely seems more involved in his music than most crossover pop stars, though the Wonder Girls seem to be getting into the songwriting/production thing as well. Whether or not that will make a difference though is hard to tell - it means he might be more flexible to change up his style to suit his new audience, as opposed to a k-pop star depending on their previous material and musical style, and their already established fanbase to keep them afloat. I really hope he does well though - it's about time America recognized the awesomeness of Asian pop, and I want him to perform in my city so that I can see what all the fuss is about ^^ I plan on checking out his Eternal material after this.

      You have a point about k-pop though - Korea is going to keep throwing their artists at the glass ceiling until it breaks, essentially. I would not be surprised if that's the extent of their battle plan - crude, but you have to admire their persistence.

  3. I find him more interesting as a person than as a performer. He's had 2 singles released and I can't really pin down what he's about yet as an artist. I've watched his "Takeover" episodes on youtube and he strikes me as very independent and I'll do it my way or no way @ all w/respect to his career. It's an attitude I respect and I hoope it will lead him to be more innovative/creative w/his music.

    He's still learning the language and its nuances, so I can't imagine how challenging that must be for him. He's a person I'll keep my eye on from time to time. However w/a new wife and a possible child on the way in Japan (and a ton of bad press/scandal surrounding it all), his time in the States may be ltd. this year.

    1. However w/a new wife and a possible child on the way in Japan (and a ton of bad press/scandal surrounding it all), his time in the States may be ltd. this year.

      Akanishi left Japan to attend the Grammys. It really doesn't look like his work is going to be limited due to his marriage to Meisa Kuroki. On the other hand, it's more likely that her career is heading down the drain. Also there are now rumours that Akanishi is broke because apparently the both of them were seen shopping and Kuroki was paying for everything.

      The drama never ends.

    2. LMAO about Jin's broken and Meisa paid for the food X'D

      ah well...

      1/4 of the yearly profits in WMJ was from Jin last year, so no way his work's gonna be cut off unless WMJ's insane. The issue is more about Jin and JE, since JE is a bitch when it comes to young idol's marriage. Problem is JE hasnt done much for Jin ever since he went solo, so there's nothing JE could take away from Jin, unless JE really wants to eat Jin alive, so Jin cant move one inch in Japan. I'd say JE is slowly changing in many things, so hopefully everything just stays at finiancial level nothing else.

      I agree with Lenoxave, tho I do like his songs (mostly his Japanese release)--Jin is a very interesting person. He's a total live drama himself.