Liz Phair: Turning Japanese
No Use For A Name: Turning Japanese
Asia represent! This well-covered and oft-parodied song is undeniably catchy, as noted by its long life in popular culture. The above image comes from the song's most recent incidence, a stylized art video featuring actress Kirsten Dunst first presented at a Tate Modern exhibit in London two years ago, seemingly in homage to the global cosplay movement.
But long before anime, manga, and other Japanese "identity artifact categories" swamped nerd and geek culture, the song's easily sung chorus and verses had featured in many iconic media products, from the original Jackass movie to video games (Rock Band 3, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The 80s) to an old and overplayed KFC commercial. As an homage to this cultural cachet, I've skipped the crisp, bouncy 1980 original, and shared instead a pair of mid-nineties punk versions - both grungy as hell, as befits the song's frenetic pace updated for the angry, ironic pre-millennial set.
There's some debate on the interwebs about whether songwriter David Fenton of British new wave/power pop band The Vapors is being honest when he claims that this song is about "all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn't expect to"...or whether the term "turning Japanese" actually refers to the face males make when reaching masturbatory climax, an easy interpretation which would set Fenton's VH1 True Spin comment as a specious attempt to rewrite his own wild youth by saying otherwise. The song works both ways, and the original video doesn't help, with its geisha girl imagery merely muddying what would really be a question of which sort of racism we're talking about here - "Japanese" as a euphemism for distant and isolated, or "Japanese" as equivalent to squinty-eyed - so we'll let you make your own conclusions.