How to listen to J-Euro (for those who don’t like JPop) 1

There is a wide world of Eurobeat outside of the stuff that’s written in English by Italians. Entire labels have sprung up to make the stuff, and an independent scene is present in both Japan AND the USA. For those with willing ears, there is a wealth of gold ripe for the digging.

However, much of the J-Euro is sung by— SPOILER ALERT!— Japanese vocalists. While quite a few seasoned Eurobeat veterans are more than ready to take the plunge or have already done so, those more accustomed to the lower-pitched voices of American Top 40 and Pop may not find the upper ranges of so many female J-Euro vocalists as appealing. There are few quicker ways to clear out an American party than to have a high-pitched voice screeching or squealing every note and lyric. This is a pity, because several of the best J-Euro tracks have these kinds of vocalists (and, in addition, if one takes the time to slowly adjust to these voices, (s)he may even come to enjoy/ignore them).

So what’s the key here? How does one learn to appreciate some of the most unique Eurobeat on the market without causing their eardrums to bleed?

The answer is much like one I tend to give out to people trying to survive listening to Christmas music during December, insofar as it changes their perspective. It seems so simple, but it really does require a different approach: LISTEN FOR THE MUSIC OF IT, NOT THE LYRICS OF IT.

You’re probably thinking, “Odyssey, you moron. I can’t listen for the lyrics because they’re all in Japanese. The whole PROBLEM is I can’t listen for the lyrics!” Moron I may be, but isn’t the fact that you’re frustrated by not being able to listen to the lyrics sort of a highlight of the point/problem here? I would assert that most pop/hip hop listeners will listen to the music of their language for the lyrics. This is why my brother knows every word of “Gonorrhea” by Lil Wayne & Drake— he wasn’t explicitly listening for the lyrics, but what else is there to focus on in that kind of song anyway?

This is where Eurobeat really excels. The first step to listening to the “music” of a J-Euro song is to ignore the content of the vocalist’s speech and instead on the notes they’re singing. Eurobeat is an extremely melodic and musically charged genre in whole, so finding one or two beautiful parts of an individual song should not be difficult. Think of it as if you’re listening to an instrumental with an unusual instrument playing the lead. It’s less about what the song is about and more about what the song IS. The intricate flow of arpeggios and pads beneath striking bass and stabs makes for a stellar underscore for soaring synth brass… or, in less flowery language, there’s some great stuff once you get your ear aligned to listen to it.

Let’s extrapolate this idea even further. Suppose you’re listening to, say, a J-Euro song with English lyrics (they do exist). F’rinstance, “Break the Chain” from Liz Triangle’s entry on Toho Eurobeat Vol 1. STELLAR song in every way, one I enjoy openly amongst my English-speaking friends. The song is written in English, but while the singer does try VERY hard to deliver believable English, the phrasing and writing make it difficult to distinguish from Japanese. In this case I try VERY hard to not focus on what I think the lyrics are (a reading of the lyrics can fix that far more quickly), but instead on how beautifully every instrument meshes together, including the vocals. The reward for hiding one’s sense of “lyric-finding” is an exceptional musical treat.

Of course, Eurobeat has very seldom been a genre for lyrical depth to begin with, English or Japanese. Any genre whose smash-hits would not be ill-regarded to include “burning like a fire of desire in the night” is not immediately one to consider a ‘deep’ philosophical impact. This is, of course, not a problem if you’re listening for the music of it and not for the lyrics of it, right? The training is rather difficult for one single style of music, but the rewards are great and the applications stretch far beyond just Eurobeat.

…and, no, I’m not hatin’ on J-Euro. Technically I’ve made quite a bit with Kizuna Records. This is meant as more of a guide for the intermediate Eurobeat fan who’s ready for more than just Avex’s “top 50” Eurobeat releases on iTunes or Amazon or whatever, or the novice who’s had a few scrapes with the harder-to-find stuff. Always be prepared. It’s not just for Boy Scouts, y’know. P:

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One thought on “How to listen to J-Euro (for those who don’t like JPop)

  • Alex

    Travis have I mentioned that I love you?!

    You perfectly exemplified how I feel about J-euro and my opinion on the ignoramus’ that say they refuse to listen to the stuff because they can’t understand the words. That’s a huge crock of shit.

    Music transcends being able to understand what a vocalist is saying. In the end vocals are but another instrument in the grand scheme of things. I don’t understand how people who consider themselves to be Eurobeat lovers so vehemently refuse to delve in to a whole new pool of material that STILL FOLLOWS the conventional rules of what makes a track Eurobeat.

    Amen brother, amen.