Magazine article Newsweek International

A New Look for Japan's Musicians

Magazine article Newsweek International

A New Look for Japan's Musicians

Article excerpt

Byline: Rob Schwartz; Schwartz is the Billboard correspondent for Japan. Additional translation by Benny Rubin.

Japan's indigenous music scene is known for breeding cute, superplastic stars like Ayumi Hamasaki and Ayaka--uber-pop princesses who routinely top the charts with their safely mainstream sound and image. So it was significant when a mixed-race singer known as Jero was named one of the country's best new artists at the Gold Disc Awards--Japan's Grammys--in March. Perhaps even more meaningful, Jero, who is three quarters African-American and one quarter Japanese, also won the award for best enka artist, topping the genre of traditional love ballads that are often about specific places in Japan. Jero, a.k.a. Jerome White Jr., grew up in Pittsburgh, singing such songs with his Japanese grandmother. "Since I started singing enka at age 5 or 6, I really wanted a career in Japan ... [but] I knew it would be a long shot," he says. Yet the Japanese have clearly embraced this 27-year-old performer who favors hip-hop garb yet sings songs meant to express the soul of Japan.

Jero represents a new breed of multiracial singers who are gaining popularity for the considerable talent and innovation they bring to Japanese music, rather than as sideshow curiosities. The trend reflects a broader shift away from the traditional Japanese values of insularity and conformity. "In the past many foreign or multiracial singers in Japan have tried to either sell themselves as foreign, or imitate Japanese performers," says commentator Kenta Yamada, a professor of journalism at Senshu University. "Jero's different; he's authentic." He speaks Japanese fluently and understands the nuances of enka, but infuses it with his American personality.

In the Japanese pop realm, Thelma Aoyama, who is part Afro-Caribbean, came out of nowhere to record the biggest single of 2008, "Soba ni Iru, ne" (I'll Always Be by Your Side). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.