|BIG IN JAPAN
Yes, that pouting, winsome face
actually belongs to a man, and it' the face of Izam, lead singer of Shazna, the latest
sensation sweeping Japan's pop/ rock world and the spearhead of the "visual-kei"
movement. Visual-kei bands such as Shazna, Luna Sea and Malice Mizer dress in gorgeous,
effeminate costumes and play guitar-based power pop with occasional techno flourishes. It
represents, say the record companies, an original, dynamic direction in Japanese pop
Except, of course, it isn't. Anyone who was around in the 70s and 80s will remember glam
rock, the New Romantics, and Culture Club. They may also remember that those bouts of
self-seeking escapism were born at time of gloomy economic depression.
To be fair, Izam has always acknowledged that Boy George has been a major influence in his
life. Also, Shazna seem to be a step ahead of the other visual-kei bands, in content and
in the behavior of their fans. Shazna concerts are overblown stadium affairs reminiscent
of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with the fans (mostly female) copying Izam's flamboyant
dresses and make-up. Daughters have been known to bring their mothers along as well-both
knitted out as Izam look-alikes.
Shazna consist of Izam, A.O.I on lead guitar and Niy on bass, adding session musicians
whenever necessary. The bad formed when Izam and A.O.I first met in 1993. Through a lucky
break with a promotion company, they managed to avoid the live-house hell that most
amateur bands have to go through, performing in bigger venues as their reputation grew.
They released their first single "Dizziness" on the independent label Lachesis
early in 1996, quickly following up with three mini-albums, Sophia, Melty Case and
1997 began with a move to Sweetheart Records, the release of the album Promise Eve, and a
sell-out tour of Japan. This brought them to the attention of the major labels, and in the
summer they signed to BMG. Three singles were released in the latter half of the year, and
January 1998 saw their first album for BMG, Gold Sun and Silver Moon. To cap things off,
they also received the Yusen Taisho award for best new band of 1997.
In 1998, the 22-year old Izam seemed to be branching out on his own, releasing a solo
single which he also mixed and produced. The song was featured in the autumn NHK samurai
drama series "Shin, Ude ni Oboe Ari." If Shazna and sword fighters seemed an odd
combination, Izam explained it by saying he watches samurai dramas when he's putting on
makeup before a show.
So, what does the future hold? There seems to be little chance of Izam attracting the
controversies his idol, Boy George, bravely battled through. For one thing, he's
definitely heterosexual; in 1998 he started going out with Hinano Yoshikawa. For another,
he purposely plays it safe; adopting no causes, taking the easy path of snack food and
drink CMs, spouting the usual trivia in interviews. Also, Japan has historically been very
tolerant of cross-dressers, thanks to the traditions of Kabuki and the androgynous
characters in shojo manga (girl's manga) stories. There's not much likelihood of the
perfectly groomed and packaged Shazna ever being perceived as dangerous.
Pretty costumes, pretty makeup, pretty tunes: pretty vacant.