Game That Tune

Game That Tune

J-Pop And Circumstance

The refreshing sincerity of Persona 4’s factory pop music.

By Derrick Sanskrit • November 15, 2012

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

Song: “Pursuing My True Self”
Composer: Shōji Meguro
Game: Persona 4 (2008)

There’s only one thing more dangerous to an adolescent than soul-sucking demons from a parallel dimension hellbent on taking over our world and enslaving us all: emotions. For the average teenager, the onslaught of personal angst tends to drown out even the most massive external concerns, and the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona games plays this conflict of interest perfectly. Does the captain of the school basketball team get along with you? Does the shy girl in drama club get butterflies in her stomach when you chat with her? Do your parents just not understand? Each of these relationships affects both your daily routine and your prowess at battling the aforementioned demons. This delicate balance between outward action and inward feelings is immediately apparent in the infectiously catchy intro to Persona 4, “Pursuing My True Self.”

Right off the bat, this song is absolutely more enjoyable than it has any right to be. It’s an upbeat pop song about addressing your feelings and coming to terms with who you are. This is the sort of message we’re accustomed to hearing in slow, dramatic ballads by the likes of Cristina Aguiliera, Pink, and Elliott Smith, three people I don’t especially want other musicians to emulate. The whole tune is a mishmash of canned loops and samples, from the one piano clip that circles the verses to the drugstore Rhodes organ. The hi-hat sounds as though it were played in a different building from the snare drum it counters, and the bass line is so relaxed that halfway through, it seems to forget it’s even part of the band. And then, of course, is the part I always love about J-pop songs: the lyrics. They’re hokey, they don’t rhyme, the meter is all over the place, metaphors are started and forgotten. “We’re all trapped in a maze of relationships. Life goes on with or without you. I swim in the sea of the unconscious.” It reads like a bad middle school love poems—so why is it so great? The fact that the song’s creators don’t have a firm grasp on the nuance of the language allows them, counterintuitively, to free their ideas. And in the end, the middle-school-poetry vibe only heightens the sense of teen angst that makes up such a huge part of the game.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

831 Responses to “J-Pop And Circumstance”

  1. PaganPoet says:

    I love the jazzy flute in this song. It’s not something you would expect in a pop song. I don’t get why people complain about the Jpop sensibility the game has had since P3. I prefer it much more than the generic electro-rock from the first two P games.

    I also like your line about the lyrics. Sometimes, I think, lyricists who don’t speak English as a first language can write something unexpectedly deep or honest, maybe because they’re not as inundated with English idioms and cliches. For example, I almost always adore Bjork’s lyrics, because they’re just so oddball that it’s endearing and comes off as sincere (to me at least).

    Anyway, Persona 4 Golden is out this week, so my Thanksgiving vacation will be full of teenage angst. (Although P4 is decidedly much more upbeat than P3)

    • Cheese says:

       I’m going to be in London when P4G comes out, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to buy and download it anyway, but I don’t really know what the deal is.

      • PaganPoet says:

        I THINK you should still be able to buy it from the PSN as long as you have an American account w/ an American credit card/PSN card.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      I’m lazy: what are the differences between P4 and P4G? Are they as extensive as the changes between P3 and P3:Fes?

      • PaganPoet says:

        It doesn’t have an epilogue like P3: FES, but otherwise it’s pretty similar: 2 new social links, a new character, new story events, more personas, more voice acting, you get motorbikes which you can use to travel to a neighboring town, and some other minor stuff.

    • Jackbert322 says:

      What do you think of the Persona 3 Portable battle music? I like all the other music, but boy does that OOOH YEAH BABAY BABAY get annoying after a long Tarturus grind…

      • For a long while, I was moderately convinced that the battle music in P4 was singing “are there lesbians?” I curse the internet with its lyrics depositories for informing me that the actual line was “can you let me out?” and ruining that illusion.

      • PaganPoet says:

        I agree with you 100%. In fact, I usually mute the sound and listen to my own music when I’m grinding in Tartarus. The battle music, the dungeon music, and Fuuka all annoy me, so I turn them off.

        • Jackbert322 says:

          I kinda like that one, uh, Maya’s Theme? With the sort of rising violins and melancholy piano. But I really like rising violins I think, because I like the Velvet Room theme too. The battle theme hook is catchy, but you hear it way too much, and those rap verses, those are just abysmal.
          “Round up around / Spit out all over / Rhyme like a rolling stone / Come in the crowd / Watch out the moon / They diss you loud / Guess what this sound / It bombs whole ground / So round up”

          Spit out all over? Rhyme like a rolling stone? It bombs whole ground?

          All right, so what I gather from that is (1) vomit (2) Mick Jagger (3) nuclear bomb. How is rapping about vomiting with the force of a nuclear bomb just like Mick Jagger would supposed to inspire me?

          Also, yeah, Fuuka sounds like a toddler. You know that Japan Super Fun Time America Tour sketch on SNL? Where the two white people from Michigan act Japanese? She sounds like the chick from that.

          “Hello-urusan! Hee hee hee!” 

    • caspiancomic says:

      Man, I can’t believe I spent the better part of the month drooling over Persona 3 and never once mentioned how kickin’ rad the music is. The original intro always cheers me right up whenever I get myself killed. And yeah, the standard “BAYBEH BAYYYBEEEHH!” battle theme gets kind of grating, especially because I only ever hear the first like five seconds of it, due to personal radness.

      And I fully agree that the lyrics are the best part of these songs. I swear to God that in the dorm BGM the guy is saying “you want to party with the burgers.” I also like the little ditty that plays when you’re out on the town, where that lady sort of abandons her sentence halfway through, and then comes right back around and commits to that meandering: “I never felt like… da da da da da… I never felt like da da da da da”

      ETA: While I’m at it, do you think P4 will ever come to PSN, or should I start looking for a PS2 copy? I’m also considering picking up a Vita, but probably not for a while yet.

      • Jackbert322 says:

        Oh yeah, I love the town music! All the songs shouid be like that “OH YEAH BABAY…hrmublenana…OH YEAH BABAY HRMUBLENANA”

        I don’t know if Persona 4 will, but I reallly want a Vita. I’ve got money saved…but I’m worried it might flop. But with Persona 4 Golden and Christmas (big memory card FTW!) coming, it’s really tough to wait. I actually considered for the first time ever trying to do Black Friday, because this one girl in my neighborhood and her family do it every year, and I got tag along with them, but the only Vita bundle on sale is the CoD Black Ops one. Bleh.

        • Cheese says:

           It probably is going to flop, but I love my Vita. It’s just an amazing piece of gaming hardware. If the battery life were longer, it’d be perfect.

      • PaganPoet says:

        This is based on no actual information, but I think P4 will eventually be released on the PSN PS2 section. My only reasoning is that they released P3FES even after P3P. Maybe they just wanna pay a few bills with the P4G sales before they do it.

  2. Jason Trelaine says:

    Starting today, you’re moving in with your uncle and cousin in Inaba, where you’ll be living for the next year.

    But first, would you like to see a totally unrelated 15-year-old-girl in a bikin?


  3. Sleverin says:

    This article discusses Persona 4 in a way that is pleasing.  There is no fail here.  I heartily agree with these sentiments.  The albums for both P3 and 4 sounds like stuff I should absolutely despise and want to burn in a pit that swallows souls…yet I find it amazingly catchy and just absolutely adore.  It’s truly the compositions, whoever does them is quite smart.  If this is the “best of J-Pop, I heartily welcome it…if there are bands from Japan that actually sound like this and are really well done well…I might get some new albums in the near future. 

    A nod for Persona 3 for having Burn My Dread, another fantastic song.  As a music nerd I could just chat and chat about the music from these games all day!

    • PaganPoet says:

      I think the perfect example of what sets those soundtracks apart is the song “Deep Breath Deep Breath” from P3:

      Who would interrupt a perfectly catchy hip-hop song with a distorted woman’s voice screaming “Help meeeeee, ahhhhhhh!”? Shoji Meguro apparently

      FINALLY, who would play such a bizarre, intense piece of music to accompany the scene three teenage boys trying to pick up girls at the beach?

      • Sleverin says:

         Good question.  That was odd, but well placed seeing as how this is when Aigis is introduced isn’t it?  Ah, man I need to finish persona 4!  The end of P3 had me crying, I have no fear of saying that on the net, that ending had me just straight up have tears down my face.  I think that’s the first game to honestly do that.

        • My fiancee was recently rendered inconsolable for hours after finishing P3. For the second time. She genuinely wept about it, even though she already knew how it would end.

          A testament to its artistry.

        • Sleverin says:

           Since I can’t reply to Peter directly…my friend has a huge theory on how the ending is actually positive in the end and how it fits in with all the game.  I agree with him honestly with his thorough discussion of it, and even though the true ending is in fact not sad, but quite joyous, it’s still hard.  I haven’t played FES but I hear it’s more of a non-canon relation to 3 than true canon so I don’t include that as part of the ending.

  4. I wanted to respond to your comment about the lyrics, but it’s a bit of a derail. But I’m going to do it anyway. 

    The thing is, Japanese (like most Asian languages) is fundamentally different from English (like most Romance/Germanic languages) in terms of whom it makes responsible for successful communication. This is something that I noticed when studying Japanese years ago, but hadn’t really seen reflected in scholarship until I randomly came across Malcolm Gladwell talking about it in his book, “Outliers”. Gladwell uses the terms “receiver orientation” and “transmitter orientation” — transmitter-oriented languages like English place the burden of communicating on the speaker while receiver-oriented languages like Japanese place it on the hearer.

    When I say a sentence in English, insofar as you’re familiar with the words I’m using and general rules of grammar/syntax, you immediately know exactly what I mean. But in Japanese, a sentence is much more a loose bundle of concepts which is mostly up to the hearer to decipher (and it’s my understanding that of the Asian languages, Japanese is one of the less receiver-oriented). 

    I think the textbook example is that if I’m a guest and I find myself thirsty, in English I’d say something to the effect of, “Hey, I’m thirsty. Got anything to drink?” In Japanese, I’d say something to the effect of “It’s hot out today, and it was quite a walk to your house…” Here, the burden falls on my host to understand my meaning; to speak directly as I would in English would be rude, perceived as either demanding (“Give me a drink”) or insulting (“You’re not an attentive host, so I have to be really explicit with you”).

    This difference lives in the blurry boundary between language and culture, and it is reflected in all sorts of things; consider, for example, the radically different theological/philosophical styles/techniques as between, say, Greece/Rome and China. Trade routes like the Silk Road/Way ensured that religious information spread from the Mediterranean to the Orient and vice versa, but there was remarkably little actual “cross-pollination” — in part, doubtless, due to the fundamental linguacultural mismatch between the speakers and the hearers. 

    Similarly, we often look at modern Japanese media and experience it as being batshit fucking insane because we’re expecting the creators to do the work of making sure we’ve understood it, even though it’s probably not parsed that way at all by the Japanese.

    All of which is to say that the lyrics you picked out aren’t a result of poor grasp of the English language — those lyrics, trite though they might be, would generally make sense (and wouldn’t appear to be non sequiturs) in Japan because of its receiver-oriented culture. 

    • Sleverin says:

       Damn, that’s interesting.  I remember watching an interview with the head developer for FFXIV, Yoshi-P, talking about recommended settings for the game.  He said that “recommended” doesn’t really mean anything specific in Japanese and needs more specific parameters to make sense, like “recommended to play at high frame rates” or “recommended to play with high resolution”.  After reading this I can understand how a generic term like “recommended” just can’t translate well and would seem weird.  I have an interest in language as a sort of personal fascination and not really more than say…a hobby, so this is nicely interesting.