Sweet Nightmares

That’s the trendy way you wish people good night nowadays, instead of the conventional “sweet dreams”. And if you’re the kind of person who embraces this line of thought, you may be interested in visual kei, the genre of Japanese rock music that fuses punk elements in the form of their get-up and lyrics.

Visual kei is completely rebellious. Men dress in the most extreme dark outfits possible, and give themselves so much makeup that they’d take hours to remove everything. They dye their hair in insane colours, make their faces completely different and wear strange clothes. Most times their clothes are black with shiny jewellery or something to catch your eye. I would say that one of the most famous visual kei bands would be Nightmare (aside from The Gazette, Alice Nine, MUCC and maybe Vivid — that up-and-coming visual kei band).

Nightmare is a typical example of visual kei. On the spectrum of looks, I would say they look more masculine in their get-ups (on the feminine side would be bands like Unite and LM. C) and also in terms of voice. I don’t know why but visual kei singers seem to enjoy singing in this deep sad voice that sounds spooky and haunting (with the exception of, once again, Unite and LM. C, as well as DaizyStripper). I dislike the visual kei voice, but I do wonder why it can only be found in visual kei and not other genres. Do they seek out men with such voices and fit them in visual kei costumes, or do they train visual kei bands to sing like that? Or is this an entire elaborate auto-tuning process?

When appreciating visual kei music, such as Nightmare’s, the music is only half the picture. Visual kei bands have pretty artistic videos, where they tend to depict dark scenes — or maybe their appearances are thought-provoking enough. I feel contemplative when watching them, because they seem to depict a sense of “wrongness” in their singing and their looks. They look wrong, repulsive even. And yet there is a certain beauty and attraction in the repulsion. The more fear they evoke, the more attracted we are. Why are they so unnatural and strange? Why do they do such rebellious, contrary things in their videos? The Japanese like to make social statements, whether in books or in movies. Visual kei seems to be another example of a Japanese social statement, that beauty and ugliness may not be so distinct as we may think.

But of course, some say visual kei has sparked off unhealthy habits among the Japanese. Guys now go around cross-dressing (which they’ve also done in the past, really) and you see youths with dark thoughts (TV and movies love to capitalise on dark cults formed by youths that go around killing people). Is visual kei spreading an atmosphere of contrariness or is it just bringing to light what already exists?

Nightmare is, I would say, a mature band in the music industry. And by that I mean it’s reached the time where they dare to experiment. Naturally, every video is a new experiment (such as the bubble heads in Alumina) but by experimenting, I mean they step out of their comfort zone and do things visual kei bands do not do, such as… be normal and be themselves. They sing slow songs and wear less outrageous makeup in Konoha and Jibun no Hana (or nearly no makeup at all). The lead singer dresses a lot more like a woman in Deus ex Machina. As the years go by, I notice the lead singer strays further away from the typical visual kei looks and dives more into his own style. Every video finds him looking completely different. But I must say, he sure does look ugly. Then again, I bet visual kei people all look ugly, otherwise they’d be going the route of conventional bands like UVERworld.

Though I’d say visual kei is still more of a personal choice. We do have terrible-looking singers in Japan (the breed has died out in Korea) but they — and their fans — still believe in their singing and the messages they want to portray through their music. Visual kei may be more commercial nowadays, but I hope their staunch belief in rebellion never fades. Or else all we’d be getting is the outer layer of extreme eye-catching makeup, but no meaning underneath.

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