Strange Boutique (December 2013) + Neojaponisme Reviews of 2013

It’s time for Strange Boutique’s review of the year again, which really just means me finding new ways of saying essentially the same thing (music industry resistant to change, idols all over the singles charts, Yasutaka Nakata the only person making anything really good, indie doing whatever the hell it wants and no one else paying the blindest bit of attention) but there are a couple of nuances at the moment that are worth paying attention to and could become significant in the near future.

First up, here’s the Japan Times column. As I point out, the yearly singles charts are a joke, with Johnny’s and XXX48 bands accounting for nearly all of it this time. Here’s a list of the acts that accounted for the top 30 bestselling singles of the year:

1. AKB48
2. AKB48
3. AKB48
4. AKB48
5. EXILE
6. Arashi
7. SKE48
8. SKE48
9. NMB48
10. Arashi
11. SKE48
12. NMB48
13. Nogizaka46
14. Nogizaka46
15. SMAP
16. Kis-Mt-Ft2
17. Southern Allstars
18. Kanjani8
19. Kis-Mt-Ft2
20. Kis-Mt-Ft2
21. Nogizaka46
22. Nogizaka46
23. HKT48
24. HKT48
25. EXILE TRIBE
26. Kanjani8
27. Kis-Mt-Ft2
28. Hey! Say! JUMP
29. SMAP
30. Linked Horizon

If that isn’t a depressing sight, I don’t know what is. Even if you’re a fan of this horrendous, evil music, the sheer lack of variety must surely be a bit alarming — something is obviously going badly wrong when the end of year charts are so rigidly homogeneous. So what does it say? Well, one explanation is that these bands produced the best music of 2013 and that this is the objective proof of that fact. The other is that only nerds buy singles. I’ll leave you to decide which of those it is.

What throws this into an interesting light is something else that comes up in another article that I contributed a little to, so go have a read of Neojaponisme’s review of the year now.

I contributed a bit about music to their annual review piece as I did last year, and through some chats I had with Marxy over it, this idea of “Peak AKB” came up. What he told me that I had suspected and which the way AKB48 etc. game the charts doesn’t show is that there are clear signs of their popularity slipping, as evidenced by sharply declining Google searches for the group. We discuss some reasons particular to the group’s own dynamics and behaviour this year (and we should remember there was no album from them this year, that it could merely be support diffusing out to their clone groups, etc.), but what’s really interesting about the Neojaponisme piece is how the AKB stuff I wrote (co-wrote honestly) dovetails with Marxy’s discussion earlier in the same piece about how it looks like the reactionary nerds are losing control of Japan’s Internet as ordinary people finally take control. Pop culture in the first decade of the new millennium was defined by subcultures like otaku and gyaru, just as the Net supplanted mainstream media as the primary driving force for delivering new trends, but if subculture groups are losing control of the online pop cultural discourse, that could mean genuine changes happening. Whether they’re good changes, I wouldn’t like to speculate, but change anyway. The word sounds strange on my tongue after all these years…

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