Now that I've been forcibly reminded that I have a Last.fm account and should probably be scrobbling things to it, those of you who've been watching it have probably noticed a lot of weird stuff coming up on the list. My music collection is eclectic, to say the least. I spend a lot of time with my earbuds jammed in, either walking to and fro in the city or trying to do something at home which requires me to block out the noises of roommates or be perpetually distracted, and I find pop music to be one of the more convenient ways to habituate myself to the sounds of a new language, or practice ones I already know. I wind up with kind of a weird vocabulary that way, but it comes in handy more than you think. Whenever someone hears I speak X language, a good 50% of the time the next question is, "What does [song] say?"

One of the artists that's been on my playlist lately is Gackt. I happen to like a lot of Japanese music. This makes people cringe, because a lot of the folk who are willing to say "I like a lot of Japanese music" in public are the sort of overenthusiastic weeaboo mental cases who all sign up for Japanese language classes their first semester of college, thinking that they'll be translating their favorite Pokémon anime in no time, and flunk out hard once they realize that the writing system was specifically designed to require a million years of education in order to master, so that the hoi polloi wouldn't go around reading official documents without permission. Only J-pop gets this reaction -- nobody crosses the street to avoid me if they notice I'm listening to Indochine, which is French New Wave, and the German music only gets me looked at cross-eyed if I mention Tokio Hotel.

Gackt is not only super-duper famous, he's super-duper famous for being an artist in a genre called "visual kei", which intentionally takes the weird and turns it up to 11. It's one of those things that has a million subgroups and sub-subgroups who all fight viciously, but if you picture a bunch of Japanese guys all dressed like fancy neo-goth lady-men with their hair dyed radioactive colors, crawling all over each other in a concertedly homoerotic fashion in all their music videos, you'll get the right general idea. The sound varies, but some of the big-name everyone-knows-these-guys bands are X Japan (melodic glam metal), Malice Mizer (Goth metal with classical influences) and L'Arc~en~Ciel (mostly hard rock). Up until disturbingly recently, the genre was entirely male, but there are now at least two all-female bands that I'm aware of, DANGER☆GANG and exist†trace.

Gackt was once the vocalist for Malice Mizer. I strongly urge you not to look any of their videos up unless you are good with things like paintings crying blood and eyeball-licking. Malice Mizer was the brainchild of a man by the name of Mana, a transvestite glam rock guitarist who declines to speak in public. He has many rabid fans; I am not one of them, unless you count his clothing designs, in which case I am one but I am continually frustrated by the fact that his Moi Même Moitié dresses only come in like a size 2. Gackt eventually left the band over "creative differences" (i.e., Gackt wanted to write his own material but the band was Mana's baby, so they parted ways), although he and Mana are evidently still friends. (Answer to obvious question from casual visual kei fans: Yes, Mana dresses like that all the time. Other people have commented on it.) Watching Malice Mizer interviews during the Gackt years is kind of amusing, especially if you've seen Gackt lately -- it was his first real break, and he looks fucking terrified of unscripted TV.

Having gone solo, Gackt mostly went into rock, although a lot of his stuff still has a very vis-kei edge to it. His first single, which stuck somewhere in the Top Ten on the Japanese pop charts for quite a while, was "Mizérable".



The title's a reference to his time with Malice Mizer, the "mizer" part of which is taken from the phonetic Japanese pronunciation of "miserable", mi-ze-ra-bu-ru. The video is also symbolic of his break with the band: The brocaded aristocrat look was what Mana had him sporting in MM, whereas the plainer, shaggier, leggier version is what he settled into for a while afterwards.

(Gackt is big on symbolism. The main reason this isn't annoying is that he's good at it. He's extremely well-read -- when asked how he managed to learn English, he's pointed out quite correctly that the majority of the interesting stuff published on Earth is printed in English, and he had to learn it in order to properly enjoy the welter of books that apparently is his house. He also speaks Chinese, specifically Taiwanese Mandarin, well enough to be readily understood by real Taiwanese people, a fair amount of Korean that he learned from/for his first wife, and claims to have forgotten everything he ever knew in French except the pickup lines.)

His second single, "Vanilla", also hit the Top Ten. For those of you who do not speak Japanese, let me assure you that this song is filthy. He's promising some girl that he will happily be her love-slave. The English word "vanilla" has some nebulous sexual connotations in Japanese; I cannot get anyone to tell me directly, but I would not be surprised if it was because of, or at least popularized by, the Gackt song.



Self, you may be saying to yourself, that man looks like he has mugged Cloud Strife for his fashion sense. He probably did. Gackt is geeky. In his autobiography Jihaku, which is sitting on my bookshelf right now, he admits to working more than one Playstation to death, and then taking them apart to investigate the insides. This wasn't as a kid, either -- he'll be forty this July. Given the time frame, I would be really surprised if at least one of those PSXes didn't die of an excess of Final Fantasy VII. He stole a later haircut from Aeris, although he did stick with leather pants instead of going for the pink dress.

If you play enough Final Fantasy things, in fact, you might already know Gackt better than you think. The J-rock theme at the end of Dirge of Cerberus, "Redemption", was a hit single for him, with the B-side, "Longing", also appearing on the soundtrack to the game.



On the cover of the single, he's in cosplay as "G"/Genesis, who appeared in a bonus ending to that game, and then in a more substantial role in Crisis Core for PSP. I actually found playing the US version of the game with the English soundtrack kind of disconcerting. They didn't have him doing his own English dubbing, but Gackt is pretty distinctive when he moves, and he did do all of Genesis' mo-cap acting. I'd already had an eye on him for a while, and the voice and motion not matching up was rather distracting.

He has not gotten less geeky over time. The insert on his album RE:Born looks like the booklet to a JRPG. (His German is... decipherable.) The second disc is an audio drama. He's also done things like provide the samples for one of Yamaha's Vocaloids, popularly known as "Gakupoid", which some fans think is kind of charmingly eerie -- it's Gackt's voice, but the Vocaloid's unmodified style lacks his trademark ferocious tremolo. He ran a contest inviting users of the voice module to submit fan-made original songs, with a cash prize and the chance to hear him cover the tracks ("Episode.0" and "Paranoid Doll") on his next release.

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