Unless you’ve been living under a rock or just plain apathetic, you might have heard by now that two of visual kei’s utmost pioneers are making a comeback. THE X-Japan and THE Luna Sea have recovered from their respective break-up/hiatus/fallout/beauty rest and have announced major tours of their own. Both are determined to make their return to the music scene as high profile as possible – Luna Sea triggered interest by making fans stay up late last August 25 for an announcement about an announcement before revealing via an ‘urgent’ press conference in Hong Kong a massive world tour while X-Japan staged a highly-publicized performance in Lollapalooza coupled with Yoshiki doing the rounds in a number of US media outfits. Needless to say the stakes are high but if the gamble pays off then the profit would be much higher. Still, this whole scenario begs the question: could X-Japan and Luna Sea regain their former glory?
Let’s face it, X-Japan and Luna Sea are mega-influential and ultra-famous…two decades ago. While it is debatable whether another band has since emerged that could equal their achievements, it is certain the visual kei scene is a lot more crowded now, the competition much fiercer. X-Japan and Luna Sea need to vie not just for popularity but for relevance as well. However, it seems that conquering the Oricon charts is hardly the top agenda, at least with X-Japan. It is blatantly obvious that Yoshiki wants more than reclaiming X-Japan’s spot as visual kei’s most seminal artist. He is hell-bent on conquering new shores and he wants you to know that resistance is futile. It’s world domination or bust, baby. Yoshiki is willing to exhaust all his resources just to have YOU screaming “We are X!” in no time. Their performance at Lollapalooza is just the tip of the iceberg. A big tour and even more media coverage is sure to follow. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if news that an X-Japan tribute episode on Glee gets out (but please don’t – just don’t).
But are lofty ambition, grim determination and tons of moolah enough? (Yoshiki’s interview with ABC News really cracked me up. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s an exchange in it that went something like this – interviewer: there was a recording studio that you wanted to use but METALLICA already booked it so YOU BOUGHT IT/ Yoshiki: YES.) To the best of my knowledge, there has yet to be a Japanese artist, or even an Asian artist, to truly make it big in the US, much more lay claim on worldwide recognition. The only Japanese band I can think of right now who had moderate success on US soil is Shonen Knife. Despite singing about banana chips and flying jellies, this ultimate girl group counts Kurt Cobain as one of their biggest fans. They joined Nirvana on tour and got to record Top of the World for a Carpenters tribute album but they have since went under the radar. Now enters X-Japan. The press has trumpeted that Yoshiki is Japan’s answer to Bono. But is the English-speaking audience willing to embrace an equivalent when the real Bono himself is still very much alive and kicking ass both in the music charts and on the concert trail?
What makes this even more of a herculean effort is that X-Japan is part of a music sub-division that is struggling to stay afloat. While visual kei fans are lamenting that VK IS DEAD, the bigger picture are giving off indications that ROCK IS DEAD. Ok, so maybe I’m getting too far ahead. Let’s start at the microscopic level. Back in their homeland, X-Japan and Luna Sea (lest we have forgotten about then already) must contend not only with contemporary visual kei bands but also with the likes of pop divas, idols groups and gaijin tarentos imported from Korea and kami-sama knows where else. And speaking of contemporary VK bands, a few have been ‘experimenting’ with a more radio-friendly sound just to remain competitive. If they are already struggling, then it’s interesting how an older act would fare now. Zoom out next into the global arena and it’s a whole new battlefield. X-Japan would have to compete with other rock acts who are in general trying to barely stay relevant in a music landscape more interested in Lady Gaga’s latest antic and in guessing which teen-age pop tart would hit the slammer next (my vote goes to Miley Cyrus, by the way).
Then again, who knows? X-Japan may just be the innovator that the rock scene is now desperately thirsting for. I may not be a fan (should I have let this out of the open earlier?) but I still hold reverence for them as pioneers of a genre that I have come to love. I sincerely wish X-Japan and of course Luna Sea the very best. And may their efforts pave the way for other notable Asian bands as well.