K-On and music – what defines ‘good music’?

Just came back from a dinner with the extended family. Aside from finding out that one of my aunts was a (dare I say it) otaku who preaches to her daughters the wonders of Takahasi Rumiko (respectable move, by the way), her daughters also happen to watch K-On!!, which led me to run yet another marathon of that crack. Since my mind works in various ways I don’t even understand when at night, I wondered : “How does K-On portray ‘good music’?” Since everyone seems to love the HTT in K-On!, I figured that what K-On portrays mostly would be how it defines good music – by vocals, lyrics, titles, instruments, and fans.

It’s a common topic. Usually whenever a new K-On OP comes out, there’s hordes of internet denizens out there who decry its (usual) high pitched squeaks, as well as its overall feel, with some vehemently proclaiming their hate for the opening songs.While I do admit that Toyosaki Aki’s voice range is way too moe compared to the stronger voice of Yoko Hikasa, I don’t hate the songs itself. In fact, as proud of my status as a social outcast as I could be, I probably listen to the OPs every damn day.  Speaking of the argument over the opening theme, what exactly is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music, anyway? How do you even define a song as being good or bad? Genre preference aside of course. (I can’t expect someone who loves rock music to suddenly like jazz, can I?)

First up, vocals. Vocals are of course, essential to most, if not all singles out there. From Adam Lambert’s giant vocal range to Maximum The Hormone’s screaming and shouting, vocals usually end up defining the song, if not the band or artist the song is played by. Thus , it would be justified to think that vocals are in fact, what makes a song good or bad. Good vocals = good band, if the equation stands. However, I don’t think it works that way. Vocals are after all, good or bad based on whether one likes it or not. There’s no rule to define whether someone truly sings badly, or whether someone’s singing is indeed good. Neither does this make the artist any more better or worse. Furthermore, using vocals to judge the worth of a song is an incredibly short-sighted measure. What about acoustic songs? What about those songs without lyrics? Or what about those with lyrics, but not sang as a song, but instead as background accompaniment? For instance, Starfucker (Yes, that is their name) released several songs without lyrics, one of which included Laadeedaa, which I like. It has no lyrics at all. So is it good or bad? We can’t tell if we use vocals as a yardstick.

K-On being an example. HTT is a fictional band, but nevertheless we treat it as an ‘actual one’, for the sake of testing this theory out. With people both liking and hating the OPs, there is one thing which links them together : they watch, and probably like the show (Why else would they listen to the music?) And that’s a wrap. Vocals don’t make good or bad music.

Ahh, lyrics. What does the vocalist deliver? Lyrics. Is it right to use lyrics to tell whether a song is good or bad? Aside from the fact that several songs don’t even have vocals, much less lyrics, lyrics are hard to judge. How do you compare the styling of Eminem to the crooning of Louis Armstrong? You can’t. At most, you can compare lyrics in a particular genre of music, for instance pop.

Even then you can’t compare lyrics to judge whether a song is better or not. One song sings about the horrors of war,while the other is just a nonsensical string of random lyrics. Yet I like the second one better , so does that make the first song any better than the second one? Lyrics may indeed bring that extra ‘oomph’ to the song, but I don’t feel they make much of a difference. I listen to Japanese songs I have no damn idea what the lyrics in them even mean, and I don’t give a damn. For instance, K-On ‘s OPs are full of optimistic, girly lyrics about fun-time , happiness, and everything that goes, but the EDs are often a direct contrast with this. Not to mention that rice-themed song in Episode 20.

Titles. Of course, these are what the listeners will remember the song by. Here comes the next question. How does the title affect the listener’s view on the song? How do you tell whether ‘Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued’ or ‘Whoa’ would be better? Both are the same genre, both performed by boy bands, and both in English and real. Having titles define good music is like having packaging define whatever is inside. But as I’ve learnt from products from China, this is both true and false. Some songs have great titles, and they do well on the charts, while some, well, just don’t really possess this trait.

K-On has all sorts of different titles, which give different feels for each song. I can’t understand the moonrunes , so I only roughly guess what the songs are about from their titles. Fuwa Fuwa Time and Chu Chu Lovely Muni Muni Mura Mura Purin Purin  Boron Nururueroero give me different feelings, just so you know.

Instruments are a really stupid way to judge whether a song is good or bad. Now here’s where I move on the point, but hold on for a second. Instruments do not matter as much as the others, since we can have acoustic versions and whatnot, the lyrics and vocalists still stand a large part than instruments. However, instruments create the mood, but even when given that, there isn’t much grounds for comparison. Most bands and artists use guitars, drums and keyboards, and there really isn’t much else. Given that we are comparing bands within certain genres, there really isn’t much to say here. Random Hand plays a mix of hardcore rock with ska , and that doesn’t automatically declare them to be superior or inferior.

So after all this bullshit  , what exactly is ‘good music’?

I can’t answer that question. There is , like I have said,no definition which effectively defines good music.  However, given all this on what makes a song nowadays, I’m now going to completely scrap that and say that it’s all a matter of opinion and psyche.

Popular songs are characterized by listeners, fanbases and general awareness. Most people hear of these on the radio, through others and whatnot, and end up liking the song, thus calling the song a ‘good song’. In the end, it all boils down to instinct and impressions. Whether you like the song or not – that is what defines a good song. Fuck everything else.

What do you think makes a good song?

(P.S. This was not a thinly-veiled attempt to explain my sudden profound love for K-On.)

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35 Responses to K-On and music – what defines ‘good music’?

  1. Hogart says:

    Ask N people that question and you’ll get N different answers. The point is that music is art, and art is something that is meant to be interpreted in different ways.

    That’s the basis for what I think makes “good music” (and good art in general).. it can be interpreted in different ways, and isn’t pretentious about it. You figure out what it means to you.

    The only other criteria that matters to me is that the song has what I call “heart” (but good luck explaining that). The best I can say is that it’s not just out to make a quick buck or be preachy and take a stand on something.

    But that’s just for music that I consider “worth listening to”.. I’m not even going to touch on “favorites”, because that’s getting too pointlessly off-topic.

    Also, It’s alright to like K-On, or even to love it. It’s also fine to have a love/hate relationship with it, like I do. No one said that a show has to be everything to everyone.

    • Valence says:

      Exactly! My main point was that I was sick of people telling me which songs were good, or which songs were bad.It is all a matter of interpretation,how you see things, how you perceive things and how you enjoy things. Exactly because of this, can we not have a basis for what defines good music – or good art, for that matter.

      Everyone wants something to be accepted by everyone, thus this herd mentality, if I dare say so myself, of promoting songs and media to everyone. Because of that , all the new songs that come out deviate from this, and are thus labelled as ‘bad’.

      My opinions anyway. Like what you said, art, and music, are interpreted in various ways, and nothing should come out to tell me what song is good or what song is bad.

      With that over, back to Go! Go! Maniac.

  2. Ming Xuan says:

    A good song is a song that makes me listen to it for at least a week
    everyday

  3. Valence says:

    Such as?

    I always find playing a song over and over again to effectively kill off any liking I’ve ever had for it. I used to really like Eientewi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXgyKeOnK2s) but playing it for the umpteenth time really made it boring. I can already memorise the part where the singer goes “Kagome, Kagome”, but the song just seems less attractive than before….

  4. ScorchNRoses says:

    Good music lol…
    As a Vocaloid music fan, I can’t really say. Everyone has their own preferences. Just because your band is more popular doesn’t make it more superior than mine or something that will make me like it.

    There are always music wars in my class, with people claiming Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, ACDC, K-pop etc. are the best. Good music or not, it is my preference. As long as I like what I hear, it is ‘good’ music to me.

    Lol I don’t think listening to the same song over and over will make me lose interest over it. I played my favourite song repeatedly until it hit 100+ times played and heck it’s still increasing in my iTunes :X

    • Valence says:

      Obama keeps preaching to me about SNSD. I know some vocaloid-haters, and Joshua seems to hate Luka a lot for some reason. That’s my point – good music cannot be defined, for it’s simply what you like hearing.

      I change favourite songs way quickly. It’s like the stock market, or the actual radio charts.Nothing stays on top forever. I even change favourite genres. Last month it was anime in general. Then rock , then ska, then ska-core, then anime again.

    • trewdys says:

      Ah, yes, Vocaloid. It helps to think of it as a tool for creators who don’t have decent singers to still make songs with ‘vocals’. All the good songs get covered anyway. The unique artificial quality can also be taken advantage of if the creator so desires.

      That said, ‘Vocaloid’ on its own is NOT a genre.

      • Valence says:

        Vocaloid is of course not a genre. Vocaloid is merely the tool, not the genre itself. Calling it a genre would be like calling ‘Guitar’ a genre.

        There are many ways to let aspiring musicians get melodies, or help , or publicizing. Vocaloid is one amongst the many.

  5. Canne says:

    Apart from what you said, few other components plays vital role in defining a song. One of which is ‘meaning’. Most of the classic songs have the story behind them. 🙂

    • Valence says:

      I guess you’re right there. I often complain to my friends and family how most of the songs on the radio seem to revolve around partying, drugs and sex nowadays. Nothing has much meaning anymore. It’s like they’re just rushing out songs for money, and ending it at that.

      I mean, we have plenty of nice songs, with good meanings behind them, which we hardly, or even never hear on the radio. No-one ever dials in to ask for Guns and Roses, or if I wanted to go even further back, Fade to Black.

      But I guess meaning’s kind of subjective too. Some people see it as A, some people see it as B.

  6. trewdys says:

    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2010-08-18/composer-bice-wrote-k-on-song-before-passing-away ;_;

    Now, about the music. Yes bitch it’d better have ‘heart’. This is why I don’t respect Japanese ‘idols’, Korean ‘groups’, which are just glorified show choirs with homogeneous music, and other ‘marketing’ artists like Justin Bieber. This also conveniently qualifies all doujin(i.e. FANMADE) music as having heart.

    Whatever music I listen to should have some unique defining points, which floats Touhou to the top. Of course, there are plenty of Touhou remixes, so I only pick the best of the best. And whatever people say about IOSYS, I still like them, and the way Alstroemeria Records’ songs are mostly synth that just loops and is louder than it should be for accompanying vocals turns me off.

    I’m a sucker for arrangements of instruments and get nosebleeds from elaborate application of music theory. Especially supercell. Even Yakusoku wo Shiyou, an acoustic song, captures my heart with its chord progressions and cadences. (nagi helps too.)

    I’ll clear this up first: Yui/ToyoAki’s high vocals aren’t that bad for me. Now, from an objective musical standpoint, HTT songs are actually arranged really well.. Well, with the exception of the Ho-Kago Tea Time album. The one with Curry Nochi Rice and all those. Those songs were simpler. Anyway, arrangement in general is top notch and sets the bar for anisong.

    Anisong…is not a genre and I shall not comment.

    • Valence says:

      I don’t like idols and groups like that too. I listen to plenty of bands you never hear on the radio, simply because they’re not ‘well-marketed’. I swear, they make better songs than the shit on the radio, but they never get praised.

      And fuck yeah, IOSYS. Beat the hater in the face.

      …but Touhou provides a huge platform for lyric writers and bands out there. Here’s a band with lots of creativity and talent, but just has difficulty with publicizing themselves, or coming up with melodies for songs, or simply love Touhou. By doing these remixes and covers, not only do they show their interest in Touhou, they also show their talent as well as get a fan base. As far as I know, I think IOSYS did covers of other game songs as well, other than simply the Touhou Franchise.

      I love epic vocals and epic arrangements. I used to have a collection of choir songs but my computer crashed and I lost all of them. I like it when the vocalist makes me feel as though they place their soul into singing, that they can make me feel what the song might have been about. For instance, (not to be an obnoxious fanboy) My Soul Your Beats! I liked that one a lot, simply because of the chorus. Sure Fire Winners had a catchy chorus, and M/elody captures MY heart.

      And I don’t have anything against K-On’s music. I love their chords too, and they are admittedly arranged pretty well. They look even more spectacular on the piano, or performed on an actual instrument. The only song I actually liked from that HTT album was Fuwa Fuwa Time, and the others were kind of boring.

      Anisong is indeed not a genre, but some it seems to be easily characterized and grouped.

      And also, R.I.P. Bice.

      • Ming Xuan says:

        Blasphemy! We all know My Song is better.

        Anyway, whether a music is good or not is merely an opinion. Does the fact that there are haters change your opinion? If not, why bother. Life is too short for trivial details. That and humans cannot see faults in their beliefs
        Yes, us anime freaks included

        • Valence says:

          I’m not saying I don’t like that either am I?

          I know it’s a opinion. I just can’t stand how haters try to impose their beliefs onto me. They keep telling me,listen to SNSD, listen to some other random girl band made of plastic. It’s annoying.

  7. ScorchNRoses says:

    Anisong and Vocaloid music aren’t genres, but more like a category I guess.

    For me, I don’t really like when people keeps telling me how awesome their music is (e.g people saying that vocaloid is shit and should listen to K-Pop or Oldies,etc. )

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison. What they like may not be what I like, so it gets very annoying when they start insulting me for my choice of what goes into my pair of ears and not choosing theirs.

    And, I have more respect for vocaloid artists than the ‘popular, hot & trendy’ bands or artists you see nowadays.

  8. misterowl24 says:

    Why so serious? lol. The important thing is whether you are happy with the song or not. Take others’ opinions with a pinch of salt since it is you who will listen to the music. Just listen and enjoy them. Don’t need to debate what’s good or bad unless you are taking some music criticism modules. 😛

    Somehow, K-ON S2 OP2 doesn’t suit my taste.

    • trewdys says:

      OP2 is about “i love you” and ‘Thank you’. What do those words remind one of?

      …Graduation.

      ;_;

  9. There might not be such thing as an invalid opinion, but once you start giving out the reasoning behind the opinions, that’s when things are easily challengable.

    I don’t have the background that would allow me to say with some definitiveness whether a typical song is good or not. I do know what I like though and tend to work off that rubric to make a determination. I’ll also try to be open-minded enough to judge music on its own genre merits rather than doing some cross comparison.

    • Valence says:

      I know, and I can guess why. After all, I read your blog, and I know you do blog about soundtracks and anime songs. Which i really appreciate.

      …but nevertheless, even with that, you and I, for that matter, have no right to decide what is a good song. Perhaps by judging what we like, and from there deriving a conclusion, can we edge closer to defining our own version of a ‘good song’.

      It’s all a matter of perspective i guess.

      • I’d say we judge for ourselves and convey unto others what we like and why we like what we like. That’s what reviewing anime, music, movies, or what have you is all about. We’re not trying to convey definite truths are anything like that and that’s where reviewers tend to get mischaracterized. If you agree with a review, then you agree with someone’s opinion, and same for when you disagree with a review. They’re all opinions and the only time you *might* even be able to say that a song is “good” is if it survives hundreds of years of scrutiny. Like Beethoven’s symphonies.

        • Valence says:

          There were indeed plenty of haters for Beethoven, some decrying his music as cheap , and horrid. Indeed, a review is just an opinion, and the reader is not obliged to follow it, although he or she might, it is not a necessity.

          To add on to your point, when a song lasts several years of scrutiny, it’s a result of the general opinion that the song is good, in a sense. In other words, the more people who like the song, the more longer-lasting it is, helping it to be defined as a good song.

  10. Lenneth says:

    I believe every song carries its own message. If the song is able to convey the message and gets the feeling to the listener, it is already a good song, with or without lyrics. Songs were once used as a form of conveying messages, but now you see songs with no meaning at all and they are all random noises made from the idols the fans like. My point is when you listen to a song and you are able to understand it while enjoying it, in my view that is a good song.

    • Valence says:

      Yep. I mean, listen to the top 20 charts on the radio, and nearly half sing about sex and milk-squirting robot bras.

      Which is why of all the rap artists out there, I only listen to Eminem. Like it or not, he’s the only one I know who raps about real issues, about life, and occasionally falling back into the rap stereotype of rapping about drugs and whatnot. But that’s not his complete content. His lyrics are powerful, his music videos more so.

      • Alx2oy says:

        Gotta agree with you..though I hate rappers, i make an exception for Eminem. He may not be able to convey his emotions and message through all that rapping..but his lyrics defiinitely do.

  11. Nopy says:

    From my experience, people that haven’t seen K-ON don’t like their music, and people that have, do. I don’t know whether the people that watch K-ON actually like the music or just like everything K-ON, or if people that like K-ON are drawn towards that type of music. Personally, the only song I really liked was “Don’t say Lazy”.

    • Valence says:

      I don’t know, I liked most of the songs in the OP and ED. I’m just not picky like that.

      K-On’s music seem to all fit under a particular styling , but I can’t lay my finger on it. If this styling does exist, it is only right and justified to guess that the people who like the songs in K-On, like listening to this genre or style of music as well.

  12. flyzice says:

    Just like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, maybe a good song is defined only by the one who listens. It’d be weird if everyone likes or hates the same song.

    Speaking of lyrics, the rice-themed song in K-ON really made me laughed throughout the entire song. I wonder who wrote that song because I thought Ritsu would reject that song because of the lyrics.

    • Valence says:

      The rice song was ….interesting. But would you really have a song – a popular song – played on the radio that sang of rice? Nothing but rice?

      In the end it’s all , as you have put it ever so nicely, ‘in the eye of the beholder’. My belief is that if I like the song, fuck the haters,. I’ll keep listening to it as long as I want.

      That said. Utauyo!! Miracle plays on my playlist.

  13. Azure Hoshizora says:

    Whenever a new K-On OP comes out, I always claim I hate it but I end up looping the song.
    Whenever HTT writes a new song I always go WTF at the tittle and lyrics but they amuse me anyway.
    Whenever I listen to K-On’s music, I find myself criticizing Aki Toyosaki’s voice but I still listen to it anyway.

    K-On definitely does not have good music, but hell, they leave an impression and somehow i just end up liking them…

    And I actually liked the rice song too.

    • Valence says:

      The rice song was addictive, but the lyrics were ridiculous. All their titles are incredibly weird, or unique if you want to put them nicely.

      Aki Toyosaki’s a (somewhat) new seiyuu, right? You can’t blame her, she just makes everything sound so moe, it’s addictive now.

  14. Yi says:

    That’s really interesting. I think those all come into play, but image might one of the more important ones too. A lot of people like a certain band because of its image as hardcore or unique or whatever. That’s true for K-On! as well. Some people like their music because of the moe image they exude.

    • Valence says:

      I gues so, but that would apply more to the band than the music, wouldn’t it? I’d imagine bands like Little Non to exude this girlish imagine, much like HTT does so very often..

      Some bands attract you just based on their image alone. I find bands like The Killers or even Maximum the Hormone interesting, solely based on their perfomances and images! It’s interesting, really. Everything seems to come into play.

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