AKB48 – Kimi Wa Melody

Infectious bubble gum pop ecstasy, or borderline “ear worm” annoying?

AKB48 (pronounced A.K.B. Forty-eight) is a Japanese pop act, a super-group not just in their popularity throughout Asia, but because somehow the band has more than 100 members.

The group has found controversy for seeming to use underage sexual imagery in lyrics and videos, and at public appearances such as in their own theatre. For example, a magazine photo showed a member with her naked breasts covered by what looked like a child’s hands.

AKB48 is also seen as providing examples of strong female role models to Japanese culture, in a larger society that is seeking to make gains for gender equality. But another member shaved her head as some sort of apology, after she stayed over night with a man.


Zeb And Haniya – Dadra

“Two days after a bombing in Lahore killed over 70 Pakistanis at an Easter gathering this year [2016], the pop duo Zeb and Haniya released ‘Dadra,’ which they dedicated to their beloved city. It’s a sweet lullaby of lament, the Urdu lyrics guided by an electric guitar’s undertow. Zeb and Haniya have found an especially strong following in South India. Zeb says she was surprised and touched by how many Indian fans wrote with sympathy from across the border” (The Economist, “1843 Magazine,” June/July 2016, p. 25).

Zeb and Haniya, cousins, are American college educated Pakistanis. They blend pop music with traditional melodies from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

A Pakistani branch of the Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack. It appears to be a failed political mission: it killed mostly Muslims, and women and children, though the group’s apparent intent was to target Christian men.

Hi-Caliber – Freedom-Enemy of the State

Hi-Cal was a construction worker from New Jersey, who after 9/11 became a Christian and starting calling himself a “Republican rapper.” He has performed for many thousands at Tea Party rallies, serenading this movement in their efforts to move the USA more to the right of the political spectrum.

Fans and experts of rap and hip hop might find Hi-Cal’s rhymes and beats to be pedestrian. But perhaps there is room for ideological diversity in all styles of music.

Perhaps we can now have a rap battle not of boasting but of political debate?

Bernie Sanders – This Land Is Your Land

Bernie Sanders is a Senator from Vermont. He’s running for President of the USA for 2016. Known as a passionate social justice advocate, Bernie Sanders was apparently at Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, back in 1963.

Fast forward about 25 years, to Sanders doing an album of folk songs. Well, he doesn’t sing, but speechifies the lyrics of this most famous Woody Guthrie anthem. Maybe Sanders was paying homage to William Shatner’s cover of Mr. Tambourine Man.

Do you feel these recordings hurt or assist Sander’s effort to win the candidacy of the Democrats for the next election?

Tom Petty – I Won’t Back Down

US Senator John McCain might hold the record for most times, for using songs without the permission of the artists. He used Van Halen’s Right Now. He’s also had John Mellancamp upset for using “Our Country.” Heart didn’t like McCain spinning “Barracuda.”

Other songs McCain pinched without approval: John Mellancamp’s “Pink Houses,” The Foo Fighter’s “My Hero,” Abba’s “Take A Chance on Me,” Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” and Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.”

These are from McCain’s 2008 run for President as a Republican. He lost to Barack Obama.

Are there more?

Tom Petty objected to the Arizona Senator using “I Won’t Back Down.”

The general lyrics about not giving up in the face of adversity do fit well for an election campaign theme song. It was also a popular song on the radio following 9/11.

Not again!:

Petty had his 1989 song copped again, but this time by a non-politician. Petty got co-writing credits on Sam Smith’s similar-sounding “Stay With Me” (2014), even though he didn’t think it was such a big deal.

Ash Ft. Blidboy – Billkamcha

This song asks people to report government corruption and encourage political transparency in Tunisia. Billkamcha is a crowd sourcing platform for this purpose. Hip hop (and this cause) has been an outlet for youth movements in the country that are frustrated with employment prospects, and that believe that the new government is not much changed from the old.

Elections came to this north African country after the 2011 “Arab Spring.” Tunisia has a constitution that aims to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Outsiders have praised the efforts of the country to enhance and maintain respect and adherence to tolerance and overall, human rights. There is progress to be made, all the same.

It could be the tensions and challenges come not just from government, but from society: the people. The republic struggles with addressing violent Islamic terrorist attacks that have targeted tourists. It struggles with youth that may have chosen radical Islamic outlets to commit these crimes.

The public policy response to terrorism has been aggressive counter terrorism efforts. Yet then, the Tunisian government is open to criticism for being too heavy handed. It’s a tight rope walk.

At any rate, these struggles are being articulated and vented about, and maybe even sorted out, through music.

Jon Bon Jovi – The Moon Represents My Heart

Well, apparently ABBA sang English phonetically, so why not Jon Bon Jovi today?

The song goes back to the 1970s, and is best known as being performed by Teresa Teng. Her ballads have been cited as helping spread pop music in Communist China, an art form otherwise widely suppressed.

Jovi’s band is headed to China in the Fall of 2015, so maybe there is some commercial calculation going on here. But the calories burned just to sing okay in Mandarin… might that indicate some sincerity to reach not just into the wallets, but out to the hearts, of a lot of Chinese people?

Cross-cultural sensitivity is a challenging field. One can offend trying to speak a foreign tongue, however well-intentioned. A minor controversy for Jovi is that Teng is Taiwanese, and many feel this song is, too. Yet, China doesn’t recognize an independent Taiwan (see A-Mei).

Still, it is just a love song!