Ugliness of the society unveiled by Coronavirus
What have you been thinking through the Coronavirus crisis?
“First, the music tour scheduled from March 1st had been postponed, then all of the successive concerts and festivals were also canceled. And when it turned out that it will be difficult to do any music activities for a while, I felt something like “coronavirus depression” quite strongly. I mostly stayed at home, and was writing music etc., but it gradually became more tough. I got out from that depression-ish feeling around the time I made “#Homesession” (*1) and passed it to the band members.”
Why did it become tough?
“After I stopped going out, around April, I started to feel that coronavirus is truly a virus that gradually stimulates division and discrimination. Like Asians discriminated in the Western countries, the Japanese measures against China and Korea, and the appearance of the people so-called “self-restraint police” appearing. By watching all those, it seemed as if all the pus of the society was being oozed out. I felt like the ugliness of this society was being pointed out and that made me feel the pain.”
It is true that the discriminations and divisions were visualized.
“When I heard the murder of George Flyod by a white police, which has triggered the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement, I thought the world had not changed at all as it turned out, although I was previously thinking that everything had been changing through such things as the movie “Do the Right Thing”（※2）, Obama becoming president in 2009, and the hip hop’s sweeping through the world.
Although I was under the impression that Japan’s discrimination against the outcast people and discrimination against mixed race and Korean people living in Japan, while looking severe on the internet, had been improving in real life, it turned out that it really hasn’t changed at all either. Although everyone thinks that there should be no discrimination, things won’t change this much, I realized.”
So it was simply sealing the problem with a Band-Aid?
“It was like thinking that “this wound must be festering,” and taking a look to find out that it was really awful. If nothing had changed even though I tried to sing about “love” in the broad sense in key occasions, and many artists also have been expressing so for a long time, it seemed as if nothing will change no matter what I do. When I look at my roots, I am part of the “majority” in Japan. I once tried to trace my roots as much as I can, but it turned out that all my ancestors were Japanese people born in and grown in Japan, so I didn’t have any intention to stand up against discrimination in the first place, but the world was becoming worse regardless of what I sang or what I did. Around that time, I felt that I myself was an ugly person, and I got fed up with everything.”
*1 “#Homesession”: Music by SKY-HI. The original version was released on YouTube on April 6th, 2020. Videos of each members of his band, THE SUPER FLYERS, playing at home were uploaded, and at the same time the vocal part and stem file were made downloadable and people were encouraged to join the music session.
*2 Do the Right Thing: Released in 1989. An American film depicting the Brooklyn neighborhood’s racial tension. Produced, written, directed, by Spike Lee and also stars Lee.
It is wrong not to pursue improvement because nothing changes.
Was there anything that you could perceive positively?
“In that sense, there are two things. First is that controversy started to arise about people in the entertainment world expressing their own opinions. For example, it was prominent in the issue of revision of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Law. Previously there wasn’t even a controversy over people in the entertainment world speaking out about the political or social issues. But I really felt that that part has changed.
Regarding whether it is right or not to talk about the political or social issues, as a person being a part of the entertainment world, I understand that it is tactically wiser not to do so. Such a type of way of life, being not to be displeased by the general public, will probably remain in the future, and I have no intention to criticize that. But by looking at friends and the people in the entertainment world around myself, I considerably felt that they had frustrations. Now we can easily see keen documentaries such as “13th” or “Miss Americana” online so that, it’s rapidly spreading, and people standing in public are gradually changing from “I won’t speak out because it’s troublesome,” to “I may speak out so I should know a little more in detail.” I think we shouldn’t hinder this trend. I was hoping to reduce young people choosing not to speak out because “I don’t have an answer,” or “it’s too troublesome,” when they take part in the music scene or in the field of entertainment.”
And the second one?
“Hasn’t it normal to be “crazy” in the current entertainment world? There’s an extremely this unrealistic fiction-ish image. I do feel that I want to do something to correct it. There is quite a big issue regarding the relationship between entertainers and people watching them, so if we don’t improve this problem, I thought that art will actually die.”
So the problem is in the relationship?
“Yes. There were times in the past that I thought “the culture to support people” and “the culture to love music” cannot co-exist. But by watching BTS (Bangtan Boys), I realized that it is not true. There was the story that they will donate one million dollars for the BLM. Then, some of their fans also voluntarily collected the same amount and donated. It became a movement encouraging people to think about such a problem together. They have been influenced by black cultures like hip-hop, and they digest and communicate them so there are so many things we feel sympathy for, like much needed philosophy such as the message “Love Yourself.” Both their actions and messages are closely tied to society. Bottomline, hip-hop cannot help but tie to society. That’s where they are different from traditional idol groups.
I have wondered how people will react when the personality of the artists comes out of the “fiction-ish” world. The result was that the fans still followed them. I think that’s a revolutionary fact. Hasn’t fandom of K-POP often become an issue in the past? I feel that in this sense, the reactions toward Kyary-chan’s(*3) remarks about the politics and the incident of Hana Kimura(*4) are also related. It’s like the feeling that the people on the screen or the people not directly visible are all some kind of fiction, is somehow already generated.”
“In the first place, people who succeed in the entertainment world often seem to have some kind of parts that don’t fit the general society, and currently, they have to hide those maladapted parts desperately. This makes creation very uniform and homogenous. I think this is a big problem. If I say this bluntly, although it might be misleading, people with some career, have to realize that that is really “unhealthy.” If artists can be just themselves, and just be engaged in the expressive activities like music, I think there would be more different kinds of outputs. When those outputs come to be fairly evaluated, I think music will become even bigger and more mature as a culture.
I wouldn’t say that it is completely wrong to shave off the edgy parts of the artists, or the parts that don’t fit the “commonality”. But the current situation is no longer just shaving them off in order to reach various types of people, but to the extent that “this has to be squeezed into, say, the star-shaped cookie mold no matter what.” Quite a few people may have given up because they agonize over such a situation. I think this is a problem, and it shouldn’t be impossible for us to improve on that.”
If we change that part, perhaps more people in the entertainment world will be able to speak out freely, and eventually everyone will also be able to speak out freely?
“Of course, yes, but it is not like it will become 100 from 0 dramatically. I think it’s more of a slow change, like tomorrow will be a little more comfortable and pleasant than today. No matter how much we give effort and get some kind of outcome, issues like BLM will always come up, and there will be times that thoughts like “nothing has changed” will cross our minds. But there will always be people who will be relieved through that process. It’s wrong not to pursue improvement because nothing changes easily.
About the question, “will everyone be able to speak out freely,” my answer will be maybe “little bit yes.”
Even if it became a little easier to speak out freely, in the moment you speak out in front of the public, you would probably be required to have some courage, resolution, and responsibility. In reverse, if you have somewhat of courage, resolution, and responsibility, then you will be given somewhat of freedom, which is very natural.”
*3 Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: A Japanese female singer. Made her major debut in the album “Moshi Moshi Harajuku” from Warner Music Japan, supervised by Yasutaka Nakata (CAPSULE). Her full-length album, Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, released in 2012, listed as number one in the electronic charts of many countries. As a symbol of “HARAJUKU,” fusing artistic performance and fashionability, she has been gaining popularity not only in Japan, but among the world.
*4 Hana Kimura: Born in 1997. Female professional wrestler. Took part in the Japanese reality television show “Terrace house.” Has committed suicide on May 23rd, 2020 due to cyberbullying against her attitude in the show. This became a big issue amidst the Covid-19 self-restraint period in Japan.
The sense of “I’m not the direct person concerned nor an outsider”
What kind of society do you imagine for post coronavirus society? And what kind of new ways of expressing your opinion are you thinking of?
“I don’t think things will change drastically. In the first place, there’s nothing that changes drastically, and it’s only an accumulation of small changes. So we don’t have to forcefully do something new. Just that I think the possibilities will remarkably extend if we ourselves simply quit one “wishy-washy” action.”
What do you mean?
“For instance, when you do some live streaming at home, in this kind of circumstance, even if the video or the sound quality is not that good, or if you do it with “so-so” enthusiasm, people probably won’t bother to nitpick. But if you use decent equipment, you can easily improve the quality even at home. If we try to do that, of course there will be more to spend and more to bear, but the audience may receive a wider spectrum of feelings, and the artist side can also enjoy a sense of achievement. If you just choose not to do it in a “so-so” way, then, although probably only slightly, the quality will definitely be improved. The same I think can be said for our everyday lives.”
“I think we can say that for all the business related to music. Many businesses around artists seem to be operated and proceeded in a “wishy-washy” way. I wouldn’t like to mention any actual names, but the cause of many problems of the major labels in Japan is probably this. There are so many times that we feel like “uh? Isn’t this still the same as 20 years ago?” It’s difficult to change drastically, but if we are aware of this issue and keep working on it one by one, it will change little by little. If the system changes, what will be created will change, and then the fan’s mindset will change, and if that changes, the society might move for a single inch. So the initiator who makes 1 from 0, should always keep in mind not to do things randomly, and should also always keep some awareness towards this issue somewhere in his thoughts.”
What would it be if you choose a moment during the coronavirus crisis you think that it should never be forgotten?
“The moment that I posted about the BLM issue on my Instagram and my blog on June 8th. Before I posted them, I was really anxious, like “maybe it seems like ‘yellow people’ poking their noses into something that is none of their business, and even before that, “should I even talk about this in the first place?” I didn’t like how people get categorized as those who “do” or “do not” speak out or claim something about this issue, and that categorization lead to fragmentation and discrimination, as well as a peer pressure to “fit in society.
The same goes with the Public Prosecutor’s Office Law. SNS is not the actual “real world,” but it seemed like the same kind of peer pressure as in the real world or even stronger one to “fit in” is arising online, and I didn’t want to take part in that casually. But for the BLM issue, I had this feeling of “I’m not the direct person concerned but also not an outsider.” Within Tokyo that I am in now, I am really a part of the big majority, but looking at my occupation, I’m in the minority. Depending on the viewpoints, people can easily be part of both the majority and the minority.”
That probably changes according to the situation and environment.
“Unless the people in the majority somehow realize that the people in the minority also exist, an unintentional harassment can easily occur. So I had a feeling that for all the issues, I should have the mind of “I am not necessarily the concerned person, but I am not an outsider either”. So, it’s like it became all “flat” again. I don’t think it’s right to take part in everything that seems socially worthwhile, but on the other hand, I don’t think that people who don’t do “socially good” things are to be bad. At the same time, I don’t necessarily think that people said to be “socially bad” are actually so either.
To add to it, in my opinion, what a person says may vary from time to time. Because where he stands will be different at each moment. There are times when I need to speak as a person everyone knows about, and there are also times when I speak as a person in the minority that no one knows about. That’s why I had a feeling that there is no need to stop speaking out.”
When we talk about an outsider and the concerned person, to me, art or music seems like it rips off the “unrelated-ness” of an outsider.
“Yes, they make everyone the concerned person. Movies are probably the most typical case. Whether it’s a romance or some space wars, we are of course not the concerned person. But they alter the audience to the related person.”
And, music and art also, seem to have universality as well as the “related-ness” of the concerned person.
“There is universality, of course, but isn’t there also some trend of the age? John Lennon’s songs are still listened to today, but if someone writes lyrics like “Imagine” today, it might not attract people’s attention as in the past. Kendrick Lamar being a remarkable, there seems to be a trend for intensification of socially oriented songs, and also are the ones that seem needed.”
In that sense, we could perhaps say that we are entering an interesting era for musician?
“There isn’t any boring time. There are only people grumbling “Oh this awful time…” because they have some complaints, but all times probably is full of interesting things, and also full of troubles as well. It’s only about which part we put our eyes on, but I feel that I shouldn’t fix it to one single point. It’s not fun to just to think our times are interesting times from a purely optimistic perspective, but at the same time, it’s not nice to look at only problematic aspects of life from a pessimistic aspect. But at the same time, there isn’t enough time to look at everything. So keeping some balance, while admitting that you cannot see everything, would probably be especially important for the coming era.”
SKY-HI (Mitsuhiro Hidaka)
Made his debut as a member of AAA in 2005. Around the same time, started his career as “SKY-HI” in the clubs in Tokyo, and in 2012, released a collaborative music production project “FLOATIN’LAB” as a leader. Experienced many concerts and guest appearance for music by various artists including KREVA, and was awarded the best rapper in the “WOOFIN’ AWARD 2012.” Made his major debut in 2013.
Interviewed by Joe Yokomizo on 30th June, 2020