12/24/2019
The imprecise art of making it sound like Christmas

I mentioned this in passing half a year ago, about how there are songs that make you feel warm and songs that make you feel cool. Well, that, I never had that down precisely, perhaps because, unlike Shalla, I don't have some sort of synesthesia.

Well, after seven years together I sort of do. There was one point when she described GFriend's first Japanese single as "warm", and I immediately understood her. But then, the radio stations I choose to play still raise some heckles, at least if the volume is too high, to the point that she has expressed at least three radio stations she can more or less tolerate.

Two of them are in the French language. One is FIP, this brilliant station that, perhaps unlike every other station, programs its music with no regard for genre, but rather for flow. There are instances when it's on an indie stretch, but there are instances where it's in between classical and exotica. But it does seem to love its vintage funk and its playful jazz. It just sits in nicely with those honey-voiced announcers saying whatever they're saying in between.

The other is not based in France, but in Switzerland, specifically the French side of it. Option Musique is a little more conventional, but it plays a lot of French pop from across the decades (although it will not shy away from the more obvious classic pop) and it has those jingles I once described as flower-y. I have also described it as incredibly evocative of the Alps, although in hindsight I don't know why exactly. But it's a nice station to keep in the background, a nice station to fall asleep to - and to wake up to, never mind that I wake up when it's just past midnight in Lausanne.

Now, they're perfectly good stations, but most times, especially when I'm home alone, I'm looking for company that I can understand. That means me going for the usual indie-leaning stations I listen to, whether it be broadcasting from London or from Minneapolis. But then, I can be finicky, means I can be listening to an Israeli radio station that's been definitely classified as warm. Or perhaps it's because I imagine Israel as drenched in humid sunshine.

Well, one of the three radio stations is an Australian one, Double J. (I also mentioned this before.) But then, it's December, meaning everyone is on vacation and it's mostly wall-to-wall music. But it's a nice compromise, possibly: it leans indie, but it has a good number of non-obvious singer-songwriters, and it pays a bit more attention to flow than most.

Clearly I still could never shake off the radio bug, even if I have long abandoned my dreams of working in it, especially now that I realize I'd really rather program the music than become the DJ. (I think it's the fault of the industry here where, for the most part, so little attention is made to producing shows, and so much is given to the personalities.) I still remember the days when I snooped around radio forums in college and a legendary radio programmer from this side of the world told me - this is a reply to my post, so he told this to me - that doing these things is both a science and an art. You'll have to be geeky and know your music history. You'll have to have a hunch about what songs will work and what songs won't. But then, all this may go nowhere because psychology is a dense thing to punch through. What you think sounds good may not sound good for the majority of your potential listeners, and it all depends on what's happening out there, so there are no set rules.

I mean, I like listening to DWWW, this AM station that plays oldies music most of the day. (I am listening to it as I write this.) But Shalla doesn't, because a neighbor used to blast this out every day in the heat of the summer, and she's classified it as warm. No, hot.

For the past few days I've been listening to a Singaporean station. I don't know. I guess my body wants to go back there, even if my head knows there really is not much to look forward to? But that's not really it. Anyway, I've been listening to Gold 905, because it doesn't play the overplayed pop stuff - it's a classic hits station - and the stream is reliable. Also, it's been fascinating to me how much I've been listening to European radio stations this past decade or so, because listening to the Singaporeans I remember the nuances of programming for a Southeast Asian market. Say, there's a lot of Michael Learns to Rock, and there's this song I haven't really heard anywhere else.

It's also fascinating how warm the station feels. I guess that means it's a no-go for Shalla, but even I realize it, and I've been listening to it for the past couple of weeks or so. It's warm. Specifically, it reminds me of Singapore's humidity, and the random rain showers that punctuate it, and somehow makes things worse. Or perhaps it's my body wanting to go back there for some reason.

All that makes the Christmas songs they play really weird. It's a classic hits station, so there's a bit of a focus on the novelty stuff (think Alvin and the Chipmunks) and a fair amount of Phil Spector's holiday records and Cliff Richard's "Mistletoe and Wine", all of which are really evocative of cold, snowy winters and tucking yourself into your duvet with a cup of tea. I mean, that's what Christmas is for them, but that's not what Christmas is for us. I mean, "Himig ng Pasko" - the song that starts with "malamig ang simoy ng hangin" - doesn't even ring true these days. It's that hot. And don't get me started about the heatwave down under, or, broadly, about how half the world is in summer at this time of the year. And yet we're supposed to think of Christmas as just a wintry delight? Ugh to the European descendants' dominance of pop culture.

But then, it's wintry in Japan and Korea at this time of the year as well. The Koreans have a lot of love ballads - Christmas is for lovers, as they say - and it's a different kind of sappy, and yet I appreciate it. And then there's the fourth radio station Shalla and I can agree on: a jazz station from the outskirts of Tokyo. One, it's jazz, so it's relatively cool, but it doesn't always play that. Two, it's in Japanese, so it somehow feels better. Psychology, I told you. Now, then, I wonder what their Christmas tunes are?

And your responses...

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