by Michael Diana
Well darlings, here it is. My Last Column Ever. It’s been a wild ride, hasn’t it… oh, all the bands and artists I’ve talked about that no one cared about. I do hope you’ll all continue to not care. It really made my life that much butter (sic).
I hope you imagined a film noir femme fatale leaning against a brick wall, smoking a ciggy, staring off into the distance as she spoke those words. It’s how I’ve been imagining far too many things lately.
In all seriousness, I am wistful since this is my last column ever. I hope you’ve had almost as much fun reading my columns as I’ve had writing them, even if my tastes tend to be a bit niche and not really what most people are interested in reading about. There was a lot more I could’ve done, more bands I wanted to feature, and just more I’d have liked to have done with this space, but alas time is fleeting and everything is meaningless. Nonetheless, please continue to loyally read this column even after it’s been taken over by someone else, and if you start to miss my probably annoying, definitely sloppy, long-winded writing, you can always go back and read my old columns… I know you will.
Without further ado, I thought it’d be fitting to finally talk about my favorite artist. She’s a bit too famous so normally I’d not have bothered but I do also feel she’s spectacularly underappreciated so it’s fine, it works.
Debut: 1998/5/27, “Koufukuron”
Also known for her work with Tokyo Jihen
Born in Saitama but raised mostly in Fukuoka, she is a singer/songwriter/composer/producer/basically the consummate musician. She started to play the piano at the age of four and originally focused on classical music as well as ballet, but due to a birth defect and operation shortly after birth, she couldn’t control both sides of her body to the fine degree that was necessary, so she quit those and focused on the guitar and pop music. From middle school until she dropped out of high school, she formed several bands, wrote songs, and presumably performed as much as she could. When she was in high school she wrote some of her most enduring hits, including “GIBS” and “Koko de kiss shite.”
She is, without a doubt, one of the most talented composers in contemporary Japanese music. Not to say she’s reinvented the wheel necessarily, but she’s certainly improved upon it. There are so many layers to everything she creates, it can take many listens to fully appreciate what’s going on. She writes in any number of genres, from rock, pop, jazz-fusion, etc. She gives you drama, she gives you emotion, she gives you anything you could ever ask for musically. She may not be the best singer or have the most beautiful voice, but she’s so much more than a voice and a face. She’s an artist.
Her musical skill and creativity may be most evident in her covers. A cover is a tricky thing to make, because you want it to differ from the original, but not in a way that makes it worse, but you also want to make it your own and inject your style and personality into it, and Shiina Ringo does it wonderfully. For example, her cover of “Les Feuilles Mortes”/”Autumn Leaves,” a well-known French Chanson sung by the likes of Edith Piaf and many others, is completely transformed into her own work, but maintains the overall feel of the original. The same could be said about her more recent cover of “Letters” by Utada Hikaru, which has been slowed down and jazzed up. She dissects the song and reassembles it as if by magic.
Her musical influences and reverences are varied and deep. Of course the classical music she studied in her youth, but also classic rock, French chanson, showa kayoukyoku, grunge… the list goes on.
I could go on for a lot longer but I think it would get repetitive for all of you so I’m going to sum up my feelings about Shiina Ringo. She is an artist, full-stop. From her own work, to her work for other artists, her covers; music, lyrics, to live performance; the way she moves, the way she sings, what she wears. Everything is intentional, and it’s art. No one can do what she does in the way she does or to the level she does it, and if you like music you should be able to appreciate what she does (even if it may not be to your tastes specifically).
If you’d like to learn more about her past and various activities please refer to Wikipedia as a starting point. I don’t really have the space to go into that.
Suffice it to say I love her more than most people I know.
OSUSUME (sorry this is going to be a lot, can’t narrow it down any further, but I’m arranging in rough chronological order so you can see her ~evolution~)
Nippon ni Umarete (originally written for model/singer Tomosaka Rie)
Souretsu (my fave song ever, and this is an especially chilling rendition)
Finally, I’d just like to say thank you for two… ish years of patronage/indifference. It’s meant a lot to me to have this kind of outlet to write about my music feels. luv 2 u all, hope none of u die horribly.
This was Michael’s last article for GMA! Hope you enjoyed all his indie and underground recommendations over the past two years. We’d like to thank him for providing an awesome and relevant soundtrack to our lives in Japan, and wish him well after JET! If you are interested in taking over for MediaBug, or want to start your own new column, please email us at email@example.com.