Inspiring Praise: Hatsune Miku, Mitchie M, and the Emotion of Song

I’m not sure that I could identify myself as an overly emotional person.

If you know me as well as my immediate family, that statement probably sounds like an outright lie. Growing up, I was always quick to cry (a source of constant frustration, being a male). Even random conversations that resulted in seemingly little in the way of serious repercussions resulted in a teary-eyed mess. Anything from being chastised for being late for work to attending a good friend and co-worker’s pre-funeral viewing, and I was simply put out of commission. I can recall many angry and upsetting conversations around the time I entered college, particularly centered around issues of my waning faith, though surrounded by issues of a changed family situation and self-inflicted doubts and pressures.

But my statement still stands. I’m not sure that I could identify myself as an overly emotional person.

Why is it that I still make this statement, despite the previous paragraph that clearly lays out constructive reasoning for determining why, in contrast, I am an emotional person?

Perhaps this feeling stems back to my view of God and the Christian faith I follow. While I’ve had many emotional experiences relating to my views of God, I don’t know that I can say that I’ve ever directly felt the emotion of God directed toward me (though, perhaps, with the exception of the feeling of peace that said God exists and looks to my best interests). When, during worship songs, people raise their hands high at the apex of a piece of music, I’ve never felt the inclination to join. When I visited Japan on a missions trip, I can’t say I ever felt the oppressive atmosphere that several members claimed to feel in the shrines and temples (that is not to say they didn’t exist as much as I simply did not feel them, though that debate is another topic for another article). I even remember in a psychology class, the professor taking a poll and asking, “Do you believe that God [assuming He exists] is as emotional as people make him out to be?” My overwhelming response, of course, was “no!”

Although the Bible often personifies God with human characteristics, particularly emotions, I have, as I have matured in my beliefs, held fast to the idea that God is not the being that is so often caricatured by modern Christianity. Emotions are, of course, not inherently bad. If that were the case, the Bible would not personify God with them so frequently, nor would they be such integral parts of certain passages. However, He is an indescribable being. He is one without existence in time or space, one without substance that can be analyzed in our limited three dimensions (oh, how I want to reference Ever17!), and surely one that can only be moderately understood through analogies.

Now Japes, all this lofty and pretentious talk of human emotion and the nature of God is well and fine, but where does Miku fall into it? Thank you for asking, attentive reader! Let me direct your attention to one of Mitchie M’s newest Vocaloid creations, “Burenai Ai De”:

If you’ve read any of my articles here on Beneath the Tangles before, particularly this one, my love of Vocaloid and its surrounding culture comes as no surprise. For likely no good reason, I was absolutely obsessed with this video upon release. After dozens and dozens of re-watches, I still enjoy the video. The combination of shamelessly catchy J-Pop rhythm and melody with eye-popping visuals, fun choreography, and Mitchie M’s incredible talent for tricking the ear into thinking it is listening to a human vocalist, the song is nothing short of a masterpiece… one that does not innovate in the world of music and music video composition,  opting instead to improve upon each of its parts to becoming something more altogether, but a masterpiece nonetheless.

However, its brilliance is nothing more than my wonderfully flawed opinion. And the wonderful thing about that is that your wonderfully flawed opinion can exist in complete contrast to mine! And what primary aspect of human psychology affects these wonderfully flawed opinions? Emotion.

For some reason, which I have yet to entirely nail down, I react extremely positively to this video. More positively, in fact, that I have responded to a piece of explicitly Christian worship music in years. And just as when I consume any media that creates a positive emotional reaction within me, I was brought back to reflections on my creator. How wonderful is it that we can live in a world where something as outlandish as a fictional pop star with blue hair that reaches the floor and a voice more akin to a chipmunk’s than an android’s can have this effect? Surely this is no proof for God, nor would I ever try to make it one, but if God exists, isn’t that something worth being thankful for… that God would create a world that He called good where something this alien can be created and freely enjoyed?

All of this came to light during a mandatory chapel service at my university (we have three of them a week and we call them “convocations” because we’re cool like that). Although I usually give in to peer pressure and stand during all of the songs, it is a rare occasion that I audibly sing along with the praise music played at the beginning of every service. Generally, I opt to coolly read the lyrics and process them, or pray, or even just think about the day. Again, this is because of my general lack of emotional response. However, one morning the band started with a song unlike any I had heard played by them before. Regrettably, I no longer remember the title (which shows my attentiveness to the Christian music scene), but I will never forget how I felt as they played the song.

I felt nearly exactly as I felt watching and obsessing over my silly Vocaloid music video.

So where did this leave me? Well, as I see it, there can be two conclusions. On one hand, there is the possibility that the song was nothing more than a play on emotions, and the fact that I responded to it as I did “Burenai Ai De” was evidence that the song was not appropriate for the context of worship. However, on the other hand, there is the possibility that secular music and “sacred” music can be equally effective in helping us to appreciate what we believe, which is what I tend to believe. Or, perhaps I am entirely wrong altogether!

In the end, I am nothing more than a Christian otaku, trying desperately to marry his beliefs and his interests.

So what do you think? Have you had a similar experience? Am I completely off-base?? Let us know in the comments!

30 thoughts on “Inspiring Praise: Hatsune Miku, Mitchie M, and the Emotion of Song

  1. “In the end, I am nothing more than a Christian otaku, trying desperately to marry his beliefs and his interests.”

    I admit that I’m the same way, many times.

  2. You mentioned mandatory chapel services called convocations…that sounds an awful lot like my alma mater, Liberty University.

      1. Nice! It’s a pretty great place, though I do wish they had all the cool stuff they’ve built the past couple years before I graduated in 2011. Now if I want to chill at the library for example I’m stuck feeling like the old guy who can’t let go of his college glory days. 😛

        Anyway, great post! I especially like your perspective on using excellent secular media as an avenue for reflecting on God’s glory. It’s something I would like to do more often, as I think it would help me put anime and related interests in their proper place (because prioritizing them too highly is a major struggle for me a lot of the time).

        1. Haha, yeah. They’ll only just be completing the majority of their construction projects when I graduate ;-;

          As far as connecting faith and personal interests, blogging is one of the best ways to do it! Ever since starting here at Beneath the Tangles, I’m constantly picking out spiritual themes in the secular media I consume!

          1. Haha yeah, I’ve definitely considered blogging in the past, but I don’t have terribly high confidence in my ability to write much that people couldn’t find elsewhere. But I supposed when you look at it from the perspective of blogging to stimulate my own thoughts on these matters as much as for other people, that becomes a different thing entirely. Thanks for the input!

            1. Here’s a thought – if you have an article of interest, consider submitting it as a guest post here on this site! 🙂

              1. Well, I will definitely need to practice writing a blog for a bit to hone my skills, but I will definitely think about doing so once I get started. 🙂

  3. I definitely know what you are talking about. Granted, I tend to get very much into worship music on my own (at least, when the worship leaders aren’t trying to get us to repeat the same line thirty times). I especially enjoy worship openers, which tend to be energetic and full of the cheerfulness singing about the joy of the Lord.

    What then happens is, in the realms of various secular music, I find myself particularly enjoying those same energetic, cheerful songs. Case in point, my favorite OP/ED song from the last year of anime was, of all things, “Jumping!!”, the OP to Kin-iro Mosaic; while I’m sure it’s far from being the best song musically, it is just so full of energy and cheerfulness that it reminds me of a worship opener, and… yeah.

    I’m definitely in the “secular music and “sacred” music can be equally effective in helping us to appreciate what we believe” camp, myself. In fact, I would say that if there is a movement that tries to mark any sort of worship music that plays on emotions as bad, something is dreadfully wrong; such a movement cannot be a sign of emotional health.

    1. Yes, I love Jumping!! as well!

      I love how different people can react differently to the same thing, such as a piece of music. My main frustration is when people do not acknowledge that and try to force the same response out of everyone.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. I think it helps that, in my opinion, the Japanese, for whatever cultural or aesthetic reason, are absolute masters of melodrama; they combine music and story in ways I think few Western artists can hope to get away with, and this mastery seems to extend into their pop music scene in a striking way. My hard drive is full of delightful J-pop earworms like this one, mostly from game and anime soundtracks. But my favorite moments are when I hear the name of God (“Kami-sama”) invoked with, if not reverence, at least respect.

    Your reaction to your chapel service music is all too familiar, but less extreme than mine. I utterly, absolutely, unrepentantly *despise* praise and worship music. Well, most of it, anyway, and perhaps a bit like you, Japes, it makes me wonder how a silly little pop-song can kindle my soul to reverence when few P&W songs, if any, ever have the same effect on me. Is it just lack of novelty? Lack of talent? Where are our P&W Bachs, Mozarts, and Palestrinas? Where are our CCM Hatsune Mikus? I know I’m going to be wondering these things for a long time.

    1. Medievalotaku’s comment below says quite a bit on this, I think. The best worship music, I think, is music that gets the entire congregation worshiping together. The entire point of the practice, anyway, is to help in establishing unity, since singing is one of the few things that a large group of people can actually perform together. Much worship music either falls into the trap of sounding monotonous due to simplicity, or taking the other extreme and being written too complexly to be adequately sung as a group.

      There are some great Christian artists out there (I’m a huge fan of Neal Morse, for example), but contemporary worship music is lacking in my opinion. Of course, plenty of other people love it!

      Who knows, really… I know I don’t!

  5. That was a good music video. (I listened to it twice.) And, most of what Vocaloid puts out doesn’t impress me! So, that must say something about the quality of this particular song.

    When it comes to religious services, practices, or books provoking emotional responses or a feeling of consolation, I’d say it’s good but unnecessary. In some cases, it could lead to a religion of pure sentimentality, as with Madame Bovary. Many people give up on religion when they cease to feel positive emotions accompanying spiritual practices. What can we say about such people except that they are spiritual gluttons and mercenaries? A faith which can persist despite being surrounded by darkness is the purest faith.

    Also, being immersed in a religious environment has the effect of draining the novelty from religion, and novel and unexpected experiences are those which are most likely to move us. And so, people are constantly seeking new things because they move us and make us feel more alive. To shift topics, one of the main reasons I watch anime is because it’s full of the novel and unexpected–at least, good anime has these things in spades!

    1. You always make me nervous when you comment because you always make great points with wonderful backing… and I can’t tell if you’re going to agree or disagree with my articles! That said, I’m happy you liked the article and the music!

      Yes, I agree entirely. I’ve actually begun attending an Anglican church this semester, and I’ve been loving it! It’s great departure from the contemporary Christian scene in terms of service and music structure is so refreshing, at least personally.

      And yes, I like to think I watch anime for the same reason!

      1. Well, I am indeed forthright with my opinions but rest assured that I bear you much goodwill even if I should express vehement disagreement with an opinion of yours. 🙂 Thanks for your compliments!

        When I was in the seminary, I remember that my fellow seminarians would always complain about the quality of the music at Mass, precisely because it was so contemporary. They said that the Anglican Church used much better songs than we did. I suppose that your experience confirms the higher quality of music for Anglican services!

  6. I think there’s something that needs to become clear that isn’t. For whatever reason, people associate “reverent” and “serious.” People associate “reverent” and “not fun.” Christians write Christian games they would never play for fun. People write Christian stories that don’t even interest them. People are so afraid of offending God and saying something that isn’t in the Bible explicitly that they forget to worship Him. Forget to love Him. Forget to passionately pour their creative energy into Him. And this is really the greatest crime committed by the man’s own followers sometimes—- They forget that unfathomable perfect feeling they have when they’re around Him.

    The breath of Eternity on your soul. Plato’s True Forms blowing away the shadows like so many cardboard cutouts. This is what fueled the really great examples of Christian music. Symphonies. “Amazing Grace.” “You Raise Me Up.”

    In my head I’ve pictured holy wars as actual battles between anime demons and angels. I’ve seen the bishounen Prince of Darkness at Auschwitz, a white coat trailing through blood. I’ve seen Jesus wandering the world and when he smiles your heart stops in wonder at how he looks, and what it feels like. You can’t help but bow, and back then you don’t know why. Goliath towering over the teenage David, yet David’s eyes are fearless.

    There’s so much more here. So much Meaning. So much people can use. I think that the joy you felt in that song can be brought into non-secular media, too. 🙂 I don’t think the distractions should beat the Glory.

    I think….that that’s what watching it, writing it should be about in the first place.

    1. Great thoughts! Yes, the marriage of “sacred” and “secular” is something worth addressing in modern culture, and I’m not sure that much of Christianity has done so very well.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. I do believe that “sacred” and “secular” music can both “help us appreciate what we believe.” In fact, sometimes, secular music can help more, since it often draws a much stronger “Wow! That’s beautiful!” Same applies for movies, etc. And since I identify more with movies than music, let me use a film example: LOTR makes me praise God for what his creation—Peter Jackson, his team, and Tolkien—pulled off by his grace. It’s also packed with lessons about good and evil, etc. On the other hand, the Christian movie “Fireproof” makes me nod and smile and think a bit about marriage and relationships. It does not inspire awe.

    But now, back to worship music: this, obviously, has a different purpose. I rarely choose to listen to it outside of church or chapel, but I’ve found it’s a valuable way to reaffirm truths about God and my relationship to him (and the Church’s relationship to him as well).

    I tend to read the words as a prayer or praise as I’m singing. That can include emotions, even when the tune isn’t as catchy. A simple hymn can make me smile because of the truths it says about God. Of course, there are certain songs that make me especially excited to sing, and that shows. I’ve started to become more aware of how tunes impact my response in worship, and when I become aware of its impact on me, I have yet another reason to praise God. Sometimes, I like to look around and see everyone else worshipping—or to think about the church I visited in Mexico, which is singing at about the same time, thanks to the time difference. It’s amazing to think about so many of God’s people praising him at once. These kinds of things stir my emotions even if the chord sequence doesn’t.
    (Which reminds me… are you familiar with Blimey Cow on YouTube? And if so, have you watched their video “How to Write a Worship Song”? Some people find their videos offensive, but I suspect you’d appreciate it.)

    1. That video is hilarious! Thanks for sharing!

      As far as the rest of your comment is concerned, I think I generally agree. Check out my reply to Medievalotaku’s comment, which I think is relevant in this case.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I always look forward to seeing what you have to say!

  8. I’m copying here parts of a comment I wrote at Cacao, put down the shovel! :

    Well, I prefer Liturgical Chants over praise and worship music, that many times is just watered down stuff that is or was popular in the secular “scene”. Sadly, in Catholicism, after the 60’s, beaufitul chants were replaced by knockoffs of “popular” songs. That is not how Liturgical Music works… and guess what, that stuff doesn’t attract more people. Like including electric guitars, drums, etc. at Mass. If someone wants to hear that, would go to a concert, instead of a watered down version that stays in an awkward place, that hurts the perception of the Sacred too.

    The concept of reconciling and adaptation, there is a point were one discovers that a certain part of the fandom, and a certain percentage of anime , manga and games are not compatible with our faith and morals. But isntead of brooding over this, what we could do is to strive to produce better things. Don’t like some series? think how you could have done it. Some fans are obsessed with the intertwining between moé, yuri, ecchi, etc? think what is behind that and what could replace that longing. Basically, reclaiming spaces in art, cultute, pop culture, etc. There are already lots of examples o how not do do that… and how do that well.

    I agree with Medieval Otaku’s point about sentimentality and a faith based on that. The result, is weak, something that could change at the whims of sentiments and mood.

  9. Poster: “agree with Medieval Otaku’s point about sentimentality and a faith based on that. The result, is weak, something that could change at the whims of sentiments and mood.”

    I’m not so sure I agree, but I’m also not sure my opinion actually matters (Given that I’m not a Christian— I just know what it means and feels like to be a servant to a spirit in the sense a Christian tends to mean it). But my faith, at least, has endured for a decade or more on Love and an oath made a long time ago in the “place between life and death.”

    What is meant by sentimentality, exactly? A faith based on the emotions of the day alone is of course easily weakened by contrary emotions. But in my experience the foundation of all belief in doctrine and precedent is deep-seated Faith, trust, and Love of one’s God. And to me this is definitely an emotion— It’s just an emotion so inconceivably powerful and intense that you can drown in it. Become overcome by it. Hold the memory of it somewhere private that hardens strong as steel and warm as a furnace. Without this, all of the beautiful trappings of religion hold no real power. Without Faith and Communion, you get the response of atheists to the perceived close-mindedness and awkwardness of religion.

    “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, all your soul, all your might.” That line sticks out to me because of the unshakeable loyalty formed from communion with my God.

    Otherwise I think you’re right on the 60’s chant thing. Modern music, except the really good stuff, tends to fail to do it justice. But then again there isn’t one thing we can make that matches the perfection-of-Concept in a real seraphim, or the Love of God.

    Poster: “The concept of reconciling and adaptation, there is a point were one discovers that a certain part of the fandom, and a certain percentage of anime , manga and games are not compatible with our faith and morals. But isntead of brooding over this, what we could do is to strive to produce better things.”

    Striving to produce better things, things true to oneself, is what one should do when they find themselves drawn to a culture incompatible with their moral compass. :} The 60’s chants may be beautiful, but that doesn’t mean something new cannot achieve the same quality about it. 🙂

    1. By sentimentality, I mean rooting the faith on fleeting emotions, seeking to “feel good”, etc. And where these feelings vanish, the faith crumbles too. Emotions and feelings have their place too, but aren’t that good of a foundation.

      About the 60’s chants… I think you misunderstood me a bit. What I was saying, is that beautiful Liturgical Chants from before, were replaced by knockoffs of popular songs, and that such change kicked-off tremendously in the 60’s.

  10. davidanthonius: “By sentimentality, I mean rooting the faith on fleeting emotions, seeking to “feel good”, etc. And where these feelings vanish, the faith crumbles too. Emotions and feelings have their place too, but aren’t that good of a foundation.”

    This still somehow confuses me. Doing something out of duty is effective, but not nearly as effective as doing something because you love someone. And the basis for the emotion of love is mutual positive interactions occurring over a vast space of time which build on one another. I.E. You “feel good” around someone. Eventually creating a link between two souls, a bond that can outlast bad blood and arguments between you or cold empty days. Love isn’t a fleeting emotion: It’s the feeling that betraying this person would be as irrational as cutting off your nonexistent third arm. The love is a part of you now. But it is built from years of fleeting emotions.

    A relationship with something Eternal is a tad different, because They are regularly very harsh and your reaction is still unconditional admiration and respect. Or powerful fear. It’s a quality experiencing something perfect has on mortals, whether perfectly good or perfectly evil. Yet still you build this relationship from years and years of devotion and love and changing sentiments.

    So that when the climate is bleak and black, what you love most remains.

    1. I think you still don’t get my point. Is not about love.

      I speak of the people that seek to o have positive feelings and mainly base their faith about that. I see it clear. But maybe I’m not conveying it well with my writing because English isn’t my first language.

  11. Ah, yeah. I think I’m piecing it together now. I guess I just tend to think of seeking love as seeking to feel good. Love is far, far better than anything other than the presence of the Divine. :}

    But I’ve brought this way off topic now. On to other posts! XD

  12. I think I’m way on the other side of the fence from most responders here – I enjoy praise music, at least that which is played at my church. Matt Redman’s music in particular, and other songs containing lyrics that really convict (while also retaining a sense of poetry and musical…integrity, I suppose), help me worship with a thankful heart and aid me in thinking about my faith.

    Though I will say there’s a lot, LOT of really bad Christians music, praise and otherwise, out there…A LOT.

    1. Hey, nobody cares what you think, Charles.

      Kidding 😛

      Yeah, I think one of the coolest things about all of this is that people respond differently. In the scheme of Christianity, we all have different God-approved methods of appreciating the world He crafted and the “Him” who made it! I was talking to a friend of mine who also responded the opposite way I did, and that was the conclusion he drew from our conversation.

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