The Effectiveness of Visual Kei

Sometimes appealing to an audience through visual stimuli is just as important as the music itself. In my ideal world music would only be assessed, enjoyed and critiqued based on the quality of just that, the music. Yet I can’t deny the intelligence of those who know exactly how to appeal to people through something as “simple” as their visual aesthetic.

Once I became interested in this line of thought, I remembered an article published here on Feedback about how eastern countries put so much focus on their visual appeal, sometimes they will spend millions on the music video alone”.

Using this as a launch pad for further exploration, I started to see a recurring term for certain bands and singers who emphasise their appearance . This phrase was “visual kei”. Translating roughly to “visual style/system”, it’s focused primarily on the extreme attention to detail and exaggeration of the clothing, beautification (or lack thereof) of the singers and even the environment of the music video. And because visual kei isn’t actually a genre of music, its reach isn’t limited in scope.

Originating in Japan in the 80s with bands like X Japan Dead End and D’erlanger, it found its home in the rock genre creating what would increasingly become a very popular niche in a very populated category. As time went on, more people started to notice the peculiarity of singers going to such exaggerated extremes in their music videos. This seeming notoriety though is what led visual kei to become more culturally mainstream and gain ever increasing prevalence.

As I was uncovering this fascinating new aspect of music, it dawned on me that I’ve actually witnessed the successful use of visual kei in western music too but had simply not known the correct term. Singers like Marilyn Manson and Slipknot are perfect examples of this. Regardless of your opinion of them, the fact that many people first hear of them because they look “weird” is testament not only of the flexibility of visual kei but also its ability to promote someone or something beyond the realm of music.

The saying “seeing is believing” is definitely true in this instance. While I can explain to you the creative application of this movement, viewing it for yourself will help provide context on the topic. Suffice to say, this very liberal interpretation of artistic expression is a clear example of musicians acknowledging the difficulty of establishing a foothold through musical talent alone and instead creating that presence through visual kei.

And who can fault them for it? In an industry where sometimes being good simply isn’t good enough you need something that helps differentiate you from the competition. If that sometimes means prioritising looks over music then I commend them for finding that seemingly illusive goal known as success. While visual kei may not be the most orthodox way of achieving that goal, it’s one that’s proven successful.

Photo Credit: devian


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