What lyrics do you pick out from this funky tune?

Pop quiz! Have you heard of “mondegreens?” They’re lyrics that sound drastically like other words, to the extent that some people will swear that the misheard lyrics are the real ones.

▼ A personal favorite where Celine Dion sings about meat products.

Mondegreens happen in Japan too, especially when Japanese audiences are listening to English-language lyrics. For example, the memetic Numa Numa song is associated with drinking in Japan, since the “noma” in the line “Noma! Noma! Yay!” sounds like nomu (the Japanese word for “drink”).

But what about if you want to create that lyrical ambiguity for yourself? Canadian-Japanese band Monkey Majik has tackled this twisty challenge for themselves with their new jam, titled “Ryugakusei.” Or maybe it’s “You Gotta Stay.” It’s a little hard to tell.

They recruited one of the most capable multilingual mouths in music, Taiiku Okazaki. As Okazaki has a deft hand (or tongue?) for making his Japanese sound like other languages, he was a perfect fit for this mind-bending song.

The video starts with Maynard and Blaise Plant of Monkey Majik meeting in a bar, where they have a hilariously circuitous conversation in English (the Japanese subtitles read “Genki? Genki. Genki? Genki. …Genki?“) and then reminisce about a wild night with Okazaki.

The gang then proceed to sing what sounds like a syrupy love song in English, but the Japanese lyrics tell another story.

▼ The Japanese reads “wakaran wa”, meaning “I don’t have a clue.”

The chorus, “you gotta say” is subtitled in the video as “ryugakusei”, the word for a student who studies abroad (in this case a Japanese student studying seemingly in America.) The cheery “Hey, I need you here babe” becomes “Heya nijuu heibei” (“My room is 20 square meters”) and that smooth pick-up line “Better never talking cause it’s no good” is “Beddo neru toki kutsu nugu” (“You take your shoes off at bed time”).

All of these – the shock at the huge rooms and food, the complaints of not being understood, the need to tip – are common symptoms of culture shock faced by Japanese people residing in the West.

▼ In this part, the English lyrics are “Tell me, you not a fan of Monkey Majik? It’s not too late!” but the subtitles read “Demo yappa fuan demo ki majii na tsuree” (“I’m as nervous and anxious as I expected – it sucks!”)

Because of the disparate lyrics, what seems to be a light-hearted bop actually takes on a sardonic, comically grim angle as you realize almost all the Japanese lyrics are complaining about feelings of isolation and struggling to fit in – about the furthest thing from the wild party lyrics espoused in the English version.

Personally, the chorus is the real standout for me: I can flip between “hearing” the Japanese and English versions as easily and clearly as that old “Laurel vs. Yanny” meme from a year or so back. Some of the lines leave something to be desired, for me, though, especially this one:

Shou ga nai maa ii ka de katadzukenna tachihadakaru kotoba no kabe
“Can’t brush things off with a “no big deal, that’s just how it is” – a language barrier cuts me off.”

The video helpfully has Okazaki brandish his hands which have “KEVIN” written across them in large text, meaning that “kabe” is presumably supposed to sound like “Kevin” (I heard “cabin.”) The rest of the sentence has me at a total loss, though. “Shrug in a mike and I gonna touch your hand and then put it in a cabin?” “Should we go and make a good old touching hands and coat ’em in a cupboard?”

I really like how “Mou gomen da” (“I don’t want to let that happen”) sounds like the English word “commander”, though.

Source, images: YouTube/avex
[ Read in Japanese ]