“Japanese Boy”, J-Eurodance, and the Baffling, Unlikely Success of a Terrible Song

In 1981, Scottish singer Mary Sandeman pulled a name out of a telephone directory, took on a kimono-wearing image and sang the number one UK summer jam, “Japanese Boy.” Witness the insanity, in full screen if you would.

“Mister,” she implores an unknown audience, “Can you tell me where my love has gone?” Then, as if she realizes how nebulous the query is, she clarifies, “He’s a Japanese boy.” The chorus is especially interesting when you consider how rarely the West presents Asian men as objects of desire, and looking like she does in the video, you wonder why he would have left her in her sleep.

In any case, this was the end-of-summer jam in a UK just getting to know the 80s. Germany liked the song so much, they made their own version, minus bogus costumes, ostensibly to cash in on the J-action. I’m going to credit this version of the song with launching “Japanese Boy” to “Blue (Dabu Di Dabu Di)” / legendary status in Germany, because it’s been covered more times than there’s food at the store by German dance artists. I never want to go clubbing in Deutschland.

While the song reeks of the era, it’s mysterious melody has carried on through time, reanimating in various versions, like this one by the Japanese Eurodance group, Shanadoo.

Yes, Japanese Eurodance is a real thing. Shanadoo is a group assembled from equal parts race queens (not what you think, or is it?), bikini models, and vocalists by a record company with the sole intent of producing J-covers of tracks by German group E-Rotic. Oh yeah. The video for their corny-ass hit “My Samurai” takes me back to days of staying up until 1am on weeknights to record Asian music videos on the International Channel (channel 71) and then talking about them the next day in Spanish class with my friend Tristan, who was pretty cool, but always drew pornographic shit in his notebook. You know the type.

Anyway, my favorite version of the song is by Norwegian pop group/singer Hanaumi:

It’s not my favorite because it has a shred of creativity that differentiates it from the others (it does not) but because the the lead singer’s bio.

Born in Seoul, South Korea on August 23, 1972, Hanne Qvigstad, better known as Hanaumi, is a Norwegian pop singer with a total of three released albums. As a child, Hanaumi developed an interest in music and performing. Despite joining the Norwegian army and competing for Norway’s national Tae-Kwon-Do team from 1992 to 1994, her dreams of being a pop star made her eventually team up with Mikkel and Lars Erik.

“So who’s that new girl I saw you with?”
“Oh she’s just my Norwegian, soldier/tae-kwon-do master/pop star girlfriend.” Dag, boo!

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