BiS-kaidan: Suki Suki Daisuki

I honestly don’t know what to make of this. In a way, it’s a dream come true and a thrilling, joyous example of the kind of thing idol music, at least in its more nominally alternative fringes should be doing, but on another level, it’s just yet another in a long line of examples, from Dempagumi Inc. doing The Beastie Boys to Negicco working with Yasuharu Konishi, of alternative or alternative-ish music (and in particular alternative culture nostalgia) being co-opted by the idol marketing format.

Because for all the undoubted fun there is to be had with BiS, despite their superficial sheen of trance and metal influences, their every move is so transparently calculated that one can’t help feeling a bit dirtied by contact with it. Which of course then loops back into part of what makes them so interesting: what they reveal about the process of idol manufacture and their shamelessness about wearing it on their sleeves — not so much heavy metal as heavy meta (thanks, I’m here all week).

So what is this that we’re looking at? Well, basically it’s idol quintet BiS shrieking along in their heavily autotuned voices to an old Jun Togawa song while legendary noiseniks and all-round bodily fluid fans Hijokaidan create the most horrendous sounds they possibly can around it. These elements together should basically be a good thing. In my blog earlier in the year where I picked apart the influence of idol music on the alternative and underground scenes, I pointed out that any truly subversive idol would look more like Jun Togawa than any of the stuff currently on display, although the fact that BiS have even gone as far as to dress up as Togawa in the video suggests that they may be missing the point a little.BiS-kaidan: Suki Suki Daisuki

More than that, I think what we’re seeing here is the application of otaku “database” principles to music. Each of these three elements — the idol group, the noise band, the off-kilter pop artist — are combined here in a basically two-dimensional database fashion, like an otaku fan-product mixing and matching fetish elements to create a new character for maximum moé appeal.

The result of this is that each element exists independently within the work: there is no sum of the parts that is greater than its individual elements. Hijokaidan bring the sense of danger and violence, Togawa brings a fucking great song (both bring a bunch of old punk/new wave dudes going, “Wow, that’s so coooool!”), and BiS bring… well, they bring five young girls and the marketing power of a major label.

So what does it mean? Well, I’m still not convinced BiS mean anything apart from making money for Avex. As a pop group, they can always retort with, “It’s pop music: it’s not supposed to mean anything!” but the more they adopt the external trappings of alternative music, the more questions like that start to matter, not just for idol music but for the alternative scene that seems so happy to have been suddenly colonised by all these sweet, charming and pliant young girls. When the sounds of underground and alternative music can be so easily co-opted by idol production machines, what is it that alternative music offers that actually makes it an alternative? Is it really just a sound that can be picked up and used by anyone, or is there still an ethos that runs deeper than that?

So to go back to my opening remarks, I still don’t know what to make of this. It’s doing something extreme within idol music, for which I applaud it, but it’s doing so by applying quite a superficial, otaku-ish “combine-the-elements” approach and playing off the back of a certain type of punk/new wave nostalgia, which is a scene whose ethos has perhaps fossilised to the point where I suspect it might have more in common with idol music these days than any kind of living, breathing underground/alternative scene. Perhaps a metaphor I used back in my post in February is the closest to describing the effect this track has on me: It’s a thrill, but it’s the thrill you get from a sugar rush and gone in a second. I enjoy the fact of its existence, but it also makes me uncomfortable, and i think it leaves both the idol and underground scenes with a lot of unanswered questions.Jun Togawa: Suki Suki Daisuki

12 Comments

Filed under Reviews, Track

12 responses to “BiS-kaidan: Suki Suki Daisuki

  1. toak

    Well-written take on it, I think you’re spot on about the mix of elements here, and in the end you can end up taking it as an exciting pop moment or a more awkwardly put together niche-o-rama. I will in general distance myself from automatically assuming the girls are pliant or sweet just because they join an idol group – BiS may be a record label project first and foremost but there’s no reason why the girls can’t be weird, wild and motivated just because they joined it. Indeed with the exception of the two founding members the rest are recent arrivals who must’ve actively wanted to be a part of the oddity that is BiS (and judging by one of the new members’ lyrics for their newest single, a relatively inspired indivudal she is).

    • I mean it more in the sense of how idol groups in general come across rather than as any insight into their true secret hearts. I’ve met BiS and they were very sweet, plus in order to function in the idol setting, with all the label staff, their old punk dude manager, the directors, producers and choreographers, any idol group members have to be fairly pliant. I’m always a bit suspicious when an idol claims to write their own lyrics because at the very least, you suspect it’s been heavily workshopped with the management and production side beforehand and in many (most?) cases, it’s an outright lie. Basically, I think it’s more or less safe to assume anything you’re officially told about any idol is fake. So yeah, we can’t know about them as people, but how they come across and how they present themselves is perhaps the only thing we can really talk about meaningfully. If that makes sense.

      (As you may have guessed, I find idol culture a bit frustrating!)

      • ブロガーがアイドルに負けてんもん!

        The reason that BiS are allowed to write their own lyrics is not to give them some veneer of artistic integrity, but so that they’ll make a little more money from resulting royalties. Idols aren’t paid much at all, especially those just starting out, so BiS’ manager had them do this to help them scrape a bit more together. (It’s for this reason that even the more out-there idol groups still rely on marketing to wota to survive in a failing music industry, by the way. Do you think there’s a group out there that can get by with the support of gakkyokuha alone?)

        The lyrics of BiS songs written by members also happen to read… like they were written by members; UK’s lyrics for “Usagi Planet” being completely different from Saki’s on “Hi,” and Tenko’s creepy stalker anthem “MURA-MURA” being totally fitting for a longtime fan of artists such as Togawa Jun and The Residents.

        I’d understand your reluctance to believe that all idols are incapable of writing lyrics were BiS a product of Avex from square one, but as it stands it’s a policy that’s been in place since they were just Pour Lui’s pet project fooling around on an indies label.

        Just because idols cannot afford to be Togawa Jun nowadays doesn’t mean they’re all brain-dead record label puppets. Idol groups are not the devil, and they do not have to be incompatible with “alternative” music as BiS have more than proved already.

      • Oh, I’m prepared to believe that sometimes they do. I just said that you can’t believe them when they say they do because the amount of manipulation that goes on is so much that it renders any official statement suspect. The money idols are expected to live on is pathetic and a lot of them are monstrously exploited, living in cramped dormitories with their salaries dependent on competition for popularity with other girls and even the most popular members working insane hours for peanuts, so anything management can do to give their income a boost is commendable.

        BiS seem to have it better than most, although even when groups do write their own lyrics, I suspect it’s rather heavily “guided” by management. Not sure that’s a bad thing or even that important a thing, it’s just an observation. In the case of BiS, when I met them, I noted that a lot of their song titles featured references to 90s music that you’d expect most of them to be too young to remember and I rattled off a few names. Pour Lui looked baffled and said she had no idea, then the manager piped up and said yeah, he’d put that in. That’s not to say that they weren’t very involved in the writing of the actual lyrics, and of course Jun Togawa often worked with collaborators (and one of her most famous songs, Radar Man, was originally a Halmens track, written by Kenzo Saeki). What it says is that there’s always a level of calculation with idol music, even when it pretends that there isn’t.

        In order to be an idol fan, you have to either not care about that, or trick yourself into believing it’s not true. If you don’t care, fair enough (as anyone who reads this site will know, there’s a lot of idol music I rate), but it’s the kinds of idol fans who angrily insist that it is all for real and it is all authentic that annoys me. They remind me of people who talk about soap opera characters as if they’re real people.

  2. > In my blog earlier in the year where I picked apart the influence of idol music on the alternative and underground scenes, I pointed out that any truly subversive idol would look more like Jun Togawa than any of the stuff currently on display, […] BiS have even gone as far as to dress up as Togawa in the video

    zOMG bIs IS WATCHING YOU WE’ RE FINISHEDDD1111111111111 :O

  3. That otaku-database reference was fantastic, it definitely clarified something from your previous posts I didn’t grasp right. Anyway, I’m really confused about this operation: if that’s a marketing move, it sounds very risky, especially if the rumours about a full album to be released are confirmed… I would never expect Avex to come out with something THAT extreme… But then again, i’m not familar with how the japanese music industry works, and this kind of things actually sell a lot of copies (and that conveys an image of japanese audience being very cool in my head) I don’t know. I like your nichilistic approach to it, though, and understand how you feel about the idol industry (I’ve been reading lots of scary shit on this argument, lately) but I mean, as long as the Strange Boutique is not going to be featured on Shukan Bunshun there’s still hope! 😀

    • I don’t think this kind of thing does sell a lot of copies. To get into the Top 40 of the Oricon charts you only need to sell about 2-3000 copies of a single — it’s only really the top 3 or so that sell the big numbers. With BiS, it seems to be more about capturing a niche, and their schtick is that they’re the wild, dangerous idol group. Like I said, kudos to them for pushing it this far, but I can’t help but be cynical about the motivations behind it. Another thing to remember is that the kind of old punk/new wave types who would go “Wow, so coooool!” at something like this are disproportionately represented in media occupations, so by appealing to their sense of nostalgia, it guarantees that, erm, people like me will write about it!

  4. JRSmith

    As a fan of noise music, idol pop, and Jun Togawa I have to say I really like this. I like it enough that I’ve already preordered the album, so if this is all just some calculated move by Avex to exploit the previously untapped market of “guys like me,” well, they got me, but I find it hard to believe that’s actually the case, or that this album will sell very many copies at all. So what’s really going on here? There’s been a rising trend of “alternative” idol groups lately but this seems like something on a whole new level. The Dempagumi inc. and Negicco comparisons don’t really hold up because Sabotage was a pretty popular song in the first place, and Pizzicato Five was always a pop act first and foremost who would have embraced mainstream success if it happened to follow them. Hijokaidan on the other hand established themselves in direct opposition to mainstream music from the very outset. Plus, this is happening right off the back of BiS’s most successful single to date (#6 on the Oricon chart), which was a rather run of the mill song although it probably benefited from its provocative music video. If their only concern is making money, Avex already seems to know how to do that, but I don’t see how BiS Kaidan could possibly help in that department. I understand that a big part of the BiS business strategy involves stirring up controversy for publicity, but ultimately it’s their more conventional sounding singles that end up selling the most. The only explanation I can come up with for this collaboration is that it’s just someone’s pet project. I figure I’d be tempted to do something like this if I managed an idol group.

    • Obviously alternative music isn’t a homogenous block, but I think Pizzicato Five and the Beastie Boys are still points in the alternative continuum rather than something so alien and different to this as for there to be no comparison. Jun Togawa and Maki Nomiya were both members of the new wave group Halmens in the 80s for a start, so some crossover is already established. Pizzicato Five are certainly at the poppier end of things, but they’re definitely seen as something on the alternative side of pop culture in Japan rather than straight-up mainstream. Hijokaidan are obviously way at the extreme side of things. BiS, Dempagumi Inc. and Negicco all regularly play at indie events and festivals, and all three seem to be consciously courting subculture nerds, which is a group that seems to have a large crossover with indie fans.

      This is being released as a side-project, so insofar as I can see any role for it, I guess it’s more an exercise in shoring up their alternative credentials than anyone’s idea of a big moneyspinner. You’re probably right about it at heard just being someone’s pet project. Their manager’s an old punk dude so I can imagine him just being out drinking with someone and just saying, “Hey, let’s do this!”

      You mention about it coming off the back of BiS’ most successful single, but it’s interesting from Hijokaidan’s perspective too, as it’s coming off the back of their stuff with Hatsune Miku (which I think was better artistically than this but I suppose we can lay that aside for now) so they’re obviously playing with subculture stuff as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LbVnTE9QPU

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