However, two years ago I was watching one of the many pop music programs that clutter commercial television. The one I was watching was better than most in that it was a competition. Members of the audience each had an uchiwa in his or her hand. When the audience member thought a performance was great, he or she would hold the uchiwa up. An electronic reader would count the number of raised uchiwa and spit out the total. That would be the performer's score. The performance with the highest score at the end of the hour was declared the winner.
The show provided an interesting and unfiltered look at what kind of musical performance was "popular" in the 14-20 year old bracket. It also provided a potential early glimpse of the future stars of Japanese popular music, as the competitors were all either unknowns or barely knowns.
The acts were nevertheless distressingly conventional...off-tune strumpets in spandex and knee-length boots with six backup dancers going through gymnastics exercises...an Okinawan with an acoustic intstrument singing a folksy sea tune...women in architectonic fashion crimes pouting their carmined glossed lips while doing unprintable things with their microphones...young boy bands in all-white or all-black, some with instruments, most without, all with their hair in spikes, singing or, if kakko ii, mumbling in unison and overextending their "u" sounds.
Then amidst this caravan of quotidian perversities, the camera focused on the face of a young high school-aged girl, a child really, in a sleeveless peasant blouse, with reasonable makeup, sitting at a piano.
A blue standup piano, customized with naif village scenes.
I suppose I was washing the dishes or making curry rice with chicken or some equally domestic activity at the time. Whatever the reason, I failed to make out the announcer's greeting or the girl's self-introduction.
I could see the name "Yun-na" in katakana on the backdrop. I considered the possibility that maybe it was a fan-created name, like "Yuming," the fan-name of singer-songwriter Matsutoya Yumi.
At which point, the girl in the simple white blouse launched into her song.
Immediately, I stopped what I was doing.
Everything was wrong.
The girl could really play--her fingers pounded fire into the keys. She enunciated. Her relationship with the camera and audience was entirely normal, charming, possibly even coy, but innocent.
And worst of all, she had a voice, a real voice, like a wall of granite. It took off and landed on each of the notes... and stayed on them, most of the time. Not even the lousy sound mix and the pressure of a live studio performance could disguise an immense vocal talent.
It was 2 minutes and 10 seconds of magic.
As the announcers called the girl down to the front of the stage at the end, I said to myself, "This is all wrong. This girl's can sing and play an instrument. How could a talented person end up on a Japanese pop music show?"
The answer came with the first question the unctuous hosts put to the girl:
"What do you like best about Japan?""Oh, Amaterasu. Of course, now it all makes sense. She's not Japanese."
The audience sat stunned, or more correctly, in an even deeper state of stunned than callow teenagers are stuck in usually. The girl was so much better than anything that had appeared on the program. But too many of the uchiwa bearers could not bring themselves to vote for her.
Because she was a girl and most of the audience was female?
Because she was not Japanese?
She finished in third place. In first place was some barely competent slacker rock quartet of four young men in various states of starvation.
Despite the setback, the girl accepted her third place with grace and professionalism, faking a thrilled smile.
One wonders how the life of Go Youn-ha (Yunna) would have been different had she won the Pop Jam contest. She had just turned 17 at the time. She is still only 19 and under contract with Sony Music.
Sony, however, does not know what to do with Yunna, how to market her, how to guide her musically--a shame, really. Her relegation to the Japanese music world's equivalent of limbo may convince her to revisit her childhood dream of becoming a physician--which would be better for the world as a whole, I suppose.
The youngsters in the Pop Japan audience blew it. They had be present at the birth of a supernova...and they missed it.
The video of the performance is posted
September's song was Hikari by Utada Hikaru. A introduction to it can be found here.