Do you remember the pop songs you listened to when you were young?
More importantly, disregarding their ability to jog your misty-water colored memories, do you still listen to those songs now? For most, the answer to this question is “No.”
Tastes change as we grow older and experience different things, as does the music of our once-favorite performers. Often, the most choice earworms are doomed to be brought out only when one wants to remember hamming it up in the elementary school talent show dancing to Whoomp! (There It Is). These songs have a staying power all their own that has nothing to do with the song and everything to do with the sepia-tinged nostalgia that we assign to these songs ourselves.
Aitakatta (I Wanted to Meet You) and AKB0048
An odd quirk of AKB0048 is that they appear to have been performing the same handful of songs for at least a decade (add in the fact that this is the 77th iteration of this specific idol group and one can presume the amount of time to be much longer). The song that begins AKB0048’s guerilla concert, inspiring four girls to become pop idols, is the very same song that leads off their concert years later: Aitakatta. For an AKB48 fan, this is a shout-out to the real-life group’s signature song (one of their first and most popular hits), often used to introduce them at television appearances. For me, it seemed a bit off for an idol group as large as this one to be performing the same song after so many years had passed.
Taking a brief look at pop music today, songs rotate in and out of public popularity at the blink of an eye. A popular entertainment entity would be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t add new songs to their repertoire. The real-life example of AKB48 is about to release their 26th single where the fictional 77th generation of their anime counterparts are about to learn the same songs that they have been performing for decades. This is where the nostalgia piece comes in. In a world where entertainment is banned, one song would resonate across the ether far more powerfully than it would in today’s more fast-paced society where entertainment (and dare I say, culture) streams quickly and disappears just as quickly, only to be replaced by something else.
In addition to this, there’s also the powerful nostalgia factor, as introduced in the first few paragraphs. The soon-to-be 77th generation of AKB0048 is populated with girls who heard these songs when they were very young. In Nagisa and Chieri’s cases, both of their families appear to actively oppose the idea of “entertainment.” Their nostalgia is both a literal reminder of their childhood, and the often-cheesy but powerful universal nostalgia of humanity that longs for entertainment, culture, or as the promotional material for AKB0048 says so succinctly, “things that disturb the heart like music or art.”
Macross: Do You Remember Love? A Genetic Nostalgia.
There is no other piece of animation that exemplifies this idea of universal nostalgia more than the movie Macross: Do You Remember Love? where the song of pop idol Lynn Minmay has the power to change the hearts of an alien race and turn the tide of a war. Notably, the song that Lynn Minmay sings is not her own, unlike the many others peppered throughout the movie, but a translated version of a melody penned over ten-thousand years in the past.
Presented across a stunning action set-piece, the song is sung to quell the furor of Zentradi, an alien race that has separated along gender lines with the males (Zentran) and females (Meltran) actively at war with one another. As Minmay begins to sing, the Zentradi commander Britai speaks to the strange sensation that he’s heard the song before, in spite of their society being completely devoid of culture. His bridge counterpart remarks that it’s their genetic programming being awakened.
In the world of Do You Remember Love? (note: I am only speaking of the movie and not of the Macross television series) both the Zentradi and humans are genetically derived from the same ancestry: a race known as the Protoculture. Where the former is an expansion through genetic cycles and a warrior race without culture, the other is humanity’s development (plus space!) by procreation. Through the mouthpiece of the idol, Lynn Minmay, they are unified by an ancient pop song. Imagine, a world unified by Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, or for a more recent example, Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On.
Is this cheesy? Oh, goodness yes. What else do AKB0048 and Macross: Do You Remember Love? have in common in addition to pop idols and nostalgia? Shoji Kawamori as the director.
Do You Remember Love? was his directorial debut where AKB0048 is his most recent work. I’m hardly equating the two; however, they have a certain fascinating similarity to them in the way they address the power of the pop song using an idol (or idols in the case of the latter) as a mouthpiece of disseminating culture. The ability of a catchy earworm to unify the public is obviously something that Kawamori is interested in. Music, or culture, is something that can move, or disturb, the heart in a dangerous and fantastic way.
In response to the question posed at the beginning of this article: do I still listen to the songs I listened to when I was young? While listening to End of the Road by Boyz II Men brings up fond memories of friends crying over their middle-school boyfriends in the girls’ bathroom, I don’t feel this particular universal nostalgia that Kawamori seems to be so fond of. Bringing up End of the Road with others, we all have hilarious or awkward stories to share, as it reminds us of our childhood. Perhaps this is the only nostalgia that we will ever feel, never having been raised in a society devoid of culture, or where music is banned by law. Still, however ridiculous, it’s impossible to deny the power of the pop song.