H.A.T.: Does anyone care about lyrics at the Animusic Tourney ?

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(H.A.T. stands for Here’s A Thought. Sometimes it might be standalone, and sometimes it might be accompanied by elaboration or extended musings. Some may even inspire future posts! Onward!)

The observation:

There is little discussion happening about song lyrics over at the Anime Music Tournament. Granted, most of the discussion died out after the first round, leaving mainly the elitists(?) griping about voting results. But taking into account the tournament as a whole so far, along with the few analyses and musings offered by some bloggers on their own sites, I hardly saw any mention of lyrics besides the most egregious earworms (RUN AWAY RUN AWAY RUN AWAY RUN AWAY).

So the question is, why? Is it the language barrier? (Though most lyric translations are just a Google search away.) Do people just ignore the lyrics and listen purely for musical qualities? (I used to be guilty of this, and often still am.) Or maybe people have looked into the lyrics, but judged them too much of a hassle to think and write about. (Much easier to argue about musical tastes and to geek out over a particular composer or singer.) Ironically, the only requirement for song nomination eligibility in the tournament was for the song to feature a vocal component (no purely instrumental tracks), in order to make the task of tracking down those tracks a little easier. Yet we ended up with people lining up to heap praises on how beautiful the singers’ voices are, all the while not giving a peep about the words coming out of their mouths.

Am I wrong to find this troubling? While I don’t find it surprising for the people attracted by the tournament to value “music” over “lyrics,” the near total disregard for the latter must signify something. Perhaps people find the majority of anime song lyrics to be banal or generic to the point of contemptibility. But isn’t the point of the tournament to seek out the truly great from the crowd? And shouldn’t that include great lyrics?

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9 thoughts on “H.A.T.: Does anyone care about lyrics at the Animusic Tourney ?

  1. I’ve thought about this too. It comes down to the language barrier in short, but the long story is much more complicated.

    As someone who generally care about lyrics but not enough to really use it as a decisive element to pass judgment, to me lyrics is a function. It’s not like how some people are fans of KOTOKO because of the way she writes song lyrics. But more like because the lyrics to this song is singable and it sounds good, and has a particular meaning.

    This is particularly remarkable in vocaloid fandom. Lyrics is really important to that fanbase compared to other Japanese music fanbases.

    • Good call on the Vocaloid scene. I’m no big Vocaloid fan, but from what I’ve seen, many Vocaloid songs have lyrics that are far more elaborate and unique than the average pop tune, sometimes even telling entire stories. Perhaps it’s a happy consequence of the spotlight being forced off the singer’s voice (unless you happen to REALLY enjoy your Vocaloid voices).

  2. You’re definitely not wrong about the near-total disregard for lyrics. While I can’t speak for everyone else, language barrier is a big part of what makes it so difficult for me to process lyrics. Add to that the issue of tracking down lyrics for 250+ anison (for the purpose of the tourney, at least), and it becomes difficult to push voters to do that analysis when the path of least resistance is to simply listen to the track and vote.

    But it’s more than just being able to understand what the singers themselves are saying. Lyrics, at their very core, are a form of poetry, with their own rhyme, meter, and diction-related nuances. Very little of that translates well from one language to the next. So from the language standpoint, not only do you have to evaluate the lyrics based on content, you’d also need to grasp the poetic elements to better incorporate some objectivity into what’s ultimately a subjective judgement.

    It’s true that pop music lyrics in general (American, Japanese, Korean, whatever) are pretty banal though. One of the reasons why I can stomach J-pop at all is that I don’t understand what they’re saying and won’t be distracted by how blah it is and can focus more on the musical elements like vocal intonations, melody, and harmony.

    Thanks for raising this point!

    • My pleasure!

      I agree that the language barrier is even more formidable taking the poetic aspect of lyrics into account, especially so for songs that are less generic and worth looking at. Lyric translations may not be too difficult to find, but they may be of little use unless studied side by side with the original lyrics, with at least an intermediate level of understanding of the original language. All the more reason to pick up those Japanese studies!

      I’m sure many people can share the sentiment of being able to enjoy foreign pop more than pop in their native language due to NOT being able to understand the lyrics. Makes you wonder how much more tolerable some songs would become if the lyrics were wiped from our minds!

    • Well, your points are all right and good, but the language barrier alone doesn’t stop appreciation completely.

      If you can appreciate an haiku, you can appreciate Japanese song lyrics. Maybe not every song and every trick, but you still can to a degree.

    • When you say that translations destroy a song, do you mean that the translations cannot adequately convey the full meaning of the original lyrics, or do you mean that understanding the lyrics at all will adversely affect your enjoyment of the song?

  3. Hehe, you raise some interesting points. I’m rather apathetic when it comes to lyrics, even for songs in English, and I rarely look up translations.

    I would say it’s partly the language barrier – after all, you have to put in some (small) effort to find the meaning of the lyrics. Maybe Japanese lyrics tend to be a bit more abstract than non-Japanese one, so you have to sift for the meaning more. But I dunno, to me it’s mostly the expression of the singer that determines a song’s emotional qualities, not the lyrics. I can only think of two or three songs in English that the lyrics have a profound emotional effect on me. And yeah I tend to geek and be concerned about the more technical aspects rather than the lyrics :-).

    I would be interested to see how many people take lyrics into account when they vote for their songs though.

  4. For me, I have to admit that even when I listen to music in English I don’t really listen to the lyrics. Perhaps after a few plays I’ll pay more attention, but the first few times through it’s just the sound and not the words. I am much more drawn into a good melody, interesting rhythm or nice harmony than whatever they are singing about. I do appreciate good lyrics, but they are like a bonus that I am not expecting. This is why it doesn’t bother me at all to listen to music in languages I don’t understand. I very rarely bother to read the lyric translations unless I have a specific reason to be interested. Besides, with a few exceptions, most song lyrics are just not worth the effort.

    I’d have to go back and look more closely, but I haven’t noticed any bias in the voting towards or against songs in English, which further suggests that the lyrics are simply not much of a factor in how people are voting. I know they aren’t in mine.

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