Friday, August 31, 2012

Time to face the music

The dreaded playlist

Oh, I thought this would be the easy part of wedding planning. No, no. Nothing is easy! If you have little interest in music, you can leave it all up to the DJ to choose appropriately stirring, popular and cheesy songs. Or you can do it yourself, like I did, and nearly go crazy. Let’s go with option two.

First, you need two playlists. One is the BGM, or background music. This needs to be about 1.5 to 2 hours of pleasant, vaguely familiar music that won’t distract the guests too much from eating.

The other is the event music. This music serves a very specific purpose at each point in the party, just picking some songs you like isn’t good enough; imagine this is a TV show (maybe a cringe-inducing, reality show), and you are the musical director. This is music for effect, not to show off your muso credentials. Get over your inner music snob and surrender to the schmaltz.

Make 'em happy.

So what events need songs and what kind of music? I give you the list and handy notes, translated from our sage old DJ:

• Guests enter the reception room: 2 songs, up to 10 mins total. Upbeat, but not too loud.

• Bride & groom’s big entry: 1 song, about 3 to 4 mins long, to present the couple’s image (eek!)
[This was hard. In the end, we went with my husband’s choice, “Fight Together” by Namie Amuro, from his favourite cartoon, One Piece! The message is about starting an adventure and sticking together, so it’s a good message].

• Cut the cake: 1 song, 3 to 4 mins with a good hook – this is a high point of the party, so something genki and uplifting. High point should come in middle of song.
[I think in the end we went with “Arigatou” by Ikimonogakari. A great song, though it always makes me think of Shiratori (Naomi Watanabe) from the comedy show Picaru no Teiri].
Naomi Watanabe as Shiratori - and Arigatou is her signature 

• The toast (kanpai): 1 song. will play for about 1 minute – a dramatic start, then becomes quieter
[I got my wish for this one: “Banzai” by Ulfuls – dramatic start, very happy song, conducive to drinking.

Ulfuls! The toast signals the start of the real party.

• Bride leaves to change into ‘colour dress’ – 1 song about 3 to 4 mins, cheerful, representative of the bride
[I was toying with “There she goes” by The La’s. In the end, I went conventional Japanese and chose “Butterfly” by Kaela Kimura; very popular with the female guests]

• Groom leaves to change – 1 song about 3 to 4 mins, representative of the groom.

• Profile video – 2 or 3 songs, 5 to 6 mins total, songs will be cut to fit. A song to represent the groom, one for the bride and one for them as a couple. (slideshow or video generally runs groom first, then bride, then pix of them together). Something a little nostalgic is good for the old photos.
[We started with “Kiseki” by Greeen, very popular profile video song for the groom, then “Tsubomi” by Kobukuro for the bride, then “Ai o komete hanatabe o” (A bouquet of love), by Superfly – another classic profile video song].

• Bride and groom re-enter for candle service – 1 song, about 3 mins. A bit of drama.
[I can’t remember exactly, but I think we used “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, as the jangly guitar went well with our giant sparkler / firelighter thingy]

• Candle service – 2 songs, about 10 mins total, as the couple walk around the tables lighting candles. This music should be a little calmer, happy, perhaps “sparkly” but everyone can talk over it.

• Main candle – another dramatic moment!  1 song, building up to a high point around the middle (around the 1 min mark). [I can’t believe it, but the song my husband agreed to was “When I see you smile” by Bad English. Argh! I pulled it out in desperation, and he thought it fitted the brief. I gave in to the cheesiness. A Japanese wedding is not the time to be cool.]

Bad English? For real? 

• Thank you speech to parents – instrumental only, 1 song, about 5 mins. A little sentimental.
[Chose a piano version of Hanamizuki, a super weepy song]

• Giving flowers to parents and lining up to say goodbye: 1 song, about 3 mins, calm.
[Can’t remember what we used. I know “She” by Elvis Costello is popular, but it seems a weird song for your Mum.]

• Leaving music, as guests file out: 2 to 3 songs, about 10 – 15 mins. The first song should be happy and uplifting to express the couple’s new life together. The next songs should thank the guests / express enduring friendship.
[Completely forgot. Might have given up by this time!]

Phew! Still think choosing music is easy?

Of course, you can just leave it all to the DJ.

On top of that, you need to choose music that somehow reflects your personality and appeals to the guests (bear in mind the average age of the guests, whether they’re Japanese or not, their relationship to you, etc). We had a few tense moments involving music culture. Songs that meant nothing to me but were popular in Japan (like “Can we Celebrate” by Namie Amuro with the terrible English line, “We will love, long long time”. Or worse, English songs which were inexplicably popular. I give you the case of “My heart will go on”, by Celine Dion. Yes, the Titanic song. My husband thought it was a possible for our leaving song. As he reasoned, it was dramatic, the message was one of eternal love, and it was well known amongst the Japanese guests, but in English. Just one problem: “I can’t stand that song! It’s so cheesy!” I wailed. This just didn’t appeal to his sense of logic. I tried to explain that it wasn’t popular in Australia, in fact it would be embarrassing. I got the old, “but this is Japan and more than 70% of the guests are Japanese.” I pulled out my final weapon: “My mother hates that song” (sorry for taking your name in vain, Mum). And that worked. A good husband respects his mother in law, so use her when you need to!


We wanted to mix Japanese and English songs. You need to be careful with lyrics, in both languages. Some of the English suggestions from the DJ were hilarious. Some Japanese songs I thought were good had unexpected associations. I thought Kazumasa Oda’s song “Tokyo Love Story”, would be a go, but it was from a drama of the same name and apparently the couple ends up unhappy, so husband said NO. Unless you sit around watching a lot of Japanese dramas from the 80’s and 90’s you won’t know these things, so get help from your partner or a Japanese friend.

No happy ending.

After all the angst over songs, I can barely remember which songs we used, which says one thing: don’t stress too much over song choice! We had a mix of Japanese and English songs, and I filled the BGM with moody, jazzy, indie songs that I liked. 

UPDATE: I found the DJ recommendations list for foreign songs: among them are "Hot" by Avril Lavigne - for the candle ceremony. It has great lyrics like "I wanna lock you up in my closet when no one's around". Also from Avril Lavigne, "Girlfriend" - an interesting message for a wedding: "I don't like your girlfriend! I think you need a new one!" And for giving thank you flowers to your parents: "Let it be" by The Beatles. Really? Mother Mary comes to me? But maybe my favourite is the suggestion that you finish the party with a rousing chorus of "We are the World". A wedding feast with a song about famine. Brilliant.


    But yay for the Ulfuls, I really like that song too!

  2. And now, a friend who's getting married next month has asked me to sort out her music too. argh! well, it should be easier this time around!

    1. Hmmm.... I wonder if there is a market for 'marriage music management'? That could be an interesting occupation for a music major :)

  3. It could be fun... but you'd be dealing with Japan... I have new respect for wedding DJ's! The best thing - and the most disappointing, is there's no dancing at a wedding here - so no need for the 'hokey pokey' or 'call me maybe', but then also no crazy drunk old uncles dancing, either, which I almost miss.