Strange Boutique (November 2012)

My latest Japan Times column is a tongue in cheek musing on the explosion in the number of Japanese idol group members in recent years, drawing an analogue with Japan’s demographic woes die to its top-heavy ageing population. Put simply, how can all these girls be put to work and made useful to society once they’re no longer seventeen years old and living on a flower.

Of course what it’s really about is casting a view over the various ways idols have moved on in their careers once they’re past their idoling sell-by-date. Even though she’s largely inactive now, or at least only sporadically active, I brought up Aya Matsuura, partly because she’s gorgeous and I’m in love with her, and partly because some of her post-idol performances exemplify the point I was making about how a sort of inoffensive, jazz-influenced easy listening pop and balladry seems to be quite common, and also because she’s a good example of an idol who’s actually a reasonably decent singer.

I’ve talked before about the importance of jazz as a baseline of Japanese popular music (in the way that R&B seems to be fore American and British music) and it seems to return there almost as a default setting whenever it’s unsure where to go next.

Basically a lot of it just comes down to talent, and much as people like me might sneer at the notion that talent matters in an industry as top-down and controlling as the Japanese entertainment biz, if an artist wants to outlive their notional shelf life, they probably need it, either in singing, acting or knack for self-promotion.

What would be really nice would be if a few of them did something really artistically outrageous. I can’t think of any examples, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some exist. Given the vast numbers of girls currently inhabiting these idol groups, firstly there are probably all types and temperaments involved and there’s no way they’re all going to carry on meaningful showbiz careers, so it seems to me that it probably wouldn’t be that difficult for some really avant-garde Nagoya musicians to hook up with, say, some girl who used to be the 37th most popular member of SKE48 or something, and make something absolutely mad. Given the large and growing crossover between indie and idol music (BiS and Dempa Gumi inc. both played at Borofesta in Kyoto alongside postpunk weirdos like Fluid and Worst Taste & Special Magic, for example) I think there’s likely to be more of this kind of thing happening.


Filed under Strange Boutique

6 responses to “Strange Boutique (November 2012)

  1. miffy

    This brings me back. When I first saw Ayaya that’s what I thought most idols look and sound like. Now all of them just look and sound “cute” and act like 17 years old perpetually.

    You know what a post idol career should do? A tell all tale of the idol industry dripping with cynicism and just publish on the internet

  2. When I first saw her she kind of scared me a bit. Aside from the fact that she was stupendously attractive, there was something so exaggeratedly perfect about her mannerisms and it always suggested something cold and hard beneath the surface. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d turned out to be a Terminator from the future or something. Also, on TV shows, she often wouldn’t play the idol game of just being giggly and cute, and she could actually be kind of blunt and even rude to other guests sometimes. One thing I’ve really learned from AKB48 is just how sentimental, uncynical and old-school Tsunku is/was. Morning Musume seemed like the height of cynicism at the time, but looking at it through the context of AKB, they seem charming and naive.

    A tell-all book by an ex-idol would be amazing, but just imagine the shit that would come out of it. There’s a massive, ongoing series of scandals in Britain at the moment relating to sexual abuse by men in the entertainment business, particularly in the 70s, and I can’t believe there isn’t similar or worse stuff going on regularly in Japan. I genuinely suspect there might actually be some really nasty things going on.

    • miffy

      Now I get it after reading your reply. Ayaya acted like she was the most popular girl in high school and she knew it. Man, looking back Morning Musume seems sincere with healthy serving of cheese. If Love Machine was made today, instead of “Let’s go Japan!” it be like “Rise, Nippon!” with a Japanese flag somewhere.

      Wasn’t there a book detailing a guilty verdict of certain male idol mogul? You type in his name in Google (in English) and look at the drop in result….. It seems that the bomb has been dropped but it didn’t go off

      • With Morning Musume, I think the point is kind of ambiguous. The Lyric goes, “Nippon no mirai no whoa whoa-whoa-whoa”, which could be a good or bad thing. Is “whoa-whoa” confidence or fear? I contend that it infers confusion and lack of direction, hence idol music’s reflexive turn back to the Showa past. The same lyric now, yeah, it might be hard to play it in anything other than a nationalist context.

        That certain male idol mogul is an interesting case. There’s all sorts of stuff waiting to come out once he dies, but his legal situation is apparently too strong as long as he’s alive.

  3. miffy

    Says a lot of the idol scene when people are fondly reminiscing Morning Musume. Seeing more of that lately

    You know this blog covers a lot of female Jpop/Kpop idols, indie music and not much else. I understand that idols are doing creative music that has mainstream appeal but some diversity will be nice. Maybe explain more about the indie scene? Or rant/inspect visual kei or other subcultures?

    “Selling out” is also an option. Essays about ISSA will generate hits for sure (hohohoho)

  4. I haven’t been writing about the indie scene so much lately because I’ve been so involved in it, what with the new Call And Response compilation album, that my actual experiences have exhausted my ability to talk about it. Plus I’m worried that if I start, I’ll end up just bitching about stuff that annoys me without being able to step back, which wouldn’t necessarily be good writing. Usually when I’m off on a rant about something here, I try to do it “in character” but with the indie scene I feel a bit too close right now. There will be something soon enough though, and there’s a potentially really interesting (to me) piece about music journalism in Japan that I’ve had buzzing around in my head which will probably go into one of my JT columns sooner or later.

    I wouldn’t even begin to know how to write about visual-kei, but show me some mainstream J-Pop or rock that’s actually interesting and worth writing about and I’ll do it. Basically I’m a sucker for postpunk and bubblegum and find it much easier to write about stuff that’s either at one extreme or another. There are only a limited number of ways I can say how unremittingly dull I find, say, Asian Kung-fu Generation.

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