The Joys and Horrors of English Lyrics in Jpop

Posted on Friday, March 21, 2008 by Steven

The Joys of English Lyrics
I've always been a fan of seamless integration of English and Japanese lyrics from popular Jpop artists such as Angela Aki, Utada Hikaru, melody., and Yuna Ito. I'm a big fan of English lyrics in Jpop for two reasons. First, I don't know Japanese. God knows I've tried to learn, but I can never make it past the first few chapters of any learning Japanese books. Unless the lyrics involve common romaji terms or ninja jutsu techniques, I have no idea what they're saying. Second, when used correctly, it creates a unique sounding song with lyrics I can understand and sing along to.

Pop quiz! What do all four artists mentioned previously have in common?

Answer: they were all born or brought up in the United States, so their English skills are superb (i.e. they are cheaters).

Angela Aki - brought up in Hawaii
Utada Hikaru - born in New York City
melody. - born in Hawaii
Yuna Ito - born in Los Angeles, brought up in Hawaii

Depressing note: the only Jpop artist I know who is from Canada is Monkey Majik...

However, English lyrics also bring much pain when used incorrectly.

The Horrors of English Lyrics
#1 - Jpop Artists who pronounce English poorly
One of my pet peeves is poorly pronounced English from Jpop singers. If you can't pronounce English properly, please don't use it in your songs...For those poor Japanese listeners trying to learn English, it doesn't help to hear bad English.

Example offenders: Beat Crusaders and BoA

The first offender is Beat Crusader's song Tonight Tonight Tonight. I first heard this song while watching the anime Bleach and later heard the full version on Oricon top singles. Although it was popular, the English killed me. There are parts in this song where I'm not sure if they are speaking English (nor do I know what the hell they are talking about). Here's a sample:

Second, is BoA, the undisputed master of terrible English. Although BoA is getting slightly better, some of her older releases featured English so terrible, it could be used to torture prisoners. In 2003, this horror was released in dangerously high concentrations. I'm referring to BoA's English album Next World, an album I believe would be looped continuously in hell. I'll admit that not all the tracks are bad, but then there's tracks like Amazing Kiss (English version):

What horror!!! Did you feel a part of you die in the inside?

#2 - Seemingly unnecessary use Of English
It can get annoying when people use English in Japanese songs for no reason. Maybe it sounds cool, but sometimes I feel like it's forced and really breaks the flow.

Example offenders: Namie Amuro and Mika Nakashima

The first example is the recent release of Namie Amuro's single 60s 70s 80s, which features the song ROCK STEADY. In the chorus, Namie uses the phrase "bungee jump" in the middle of some Japanese lines. If you're like me, you're wondering what the hell she is talking about and grow increasingly angry each time she says it. In my opinion, it would have annoyed me less if she had just used Japanese instead.

The second example is Mika Nakashima's song GLAMOROUS SKY. For most of the song, I don't even realize that Mika is using English phrases here and there, but around three-quarters into the song, she uses the lines:

yamikumo kieru FULL MOON kotaete boku no koe ni
Source: Absolute Lyrics

Thank you Mika, for saying all the days of the week in English. Maybe it's poetic to others, but it really annoyed me.

#3 - English lyrics I'd rather not know about...
Sometimes it's best to not know what your favourite artists are saying. If the lyrics are in Japanese, your favourite artist could be singing about horrific killing spree and you'd never know, unless you found a fan translation. Then you'd realize you were indirectly enjoying songs about serial killers. It's pretty horrible when your favourite Jpop artist's reputation is destroyed when you hear some of their lyrics.

Example offenders: ELLEGARDEN and m-flo

First, it's ELLEGARDEN's song Under Control. Here are some verses:
She's 40 when I'm 22
Her skin is almost like my mother's
She'll be 50 when I'm 32
Stop wondering what is the point
Leave us alone

Her sweet smile is cure for my wounded mind
That's all and you won't understand
Way she cares for me no one else has ever done
That's all hey I do mean it
Source: Seek Lyrics

Personally, I find this song disturbing since he's talking about loving someone 18 years older than him. Not that I'm saying it's wrong, but compared to other young punk-rock bands out there, they are usually singing about girls within a decade of their age group.

Second, it's m-flo's song Stuck In Your Love (which features melody). Here are some verses:
Let's leave all of this behind us
Forget it like highschool calculus
I'm into YOU and YOU into ME
And I know intuitively you feelin me
So please, TALK IS CHEAP
So like Ben Stiller in Starsky and Hutch…and just DO IT
Source: Just Some Lyrics

Those are some killer metaphors. Who couldn't relate to a calculus and a mediocre movie reference? "Forget it like highschool calculus" is probably my favourite line. I'm sure VERBAL could've come up with something better. These lyrics alone have destroyed any gangsta rapper image I had of VERBAL.

Ironically, I complain about bad English lyrics in Jpop when my English is poor and I write articles in this blog. I'm a hypocrite, there's no doubt about that. I hope I provided some decent examples of bad English in Jpop. I know there's an abundance of terrible English in Jpop, but I typically stop listening to those songs and remove it from my memory. If you have some examples you'd like to share, feel free to leave a comment. If I've offended anyone, say if BoA's Next World album is your favourite album of all time, direct your anger towards clicking some ads or I can continue buying better Jpop.

7 Responses to "The Joys and Horrors of English Lyrics in Jpop":

Anonymous says:

speaking of that Nana song, I think that "rocking shoes" is one of the oddest phrases i've heard in jpop. Are they like rocking chairs? Does she have some kind of rock and roll shoes? what's going on here?

the quiet fox says:

I thought the "forget it like high school calculus" was cute. I don't think Verbal was trying to go for a tough image at any point in that track, and I certainly don't think his performance there has to reflect negatively on how he presents himself elsewhere... I mean, you have stuff like "Love Me, Hate the Game" on the same album, and that's a complete 180 as far as image goes.

That said, I do cringe a little bit during the Ben Stiller line. :p

schmetterling says:

Re: anonymous

The "rocking shoes" I believe are refering to Vivienne Westwood Rocking Horse Shoes that Nana wears.

Kahori says:

I agree that sometimes, it's better not to know (and not for others to know), though sometimes engrish and guessing what the singer is on about, is just too funny. :P

Anonymous says:

I thuroughly enjoyed your commentary on Jpop English lyric horrors! Thank you for posting. Absolutely freak'n halarious. I'm a Namie Amuro fan and I know exactly what you mean when you talked about her. It WOULD be almost perfect if she had used all Japanese.

Graeme says:

yo man, it's pretty obvious what their saying

woke up with yawn this mornin
i'm still alive
turned on my radio
to start up new
As goddam djs chattered how to survive
AMazing news got over on the airwaves

Tonite love is rationed
TOnite cross the nation
love infects worldwide

she's a shooting star

she's a shooting star

repeat chorus

u be lame..and so is David Morris from tinymixtapes

shut your trap and stop dissin japan you #!%!%

Anonymous says:

This is how the Beat crusaders sound

woke up with this mornin
lets cut them dj's chatting
tonight live is racing
tonight love is raced my way..