Shoegaze is a genre tag whose sound is often debated, but one that universally relies on a very simple formula: a balance of beauty and ear-smashing loudness. Beyond that, the limits of what is shoegaze and what ventures into other similar genres can get a bit clouded, but it also allows for some pretty liberal interpretation making shoegaze a generally flexible genre. As opposed to the hey-day of the genre in the early 90s, the modern incarnation of shoegaze, coupled with the insane amount of music available at the moment, has broadened the shoegaze definition even more. While you have your fair share of MBV and Slowdive clones – in the case of the former it’s really hard to blame them – you see a lot of Western bands veering from the pop side of things toward a more punk and metal influenced sound. Meanwhile, as Jairo Manzur of Latinoamerica Shoegaze has pointed out numerous times in his contributions to Muso Planet, bands in South America, and in particular Chile, use more traditional, cultural music to define their shoegaze sound.
That cultural influence is also a big part of what makes a lot of Japanese shoegaze unique. In the early 90s Shibuya-kei artists like Salon Music, Spiral Life, and Flipper’s Guitar got in on the act and would influence future generations of shoegaze artists in the country. The late 90s and early 2000s – probably the most globally recognizable period of Japanese shoegaze – saw a lot more crossover into the sound with visual-kei/alt-rockers Plastic Tree and Japan’s very own shoegaze Swiss-army knife Coaltar of the Deepers surging to the forefront of the scene. The current landscape of Japanese shoegaze is now more diverse than ever as a result, and new and unique versions of the genre are constantly popping up – there was even a good Mikgazer release this year.
That brings me J-Pop artist Aoi Eiru (藍井エイル), whose music I admittedly had no prior knowledge of until about a month ago when I saw that she was getting ready to release a new single. That single would be titled “Shoegazer”, which naturally piqued my interest. My first thought was that a second-rate idol whose body of work seems to be largely in the realm of anime soundtracks doing a song called shoegazer would be absolute crap. But I decided to wait and see what it would actually sound like.
Curious as to how the track came to be titled as such, I dug up an Oricon writeup about the song and its writer Hisashi, guitarist of seminal Japanese butt-rock outfit Glay. Not really revealing much of anything it simply mentioned something about the shoegaze genre as having distorted guitars and sweet vocal melodies. The description in the article sort of connects to the aforementioned shoegaze formula. The track itself completely misses the mark…badly. It has not one single redeeming quality from the nasally vocals to the generic, watered down guitar tone to the way-too-prevalent drums that sound like something I might have made in Fruity Loops in high school. And I haven’t even gotten to the lazily shoegaze-ified cover that is pretty much the same as every other CD she’s released with a wavy, spacey pink and purple backdrop, though in fairness that’s about as close as the whole thing gets to living up to its title.
It’s a bad pop song, but I can live with bad pop music. Japan has a lot of it to offer and you hear it every time you walk into a convenience store or turn on the TV. It’s just sort of wallpaper here. I generally wouldn’t take the time to write about a bad pop song, and I’ve probably devoted way too many words to writing about this one, but what really bothers me is that it’s clearly nothing more at a cheap attempt to latch onto an indie genre that has been growing more and more over the last few years in Japan without even making an attempt at the sound. I don’t regard the word “shoegaze” as some embodiment of substance and musical integrity, but if you’re going to make reference to a genre, show it some respect and at least fucking try. The song managed to take the lack of originality commonly found in idol music a step lower. Lots of shoegazey bands have renounced the shoegaze tag, despite their music carrying a heavy influence, in the name of escaping the restrictive nature of genre identifiers. In those cases they may be completely full of shit, but I can at least accept that as a valid thought. With Aoi Eir’s disaster of a single, it’s the exact opposite and a shameless attempt by an out of touch songwriter to momentarily weasel a talentless young lady into a fad. If you want a brief introduction to what’s bad about major label idol music look no further than “Shoegazer”.