Interview: BiS

I’ve been doing a bit of work for MTV lately, helping out with some stuff for their new English language site, MTV 81 (81 is the international dialling code for Japan, geddit?), aimed at promoting Japanese music overseas. The first thing I did for them was this interview with BiS (Brand-new Idol Society) that was published the other week and which I duly forgot about. When they say the idol group they’d most like to kill is “○○○○8”, I’ll leave you to guess which mass idol group they’re talking about.

One other thing that came through strongly in parts of the interview (although not really in the bits that were cut together to make the MTV 81 feature) was that their manager seemed to be pitching them quite specifically towards audiences, like himself, who grew up listening to indie music in the 90s. There are references to British groups like Primal Scream (often just abbreviated to “Primal” in Japan) and Ash, Radiohead and others in their song titles, all groups most members would have been too young to know in real time (Radiohead are still very popular, but the BiS reference is from a line from a 90s song).

Of course what they’re saying with the whole anti-idol schtick is a facade like any idol group does, but by speaking directly about some of the fakery like the way idols all pretend to be friends when really it’s just business, even if it’s being used to build up a kind of fakery of their own, I think it reflects a need on the part of many fans of this most artificial of genres for an authentic voice. It’s not just because BiS are courting indie and rock fans, because Momoiro Cover Z’s popularity stems in part from their perceived genuineness, and Dempa Gumi inc.’s whole ex-“hikikomori” social shut-in status appeals to the need of otaku to feel the group is somehow genuine and one of their own. Part of this might be a reaction to AKB48’s overt manipulation of fans and the postmodern (and frankly cynical) way Yasushi Akimoto lays his whole marketing technique out in the open, although even there, part of what hooks AKB48 fans in is the idea that they can go to the theatre in Akihabara and watch the new members make mistakes, practice and mature. In this sense, K-pop might be seen as more firmly opposed in that it makes no pretense of sincerity and practically basks in its own artificiality. In any case, it’s curious that such an obviously artificial genre of music as idol pop seems to engender such a passionate desire for authenticity and sincerity in fans.


Filed under Features, Interviews

7 responses to “Interview: BiS

  1. miffy

    Man, someone needs to stand up and say idols are not the way forward. Or otaku centric media is not the way forward, Pity the Japanese public are not able to respond in a meaningful manner to something different and thus its left to the otaku/wota to pick up the slack….

    Did you ask BiS about why the male gaze is so prevalent in idol music and how do they feel as anti-idols to the treatment of the Japanese female workforce? I always wanted to know if idols are aware of gender equality.

  2. Ha! As if! Since it was a feature for MTV 81, which is aimed at promoting Japanese culture in a pretty much entirely uncritical way, that sort of stuff was way out of our range. I spoke to their manager about the possibility of getting another piece about them, this time in The Japan Times, and he seemed excited, but I wouldn’t be able to get another interview with them with their current work schedule. I’d have to work off what I got in the MTV interview. Plus there were all these execs from Avex sitting in on the whole thing. There was a weird little negotiation that the MTV and Avex staff did at the end where they haggled over how many letters from “AKB48” we’d have to censor, which made me laugh.

    I might be doing an email interview with Momoiro Clover Z soon, although I daresay the questions will be screened beforehand. Plus I suspect if you asked “Why is the male gaze so prevalent in idol music?” to any Japanese people, let alone idols themselves, the answer they’d give you would be along the lines of, “Huh?”

    • miffy

      Ah, this reminds me when University Girls told me that all they just want to be a stay at home mum. This was Tokyo-born Girls and not from the Inaka.

      After some thought, I think these question should be asked of Momoiro

      1. Do internet feedback matter ? (The actual Q : Do you pander to 2ch?)
      2. Do you think Jpop has worldwide appeal? (Psy rocking the world, so are you able to top it?)
      3. Which Western producer you want to work next? (I heard Rivers Cuomo lives in Japan…..)

      • Yeah, although I can guess the answers. I saw Momoiro Clover Z live at the Budokan and they performed under a massive Japanese flag. All through the gig they’d constantly bow obsequiously deep after the songs and I felt the whole thing was a very introspective and kind of neurotic exercise in Japanese cultural identity. I think idol music in Japan is like superhero movies in America. They’re neurotic responses to a shared sense of cultural decline by recycling nostalgic icons of past values.

        That said, Momoclo have already worked with a foreign producer. Ian Parton from British indie-dance group The Go! Team did Roudo Sanka (their best song and most hated by the 2ch wankers).

      • foie gras lust

        2. Do you think Jpop has worldwide appeal? (Psy rocking the world, so are you able to top it?)

        C’mon, these are high school girls who’s driving ambition was to appear on Kouhaku, which they will achieve this year. It should tell you all you need to know about how they view their music in terms of the world.

  3. actually, “primal.” is not a reference to Primal Scream at all, or at least not a direct one. the BiS song is named after “プライマル。” by THE YELLOW MONKEY, and it takes its hook “今度は何をほら食べようか?” from the lyrics of that same song.
    YeMon’s song is well-known enough for most people to catch that reference.

    • Thanks for the info. I’ve never been a fan or had any interest at all in The Yellow Monkey really so that flew right past me. All I was basing it on was that when I brought it up (admittedly along with a bunch of other references), their manager nodded and said, “Yeah, that was me.” I guess he was just talking more generally.

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