A Brief Response to "The Evolution of Idol Music"

For those who don't know, I'm in a band. My bandmate is a musical prodigy, gifted on everything he picks up, and incredibly knowledgeable about the history of music. He's also fairly into idols, though that mostly means old school Momusu and the occasional other song. However, when he turns his prodigious mind to something I say offhand in a tweet, and then writes a thesis on it, I can't help but try and plug it.

Until, that is, I actually spot a minor flaw.

The post in question is called Evolution of Idol Music, and it examines whether or not we're currently in the late baroque period of idol music. The original plan was for it to be a Roundtable discussion, but I got back from work that day and the fucker had already written it. I will warn you, the post is video heavy and the theme is laggy on its own, so it may crash your browser.

So, once you've trawled through that, feel free to return.

The end of his post posits that the next logical step for the idol music realm to take is to step into the Galante era of music, a brief period that overlapped the end of the Baroque era and the beginning of the Classical era. The end of the Baroque era was full of sprawling and complex compositions on (by modern standards) incredibly small ensembles, whereas the Galante style simplified a lot of the overbearing counterpoint, basso continuo and Figured Bass, and softly fell into a style in which the melody itself was the only real driving force. Despite this, Galante itself evolved and became the Classical era, which created functional harmony and pretty much everything else we nowadays think of as common sense in music. What also occured was that the "simple but catchy melodies" aesthetic of Galante managed to evolve into a vastly increased orchestra. So many new instruments were invented in the 17th and 18th centuries that the orchestra could barely keep up with adding them all, and composers could barely keep up with writing for them. What actually happened then was that while the melodies remained listenable and catchy, the background arrangements grew larger, more intense, and increasingly self-redundant.

I think this, more than anything, points to the fact that the shift to Galante is already in full swing within the realm of idol music. Whilst it's true that idol composers are currently spamming the hell out of Fifth Progressions, it's not all that different to how Telemann incorporated elements from Galante but carried on writing harmonically complex and contrapuntal works whilst decrying how simple music had become. On the other hand, recent idol music has been overproduced, full of redundant instrumentation and generally focused more on the melody than arrangement.

For a few examples:

Not that I particularly dislike the songs, but they do have a ridiculous amount of instruments that aren't particular required. They're only really there to add "flavour".

So, in that respect I believe the idol galante style has arrived, even moreso when I look at the huge amount of AKB singles over the past few years which have basically the same arrangement, but just uses different melodies and chord progressions. Why go to any effort, when you're gonna sell a million copies anyway?

On the other hand, the idol galante style has yet to create a huge amount of amazing melodies to actually base a song around. I can only think of a few:

9nine - White Wishes

So yea, with any luck some idol songwriters will get a move on and start writing better melodies. Still, some actual music theory for people to chew on.


  1. There's no minor flaw in it; you just misunderstand the transition of baroque-classical and the galante style in general :P

  2. Arbitrary_greay22 July 2013 at 16:55

    Concerning melodies: Jpop has been using the same chords since at least 1979
    But so has America, albeit not as prominently in the mainstream anymore.

    This is also all rather mixed up in the every blurry line of what counts as idol music in Jpop. Some people count Perfume, some don't. Some people count all bubblegum anisongs, some don't. (And man, anisongs haven't changed much in about two decades.) Why throw in a Hamasaki reference when she's DEFINITELY not an idol?

    And considering that most of the recent examples are all Tsunku and Hyadain with a couple 48G, (I think, Flash keeps crashing due to the number of embeds so I can't see them) there's a bit of a skew in the perception of idol music. The majority of it, indie idol music, is very cheaply done, and therefore cannot approach anywhere near "overproduced." Very few people emulate the Tsunku style of writing. Some people emulate the Hyadain style of writing. (Most notably, the ones having to emulate him for the groups he's made a name for, like Dempagumi. Nonetheless, the latest Dempagumi song is more sped-up Calvin Harris than Hyadain, melodically) Arguably, most emulate the 48G style of melody, but that's just because they use THE MOST OBVIOUS MELODIES, most of which are just abusing the chords above, and hence are just continuing the legacy of the late 70s.

    The rest of it just adheres to whatever genre it's emulating, such as the likes of Tomato n Pine and TGS in the retro camp, Fairies and Dream in the EDM camp. There's also the E-girls conglomerate, which attempts to mate good old retro Jpop melodies with EDM arrangements, but failing to actually have modern EDM arrangements and is actually just doing "dance music" anisongs from 5 years ago.

    Half of all idol groups' discography is always intentionally throwbacks to old styles of idol music. There are songs in Johnny's groups of today that could have been released by Hikaru Genji back in the late 80s. (Admittedly, I haven't heard much that sounds like Johnny's groups from before that.) Therefore, any evolution in idol music has to be considered within the context of trends that are actually going somewhere, which is difficult when the primary trend is "make it sound like a throwback to old styles of music." The only easy-to-track trend is when idol music happens to match the mainstream J-music trends, such as the early MM matching with SPEED and Ayumi, such as the lagged adoption of electro and dubstep, which gets further muddled because of the primary influence of Kpop on that front.

    Personally, I'm more cliched and see the restrained-by-technology songs of the past as Classical Era, turn of the Century through now as Romantic, (as arrangements get more and more dense, albeit in some cases deceptively) and the rise of explicitly post-modern idol groups like Babymetal, MomoClo Z, and BiS (and Passpo has their pop-rock gimmick going on, too) as perhaps the Impressionist transition. The Contemporary Era will begin either after or during the idol dark ages after the demise of the 48G empire.