Big in Japan is the debut song by Alphaville, a famous German band singing in English. The accompaniment is based on pentatonic notes, which adds an “Asian” character to the song. The text is rather confusing in content, not very clear and, as one would expect, has a hidden meaning.
History of creation
The author of the song is the creator of the Alphaville band Marian Gold. Although the song was released in 1984, it was written by him long before that – in 1978. A lot of facts have survived to this day about how the single was created and how the verses were written for it, what the author felt at the same time. However, when the song was released, it immediately became a hit in many countries – for example, it was very popular in Germany, Switzerland, the USSR and even the USA. And, of course, in Japan.
As Marian Gold himself said, the idea to write just such a song came to his mind when he went to a meeting with David Bowie, who came to Berlin during these years. On the way, he bought a record from the British punk band Big in Japan in a store. It was this name that served as the title for the future song. Perhaps some other impressions and memories were connected with this visit, which we do not know about.
The video for the song was directed by Dieter Mayer from the old but still famous band Yello. The role of the Japanese woman in the video went to his wife. The time of the release of the video coincides with the release of the first album of the Alphaville group, which brought the group success. The group itself was quite peculiar, for example, they gave their first concert only nine years after the release of their first album, in 1993.
The meaning of the song
Initially, the meaning of the song was voiced by Martin Gold himself as that you can be nobody in the environment where you live, but somewhere else, in another world, for example, in Japan, you can be big and cool. The phrase “Big in Japan” applied to many bands. At that time, in Japan, almost any European album released was very popular and scattered in large numbers, and concerts gathered a lot of fans. At the same time, the group itself in Europe or the USA could be completely unknown and not popular.
However, the lyrics of the song tell us about a girl in a winter city on the street, and the girl regrets something that her boyfriend did to her. Before us appears the atmosphere of the night streets, neon lights and shop windows, past which snow falls and falls on her hair. The chorus is about Japan, where the sea is warm and blue, the sky is clear and everything is fine there if you are cool there. All you need to achieve this is to pay, and the girl will sleep next to you.
Later, Martin Gold, already in 1998, said that the song had a slightly different meaning. The song is about a couple who dream of getting rid of drug addiction. This is exactly what is reflected in the song’s lyrics, and the very contrast between the unfriendly night city streets and the distant, warm, but inaccessible Japan that appears in the chorus speaks of this. He said that only two people understood the real meaning of the song – Lloyd, a member of the group, and publisher Andy Budde. The theme of drug addiction in the song is emphasized by the mention of a certain “Zoo”, where you can stay or leave here. The Zoo metro station in Berlin at that time was a place of accumulation of a huge number of drug addicts who came there for a dose, some for some other reason.
Interpretation of some lines
Crystal bits of snowflakes
All around my head and in the wind
I had no illusions
That I’d ever find a glimpse
Of summer’s heatwaves in your eyes
You did what you did to me
It’s talking about the city in winter and that in your eyes I don’t see summer warmth, but I want to see it, and that you did something to me in the past.
When you’re big in Japan tonight
Big in Japan, be tight
Big in Japan, the eastern sea’s so blue
Big in Japan, alright
Pay then I’ll sleep by your side
Things are easy when you’re big in Japan
When you’re big in Japan
Chorus of the song. It says that when you’re cool in Japan tonight, everything is fine, and if you just pay to have me by your side, it’s so easy if you’re cool in Japan!
Neon on my naked skin, passing silhouettes
Of strange illuminated mannequins
Shall I stay here at the zoo
Or should I go and change my point of view
For other ugly scenes
You did what you did to me
Second verse, beginning. It conveys the atmosphere of neon lights on naked skin, passing silhouettes and mannequins in strange lighting, and also mentions a “zoo”. The girl is faced with the choice of whether to stay here, near the “zoo”, or change her point of view for the sake of “other ugly scenes.” And again there is regret about what you did to me.
“Zoo” – a subway station in Berlin, a major transport hub, you can say – the station. The fact is that the subway in Berlin often comes to the surface or is located shallowly, so it is even called the “electric train” here. There is a large covered platform here, and outside there is a square. Around the covered platform there is a gallery with a canopy along which various shops and showcases are located. At night, indeed, all this creates a very similar picture to what is described in the song.