Tuesday, February 08, 2011

It’s Breaking Up a Happy Home

Yesterday, I posted on this blog Nancy Nova’s “Made in Japan” as an example of a bad pop song that more than borders on offensive but in fact dances over that line with costume bucked teeth in place, exclaiming “So solly! So solly!” I’m still not sure what that video was, exactly, but it happened, and we can’t go back in time and prevent it from happening, unfortunately.

Now, however, I’m wondering whether it is actually worse — in terms of quality, in terms of political correctness — than my old standby for fascinatingly bad, offensive 80s pop songs: Aneka’s “Japanese Boy.” The song, which many people seem to recognize today from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, strikes the ears like a flurry of shurikens. But it is also incredibly catchy in a way that often leaves its victims humming it days afterwards, even when they have acknowledged how bad the song is. Even worse: It, like “Made in Japan” is sung by a Caucasian woman — in this case, Scottish mezzo soprano Mary Sandeman. It represents a strange trend in 80s pop music that had singers donning Asian clothes and acting in a manner that Westerners might consider traditionally Asian. Totally offensive, right? Like, on the same level as blackface, and I’d call this trend yellowface if that too didn’t sound totally racist to me. (Geishaface? Does that work?)

Anyway, I’m curious to know if people find “Made in Japan” or “Japanese Boy” more offensive, by whatever standard you chose to gauge offensiveness. Here is the video for “Japanese Boy,” featuring backup dancers that lord almighty I hope are actually Japanese and Sandeman herself, looking sort of like a hard luck Jane Leeves forced on stage because she lost a bet.

So? Which makes you feel worse about things white people have done? Which one makes you most regret having ears? Which one seems catchier, despite everything bad about it?


  1. FWIW, 'yellowface' is totally the accepted term used by Asian anti-racist bloggers.



  2. No, I'm fairly certain the back up dancers are completely Caucasian with black wigs on. Anyways, based on the lyrics, I think Made in Japan is way way more offensive than this one. Visually, this one almost wins, except Nancy Nova one ups it by making karate moves and droning "Aa so, aa so." So my verdict is Nancy Nova is the winner of offensive in all aspects. As for catchy, I like this one better. Though not quite enough to listen to it again.

  3. Even though I've played Vice City, I think I'm familiar with the song because of DDR.

    I too would have to throw my vote to Made in Japan, mostly for the ah so chorus.

    On a side note, I find it funny that this song didn't do too well because it sounded "too Chinese" (according to Wikipedia).

    And to end on an unrelated note, here are some Japanese people pretending to be Americans.

    Japanese Bruce Willis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LNoQKHlCHs&feature=related)

    Japanese Louie Armstrong (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfX8pOiuWFc)

  4. Godaigamer, nice links! Louis Armstrong obviously sang about red roses brooming.

    Oh, and my vote is for "Made in Japan."

  5. Ella: I learned something!

    Daskaea: You seem to be in the majority.

    Godaigamer: Christ, I will never be able to un-see Japanese blackface Louie Armstrong.

    Julia: I was more troubled by blackface Louie Armstong's pronunciation of the word "world."

  6. In the movies, an actor of one race or nationality often plays another race or nationality. I think the American Blackface genre (which I've seen & heard many times) usually involved a substory of ridicule, whereas EuroAmerican Yellowface (of which I've seen & heard very little) as in this album "Made in Japan" seems friendly, admiring. Perhaps it's that substory that bothers us. If so, then the intention of the performers is what matters rather than the specific words, props and costumes.