Odori Park, by Chris Watkins Odori Park - A webcomic comedy of culture shock in love, life, and family, by Chris Watkins
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:: Posts Tagged ‘business’ ::

Quick! Name a U.S. superstar pop artist of Asian descent. Blanking? (Contrary to my wife’s only guess, I don’t think the guy who sang “Sukiyaki” counts anymore. Nor does Pink Lady.) My list, off the top of my head, consists of the guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins, and a fraction of the lead singer of Hoobastank.

A couple weeks back, I iTuned (any chance that works as a verb now, like Google, or am I just fooling myself?) an album called “This is the One,” by Utada Hikaru. (Technically, in the States, it’s just Utada. I guess she or her U.S. label fear her full name is too many syllables of incongruity for American tongues to handle, so they’re taking her the one name route, like Madonna, or Pink, or Carrot Top.) This is “Utada’s” second attempt at a U.S. debut album. (Her last pass, “Exodus,” in 2004, grew on me, but evidently not many others, otherwise, I wouldn’t need all this introduction.)

I’ve been enjoying it. Sometimes her lyrics require effort to digest (as a graphics guy, I’d like to give kudos for using “Photoshop” in a song lyric, and yet, “I wish that I could Photoshop/all our bad memories” is… a stretch) but the tunes have the same catchiness that hooked me (and the rest of Japan) with her first break-out single, “Automatic,” back when I was living in Japan in 1998. It’s a much more mainstream album than her last attempt.

Lest I start sounding like a music reviewer, let me get to the point:

I was sharing the album with my wife, who owns all the Utada Hikaru albums I don’t (which is to say, most of them), and I was surprised to find her reaction was a resounding “meh.” She thinks Utada–who, if you didn’t know, is a mega superstar (holds the #1, #4, and #8 top selling records of all time) in Japan–has a snowball’s chance of breaking the American music market. She thinks Utada lacks the glamor and novelty to become a star on U.S. terms.

To an extent, I share the sentiment. Utada has not adopted any destitute foreign children, shaved her head, or (to my knowledge) been arrested. I do recognize, however, that for an American audience, the simple fact that she’s Japanese is probably novelty enough to pass the gate. I think the bigger obstacle may be a question of whether the mainstream U.S. pop-listening public is ready to accept an Asian music star. (See point one, at the top of the post.)

That said, though, if she’s going to make it, my feeling is that now may be her best chance. To whit: A while back, when I was working full-time at a Web design firm, I asked the company president–who had formerly been general manager of several local radio stations–about which new musicians he thought could only have made it big with the power of the Internet. John Mayer was his first reponse (yes, it was six years ago). He cited that, although John (we’re on first name terms) also lacked “glamor and novelty,” the direct fan-to-music access of the Web allowed someone who’s greatest strength was simply strong musical talent to bypass the radio and record label game.

So, as someone who’s also hoping for success riding the long tail on the Internet (webcomic about an international couple who own a small business, anyone?), I think I’d rather hold my tongue on Utada’s chances, and just hope the best for everyone…

Anyway, good album.

(This has become a very long post. I think it’s because this is my first attempt at a real “bloggy” blog post. Was I too verbose? Did I overdo the hyperlink thing? Feedback and advice are welcome!)

Since Wednesday’s comic involves sales (or lack thereof), and I just opened up a Project Wonderful ad slot, I’m in a money mood, so allow me to introduce one of the most ubiquitous of Japanese expressions: Irasshaimase!!! (I’m assuming exclamation marks are a legal requirement when writing irasshaimase!, but the multiples are a bonus.) Enter any store, restaurant, or shopping center, and you’ll hear this hail of “Welcome!” ring out like a capitalistic battle cry, or, maybe more appropriately, like the mating call of the domestic sales clerk desperate to attract a willing wad of cash (brought to you by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom).

Irasshaimase can come in variations, depending on the region and the speaker. My favorite, The machine-gun welcome: ‘rasshai-’rasshai-’rasshai!! Often heard in more down to earth establishments, like busy fish markets, I think. There’s something very… car salesman-ish about this approach.

In contrast, consider a common American store greeting: “Whaddaya want? (sneer optional).

I’ve found a sample at David in Japan, but nothing yet of my favorite version. Holler if you find a link!

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