Lost in Translation: The Mysterious Case of GReeeeN

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In an effort to distract you from the hellish sales numbers and less than stellar content of today’s pop charts, we try to put a brighter spin on things by looking at it all through the eyes of our Eastern counterparts in Japan. As much as we’d love to use this space to shed some Japanese light on 808’s and Heartbreaks or Sasha Fierce, this week we’ve discovered a Japanese band so heretical in their approach to pop music, we couldn’t help but comment.

If you happen to glance at the Japanese iTunes chart this week, you’ll notice that the number one and number ten spots are held by a band named GReeeeN. At first, such an occurrence seems wholly unremarkable. Japanese people love bands with oddly spelled and capitalized names (Syrup16g, SMAP, Tommy february6), and well as bands whose names reference colors (the Brilliant Green, Orange Range, the Blue Hearts) and GReeeeN, as a name, is a perfect synthesis of these Japanese obsessions.

Musically they hit the right spots, too. Using the template laid down by the aforementioned Orange Range (pronounced o-REN-ji RAIN-ji, for the uninitiated), GReeeeN makes inoffensive pop-rap music that you’d be hard pressed to find an analogue for on this side of the Pacific. Imagine Boyz 2 Men if they rapped over Maroon 5 instrumentals and you’re getting close. The point is this stuff has been popular in Japan for a while, so it’s no surprise to see at number one on any charts.

The story of GReeeeN only gets interesting when you dig a little deeper. If you watch the video for “Tobira”, the current iTunes #1, and wait til around the 1:30 mark for the first appearance of the “band”, you’ll notice that they’re not really that Japanese looking. Attempt to confirm this by looking at some of their other videos, and you won’t find any likeness of the band at all. A Google image search just comes up with results for their creepy oral hygiene inspired logo. Something isn’t right here.

It seems the GReeeeN has done something that no Western act could ever hope to do these days — establish a successful pop music career without ever disclosing their faces. Yes, the “Tobira” video is some sort of sick joke — nobody knows what these guys look like. Unless you count Slipknot as a pop band, you’d have to go back a long way to find a similar case in Western musical history. While our celebrity culture is becoming more and more image obsessed by the day, it’s refreshing to know that across the ocean, a group of four anonymous dental students can entirely bypass the photographic record and still become huge stars.

When us Westerners think of transgressive Japanese musicians, we usually think of people like Boredoms singer, Eye, who you can see destroying a club with a backhoe in this slideshow. But a pop band refusing to have their picture taken? That’s downright blasphemous.