Wednesday, November 28, 2018

COLUMN: Sekai No Owari

As many of you know, I am nothing if not an obsessive music nerd. And I've found a new obsession.

The majority of my music collection is taken up by dark atmospheric indie bands -- the kind of music that's usually only made for record store clerks and people who wear turtlenecks unironically. But I also appreciate the value of a good pop spectacle. One night I might be in a dimly-lit bar watching some intense beardo bear his soul with an acoustic guitar, but the next night you might find me having just as much fun in the cheap seats at a Britney Spears show. What can I say? Sometimes you want to hear artistic emotional music that touches your soul, and sometimes you just wanna see Gene Simmons spit fire and waggle his tongue.

So when I stumbled across an article recently that read, "2018's Biggest Music Spectacle Is A Band You've Never Heard Of," I was intrigued. And now I'm obsessed. You should be, too. Allow me to introduce you to the magic of Sekai No Owari -- the biggest pop band in Japan.

I've always had a soft spot for Japanese culture. I've got a friend who moved to Nagoya a few years back, and every so often, I'll get a care package full of Japanese goodies both amazing and incomprehensible -- and I love it all. This is, after all, a country where you can go to the corner store and buy corn-flavored Kit-Kats. A country that recently developed a robot you wear on your head that feeds you tomatoes while you jog -- because we all want to run while wearing a robot arm and fresh produce on our heads like a Terminator Carmen Miranda.

No country does pop music like Japan, and no pop band is quite like Sekai No Owari. They're a 4-piece band featuring Fukase on vocals, Nakajin on guitars and drums, Saori handles piano and accordion, and then there's DJ Love, whose only job appears to be creeping people out. No one has ever seen DJ Love's face -- he hides in public 24/7 behind a smiling clown mask. Already this band is awesome.

But it's Sekai No Owari's live shows that have people talking. A full orchestra dressed as mummies? Check. Inflatable trains that drop LED bracelets onto the crowd that sync up with the band's light show? Check. Onstage waterfalls? Sure. Pillars of fire? Absolutely. ANIMATRONIC LIFE-SIZE ELEPHANTS? You betcha. The band stopping mid-set to fight ninjas? Most definitely.

I've seen some good shows in my day, but I don't ever recall Bono fighting ninjas or Michael Stipe riding an animatronic elephant. Kiss only WISH they had this level of spectacle.

But as good as the live shows are, the songs themselves might even be better. In true J-Pop fashion, every tune is bubblegum pop that's been overly polished, overly produced, and fully orchestrated into little pop symphonies. Each song is a major-chord feel-good lovefest, and that's something woefully missing lately from the American charts. Earlier this year, Lil Uzi Vert went to #7 in the US with a song that goes, "All my friends are dead / push me to the edge." Sekai No Owari, on the other hand, recently had a Japanese chart-topper about falling in love with a 200-year-old magical snow fairy.

See for yourself. Just check out the video for "Honoo to Mori no Carnival." The lights come up as Fukase walks through a door into the woods, where he stumbles upon the rest of the band. DJ Love shows up playing a tuba because of course he does. And the subtitled lyrics read as such:

"The emergency exit of 'Cosmo Panic' in Yokohama / that's the entrance to the party"
(Okay, awesome. Secret parties are rad. What is it? A rave? An underground casino?)
"When you open the door, you will see a giant tree / This place is called Treeland."
(Sooo... not a rave then.)
"Here you are a superstar!"
(I'm a superstar in Treeland? I always suspected as much.)
"Tokyo Fantasy / Mummies are dancing too"
(You sure this isn't just Studio 54?)
The wizard said this to me: "You have to keep this love a secret, because if you don't, this girl's life will be in danger."
(Wait, what wizard? What girl? Am I a girl in this scenario? Why would you take me to a carnival where I could get killed?)
"'Please take me to the party' / You look at me with your sad eyes."
(No, what I said was 'Get me the hell out of this party, I don't trust those dancing mummies.')
"As I was staring at the robot at the bar, you started to get upset with me."
(Damn straight I did. Take me home... unless the robot wants to feed me tomatoes first.)
"Surrounded by people, I gave you a kiss."
(GREAT. Didn't you listen to the wizard? NOW MY LIFE IS IN DANGER."
"And now it's time for you to take the stage!"
(This is less "Tokyo Fantasy" and more "Spooky Tokyo Hell Dream.")
"I've decided to stay with you, my love, forever."
(And now I have a stalker. Just great.)

And, hand to God, at this point in the video, the band drop what they'e doing and launch into a zombie dance routine.

Clearly, Sekai No Owari are the best thing ever. And now, according to Wikipedia, they're working on an English language album and plan to conquer America. They've already conqurered my heart. If there's one thing our Top 40 charts need right now, it's a proper dose of fun. If there's six things our Top 40 charts need right now, it's robots, wizards, mummies, Treeland, 200-year-old snow fairies, and a tuba-playing DJ in a clown mask. I beg of you, go directly to Youtube and indulge.

Thank me later.


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