Commentary: Let One OK Rock Explore, Expand

November 25, 2016 | 2861 Visits

On November 18, 2016, Fueled by Ramen announced One OK Rock will be releasing a new English-language album, Ambitions, on January 13, 2017. Ahead of the release, the J-Rock group released “Taking Off” and “Bedroom Warfare.” Both songs have been earning praise on different blogs and music sites, but there are many fans who feel the singles, album, all-English re-release of 2015’s 35xxxv album, and a few world and US tours are signs One OK Rock are “selling out” and losing their edge to appease a global audience. Instead of wishing the group success, many of these negative voices—which can be found on social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube—ask for the group to revert to their old style.

One OK Rock isn’t the only group to face such sellout criticism as other rock and alternative groups have experienced the same criticism. For example, when Linkin Park changed their sound in the mid-to-late 2000s, fans shared their displeasure with some still doing so to this day. While One OK Rock’s sound has changed over the years, some fans need to realize that changes are part of the music business, and change can be a good thing. This doesn’t mean that a group is selling out: It’s part of the business and part of how groups grow and improve with time.
Since debuting in 2005, One OK Rock has experienced a meteoric rise that has caught the attention of rock fans in Japan and abroad. Much of the love and praise is well-earned as the group has music that is listener-friendly, memorable, meaningful, and timeless in an ever-changing and sometimes throw-away-ish rock scene in recent years. What is impressive is that lead vocalist, Takahiro “Taka” Moriuchi doesn’t speak English as a rule, but he writes lyrics and sings in English with exceptional clarity. His talents, strong vocals, and musicality hasn’t gone unnoticed as he and his group have been invited to perform on the world music stage via various musical festivals, opening act gigs, and album appearances including the 2014 Van’s Warped Tour, joining Five Seconds of Summer in 2016, and covering “The End” on My Chemical Romance’s 10th anniversary album. Of course, this is just a handful of the group’s accolades.

With the rise comes demand, and the group has been in demand as one of the top world acts today. Instead of being one of Japan’s secret weapons as a gateway drug to the J-Rock scene, One OK Rock is now a regular introduction into today’s global rock and alternative scenes. As the group becomes more marketable, changes are bound to occur much to the chagrin of fans who’ve been there since the beginning.

Change is a two-fold thing: One type of change is for profitability while another is for growth. Sadly, money rules the music business so companies must produce music with mainstream profitability. Since One OK Rock’s signing with Fueled By Ramen, they do have a lighter, more mainstream sound. There are differences between songs like their latest songs (“Taking Off” and “Bedroom Warfare”) and earlier hits like “The Beginning,” “Kanzen Kankaku Dreamer,” and “Clock Strikes” among many others, but that doesn’t take away from how they still make great music that does catch fans and new listeners alike. The music has a different feel, but vocally and talent-wise, the same One

OK Rock still prevails.

For fans, change is scary because if a group changes, fans fear they’ll never be the same and fall even further into the mainstream trap. However, without change, a group cannot grow. If a group’s sound remains unchanging, it becomes boring and predictable because the group isn’t growing. Just because the lyrics and beat change with each new album, the group is stuck in a hole because they’re not exploring their full capabilities because the group’s makeup doesn’t change. If everything stays the same as “not to ruin the integrity of the group” as some YouTube comments suggest One OK Rock should do, the same fans who dislike the group’s recent music may be complaining because the group hasn’t branched into different avenues.

Basically, if the group is popular, they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

One OK Rock is heading into new territory by reaching out to Western audiences. With differences in their sound, they can reach a broader audience, earning more fans. If successful, they are also paving the way for other J-Rock groups to also break down barriers. This is an opportunity to embrace and shouldn’t be shunned.

Furthermore, the Western expansion isn’t a Doomsday scenario for One OK Rock, nor is it a guarantee that their current mainstream-friendly sound is here to stay. They still have a Japanese market to cater to, so One OK Rock has plenty of opportunity to return to a sound that’s familiar to their domestic and international fans. Right now, this foray into the Western market gives them an opportunity to discover what works and what doesn’t, and it gives them a chance to work with people they may not have been able to work with before while solely working in the Japanese market. This is a chance to expand their brand and discover themselves more. Besides, there are still several areas in which One OK Rock hasn’t changed, so the core of the group still exists despite what fans say.

Change is good. Change may be outside one’s comfort-zone, but it’s good. Change builds character, fosters self-discovery, and helps with finding an identity. Instead of saying One OK Rock is selling out or becoming too mainstream, let them test the waters and try new things. Fans who choose to go on the journey with the group may find themselves richly rewarded with stronger efforts and music down the line. Like in the case of Linkin Park, many fans look fondly upon the Era of Change and appreciate the music of the past and present more. For One OK Rock, this time will come also. For now, let them explore the different aspects of themselves and praise their efforts because they are opening doors across the world for themselves and their J-Rock Brethren.

—-Joelle Halon

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