Stripe's Song of the Day: Haruomi Hosono - Sports Men

Caught between heartache and acceptance, synth pop and classical, the electronic music pioneer’s hit is a compelling mess of contradiction

Shoumik Hassin
Published : 20 May 2023, 01:30 PM
Updated : 20 May 2023, 01:30 PM

Now here’s an uncanny valley of a song.

On first glance you think, ‘Yeah, okay, it’s an 80s synthpop track’. Then you listen closer and suddenly you’re comparing the trilling melody to Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach.

The lyrics are in slightly halting, stilted English, but then the chorus is a sharp play on words. And then you realise the backing vocals are saying, “Twitching, throbbing” in a double entendre on exercise and sexual frustration.

So, it’s something of a joke, I think? It’s at least meant to be funny. But then I wonder whether the singer’s actually serious about his intense insomnia and constant worries about being anorexic.

By the time I felt like I had a grasp on the song, I had listened to it a good dozen times.

It’s a contradictory mess, but it feels completely fitting for Haruomi Hosono.

Hosono, a veteran musician, found stardom when he teamed up with fellow industry stalwarts Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi to form Yellow Magic Orchestra, a band that pioneered the use of synthesisers, samplers, drum machines, and computers in popular music. YMO was a powerhouse act that was, at point ‘bigger than the Beatles’ in Japan, and played a key role in the development of synthpop, J-pop, electro, techno and, of all things, video game music.

But amid intense arguments with Sakamoto, and a growing weariness with the band, Hosono released his solo album Philharmony. It is, to put it kindly, an eccentric record. Tonal experiments where electronic instruments play traditional folk tunes, repetitive elevator music built on plinky pianos, there’s even a version of ‘Funiculi Funicula’ – the Italian tune now known as the pizza delivery music from the Spider-Man 2 game. And then, just before the end, there’s ‘Sports Men’.

The tongue-in-cheek track has an upbeat bouncy energy, even as the singer describes the romantic travails of being an ungainly guy:

“Don’t put me in skates,

Ping pong, I’m no great shakes.”

The object of his affection, meanwhile, is a swimming star whose family seems composed of Olympians and superheroes.

As the singer admits in the chorus, it might be best to give up on his pursuit:

“I’ll be a good sport,

Be a good sport,

I’ll be a sportsman.”

There’s something endearing about the song’s artsy commercialism, its inarticulate precision, and its silly sincerity. It is as awkwardly shaped and put together as its subject matter, but it’s also a really catchy tune.

This article is part of Stripe,'s special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.