Is South Korea A Sexist Country ?

Mom was worried when she knew I was going to South Korea. Not so much because of the ramifications attached to living in a country still officially at war. On this small detail, she told me that in case of an armed conflict, it ‘would be good for my business’. Ignoring potential explosions, torn limbs and other unseemly dismemberments, she just did not want to see me suffer the sexism she imagined was everywhere.

My Sassy Girl movie poster.

At the origin of my distinguished mother’s concerns, this story, told at every family lunch, of a business school graduate (Harvard Business School I think), who serves coffee to her boss. Recently, foreign media have stated, however, that sexism in Korea is disappearing, that the country has demonstrated its willingness to become more progressive by electing a woman, Park Geun-Hye, at its head. Except that for Koreans, this person is not a woman.

A word on it, a precision, courtesy of a colleague. To be considered an integral part of Korean society, a man must serve his country two years for the military service. Legally, it is possible to avoid it, for example for medical reasons – as is actually the case of this gentleman. However, he has no hope of ever being elected president, because he has not had this experience unique to Korean men. He is therefore in this sense not considered a typical Korean man. Just as Park Geun-Hye is not a Korean woman.

Park is a war machine, a princess, or the representative on earth of her late dictator father. She is a ‘dysfunctional’ woman, mainly because she never experienced femininity in South Korea. She is not married, she doesn’t have a child (though I learnt that there are rumors), she was never treated like a woman in college, a woman in the workplace, a woman who takes the subway, etc.. Neither men nor women see her as a woman.

Is South Korea a sexist country, despite its president?

T’s grandmother, in her youth, belonged to a wealthy family of the center of Seoul, in the Jongro district. This lady of steel with a strong personality, Ok-Sun, was one of only two local girls to have gone to high-school (before the Korean War would force the family into exile even further south to Busan). Two generations later, an enormous difference – now almost all girls go to college.

A young woman in South Korea may have aspirations. Yes, her salary will still only 63% of a man’s, but it is not uncommon to see female CEOs, especially in the Hi Tech industry. Proportionally, however, it is still more difficult for a woman to be an executive (less than 5% are women).

The evidences of a huge social difference between men and women are numerous and overwhelming, here are a few:

– Korea is the last country in the OECD to hire female graduates (according to The Economist, this plays to the advantage of foreign companies that can benefit from Korean women’s talents).

The physical standards that women are expected to reach are absurd, to the point that even though Koreans are the thinnest people in the OECD – yet Korean women are the ones with the worst body image, and 20% admit to have had a plastic surgery between 19 and 49.

IU.

– It is expected of pop-stars to showcase the aspirations of young women – they must not have sex. The case of IU (pronounced Ayu), who had the misfortune to tweet a picture where she appeared alongside a young man, a pop-star as well, is a good illustration. The ‘scandal’ has had consequences only on her career.

– It is frowned upon to smoke in public when you’re a woman (it does not stop me from indulging – but it is easier for me to ignore drunk old men’s derogatory comments).

And then we find some delicate attentions, touching with sheer stupidity:

– My team leader whom, hearing that I was going to marry, thought his duty was to warn me very seriously that “all men change after marriage.”

– My partner’s uncle, who believes that as I have to take care of my future husband, I must by extension serve all the males of the family, and of course he had to tell me.

– Harassment At Work Awareness Day in my company, where we learned that women mistreat men (3 examples) and sometimes men may put their foot in their mouth (1 example). Poor things. Especially when these wicked women use their superior hierarchical position (not really a social reality). We foreigners had a good laugh that day.

Why is this so?

Confucianism, if not the cultural and social base which determines most interactions – especially inter-generational – stops frank conversation between people of a perceived different level, hierarchical, within a company, a high school class, a family structure. No situation warrants honesty, whatever the case, because it is fashionable to ‘take it on’.

It is not uncommon to see young Korean girls in almost in their thirties, hiding to their parents that they have a boyfriend, they smoke and they drink alcohol. This scheme is not exclusive to religious families. To see these young women having a curfew while their brothers, considered men since they did their military duty, are much freer, is somewhat sad.

Education at school on the human reproductive system, respect for one’s partner during sexual intercourse, or protection and contraception, is ridiculous. Young people can not have open conversations about how-it-works-down-there, and what a functioning couple looks like. They then will use two sources for information: Internet (Internet is magic) and cultural products.

What you see if you try to access porn websites.

The problem of Internet in Korea, is that there is no porn (the classics – PornHub, YouPorn, RedTube and others – are inaccessible without VPN). About porn in Korea, it is worth noting that in 2006 the Koreans were the number 2 global consumers of porn. But the problem of Korean net, which in itself deserves a careful study, is that everyone gives his opinion and it is difficult to trust any information there. Above all, Internet is not considered by the parents as an appropriate source.

Let us see the cultural products, for example the ‘dramas’, an international explosion, part of the Hallyu wave (also including K-pop). That is to a lot of young women – and their mothers – the ideal model of life of which they are told they dream. In a huge percentage of soap operas, the characters reach the end of the story by marrying, as a final reward and a universal life goal.

A diagram appears in most of these dramas, which often offer a romance between four characters. The heroine is a young woman as pretty as a heart, a bit silly but pure; she works hard to help her family strangely almost always in need. She meets a rich man, handsome, young and brilliant – but very obnoxious. And I do not mean a little egocentric. I mean atomically ignominious  The kind who says to a young woman: “how dare you stand before me with clothes showing how poor you are?”

Secret Garden’s promotional poster.

She falls in love with him, of course. However, this young man has a brother/cousin/best friend also handsome, though somewhat less rich, who realizes that this girl has a diamond instead of a heart, and falls desperately in love with her. She will never see him. And the fourth character is a beautiful woman, sexier, more comfortable in society, better educated, and often rich, too. She loves our odious hero, and is willing to do anything to get him. She is heavily demonized.

All this sends two messages to young Koreans, both poisonous. The first is that the rich and sexy girl is almost mandatorily evil and that it’s better to be clumsy and not very educated (The mother-in-law is also a witch, but that’s hardly exclusively Korean). The second message is much more dangerous: if the man is rich and handsome, he can be obnoxious, it’s not serious, it’s just that he loves you. However,  a less rich and handsome man who loves you and respects you with all his heart, is no less than a parasite.

The drama Secret Garden struck foreign spectators as the perfect image of an unhealthy male/female relationship:

During the 20 episodes, the male protagonist Joo-won insults, scorns and looks down on Ra-im for belonging to a lower class, and yet she just tolerates it and is still there waiting for him when at the end of the series he decides he actually loves her.

From there to a battered woman, there’s only one step, that is taken more often than we can think : 50% of the women interrogated here admitted to being/having been beaten.

And anyway, we don’t really care about what they want, these women in the dramas – which is annoying because they cater mostly to women. For more information on this subject, here is a list of blogs worrying about the misogyny of Korean dramas. And here is a series of very telling images.

What are the consequences?

Sometimes, women who live in the real world – outside of the sweet ‘paradise’ pictured by dramas – subject to an enormous family and social pressure with no one really being interested in their individuality, they blow a fuse.

One friend’s wife, one evening she was drunk, attacked him with a kitchen knife. Fortunately there was no injury – but still, it was the second time. He warned her: if she does it again, he leaves her, this time for good. But he knows that his threats are empty, because at the end he loves her, and if he leaves, he has failed in his role as husband, and he will have to give up on his little girl , and that, to him, is unbearable.

The situation is even more advanced on the side of another friend’s mother, who stabbed her husband with an iron bar on her way home from the hospital where she’d gone to cure her depression. She was discharged with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Her daughters are emigrating at the moment.

These cases may seem extreme, and it is true that such things exist everywhere, but it is almost commonplace in South Korea. After the two most important family celebrations of the country, Chuseok and Seollal, the only moment when everyone has three days of vacation, online shopping sites record their biggest profits. The reason: women’s compulsive buying as a result of three days of stress with their in-laws.

Among other consequences of this type of gender imbalance, you can also list the funny transformation of Korean women who lose their reproductive value after menopause, as shown below in an image that has been shared all around the Web:

We can also mention that women have for the most part an image of underachievers in the workplace, that they push their children to succeed at what they themselves have failed in a rather violent case of life by proxy, thus becoming Tiger-moms. That’s a life of sacrifice for the sole benefit of being cared for and then inspire fear in their children. (Obviously, this is an exaggeration).

So is South Korea the Eden of men?

At first glance, yes, but the reality is quite different, and this is the thing – and I think it is unfairly ignored.

To be perfectly honest, we must still admit that the Korean man is the ideal example of the disposable human, a concept explained in length and very interestingly here:

 

The disposable man is the man who can be replaced by any other man, and whose role is to protect his family and ensure offspring – to have worked at the continuation of humanity. But this man is interchangeable, because as it says in the video, one man can impregnate numerous women. It is therefore necessary that man should be useful to society, for the simple fact of being is not enough (unlike women).

Korea, in 1953, at the end of the Korean War, was a Third-World country (for more information on South Korean economy, see here and here). One of the reasons why the country has experienced one of the most impressive growths ever seen is the sacrifice of a whole generation’s individual happiness. No more family, no more weekends, no more education either: just a massive effort. The men worked day and night, and women procreated and took care of the house.

This generation is now between sixty and eighty years – and they are at the top of the social pyramid. Their ideas are those that are heard and respected (because of the pyramidal structure) and it is they who rule the country through Chaebols (conglomerates) and government.

They standardized the expected attitude of young Korean men. Working overtime is normal and the law says that they should be paid for that – except that many companies have their employees signing a contract where the employee agrees not being paid for over-time hours (funny note, I also agreed not to ask for my monthly day off provided for periods).

Image from the Washington Post.

Some employees rarely return home after work before midnight. Moreover, Koreans work the longest hours amongst countries of the OECD (and ironically, are also less productive). And when the day is over, the Korean employee must still go drinking with his colleagues and his boss. And that’s not even counting the “Workshops” (I can them binge outings), which can last up to several weeks to teach the employee that his only real family is the company.

Their hopes and desires, beyond the limited core consisting of his wife and children, don’t really have any importance either. They remain under the control of their parents who have all the rights (including the order given by his grandmother to a friend to not emigrate to Australia, because ‘I would not see your child grow’, a brilliant, shameless, opportunity destruction by egoism).

And how can we ever forget the greatest inequality? Korean men must spend two years in military service, a stint in the army that we should really write a book about. Once the military service is completed, the man is two years behind in his studies compared to women (and therefore it is difficult for him to find a partner) but must still find a good job.

He must accumulate money fast, because as soon as he turns thirty, he must own a home and a car. Then he must marry. I heard a young man tell me that he was thirty, and he owned a car, he soon had to marry a Korean girl. When I asked him if he had a girlfriend, he told me he did not – but it did not seem to upset him.

Once married, the pressure is not over since the man must fund a child. Then make sure that the child is the best – goest to the best school. The man must pay for it all while the woman provides love and tenderness to the charming toddler; only one person is responsible for providing the family with money. Like Korean women, Korean men lives a life full of obligations in order to be an honorable member of society.

How do you live that?

I am in my third year in South Korea, so I’m just a beginner. However, it seems pretty obvious to me that these issues only marginally affect me.

Firstly, having received a very different education, I have the intellectual weapons to protect myself. I do not think anyone deserves respect simply for being born before me. My definition of respect also does not imply a total lack of criticism for the respected person. I also have the luck of being naturally respected – if sexism is present around me, I’m never the victim from important members of my partner’s family. They all give me a lot of undeserved affection and respect.

I also have a magical power in Korea, which makes life difficult at times, but usually opens doors: it’s called the Foreigner card. Like Park Geun-Hye, and for the same reasons, I am not a woman for most Koreans. I do not share the life experiences of Korean women. With that, I can assert and validate skills over a pair of breasts.

And if by chance someone crosses the line with me, I can always pretend to not understand and ignore them disdainfully.

Much of the references listed here were picked from James Turnbull’s very interesting The Grand Narrative, of which I highly recommend the fascinating reading.

La Corée est-elle un pays sexiste?

Maman était inquiète quand elle a su que j’allais en Corée du Sud. Pas tellement à cause des ramifications à habiter dans un pays encore officiellement en guerre. Concernant ce petit point de détail, elle m’a dit qu’en cas de guerre, ce ‘serait bon pour mon business’. Pas tellement gênée de potentielles explosions, morts et autres dégoutants démembrements, elle ne voulait surtout pas me voir subir un sexisme qu’elle imaginait partout.

Affiche du film “My Sassy Girl”.

A l’origine des inquiétudes de Madame ma mère, cette anecdote a fait le tour de la famille : une diplômée de grandes écoles (Harvard Business School il me semble) ne servirait qu’à apporter le café à son patron. On dit pourtant que le sexisme en Corée disparaît ; on affirme que le pays a démontré sa volonté de s’annoncer progressif en élisant une femme, Park Geun-Hye, à sa tête. Sauf que pour les coréens, cette femme n’en est pas une.

Un mot à ce sujet, une précision d’un collègue : un homme, pour être considéré comme partie intégrante de la société coréenne, doit un service militaire de deux ans au pays. Il peut légalement ne pas l’avoir fait, par exemple pour des raisons médicales – comme c’est d’ailleurs le cas de ce gentleman. En revanche, il n’a aucun espoir d’être élu président, car il n’aura pas vécu cette expérience unique aux hommes coréens. Il n’est donc en ce sens pas considéré comme un ‘Homme Coréen’. C’est au même titre que Park Geun-Hye n’est pas une femme coréenne.

Park est une machine de guerre, une princesse, ou la représentante sur terre de feu son père le dictateur. Elle est une femme ‘dysfonctionnelle’, essentiellement car elle n’a jamais eu la moindre expérience qui fait la féminité en Corée du Sud. Elle n’est pas mariée, elle n’a pas eu d’enfant, elle n’a jamais été considérée comme une femme à l’université, une femme dans le monde du travail, une femme qui prend le métro, etc. Ni les hommes ni les femmes ne la voient comme une femme.

La Corée du Sud est-elle donc un pays sexiste, malgré sa présidente?

La grand-mère de T, dans sa jeunesse, appartenait à une famille aisée du centre de Séoul dans le quartier de Jongro. Cette dame au tempérament d’acier, Ok-Sun, était une des deux seules filles du coin à avoir fini le collège (la guerre de Corée a forcé tout le monde à s’exiler encore plus au Sud, à Busan). Que de chemin parcouru en deux générations – maintenant presque toutes les filles vont à l’université.

Une jeune femme en Corée du Sud peut avoir des aspirations. Certes, son salaire ne sera toujours que 63% de celui d’un homme, mais il n’est pas rare de voir des femmes PDG, surtout dans les industries Hi Tech. Proportionnellement, en revanche, il est quand même plus difficile pour une femme d’être cadre qu’un homme (moins de 5% des cadres sont des femmes).

Les preuves d’une énorme différence sociale entre les hommes et femmes sont nombreuses et accablantes ; en voici quelques unes :

La Corée est le dernier pays de l’OCDE pour l’emploiement des femmes diplômées (selon The Economist, c’est tout à l’avantage des entreprises étrangères qui peuvent profiter du talent des femmes coréennes)

– Les standards physiques auxquels les femmes sont supposées se trouver sont absurdes, à tel point que les coréens sont les plus minces de l’OCDE, et les femmes coréennes sont celles avec la plus mauvaise image de leur corps, et sont 20% à admettre avoir eu une intervention de chirurgie plastique entre 19 et 49 ans.

IU

– On s’attend des pop stars, vitrine des aspirations des jeunes femmes, à ce qu’elles n’aient pas de relations sexuelles. Le cas de IU (prononcer Ayu), qui a eu le malheur de twitter une image où elle apparaissait à côté d’un jeune homme, lui aussi pop-star, en est une bonne illustration. L’évènement n’a eu des retombées que pour sa carrière à elle.

– Il très mal vu de fumer en public quand on est une femme (ça ne m’empêche pas de me l’autoriser – mais il est plus facile pour moi d’ignorer les commentaires désobligeants des vieux messieurs bourrés)

Et puis nous retrouvons quelques délicates petites attentions touchantes d’imbécilité :

– Mon chef d’équipe qui, apprenant que j’allais me marier, s’est cru le devoir de me prévenir très sérieusement que “tous les hommes changent après le mariage”.

– L’oncle de mon partenaire, qui estime que comme je dois m’occuper de mon futur mari, je dois par extension servir tous les mâles de la famille, et qui ne s’est pas privé de me le dire.

– La journée de sensibilisation au harcèlement au travail dans mon entreprise, où nous avons appris que les femmes harcelaient les hommes (3 exemples) et que parfois les hommes avaient des propos déplacés (1 exemple). Les pauvres. Surtout quand ces méchantes femmes utilisent leur position hiérarchique supérieure (pas vraiment une réalité sociale). Les américains et moi avons bien rigolé.

D’où vient cette situation ?

Le confucianisme, base sociale si non culturelle qui détermine la plupart des interactions – surtout inter-générationelles – empêche la conversation franche entre les personnes perçues d’un niveau différent, hiérarchique, au sein d’une entreprise, d’une classe de lycée, d’une structure familiale. Rien ne pousse à l’honnêteté, et ce quel que soit le cas de figure, puisqu’il est de bon ton de ‘prendre sur soi’.

Il n’est pas rare de voir de jeunes coréennes de presque trente ans, cachant à leur parents qu’elles ont un petit ami, qu’elles fument et qu’elles boivent de l’alcool. Cet un schéma qui n’est pas exclusif aux familles religieuses. Voir ces jeunes femmes avoir un couvre-feu alors que leurs frères, considéré des hommes depuis qu’ils ont fait le service militaire, sont eux beaucoup plus libres, a quelque chose de triste.

L’éducation scolaire concernant le système de reproduction humain, le respect du partenaire lors des relations sexuelles, ou encore la protection et la contraception, sont ridicules. Les jeunes ne pouvant pas avoir de conversations ouvertes sur comment-ça-marche-la-tuyauterie, et à quoi ça ressemble un couple fonctionnel, vont utiliser deux sources pour se renseigner : Internet (c’est magique Internet) et les produits culturels.

Ce qu’on voit en essayant d’aller voir des sites de porno en Corée.

Le problème d’Internet en Corée, c’est qu’on n’y trouve pas de porno (en tout cas les classiques – PornHub, YouPorn, RedTube et autres – sont inaccessibles sans VPN). Et puis il est bon de noter qu’en 2006 les coréens étaient les numéros 2 mondiaux de consommateur de porno. Mais le problème du net coréen, qui mériterait une étude poussée, est aussi que tout un chacun y donne son avis et qu’il est difficile de faire confiance à l’information qui y est diffusée. Et surtout, ce n’est pas considéré par les parents comme approprié.

Voyons donc les produits culturels, et par exemple les ‘dramas’ véritable explosion internationale comme partie intégrante de la vague Hallyu (comprenant aussi la K-pop). C’est pour énormément de jeunes femmes – et leurs mères – le modèle idéal de la vie à laquelle on leur dit qu’elles rêvent. Dans un immense pourcentage de ces soap-operas, les personnages atteignent la fin du récit en se mariant, comme une ultime récompense et un but universel.

Un schéma apparaît dans la plupart de ces dramas, qui incarnent souvent une romance avec quatre personnages au milieu. L’héroïne est une jeune femme jolie comme un coeur, un peu niaise mais pure, qui elle travaille dur pour aider sa famille étrangement presque toujours dans le besoin. Elle rencontre un homme riche, beau, jeune et brillant – mais très odieux. Et je ne veux pas dire un peu égocentrique. Je veux dire atomiquement ignoble. Du genre à dire à une jeune femme “comment oses-tu te présenter devant moi avec des habits montrant à quel point tu es pauvre ?”

Elle tombe amoureuse de lui, bien entendu. Pourtant, ce jeune homme a un frère/cousin/best friend lui aussi très beau, quoiqu’un peu moins riche, qui se rend compte que cette jeune fille a un diamant à la place du coeur et tombe désespérément amoureux d’elle. Elle ne le verra jamais. Et le quatrième personnage est une très belle femme, plus sexy, plus à l’aise en société, mieux éduquée, et souvent riche, elle aussi. Elle aime notre héros odieux, et est prête à tout pour le garder. Elle est diabolisée par tous les moyens.

Tout ceci envoie deux messages aux jeunes coréennes, tous deux néfastes. Le premier est que la fille sexy et riche est presque forcément malfaisante et qu’il vaut mieux être maladroite et pas très éduquée (la belle-mère aussi est une sorcière, mais on ne peut pas dire que ce soit exclusivement coréen). Le second message est nettement plus dangereux: si l’homme est riche et beau, il peut être odieux, ce n’est pas grave, c’est simplement qu’il t’aime. En revanche, s’il est moins riche et moins beau, alors il peut t’aimer et te respecter de tout son coeur, ce n’en est pas moins un parasite.

Secret garden a marqué les spectateurs étrangers tant ce drama correspond à une image malsaine des relations homme/femme : “Pendant les 20 épisodes, le protagoniste mâle Joo-won insulte, méprise et dédaigne Ra-im à cause de son appartenance à une classe inférieure, et pourtant elle le tolère et est toujours à l’attendre quand à la fin de la série il décide qu’en fin de compte il l’aime.” De là à la femme battue, il n’y a qu’un pas. Et d’ailleurs plus de 50% des femmes interrogées rapportent être/avoir été battues.

Et puis, on se moque un peu de ce qu’elles veulent, les femmes, dans les drama – ce qui est gênant car ce sont essentiellement les femmes qui les regardent. Pour plus d’informations sur ce sujet, voici une liste des blogs s’inquiétant du machisme des dramas coréens. Et voici une série d’images très révélatrices.

Quelles en sont les conséquences ?

Et parfois, des femmes, qui vivent dans le vrai monde – hors du ‘paradis’ sucré des dramas – alors qu’elles sont soumises à une énorme pression familiale et sociale sans qu’on s’intéresse à leur individualité, pètent les plombs.

La femme de JS, une fois qu’elle avait trop bu, l’a attaqué avec un couteau de cuisine. Heureusement sans le blesser – mais c’était tout de même la seconde fois. Il l’a prévenue : si elle remet ça il la quitte, cette fois pour de bon. Mais il sait bien que ce sont des menaces dans le vide, puisqu’au fond, il l’aime, et que s’il l’abandonne, il aura échoué dans son rôle de mari, et qu’il devra abandonner sa petite fille, et que ça, ça lui est insupportable.

La situation est plus avancée encore du côté de la maman de JY, qui a frappé son mari d’une barre de fer en rentrant chez elle de l’hôpital où, entrée pour soigner sa dépression, elle est sortie avec un diagnostic de trouble de la personnalité borderline (TPB). Ses filles s’expatrient en ce moment même.

Ces cas peuvent paraître extrêmes, et il est vrai que de telles choses existent partout, mais c’est quasiment monnaie courante en Corée du Sud. Après les deux fêtes familiales les plus importantes de Corée du Sud, Chuseok et Seollal, les seules où tout le pays a trois jours de vacances, les sites de vente en ligne enregistrent leurs plus gros bénéfices. C’est de l’achat compulsif de femmes stressées par trois journées d’horreur.

Parmi les autres conséquences de ce genre de considération, on peut aussi lister la rigolote transformation des femmes coréennes qui perdent leur valeur de reproductrices après la ménopause, comme illustré ci-dessous dans une image qui a fait le tour du Web :

On peut aussi mentionner que les femmes ont pour la plus grande partie une image de sous-performantes dans le milieu du travail, qu’elles poussent leurs enfants à réussir ce qu’elles-mêmes n’ont pas réussi dans un exemple assez violent de vie par procuration, devenant par là des Tiger-moms. Une vie de sacrifice avec pour seul bénéfice celui d’être respecté et d’inspirer la peur chez leurs enfants. (Evidemment, ceci est une exagération).

Alors, la Corée du Sud, c’est l’Eden des hommes ?

A première vue, effectivement, mais la réalité est toute autre, et c’est là que le bât blesse – et je trouve qu’il est injuste.

Pour être parfaitement honnête, il faut quand même admettre que l’homme coréen est le parfait exemple de l’homme jetable, un concept expliqué en longueur, en anglais et de façon très intéressante ici :

 

L’homme jetable, c’est l’homme qui peut être remplacé par n’importe quel autre homme, et finalement dont le rôle n’est que de protéger sa famille et de s’assurer une descendance – afin d’avoir travaillé à la continuation de l’humanité. Mais cet homme est interchangeable, car comme il est dit dans la vidéo, un seul homme peut engrosser de très nombreuses femmes. Il faut donc que l’homme soit utile à la société en faisant, car le simple fait d’être n’est pas assez utile (contrairement aux femmes).

La Corée, en 1953, à la fin de la Guerre de Corée, c’était le tiers-monde (pour plus d’informations sur l’économie sud-coréennes, voyez ici et ici). Une des raisons pour laquelle le pays a connu une des croissances les plus impressionnantes jamais vues, c’est le sacrifice du bonheur individuel d’une génération entière. Plus de famille, plus de week ends, plus tellement d’éducation non plus : simplement un effort massif. Les hommes travaillaient le jour et la nuit, et les femmes procréaient et tenaient la maison.

Cette génération a maintenant entre soixante et quatre-vingt ans – et ce sont eux qui sont tout en haut de la pyramide sociale. Ce sont leurs idées que l’on écoute et respecte (car structure pyramidale) et ce sont eux qui gouvernent le pays par le biais des Chaebols, les conglomérats et du gouvernement.

Ils ont normalisé une attitude et des attentes envers les jeunes hommes coréens. Il est normal de faire des heures supplémentaires et la loi dit qu’elles devraient être payées – sauf que nombre de compagnies font signer un contrat de travail où l’employé s’engage à accepter n’être pas payé pour ces dernières (petite note rigolote, je me suis aussi engagée à ne pas demander ma journée mensuelle de congé prévue en cas de règles).

Image du Washington Post.

Certains employés rentrent rarement avant minuit du travail. D’ailleurs, les Coréens travaillent le plus grand nombre d’heures des pays de l’OCDE (et de façon ironique, sont aussi les moins productifs). Et quand la journée est terminée, il faut encore aller boire avec ses collègues et son patron. Sans compter les “Workshops”, qui peuvent durer jusqu’à plusieurs semaines, pour enseigner à l’employé que sa seule vraie famille, c’est son entreprise.

Leurs espoirs et désirs aussi, au-delà du noyau limité regroupant sa femme et ses enfants, n’a pas vraiment d’importances non plus. Ils restent sous la coupe de leurs parents qui ont tous les droits (incluant l’ordre donné à un ami par sa grand-mère de ne pas s’expatrier en Australie, car ‘on ne verrait pas grandir ton enfant’, une directive brillant par son égoïsme).

Comment oublier la plus grande des inégalités ? Les hommes coréens doivent passer deux ans au service militaire, un passage à l’armée qui mériterait qu’on écrive un livre dessus. Une fois le service militaire terminé, l’homme a deux ans de retard dans ses études sur les femmes (et donc des difficultés à trouver une partenaire) mais doit quand même trouver un bon travail.

Il faut accumuler l’argent au plus vite, parce qu’à trente ans, il faut posséder un logement, et une voiture. Puis il faut se marier. J’ai quand même entendu un jeune homme m’annoncer qu’il avait trente ans, et qu’il avait une voiture ; qu’il lui fallait donc bientôt se marier avec une coréenne. Quand je lui ai demandé s’il avait une petite amie, il m’a dit que non – mais ça n’avait pas l’air d’être nécessaire.

Une fois marié, la pression n’est pas finie puisqu’il faut financer un enfant et le faire. Puis il faut s’assurer que son enfant est le meilleur – fait les meilleures études. L’homme doit financer tout cela car la femme devant apporter amour et tendresse au charmant bambin, une seule personne apporte de l’argent à la famille. A l’instar de la femme coréenne, l’homme coréen vit une vie entière sous le signe des obligations afin de pouvoir être un membre honorable de la société qui l’exploite.

Comment tu le vis ?

A ma troisième année en Corée du Sud, je ne suis qu’une débutante. Cependant, il me semble assez évident que ces soucis ne me concernent que marginalement.

Tout d’abord, ayant reçu une éducation très différente, j’ai les armes pour me défendre. Je n’estime pas que quelqu’un mérite le respect simplement pour être né avant moi. Ma définition du respect aussi n’implique pas une absence totale de critique de la personne respectée. J’ai aussi de la chance – si le sexisme est présent autour de moi, je n’en suis jamais la victime de la part des membres importants de la famille de mon tendre et cher, qui m’offrent tous énormément d’affection et de respect.

J’ai aussi un pouvoir magique en Corée, qui rend la vie plus difficile parfois, mais en général qui m’ouvre des portes : on appelle ça la Foreigner card. Comme Park Geun-Hye, et pour les mêmes raisons qu’elle, je ne suis pas une femme pour la plupart des coréens. Je ne partage pas l’expérience de vie des femmes coréennes. Grâce à ça, je peux faire valoir des compétences plus importantes qu’une paire de seins.

Et si d’aventure quelqu’un dépasse les bornes avec moi, je peux toujours affecter de ne pas le comprendre et l’ignorer dédaigneusement.

Une bonne partie des articles référencés ici viennent du très intéressant blog The Grand Narrative, de James Turbull, dont je recommande vivement la fascinante lecture.

5 covers of hit songs by French musicians

You need a certain type of talent, and a very big pair of… eyes to tackle songs that everyone knows – and change them. It’s even harder to do it successfully.

There are many bloggers who like to make lists of ‘awesome cover songs’, and i’m a little miffed that they’re mostly america-centric. Now, very humbly, I am going to blow your mind with covers that you have probably not come across (unless you’re French).

Paris, Trocadéro, by me.

But look at that weather – we need happiness. Paris, Trocadéro, by me.

1. Song 2 (Blur)

Blur is my generation. Along with Radiohead, Queens Of The Stone Age, Yeah Yeah Yeahs (and don’t say Oasis, I hate ’em, all brawn and no brain).

Dionysos and Louise Attaque are two bands that have built their careers on live shows – and having become famous around the same time, they have toured in the same places. This cover could not have been successful without the obvious complicity between every member of these two bands. Two drummers! Two violinists! The idea was good and even though it would have been hard to record without sounding messy, they pulled it off.

Now if you wish to discover more about Louise Attaque, please watch one of their most famous songs here :

They have been more dynamic as well; allow YouTube to show you the way. This is typically one of these bands who is more interesting on their least famous songs.

Ìn case you were more seduced by bouncy Mathias Malzieu, Dionysos’ first hit was Song For Jedi (very dirty sound and image but it gives you an idea of how much energy they blast away):

An interesting thing is that the violinist of that band released an album. And Malzieu‘s girlfriend (Olivia Ruiz) also released an album. Their voices sound terribly similar. I had a theory about them being the same person, but then they were sighted in different places at the same time, which leaves the only possible explanation that they are clones. And speaking of clones…

2. Toxic (Britney Spears)

Ah-ha, the Britney song that was appreciated by musicians all over, justifying their fascination for Britney’s chest and hair (ha ha, I really almost wrote chest hair) by pointing out how good the bass line is. It’s truly a good song, regardless of who wrote it and who interprets it… But wait until you see what Yael Naïm makes of it.

You haven’t heard sexy before you’ve heard that. She owns the song like no one. Such gentleness, playfulness. Layer over layer of feelings are here to show that with a very simple arrangement it’s possible to make a better song than the original.

A little trivia about Naïm : she served in the Israel Armed Forces, like every Israeli man (3 years) and woman (2 years) – but she was a soloist in the Air Force Military Band. I want to hope that there were auditions, and that a lot of people, TV-show like, gathered and performed for a series of foul mouthed judges.

For the record, most of what she touches turns to gold, with the very minor problem of being a bit repetitive sometimes. My very favorite Yael Naïm song features amazing dancers:

Go To The River has also a quality that plays into its obsessive feeling: the song’s tempo is very similar to my pace. Listen to this when you walk and you’ll have your life’s very own soundtrack.

3. Seven Nation Army (White Stripes)

Simple. Powerful. To the point. Black, red and white imagery, one of the least complicated drums (right here with you, Ringo Starr), the song is meant to be a sort of hymn that every acneic teenager can cover in their bedroom.

It was a few years ago and Seven Nation Army was already in every stadium because you know, of course belching “back and forth through my mind behind a cigarette” with a broken voice is obviously what you want to do when you’re watching soccer dudes kicking balls all over the place. …And then came along Ben, the Soul Uncle. Retro sunshine !

His name is meant to be a nod to Uncle Ben, the Rice grandpa, and he always wears a bow just like his homonym. He is a regular occurrence at Jazz festivals. He references the Motown (his label is Motown France, I didn’t even know we had that), and basically every african american idol you can possibly think of. His music video for Soulman shows just how much he’s a good singer – and really American at heart.

4. I want you (The Beatles)

To be fair, this piece of Abbey Road weirdness has been covered many times before. The Bees Gees and the Flaming Lips: how do you top that?

Let’s just have a look at this band who was hailed in France as being perhaps one of the best rock bands ever to walk the surface of our country: Noir Désir. They are dark, poetic, strangely fascinating and subject to much controversy in the person of their lead singer, Bertrand Cantat (I won’t say it, just go on his wiki if you want to know more). And yes, they covered The Beatles.

Suddenly the song becomes a very, very steamy affair. We say that most of the French rock acts of the late nineties have been inspired by Noir Désir, like for instance the band Louise Attaque, that we saw earlier with the Blur cover song. But also Miossec, Damien Saëz, Cali, and so many others.

Because Noir Désir was able to take other peoples’ songs and make them into their own, I can’t resist giving you as well their interpretation of Lennon’s Working Class Hero, because it feels just as tragic as the band’s history.

5 . Killing in the name of (Rage Against The Machine)

Again the hymn of a generation, the same words that tons of people chanted in their bedrooms under posters of Jimi Hendrix and Che Guevara, claiming to be different. Oh, all right, it’s still a wonderful song, and it is incredibly cathartic, and it feels like spitting blood and brains and tears in the face of everything that you hate and feel manipulated by. It never really gets old.

When a bunch of guys from the north of France decided to cover that song, little did they know that the cover would become a legend (of non-violence). Taking everyone really by surprise, this cover song was fast all over our social networks. (It feels so American that I was sure that the band was from Québec for a shamefully long time).

And as a bonus, La Maison Tellier also covered Britney Spears’ Toxic. In the comments of this video, some anonymous Internet person said that decidedly, everyone is sexier than Spears on this song (including Mark Ronson).

–//

How about you; know any cover songs that’d blow my mind?

Sid in the land of the Sushi

Harajuku, venter of Tokyo sub-cultures. Fashion Ali Baba cavern – for all types of fashions. This is where you can find the shops of the famed Visual Kei designers: Sexy Dynamite London, Alice and the Pirates, Black Peace Now, H. Naoto… They are all gathered in a gigantic mall, comparable to the Parisian Galeries Lafayette: Laforêt Harajuku.

A neophyte wouldn’t find a temple dedicated to the visual sub-culture there. Why? Well, those brands are rounded up and hidden in the mall’s basement level. If you enter Laforêt Harajuku with the strong intention to find Visual Kei mascot brands, you can fail to find them under 20 minutes.

Indeed, Visual style remains mostly unfamiliar to the average Japanese. In the streets, asking the passers-by who say they have some musical education, you may be disappointed by the answers. Most Japanese have heard about X Japan – often as the first band filling up Tokyo Dome three consecutive days – but they don’t know the music. The more knowledgeable can give you more names: Nightmare, The Gazette, or Miyavi. But don’t ask them anything technical, like about Oshare Kei: only a precisou few Visual bulimics will know what you’re referring to.

The other point of interest in Harajuku is the weekly cosplayer meeting. For those who collect information about Visual Kei through a computer screen, and who imagine it at some sort of mecca, the meeting can be frankly disappointing.

Imagine three kids sitting on the ground 100 meters from the metro station, wearing a star or anime character outfit – for the most recognizable. They keep on sitting in semi-silence, waiting for the tourists to ask them whether it’s all right that they take a picture.

Don’t ask them questions, don’t inquire why or how. They have no aim, their thought process is not something they can articulate, their look mostly hides shyness, or even aggressive behavior. Do they have problems at school because of their style or haircut? Yes, but they’re at a loss as to which ones. Can they recommend venues or artists? They fight amongst themselves to avoid answering. Are they annoyed by the tourists taking pictures of them? No, as long as they ask beforehand.

The strangest thing from those soft fringe elements of society, is the look they give to those who don’t look like them. If you aren’t physically identifiable as being one of them, they ostracize you. You don’t belong to their world, even if you are willing to listen to them. And for the most part of them too, they can’t give you many band names. In France we are so proud of our musical knowledge – turning us into full blown snobs – Visual Kei hides its scholars.

Tomonori Nagasawa is the journalist who is said to have coined the word 'Visual Kei'. by JRA

Tomonori Nagasawa is the journalist who is said to have coined the word ‘Visual Kei’. by JRA

And that is why we can safely say that Visual Kei is at the core of an aesthetic culture and no musical research pole. That also explains why a huge majority of interview bring no answers: the greatest part of the musicians can’t word clearly their concept. Any evolved question brings out either embarrassment or a vague answer.

Tomonori Nagasawa is among other things a journalist; he is said to have coined the term for Visual Kei, back when the name didn’t exist. He politely says he didn’t, but he still knows inside out the genre and those who made it. He says artists aren’t used to be asked deep questions. Which would be the reason why they don’t know how to react.

Other journalists have collided with complete absence of reaction. For instance, a Zy 42 editor went for an obscure question, during an interview with Nightmare. Here is the reaction he got (translated by JAME):

Zy 42, December 2008.

I think Lost In Blue has eight beat bars and simple arranging, but the development is quite unique, right?

Ruka: you really think so?

Yes: it begins with an intro, then lead A, lead A, lead B, Lead A and then a guitar solo. Then again lead B and the main lead is completely modulated. This melody only appears once but it goes on until the end of the song. I think you created that melody so that everyone understands the song even if they don’t get the lyrics.

Ruka: well…

In other words?

Ruka: it’s funny to see you find explanations to things I hadn’t really thought about. You think too much!

Tomonori Nagasawa analyses further: “Even journalists need to bend to rules. You can’t speak negatively about an artist. You can write a bad review of an album, if you’re willing to take the risk. The next day, you’ll be fired.” It gives a whole new meaning to the principle of objectivity.

Visual Kei Observers are often parented to media destined to a very young reader. A mean vision of those media would remark that there are no articles, a lot of picture, a few legends. Therefore, it can’t be surprising that the only French media writing specials about Visual Kei is the teeny-bopper magazine Rock One. Musicians’ blood type is handled as an interesting piece of information.

Comment se maquiller

Fashion tips for the fans

It is indeed interesting to the young Japanese: sometimes they will establish compatibilities between two human beings based on their respective blood types. But to occidental youngsters, even in quest of exotics, it is artificial.

But let’s give Julius Caesar what belongs to him: you can find in this press a great number of interviews. Surprisingly, like other Asian musical spheres, artists appear in interview without a convincing reason. They promote a single more often than an album; the release of a new song is dealt with as if it were an artistic victory. Intriguing, especially we don’t make so much noise for the release of a full album in France. As a logical consequence, most of the journalists’ questions revolve around that one song: “How did you choose the song’s title?” And artists explain the lyrics, reveal why they chose such costume, or worse – disclose their favorite food.

Interviews are extremely codified in Visual Kei, which is similar in that register to Japanese Pop, and by extension, to Asian mainstream music. If the journalists is not asking the right questions, then the musician will unscrupulously give his message. Isshi, Kaggra,’s lead singer, asked me at the end of our interview if he could add a few words. Surprised, I suggested he help himself. I was astonished to hear his say: “I would like to give a message to my French fans. In August, we played our first gig in France, but there were over 500 people. Since most of them were pretty girls, I want to come back as fast as possible.”

One could wonder whether the musicians have this fan messaging manual. Masato, from The Underneath, said to the Jame team in October 2008: “It’s probably cliché, but we are honestly happy to see that Japanese music is greeted with such enthusiasm in the United States. I am really happy we belong to that movement and I hope you will keep listening to Japanese music and remain a fan.” In march 2009, Teruki from An Café told me: “Thank you for welcoming us in France a new time. We are happy to be in Paris. To ensure that the fans keep coming, we will try our best tonight!”

A French musician with a budding brilliant career in Japan may wonder how to properly thank the fans. Actually, it’s pretty simple: Start by thanking the audience for being diligent. Go on with a love declaration directed at the country where you are. Last, but not least, precise that you would be nothing without the fans. If you can add a personal or humoristic touch, it’s better – but not mandatory.

These kids are a sweetened version of what their inspiration sources lived when Visual Kei began. Between the beginning years and today’s scene, the gap widens every year.

Hosts and Holiday

First night in Tokyo. Shinjuku’s nocturnal violence welcomes a few tourists; they are overcome by packs of party-goers coming to plunge into noise, music and alcohol. Every shop vomits people and sound, neon signs blink from the asphalt to the building’s heights, the crowd drowns in graphical and auditory pollution.

Concert de King à l'Ikebukuro Cyber, Shinjuku

King at l’Ikebukuro Cyber, Shinjuku, by JRA

Creatures emerge from this human magma, strange beings whose presence doesn’t attract a look from the Japanese anymore. They look like Visual Kei musicians. They are men but not male, most of them wearing tight black suits, polished shoes which tip exaggeratingly go up, and their hairdo was set up with a spatula. A cyclone couldn’t undo the meticulous order of those locks.

Who are they? They are called Hosts, and they are the inseparable faun of the Shinjuku nights. “I don’t see them anymore – I’ve never paid them any attention,” one of the book’s translators, Yusei, admits later on. By themselves, or by groups of two or three, they err in the Kabukichô streets, a mecca for the sex industry workers. However, Hosts aren’t exactly prostitutes. They depend on a club where they attempt to attract their female clients. Yes, women follow them, and they will push these women to spend astronomical sums in the club.

Sometimes, they have sexual intercourse with those women, but they rather aim to turn them into regulars. If they yield into the ladies’ desires, it will be counterproductive, because “it would be equivalent to giving them what they want” (The Great Happiness – Tale of an Osaka Love Thief). A satisfied patron doesn’t come back.

Next to these strange groups, another population fill the streets, a bit older, wearing less flashy suits, but still very elegant. They stand guard at every street corner, their eyes set upon their protégés: they are the Hosts’ pimps.

American film director Jake Clennell found himself fascinated with the Hosts, when he came to Japan on the occasion of a documentary about high-school baseball. Acting upon that fascination, he made the excellent movie The Great Happiness Space – Tale of an Osaka Love Thief. The movie was awarded a prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2006. Clennell’s complete and humane vision of the Hosts gives interesting leads into a better comprehension of this underworld strangely similar to Visual Kei.

Have you ever seen a Visual Kei concert?

Yes, I went because I was curious. I found it extremely beautiful; the research on colors and the musicians’ gestures is something that you don’t find back home.

I was told that Visual Kei musicians and Hosts were originally the same people – they just took a different professional orientation.

It’s true that most of the Hosts are young people coming from modest backgrounds, and they didn’t study much. However, something struck me in Japan: the educational system is much more evolved that in the United States – and I imagine, that France as well. Consequently, those kids, who didn’t have the occasion to go far academically speaking, are still extremely articulate. They are much more articulate than Occidentals would be in the same situation. The danger when you look at Japan, is looking at it through an occidental prism. The reference system is different there. You shouldn’t compare with France or the United States: the result would obviously absurd.

You seem very interested in Japanese Pop culture. Do you have an idea about where the girls’ gestures during the concerts originated?

Have you ever seen a baseball game? That sport is very popular in Japan, and belongs to high schools everyday life. Cheerleaders’ gestures during a game are very similar to the moves of the audience in Visual Kei venues. Actually, if you had seen a Besball game, you wouldn’t be asking me that question. How old are generally the girls who go to Visual Kei concerts?

I’d say about 14 to 18 years old.

There you go: here’s your answer. They reproduce the routines they learn in high school.

In the movie, Issei, charisma-seeping Host whose volubility could belong to an American car seller, say one sentence which could completely apply to the relationship of Visual Kei musicians to their audience: “You must not destroy their dreams.”

Holiday Shinjuku, September 10th 2008. The venue is on Kabukichô’s border, in a dark part of Shinjuku, stuck between Hosts’ clubs. And the entrance of the venue bears the mark of its environment. Telling that story to Hikari, kind-hearted rocker who belongs to the first Visual Kei generation: “I thought I was in…”

“In a Host club, right?” Dead right. The comparison is obvious when looking at the masculine aesthetics. You can find those gravity-defying hairdos, and this matter-of-factly misplaced femininity: numerous trinkets, graphically researched outfits, refusal of simplicity for the clothes… Even the basic black suit is tight and cut in a light-reflecting fabric. But that is not the only common ground: the Holiday Shinjuku’s organization is a lot like a Host club’s.

That would be the place where a lot of Visual Kei bands begin their careers nowadays. The level isn’t so qualitative; the programming is visibly more set on the quantitative. The more vigorous young men are exposing, the better. Later, when they have gathered a more important audience, they will play in better equipped venues: Ikebukuro Cyber, Shibuya O-WEST, O-EAST, etc. In Holiday Shinjuku, they learn the stage, and they learn how to gather an audience, which consists in gathering a minimum number of persons for each concerts, every time the same people- those who will also buy the goodies. This is a step that every single band – from every genre – in every country must take.

For the most part, the Holiday bands have never recorded professionally, but their intention doesn’t exactly lie in music production, as the venue’s structure shows without shame. The aimless wanderer can be very meanly greeted. In the entrance, a “prison-door amiable” receptionist grudgingly gives the accreditations. Those pieces of paper guarantee that journalists don’t pay in order to work. That’s not exactly how it works there: you don’t kid when money is concerned at the Shinjuku; even with a professional invitation, even if you’re not thirsty, you need to pay to get a free drink. This is the first example of music’s extreme monetization, and it is but the beginning.

Le magasin de la marque Sexy Dynamite London à Harajuku

Sexy Dynamite London store in Harajuku, by JRA

Next to the venue’s entrance, a shop sells – amongst others – the Shinjuku Holiday artists’ productions. The most devoted fans need just to reach out. The venue interior resembles most of the other Visual Kei venues. The stage is oversized – considering the bands’ popularity and proficiency – the audience stands in well-behaved rows, and sometimes participate using those strange gestures.

At the back of the venue, where is the VIP area (big word for a small thing) you can see a row of tables, separating normal people from those-who-have-a-pass. The slightly fete atmosphere suddenly grows when one notices the different goodies sold by the bands themselves laid out on those make do stands. Welcome to Shinjuku yard sale. Behind: light sound consoles. Before: the stage, full of good dozen of bouncing musicians – they are from different bands, if one trusts the disparity in their outfits.

They jump around and sweat, creating an annoying result, immature, chaotic, and saturated with high sounds: they obviously need to practice a lot more. Good thing their main activity isn’t doing music.

At the end of their show – often a short 20 minutes – the real work begins. A fascinating dance launches. The boys get to their bands’ stand. Timidly, the girls start turning to them. A shy, but resolute approach. And the boys show the extent of their greatest talent: promotion. The yard sale is over, we are now facing a particularly excited huckster in front of the Galeries Lafayette just before Christmas.

Those young men are wordy, without scruples, no matter what they sell. Backstage fast Polaroid seems to be popular. The musicians tell the fans to blindly pick the picture they’re buying: astute. That’s the best way to make sure they will buy another one if the photo they got doesn’t represent the musician their heart is set on. They can also buy badges, official poster, or even singles – because they’re actually selling music.

If those girls are fooled, it’s only because they allow it. Some of them lay out the cash before even walking up to the stands. The boys are quite accessible and open to conversation – as long as the proposition has figures. The relationship between the Misses and their idols is a financial vector, and it only shocks foreigners.

So in the Holiday Shinjuku, even though the boys’ career begins there, even though some of them may be talented, the word ‘prostitution’ floats all around in the air.

Jojo (The Skull Fuck Revolvers), by JRA

Jojo (The Skull Fuck Revolvers), by JRA

Jojo’s career just began, and he is already walking around like he owns the place. His garb is full black, no gel in his hair, and from the height of his twenties, he looks nothing like the ideal son-in-law. I face is pierced all over, and his eyes betray the incommensurable self-assurance he constantly sports. He is hard to recognize without the makeup: there is a huge gap between his scenic character and reality. He introduces himself, and opens the door leading backstage.

A Visual Kei venue’s backstage reminds the back rooms of a strip joint, but dirtier, and without any feminine presence. Sitting on the bare floor in the corridors, boys seem to be busy waiting. Some of them are fully made up and costumed; others wear their everyday clothes. And they’re all over the three floors. Ghetto ambiance, or junkie squat.

Jojo and his band, The Skull Fuck Revolvers, share their small dressing room with another band. In the room lays a smothering cigarette smell mixed with that of the spray they inflict to their hair. The atmosphere is so heavy that Jojo gathers his stuff and suggests getting out to a café. As they leave, they are greeted with morose “otsukaresama deshita”. In other words: good job.

Interview : Sporto Kantès

Il est rare qu’une interview soit de ces souvenirs qui font rire. Et pourtant, Sporto Kantès, les talentueux clowns d’électro libre, sont le genre de personnes avec qui on passerait bien une soirée, de préférence avinée. Même s’il est parfaitement impossible de contrôler quoi que ce soit en leur présence. A commencer par l’interview.

Benjamin Sportès : Attention, tu vas voir, nous en interview, on fracasse tout. Nan, tu vas être étonnée, vraiment. Et puis à l’image, on colle, hein, pile-poil. Fais un cadrage avantageux… Voilà. On peut commencer.

C’est pas votre première interview, vous n’êtes pas des débutants … Combien d’années d’activité, alors ?

Benjamin Sportès : Dix ans ! Enfin, d’activité musicale, ça fait 25 ans.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Ouais, dix ans. 98. Onze ans même.

Alors, quand on joue une musique comme la vôtre, qui englobe un grand nombre de styles, est-ce qu’on ne touche pas tout particulièrement une génération qui se nourrit musicalement sur Internet ?

Benjamin Sportès : Tu veux dire une musique de geeks, quoi. De nerds.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Ouais, bien sûr ! Moi je suis à fond sur Internet, de toute façon. Pour moi, Facebook, c’est un travail à temps complet. C’est mon fanzine, j’déconne pas.

Benjamin Sportès : Moi, sur Twitter je mets les notes d’humeur !

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Moi j’suis un digger ! Tu sais ce que c’est un digger ? Je déterre ! On est des déterreurs ! Toutes les vieilles vidéos par exemple, je les mets en ligne. Alors, du coup, j’ai plein de potes qui viennent voir, et leurs potes à eux…parfois je reste trois heures à alimenter.

Ah, vous êtes les flooders sur Facebook qui balancent des vidéos toutes les heures…

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Toutes les cinq minutes ! Non, toutes les trois minutes ! Le meilleur, c’est des vieux trucs punks de 77 vraiment très rares.

Benjamin Sportès : Les trucs obscurs, c’est sa spécialité.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Ou sinon des bandes annonces de films des années 60, 70… Ou des trucs plus intelligents, genre des interviews de William Burrough. J’aime bien chercher des vieilles pépites. Après on s’en sert, d’ailleurs.

Benjamin Sportès : Des interviews de Salvador Dali. Ex-cep-tion-nel. Tu tapes « Salvador Dali » et tu regardes ses interviews : c’est exceptionnel de logique dans sa folie.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Je vais t’expliquer : grâce à la banque d’image qui est mise à ta disposition – c’est quand même extraordinaire – j’ai trouvé un film qui s’appelle « Comme les anges déchus de la planète Saint-Michel », qui est un reportage qui a été fait en 78 sur les zonards. Maintenant, le réalisateur l’a mis lui-même en plusieurs parties sur YouTube. Du coup je vais chercher dans les égouts, je les remonte à la surface pour des gens qui n’auraient pas forcément trouvé seuls. On fait pareil avec la musique, en gros.

Voilà ! On va quand même parler de musique. J’aimerais savoir-

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : On se sert beaucoup d’internet. J’envoie souvent des liens, en lui disant, « choppe l’intro ! » ; « choppe les voix ! »… C’était quoi d’ailleurs le dernier film ?

Benjamin Sportès : C’était « White Zombie ».

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Voilà, j’y pense et je lui envoie. Et comme lui il peut mieux ripper – il a le logiciel à la maison – ça va plus vite.

C’est du piratage, ça.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Oui. …Euh, non, pas du piratage, parce que ça fait partie du domaine public, « White Zombie ».

Benjamin Sportès : Ah bon ?

Donc Nicolas, t’es le fouilleur, et toi, Benjamin, tu es quoi alors ?

Benjamin Sportès : Je suis le fabricant, moi. Lui c’est le fournisseur, moi je suis le fabricant.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Oui, tu as bien résumé. Parfois ça s’inverse, je peux fabriquer et il peut fournir. Mais le vrai truc principal, c’est ça, si on veut globaliser l’histoire.

Justement, parlons de ça. Au bout de ce micro il y a 20 000 personnes. Donnez leur envie de courir vous voir sur scène.

Benjamin Sportès : On ne peut pas vendre notre sauce, c’est pas possible ! « Achetez une Twingo, achetez une Twingo ! » [le titre Whistle a servi de BO pour une pub Twingo] Il faut écouter le bouche à oreilles, surtout. Les gens qui vous diront que c’est bien – ou pas. Faites votre propre opinion. La meilleure promo qu’on ait pu faire, c’est de créer notre propre style.

Pourtant c’est vraiment tendance en ce moment de se vendre.

Benjamin Sportès : Bien sûr, nous on aimerait bien que ça marche encore mieux, mais …

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : On n’est pas des putes ! …J’ai rien contre les prostituées, hein.

Benjamin Sportès : On a discuté avec un gars qui bossait dans une agence de pub. Il avait des idées pour nous, il y avait des phrases slogans, pleins d’autres trucs. Et en sortant du restaurant, après cette discussion là, on se disait, mais comment est ce qu’on va assumer tout ça finalement ? Même si c’était super drôle d’en parler, on a rebondi sur plein d’idées.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Tu sais quoi ? Pour les gens qui viennent nous voir, je vais leur dire un truc, moi. Une phrase magique. « Spirit of Seventeen Seven ».

On est vraiment dans le punk, là. Surtout quand on voit ce qui est écrit sur ton T-Shirt, Nicolas.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : « Home Fucking is Killing Prostitution ! » Notre but, c’est juste de faire avec des machines les conneries qu’ils faisaient en 77.

Benjamin Sportès : 77 c’était l’année ou le punk a été médiatisé, mais ça existait bien avant ! Depuis déjà 74 ! Y’avait eu un canard qui mettait tout le monde dans le punk, Lou Reed et les autres ! Et il a fallu que tout à coup ce soit médiatisé, et qu’on dise « c’est ça le punk », alors que le punk, ça a toujours existé, et on savait même pas ce que c’était ! C’était juste des gens qui faisaient ce qu’ils voulaient ! Donc 77 on s’en branle. Ce qui compte, c’est « Forever ». « Home Fucking is Killing prostitution, » eh, montre le t-shirt, là !

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Voilà ! Et « Home taping is killing music » is bullshit, you know ? It’s bullshit, et Madame Albanel, toi… et Sarko…voilà. [Gestes censurés]. Tu couperas, hein.

Bien sûr.

Benjamin Sportès : On avait dit qu’on était de droite, t’es super-chiant. T’arrives pas à rester à droite !
Vous êtes des artistes de droite ? Pourquoi ?

Benjamin Sportès : Parce que, on ne sait plus trop ce que c’est, la droite et la gauche, du coup on s’est dit, allez, on va être à droite, comme ça on sera sûrs qu’il y a un peu de tout.

Nicolas Kantorovwicz : Arrête de dire des conneries, toi.

Je ne comprends plus rien de ce que vous racontez.

Benjamin Sportès : Mais c’est ça, le punk !

(Initialement publié sur Zikkadict)

CD Review : Miyavi – What’s My Name

Miyavi – What’s My Name
EMI Music Japan
Release: 13 Oct 2010
1980¥ / 22.58$

No album title could be more narcissistic than this one. “What’s My Name?” asks Miyavi (you’re expected to scream back ‘Miyavi, ahhhhhhhh’, and if possible throw out your bra). But this is no stage, this is no live album.

The Miyavi brand is there: grungy guitar and broken voice. This time he’s accompanied by a guy called Bobo, on drums, but you really don’t need to remember his name because who cares after all. He’s supposedly from another famous band, but he’s not on the CD cover, you don’t see his face in the music videos, and for all we hear of his skills, he could be a computer, really.

In this album, we find the desire for a simpler sound that Miyavi had already gone for with ‘Miyaviuta Dokusou’. In that album he was by himself, with an acoustic guitar and a gigpig drumset. It was funky; it was cheeky, provocative, and it was dangerous. At that time, Miyavi was struggling to appear more as an artist and less as an idol. And he did it, really, by shedding part of the decorum, and looking for a sound that was more primal.

It worked: “Miyaviuta Dokusou” earned him the recognition of people outside the Visual Kei sect. On the other hand, “What’s My Name” is really just a ‘look at me’ sign.

All right, so the guy likes concept albums. He likes slapping on his guitar with bluesy riffs. And he’s also a bit of a virtuoso of fusion. When he mixed his guitar with tap dancing, percussions, DJs, and beatboxing (Seven Samurai era): it worked.

At that time, you wanted to listen to the first song again, and again, before you felt ready to listen to the following track. Now you’re just suffering though the whole album once. And as a whole, it feels quite repetitive. Not everything is mediocre, of course. There are some times where your interest may perk up a bit. There are three okay songs in this album, which you may still want to purchase.

“Moon”

Okay, it’s still a bit jumbled, but for the first time in the album both guitar and drums aren’t too intrusive. And there is something a bit intriguing about this long progression, rhythmically inventive, going up and up and up until it just stops.

“Gravity”

Imagine a soft, uninteresting song. It’s melancholic and repetitive. And then, suddenly, a guttural scream: “let me out!”. All right, so maybe the first scream can surprise you, but the effect is ruined for the following ones, which makes the song kind of flop from there on, in spite of Bobo’s much anticipated entrance.

“Futuristic Love”

Just because making a guitar sound like a computer is really not easy, when it’s played by a human hand. And it seems that just of a minute, Miyavi’s whims, sense of humor, tricky energy is back. Too bad it’s on a neurasthenic voice. A little footnote here: it’s quite amazing to see that in 10 studio albums, Miyavi’s pronunciation hasn’t improved a bit.

His diction used to be charmingly incoherent, blurted out in a hurry. Now it just sounds like he’s an old man who misplaced his dentures. My advice: take some vacation. You’ve been running around too long, touring, marrying, touring, making babies, releasing new albums, touring again; you’re exhausted and your inspiration has gone dry.

I’ll be waiting expectantly for the next album. Meanwhile :