Strange Boutique (March 2015) – Gaming the charts

My March column in The Japan Times was a response to the news that chart organisation Oricon was changing the way it calculates the charts to prevent idol groups of the XXX48 cult and their pretend-rivals in Nogizaka46 from using download cards to game the charts.

I’m not going to spend much time on this subject here because frankly I’m sick of writing about idol music right now. It passed the point where it had anything interesting to contribute a couple of years ago, and in particular the big idol corporations that sit on top of the pile are of rapidly diminishing interest to me nowadays, even as a phenomenon. However, (and there’s always a however in these things), it’s worth noting how this news underlined two things.

Firstly, what a feeble, impractical, face-saving move this was by Oricon. Download cards are such a small part of the way idol groups fix the charts, that this amounts to mere lip service to dealing with a much bigger problem. Even if Oricon were to follow the lead of other countries and set a limit on the number of formats and versions of a single that are eligible for the charts, they can’t stop individual fans from buying hundreds of copies of the same CD, and dumping them unlistened-to.

Secondly, it reinforces what I’ve been saying for a long time: that idol music isn’t about music and idol fans aren’t music fans. That’s not to say that their naked, competitive pursuit of the emptying of their own wallets is in itself wrong (each to his or her own), but simply that calling this stuff music is making a category error.

With these kinds of groups and their fan cultures, I’m right now way past irritation and deep into disgust, and this issue conjures up nothing so much as the image of ravenous hyenas ferociously picking the last pieces of gristle off the bleached bones of a once proud beast.

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