Power of pop: Professor examines how Asian music shapes identity

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When she was pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, Jennifer Matsue had a deep interest in Japanese popular music, particularly the Underground Tokyo Hardcore Rock Scene and raves.

Matsue recalled attending a rave outside of Tokyo in the late 1990s, where groups of young men and women, dressed in colorful, tight, revealing clothing, banged into each other on the dance floor.

Whether they were students, worked in a bank or a department store, on this particular night, through a type of music that "at once defies geographical place while uniting them as a unique community with others globally, they escape those pressures." In turn, the music shapes "who they are as young, cosmopolitan Japanese at the turn of the 21st century."

Matsue's scholarly observations and expertise are highlighted in a recent article published in the Journal of Asian Studies, "Stars to the State and Beyond: Globalization, Identity, and Asian Popular Music." The article is free here for a limited time.

In the article, Matsue, associate professor of music and director of the Asian Studies program, explores the power of popular music and its ability to foster a greater understanding of a vast array of social phenomena within Asia.

'I wanted to show how popular music can actively shape conceptions of self and inform the ways in which we interact with others at the individual, communal, and national and transnational levels," said Matsue.

"The article not only expands the concept of identity in Asia, but also reveals how the study of popular music in general can illuminate other social issues important to Asianists."

Taking an approach that looks at the state of the field rather than an overview of the history of popular music throughout Asia, Matsue compared recent scholarship covering diverse types of music to show how identity formation is informed by an increasingly nuanced understanding of globalization.

From hip-hop to heavy metal, Matsue touches on the works examining popular performers like Sezen Aksu of Turkey, Inul of Indonesia and the Pakistani band Junoon to show how their identities were influenced by the historical moment in which they lived.

She also cites the influence of smuggled CDs into places like China, the mass producing of videocassettes and the popularity of karaoke as ways of introducing popular music to the masses.

"The works here, though united in their focus on Asia broadly defined, touch on significant social phenomena, from the search for creative autonomy to the racial politics produced through pop performance," Matsue concludes in the article.

Matsue joined Union in 2003. She is chair of the Popular Music Section of the Society of Ethnomusicology, the largest national organization devoted to the study of popular music, and chair of the society's Japanese Performing Arts Special Interest Group.

She is working on a book for Routledge Publishing, Focus: Music in Contemporary Japan. The work moves from a general overview of contemporary Japanese culture, through discussion of key genres and music principles that characterize Japanese music broadly defined. She will also include her own research on percussion in Kyoto.