Every decade is earmarked by dozens of popular songs with all-too catchy tunes and often questionable lyrics that upset or alarm parents with young, impressionable kids. The decade is young, but Japan may have its first eyebrow-raising hit.
The song currently receiving so much attention among Japan’s youth is うっせぇわ (“Ussēwa,” often translated as “Shut the F*ck Up!” or “STFU”), sung by 18-year-old woman Ado. The rock-slash-Vocaloid-inspired mashup is a spitfire of anger and criticism punctuated by the catchy chorus line “うっせ～、うっせ～、うっせ～わ.” With a title and chorus like that, it’s only inevitable for the song to catch the attention of younger generations, something which has more than one parent concerned. But is the song really harmful to children, as some are claiming?
The 2021 Anthem for Japan’s Youth?
うっせぇわ derives from the word うるさい (urusai, “noisy, annoying, bossy”) and うっせー is a common phrase meaning “Shut up!” The powerful singer belting out うっせぇわ’s vitriolic lyrics is 18-year-old high schooler Ado, whose real name and appearance are a mystery. Composer syudou, also anonymous, penned the lyrics that have been raising eyebrows across the country.
Originally released in October 2020, うっせぇわ amassed 20 million views on YouTube by the end of the year, and currently has around 93 million views. It’s seen a resurgence in popularity in recent months thanks to TikTok and song covers on YouTube. Fans and critics alike often compare うっせぇわ to fellow hit song 夜に駆ける (Yoru ni Kakeru, “Racing into the Night”) by the duo YOASOBI, as both seamlessly meld darker, mature lyricism with upbeat, unforgettable tempos.
I’m no music critic, but I think it’s safe to say うっせぇわ’s intended audience is the dissatisfied young adult having to play along and two-face their way through every-day life. You could also call it an attack on the status quo and the adults who reinforce it. Its lyrics make allusions to Japan’s grueling work culture and unspoken but heavily reinforced social mannerisms. It’s not hard to see why this song is resonating with so many.
Parents and Kids React
Recently, some parents have been voicing their concerns about their kids, especially those in elementary school, proudly (and loudly, much to the annoyance of some) singing うっせぇわ. News Post Seven compiled a few reactions from parents and kids to the song. One 40-year-old father said, “I know the song because my kids sing it, but I’m not a fan. The language is too violent.” Kids, on the other hand, love it. One 6th-grade boy said, “It’s easy to sing along to, and the lyrics like ‘My brain is different’ are funny!”
At the end of February, TBS program “Gutto Luck!” (グッとラック) surveyed 2,000 parents on their thoughts on their kids singing うっせぇわ. Surprisingly, only 37% were against the song.
It’s not just kids who are gravitating towards the song. In her essay exploring the song’s impact, journalist Shimazawa Yuko asked her college-aged son what his impression was. He said, “It’s a song of resistance against adults. Children and young adults carry a lot more stress than adults think they do.” Shimazawa also related to the lyrics:
“…When I hear favorable comments like, ‘This song reflects the suffocation young people feel living in this day and age’ I feel like saying, ‘No, no, it’s not just them, even old ladies in their 50s can relate, too.'”
History Repeating Itself
Harada Ichibo in his abovementioned News Post Seven article points out how in this case, history is merely repeating itself. Parents today were once kids themselves singing along to songs vaguely (and perhaps not so vaguely) alluding to social taboos and the grimmer aspects of Japanese society. He mentions Onyanko Club’s 1985 debut “セーラー服を脱がさないで” (Sērā Fuku o Nugasanai de, “Don’t Make Me Take Off My Sailor Uniform”) and artists like Shiina Ringo, whose songs have made some question whether she’s a right-wing nationalist.Its lyrics make allusions to Japan's grueling work culture and unspoken but heavily reinforced social mannerisms. It's not hard to see why this song is resonating with so many. Click To Tweet
Yes, perhaps うっせぇわ is a bit inappropriate for young kids to be singing, but forbidding them from singing or listening to the song isn’t the right answer. As with any popular song, its 15 minutes of fame will come to an end, and soon some other popular tune will command public interest. For now, うっせぇわ is here to stay.