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Regal Zonophone - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 02:01 am
Regal Zonophone

My City vs Your City is a fascinating information widget designed by Michael Schieben. It takes data from LastFM and organises it so that you can compare the Top 10 most-listened-to artists in any two cities of your choice (as long as they're on LastFM's list of cities, and have active listeners). The clean and attractive interface then gives you a percentage overlap between the two cities.



After using the widget to make some fairly trivial observations (Kings of Leon do better in Protestant countries than Catholic ones! David Bowie is more popular in London than New York!), I found myself most interested in comparing how many domestic artists different countries have in their Top 10s. You might expect pop songs in local tongues, from local artists, to sprinkle the most-listened-to playlists of all nations fairly equally, but that turns out not to be the case at all. What emerges very strongly, in almost all the cities you care to look at, is an Anglo-Saxon monoculture. Cities all over the world list the same artists in their Top 10s: Coldplay, Radiohead, Lady GaGa, The Beatles...



It's almost as if someone or something has got to them. The same "someone" who commands people all over the world to wear blue jeans seems to be laying down the law, or subtly inveigling its norms into people's desires. THOU SHALT HAVE A MAXIMUM OF THREE DOMESTIC ARTISTS IN THY LASTFM TOP 10, this "something" says, UNLESS THOU ART FRENCH OR JAPANESE.

Yes, according to this widget it is only cities in France and Japan in which we find people willing to go beyond this unofficial "30% local cap", this unwritten "commandment of monoculture". Paris boasts 40% domestic artists in its list (Gainsbourg, Air, Phoenix, Daft Punk), while Tokyo charts a massive 70% of homegrown talent. That's almost complete self-sufficiency! No need to import any foreign music except the odd Beatles and Radiohead mp3!



Nowhere else can match this extraordinary Japanese achievement (which could be a fantastic blow struck for autonomy, or a kind of navel-gazing autism, depending on your perspective). Even in China -- confident, fast-growing China, which just took Japan's place as the world's second richest nation, and is on track to be its richest within ten years -- LastFM users are only tending to let one single measly Chinese track into their Top 10s.

Muslim Turkey stretches to three domestics, Mexico has none. Religion seems to count for more than money: the Anglosphere's cultural hegemony seems to be outlasting the financial dominance of the US, although slightly less so in Muslim countries. (Here we have to strike a note of caution, though. This is all based on data coming in via LastFM, a Western service. It's perfectly possible that Chinese music-sharing services would feature more Chinese music. Or possibly not.)



There are, of course, two nations who listen almost exclusively to music made within their own borders: the US and the UK. No, make that three, because Japan does too. Where the US and the UK differ from Japan, though, is that they export their local culture all over the world. Nobody outside Japan is listening to Japanese music. Japanese music isn't a hegemony, and Japan is not a music hub.



I must say, I find the picture that emerges from My City vs. Your City a deeply depressing -- and sadly familiar -- one. What this widget makes visible is the same one-way cultural flow I described in (Don't want to live in a) hub and spoke world and Culture flows through English channels, but not for long. In the terms used by airlines for their route maps, culture is flowing in a clear hub-and-spoke pattern, radiating out from a strong central point, rather than in a point-to-point way.

Comparing Porto in Portugal with Porto Alegre in Brazil, I'd have hoped to see a little point-to-point cultural action going on based on the fact that these two nations share a language, Portugese. But no, neither Porto nor Porto Alegre is using LastFM to listen to anything in Portugese. If they have anything in common, it's their love of Metallica and the Arctic Monkeys. You can only "fly" from Portugal to Brazil via LA or London.



Another way to look at what's going on is to say that we live in a world in which global pluralism is "asymmetrical" rather than "symmetrical". Many are not speaking to many on a level playing-field; someone is at the centre, speaking, and all the others are ranged around that "someone", listening, and mostly inaudible, even to their immediate neighbours. In the words of the Barclays Capital slogan, this is "global reach, built around you". As long as you're an Anglo-Saxon.

65CommentReplyShare

parchesss
Parches
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 01:23 am (UTC)

According to last.fm, Mexico would not have any local artists in its Top 10 list, but that is because the music taste of the sort of people who would have a last.fm is very different from the music taste of the general population.

If My City vs. Your City could scrobble an accurate picture of what Mexicans listen to, you would see a lot more local artists. I imagine something similar might happen in China.

That being said, I'm surprised that not even Café Tacvba makes the Top 10 list, being the only Mexican band that measures up to the highest international standards in terms of creativity and production, and also being one of the most popular acts in the country.


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skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 01:26 am (UTC)

But, there's some problems with this - eh?

It's sort of like the electoral college problem:

http://www.fakeisthenewreal.org/reform/

Even though we're going with percentages here, could there be only 10 people in Turkey *with* the last.fm widget scobbling?

Is last.fm available in any other language, except English? I did only a quick cursory glance and couldn't find a way to change the language, although I did find the widget to change the URL to another CBS-owned site. I also know that when in Paris, it didn't change to a French interface, even though other sites (Google) do.

If this is true, it's possible that what we're seeing is what's scrobbled by anglophones, generally. Japan may be the exception, but most everyone learns English in Japan at an early age, anyways, no? Enough to use an English-interface without much problem.







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skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)

I stand corrected on that one - there is a language pref - next to the design pref.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)

The list of Chinese options is big coastal cities and Beijing (and its satellite, Tianjin). The only exception is Changsha, the birthplace of Mao Zedong, in Hunan province, where the only Chinese entry is for a Taiwanese artist. But... as you noted, this is LastFM, not QQMusic or Baidu MP3's list. Stuff like Lady Gaga does okay in Shanghai (or Taibei), but doesn't really break into the other half of China, the vast inland region, which is still very nativist in its media consumption. I think Koreans and Taiwanese are making a lot more money and have a higher profile in Changsha (or Lanzhou, or Nanjing, or Ha'erbin) than Lady Gaga has. I think LastFM is giving a good picture of what urban elite kids are listening to in these towns, though: Wang Fei and Green Day.

A lot of Western critics think of Chinese censorship as a means of protecting the position of the Chinese Communist Party, but I think a lot of it also has to do with protecting indigenous culture, whether it's pop music or Twitter-clones or homegrown neoliberalism. Superficially, China does look pretty confident, right? But that confidence quickly crumbles in the face of any imagined meddling by outside forces (whether the United States or Uighur activists or Han Chinese who are too fond of elections). China, a lot of the time, swaggers and puts on fabulous shows for the world, but it is still deeply culturally anxious, in a way that Japan isn't. Chinese cultural critics often combine a sense of superiority with an amazing capacity for self-doubt. I think that's one of the reasons why China will continue to resist, or minimize, the influence of world monoculture.

I think the vision of liberalizing China that Western thinkers love to describe often clashes with the vision of liberalizing China that Chinese thinkers are working with. In the Western vision, China is opening up to Western ideas and influence; people are watching Prison Break and buying Nikes, embracing neoliberalism. But in the Chinese imagination, the opening up definitely does allow Western culture/ideas to enter China but the most important part is the opening of the exit gate for Chinese cultural products and ideas. Western thinkers look at Chinese culture and, viewing it through the prism of Western thought and culture, see, of course, Western thought and culture and the glorious or inglorious spread of monoculture. Chinese thinkers (except far left nationalists who are quite fond of seeing the negative parallels between the new Chinese elite and the Western elite) are a lot less likely to identify the Western DNA in ideas like neoliberalism or televised singing contests.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)

Should't you be out spotting trains?


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robotmummies
robotmummies
ad reinhardt
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)

i think maybe "the west" is a brand and economics is a force like nature unto primitive existences. popular music developed as it did because cars had radios and needed something to play in between advertisements. i could only guess because blues music developed from the english language, its unfolding would remain favorable to english, as well as western themes and perspectives, although i can imagine socrates disproving me as easily as my impulse manifests. still, i think colonialism is beyond human will, it's the will of pagan-type economic gods like "the travel channel" telling american tourists where the "non-touristy" places are

at the same time it might be worth to note that only sanctioned selections from the anglosphere could even be imagined to get into this list. current 93 or nunslaughter could not get a hat in the race any more than something "authentic" to another sphere could


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daim0s
Бой Джордж Майкл Джексон Поллок
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 04:28 am (UTC)

No Iceland on the list, unfortunately. I would expect them to be above 30% threshold as well.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
Sadly, no.

http://www.last.fm/place/Iceland/+charts


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 07:13 am (UTC)
Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Bump of Chicken

...to say nothing of the cringe-worthy indigenous stuff they call pop music in Japan. It's hardly baffling that the rest of the world has no taste for it. Let's see, Bump of Chicken or The Beatles? I mean, really...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:15 am (UTC)
Re: Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Bump of Chicken

Yes, but I think it's a very, very interesting situation to see how the Japanese have completely bucked the global pattern here, and continue to have a healthy indigenous music scene. I hear that Japan is now the biggest CD market in the world, too; sales have not been affected by file sharing the way they have in other territories.

To answer the fascinating question of why Japan is such an outlier in terms of music consumption, I think we have to set aside the subjective question of "quality" and look instead at specific business practises and specific cultural mechanisms. France and Japan both feel their "cultural exception" strongly, but France has by and large tried to combat the virulent Anglopop stranglehold via legislation (quotas and so on), whereas Japan has used purely commercial means. This means that the "quotas" are hidden within semi-secret commercial maxims, deals and understandings.

We could call this "commercial passive aggression", and the Japanese have been remarkably successful with it. But ultimately the desire to listen to pop music from your own culture has to exist within the consumer. It's not just a matter of the convenience of lyrics in your own language -- that's not enough. There must be a sense that you're wired differently, emotionally and culturally, from other people and need a music which reflects that. There might also be a sense that the music of other nations reflects something undesireable, something those nations have in their DNA.

I think one of the most remarkable things is that Japan continues to be seen as a good ally to the West while saying, in its domestic culture markets, such a firm "no" to Western cultural products, and being the only nation in the world with both the economic means and the cultural will to form this "no" (which is still only a partial "no", a "limited yes").


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 07:38 am (UTC)

ルイスは10年ぶりの東京?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 07:39 am (UTC)

WiggyにWestion Tokyoであったとき以来。


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subalpine
subalpine
subalpine
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:15 am (UTC)

I'm getting 8 Japanese artists, 1 Korean, and 1 Lady GaGa for Shizuoka, Japan

and for Guangzhou, China, apparently 4 Chinese (at least, I can read Wong Fei, and there are 3 others with Chinese names)

http://rockitbaby.de/projects/mycityvsyourcity/#shizuoka/japan/guangzhou/china


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:36 am (UTC)

Wow, Shizuoka 90% domestic! Massive! The new Sakoku!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:21 am (UTC)

I don't really accept that what last.fm listeners listen to has much to tell us apart from what it is that last.fm listeners listen to. Outside the US/UK and the major European cities, last.fm listeners are going to be a minuscule portion of the population that is already heaviily geared towards Anglo pop culture. For instance, when I was in Brazil, all I heard was Brazilian music and all people seemed to be interested in was Brazilian music, bar the odd Madonna CD or whatever. Walk into a random bar in Rio, and you are almost certainly going to hear Brazilian music. And yet last.fm supposedly tells a different story.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:27 am (UTC)

Take a quick glance at the Brazilian top 20 and you'll see that the clear majority of songs are Brazilian.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:27 am (UTC)

Aha, this is the first zero percent overlap I've seen: Tokyo and Stuttgart!


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subalpine
subalpine
subalpine
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:35 am (UTC)

Tianjin and Seville!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:32 am (UTC)

Another interesting application: Michael promises to program a "Me vs Your City" feature into the next release which will allow you to line up your own personal Top 10 against those of various cities, and calculate which city most closely matches your taste.

Music has proved to be very useful as a "taste filter" and "sensibility guage" in things like dating sites; now it could help you decide where in the world to live.

Edited at 2010-02-04 08:33 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)

-because of what a few last fm listeners listen to?
Music is a big thing for me, but I've never used last fm much, it's never seemed necessary or perhaps I've never had the time. When I moved to Berlin some years ago, if there would have been any musical reason to it, it would have been with people like Patric Catani and early Cobra Killer in mind, but I doubt last fm would have reflected that. You would just as likely find them on, say, Australian lists, due to their having toured there previously when few small European bands make it that far. If I wanted to meet other people who listen to the Boredoms I'd just as soon go to New York as Tokyo. I'm not going there to look, but would last fm tell me where to find other Joemus listeners?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:42 am (UTC)
Beansprout hubs

Isn't there a danger of measuring cities by a yardstick the US and UK kind of invented (exported pop music)? Somewhere in China there is a website comparing beansprout consumption by country. Local zealots are confirmed by the results "Right on. Go us!"; local liberals sound a more cautious note "I feel so ashamed. To dominate so flagrantly."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC)
Re: Beansprout hubs

I don't for a moment accept that the US and the UK invented popular music. Every culture has its own popular music. Some have just had their markets swamped by (and have voluntarily embraced) Anglo-Saxon pop.

One thing we haven't mentioned is that since English is basically the world's default lingua franca, many people use pop records as a language-learning tool. Another thing we haven't considered is that the "domestic" pop consumed in Japan and elsewhere is often painstakingly exact replicas of Anglo-pop with Japanese artists and lyrics (typically Japanese lyrics on the verse, English ones on the chorus) overlaid.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:46 am (UTC)

Why the predominance of Radiohead though (here and on those endless Q/Mojo best music ever lists)?

I understand people all wanting to listen to the Beatles (and Lady Gaga to some extent), but Radiohead?

This is a mystery to me.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 09:03 am (UTC)
Dodgy weather station in Siberia

I think the anom poster above (and copied below) had it right - though Momus and everyone else is choosing to ignore it - Last FM is not a reliable yardstick and this could almost be used a classic example of how one starts to extrapolate and hypothesise from what is essentially unreliable data

I don't really accept that what last.fm listeners listen to has much to tell us apart from what it is that last.fm listeners listen to. Outside the US/UK and the major European cities, last.fm listeners are going to be a minuscule portion of the population that is already heaviily geared towards Anglo pop culture. For instance, when I was in Brazil, all I heard was Brazilian music and all people seemed to be interested in was Brazilian music, bar the odd Madonna CD or whatever. Walk into a random bar in Rio, and you are almost certainly going to hear Brazilian music. And yet last.fm supposedly tells a different story.


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autopope
autopope
Autopope
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 10:11 am (UTC)

Caveats about Last.FM as a reliable yardstick aside, this effect is definitely at work in literature, from what I've observed of my little corner (science fiction and fantasy). It's most easily ascribed -- in the written form -- to market externalities. If you write in English, you've got direct access to the UK/Aus/Nz market (80 million) and the vast US market (300 million). If you write in French? Congratulations, you've got France (65 million) ... and Quebec.

For a non-anglophone author to get into the US/US anglophone zone means competing for an editor's attention with lots of authors who the editor can read without commissioning an expensive translation -- and good translations are expensive. Whereas for an Anglophone author to get into, say, Germany, all that's necessary is for their agent to nobble Heyne's commissioning editor at the Frankfurt Book Fair with their first-year US sales figures (which tell the editor whether it's a commercial proposition or not).

Upshot: there is one full-time SF novelist in Germany, and about 4-5 fantasy novelists, whereas in the UK there are about 10-20 and 40-80 (figuring out who's full-time/part-time is hard).

I suspect music has a similar problem -- at the Top 10 act level -- insofar as there's a big, lucrative reference market dominated by large corporate publishers with sales forces who want to maximize their return on investment in J. Random Huge Act: exports are a cheap way to expand your reach. Also, there's the general conservativism of audiences everywhere: we (in the west) have somehow gotten ear-time for our popular ditties around the world since the likes of The Beatles debuted, but Canto-pop is still a (cough) subcultural pursuit outside Taiwan and China. And so on.

Edited at 2010-02-04 10:12 am (UTC)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 10:31 am (UTC)

Naive question: what do you think it would take to change this scenario? For Canto-pop to be in the position Anglo-pop is now in? Do you think that's inconceivable in the world as we know it, even if we look decades and centuries ahead?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 10:41 am (UTC)

Although of course the US/UK didn't invent popular music, they did essentially invent its modern form, which hasn't changed an awful lot since the late 60s. Railing against that fact is a bit like railing against France and Spain for speaking Latin languages. Any change will come by building on/in reaction to etc. what is already there, ie the basic US/UK-derived paradigm. As for last.fm, what amazes me is that the young Anglo-influenced people who use it seem to be universally listening to the Beatles. Nothing against the Beatles, but they broke up 40 years ago! It would be analagous to young people in the 60s spending all their time listening to ragtime or something... It is truly remarkable that the form has progressed so incredibly (something like last.fm would have been pretty unimaginable only 15 years ago), and yet the content has stayed very substantially the same.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 10:59 am (UTC)

Well, quite. Unless we see software as content, and agree with Adolf Kittler that "no human being writes anymore. Today, human writing runs through inscriptions burnt into silicon by electronic lithography. The last historic act of writing may thus have been in the late seventies when a team of Intel engineers plotted the hardware architecture of their first integrated microprocessor."

In other words, when we hear The Beatles via iTunes and scrobble it via LastFM, what we are hearing is not The Beatles' songwriting, but all the code-writing built into iTunes-LastFM-Intel-mp3 etc etc, all the way down to Michael Schieben with his code for the website I'm writing about today. Code-writing is the new songwriting. Apps and programs and games are the new songs. Form and content can't be disentangled.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 12:10 pm (UTC)

Japan as "the only advanced other".


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)

"Nobody outside Japan is listening to Japanese music."
I must say that since I've discovered Japanese music in 1996 I have been listening it much more than US or UK music, it made me travel from Brasil to Japan just to be in Fuji Rock last year to watch Japanese artists. it made me pay attention to other countries local music too.
I think that maybe what the LastFm data shows is what people that don't care for music is hearing, it's obvious that music is not so important for most of the population around the world, they will hear what they watch on TV or just what is common sense. In Brasil there's more TV shows from US than local ones, and even in these there's "international (US and UK music)" soundtracks.
Now, as you took Porto Alegre as reference I should tell you that this city in particular is known in Brasil to have the most traditional Rock 'n' Roll culture of the country, if you change to Salvador (because they're really proud of their local music and general culture) and don't see any difference in data it can mean that local people in Brasil just don't use LastFM to hear local music.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)

it made me travel from Brasil to Japan just to be in Fuji Rock last year to watch Japanese artists.

It's funny you should say that, because I happened to be sitting next to a poster for Fuji Rock 2009 in my local Japanese restaurant here in Berlin today, and I scanned the artists list and saw very, very few Japanese names on it. Looking at the lineup, it does seem that there are some if you go far enough down the list, though.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)

Why people listen to the same thing is easy: Mirror Neurons.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 07:21 pm (UTC)

I love early 21st Century Taiwanese pop. But sadly those days are gone.

As for Hong Kong, things haven't been the same since Aaron Kwok sold out.


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)

"Nobody outside Japan is listening to Japanese music. "

that's not necessarily true. you havent been living on the north american continent for a few years now, if i'm not mistaken, so you've kind of missed the minor blossoming of japanese pop-culture here. kids my age (22) and younger are now doingcutesy v-signs in their photos, know japanese horror flicks, and probably about 1 in ten kids my age has heard of/seen ayumi hamasaki, gackt, dir en grey, l'arc, etc. many many kids particularly 3 - 5 years younger than my group have read/ seen a manga or anime and are moderately obsessed with atleast one of them.

it's possible that this is a regional thing but i live in the second (now third??) poorest city in america, buffalo, and really, the only asians living here are south easterners/refugees and various chinese speaking peoples, so i feel like japan works on exporting it's culture a lot harder than people are noticing.


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)

i will remark that it's not as commercially successful as i had expected it to be largely because of downloading. i myself have obtained the vast majority of my foreign music via lj mp3 rotation/ sharing communities


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 11:44 pm (UTC)

why is Chinese music "measly" Momus?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)

The phrase "one single measly track" means a meagre amount of something you'd like more of.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 5th, 2010 12:33 am (UTC)
Last FM long tail

Having scrobbed this widget for a while, I'm thinking that the artists that keep showing up in these lists are not because the database is lacking in variety but that the scrobbers are.

You can input say Death by Chocolate, Holy Model Rounders, Harry Hosono, Sketch Show, Simon Fisher Turner etc and come up with quite a bit of 6 degrees of separation. All quite accurate.

Garbage in - Garbage out...


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 19th, 2010 07:32 am (UTC)
Re: Last FM long tail

Japan may not export its pop, at least on a large scale, to Europe or North America. Yet, from what I've seen, teenagers in Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea, and maybe elsewhere in East and Southeast Asia, are massively influenced by Japanese pop culture in what they listen to and how they dress. China may have pipped Japan economically, but as a culturally force in the region, Japan still rocks.


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