After attending a screening event last month in which NHK World aired two documentaries back-to-back, I’ve been watching the channel a great deal on my iPad – and finally managed to find a time when their music show (a kind of Japanese Top of the Pops, if you like…) was airing. You see – while most of NHK World’s shows are available ‘on-demand’ after they have been broadcast and can be viewed again, I-Player style, J-MELO remains suspiciously absent. While this is no doubt due to restrictions surrounding licensing and music rights, it adds an element of frustration – essentially, if you aren’t watching the channel when the show happens to air live, it can be difficult to catch it.
And really, it is worth catching. Cramming an impressive variety of music into its 30 minute duration via a compilation of current music video snippets as well as longer showcase segments, J-MELO comes across as one of the most slickly produced shows airing on NHK World – aided immensely by presenter May J, who conveys an immediate professionalism and ease at what she’s doing. This is no doubt due to the fact she’s a singer herself – you’re most likely to know her from the Japanese version of Frozen’s Let It Go, or her opening theme for Gundam Reconguista In G. But essentially, she knows what she’s talking about, and has the casual friendliness (as well as fluency in both English and Japanese) to ensure the artist interviews on the show feel breezy and pleasant to watch.
Not everything is quite up to the same calibre – the sections which include video footage from viewers singing in Japanese, while an admirable attempt at audience participation – don’t make for the easiest of viewing. It must be said though that J-MELO’s attempts at bridging the gap between Japanese music and Western fans go above-and-beyond – in addition to the channel itself, they have attended events such as the UK’s Hyper Japan, while earlier this year the show’s producer Nobuyuki Harada gave a talk about the show at my university (which, frustratingly, I couldn’t attend due to a clash with another lecture of mine).
While it would be foolish to pretend that J-MELO alone could singlehandedly introduce Western fans wholesale to Japanese music, what I think is more important is the willingness and appetite to engage – in essence, a specified desire to push Japanese music to other, overseas markets. As I discussed in my previous post on Japanese music – previous hurdles such as availability (both physical and digital) are slowly beginning to dissolve, and with the current generation of Western fans of Japanese Music more digitally savvy and engaged than ever before – they are already actively seeking this material out regardless.
Ideally, the kind of role I envision J-MELO playing is that of a kind of official mediator. With NHK clearly motivated to push their English channel language further in the UK, I see J-MELO as a kind of locus which will hopefully, at some point or other, invite a degree of coverage in the mainstream media – ie. a feature piece in the likes of the Guardian or a dedicated music magazine. Essentially – acting as a gateway to further mass-market coverage of Japanese music.
With acts like One OK Rock and Babymetal standing as the face of a new ‘internationalised’ push of Japanese music abroad, there’s never been a better time than now.