In defense of Vocaloids Part 2: How important are lyrics?

On Saturday, December 3, 2011 5 comments

“Do you understand what they’re saying?” This is question #2 people ask when they learn I listen to Vocaloid. The majority of Vocaloid music is in Japanese (and even the stuff that is in English is kinda…indecipherable). Except for a few useless stock phrases, I don’t speak Japanese.

So why listen to music if you can’t understand the lyrics? The irrelevancy of this question makes me giggle. Let’s face it: there is absolutely no correlation between the profoundness of a song’s lyrics and its popularity. For evidence, observe exhibit 1:
No one’s going to dispute the sheer stupidity of Rebecca Black’s lyrics, but she isn’t the only offender. Pop songs are infamous for their nonsensical, silly lyrics. Here’s a few gems in recent years:
  • And now the dudes are lining up 'Cause they hear we got swagger/ But we kick 'em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger (Tik Tok by Ke$ha) 
  • I won't tell you that I love you/ Kiss or hug you/ Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin/ I'm not lying I'm just stunnin' with my love-glue-gunning (Poker Face by Lady Gaga) 
  • Do you ever feel like a plastic bag,/ drifting through the wind wanting to start again? (Fireworks by Katy Perry) 
  • And this unforgettable gem of Socrates-worthy contemplation: Baby, baby, baby oooh/ Like baby, baby, baby nooo/ Like baby, baby, baby oooh (Baby by Justin Bieber).

They may have the same hair style, but only one of these singers has a personality (hint: it's KAITO)
My point isn’t to trash pop music (although I admit I enjoy doing it). My point is that there is more to music than lyrics. These songs are popular for the feel they have, for the combination of beat and rhythm and harmony. Lyrics are not necessary to make a song great. After all, many classical pieces (Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Canon in D, In the Hall of the Mountain King, the list goes on) do not need words to convey emotion.

The same goes for Vocaloid songs. Even if you can’t understand the words, the songs do a great job of creating mood. For example, listen to the somber yearning of AVTechNO!’s Darkness Six: 

Or check out the strength and unity in The Pair Tree Wither-er:  
These songs convey emotion whether you understand the words or not. Just like fans of techno or dubstep, Vocaloid otaku don’t need corny lyrics to enjoy a song. Real music should be felt through the notes.

Of course, that’s not to say that lyrics aren’t important. Many Vocaloid songs are narrative, telling captivating and meaningful stories. That’s for the next post, though. Until then, get out there and listen to your music, wordless, foreign, or otherwise.

What do you think? How important are lyrics in a song? Would you rather have meaningful lyrics or powerful melodies? Let me know!

Part 3


  1. Amen Liana. I agree with you that "Real music should be felt through the notes." As I was reading your post I immediately thought of the lines "I miss you like a child misses its blanket" (Barf!!) from Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry." Call me crazy (and some folks might) but I have always liked soundtracks and romantic orchestral music for the very facts that you have posed above. In many regards your argument about understanding lyrics would be in great defense for other groups I like such as Longview and the Daft Punk's Tron soundtrack. The Postal Service and now Owl City also make little sense to me (lyrically), but I sure enjoy their stuff!

    What is important to me is not so much about what is being said, but what emotions are being communicated. Thus I have very low tolerance for most screamo music (I think maybe The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus may be an exception here) because it makes me want to get run over by a car - or gives me the impression I have walked into a surgery gone horribly wrong. Personally I don't like that feeling.

    So, I would rather have powerful melodies. Meaningful lyrics only add to melodies like desert after a meal; satisfaction and completeness guaranteed.

  2. Haha, yes, I also love soundtracks and groups like Daft Punk. I think non-lyrical stuff just gets overlooked too much. And I love your thoughts on screamo. It definitely communicates emotion. It's just not usually happy emotion.

  3. "Baby, baby, baby oooh/ Like baby, baby, baby nooo/ Like baby, baby, baby oooh" I LOLed, these are not technically lyrics at all :D
    "Real music should be felt through the notes" this is profound.
    I've been listening to J-Pop for almost six years, everywhere I go (especially my home country) people keep asking me the same question that you've answered: "do you understand what they are saying", i say "no", then they go "then how do you know you like it", i usually respond to them with frustration: "then is it MUSIC or POEM?"
    I used to say "well I want to interpret music in a more abstract way, instead of being DIRECTED by the exact meanings of the lyrics"

    anyways, I feel home in this article. finally (and i know we are not alone) there's somebody who wrote this long series of articles about it.

    PS: speaking of soundtrack, it conveys not only music itself, but the original artwork's entirety as well, whether it's an anime or movie.

  4. me gusta ! tu opinion es muy importante :D es la purita verdad