I’m still battling my way through the story of punk and new wave, but I took the time to add two or three paragraphs to the end of the section on 70s kayoukyoku to extend the story into the 80s. I didn’t want to go into too much depth here. The key change between the 70s and 80s was the change from TV talent shows like Star Tanjou! as the vehicle for producing and delivering new stars to using TV commercials, hence the term “CM idol”. Going hand in hand with this is the disappearance of live bands or orchestras accompanying singers on TV performances, perhaps since lots of the newer idols had been chosen for their ability to be cute in 15-second advertising slots rather than actually sing.
Obviously Seiko Matsuda was the most famous and popular. She exemplified the 80s idol as a marketing vehicle, although I don’t think her songs were all that much to write home about.Seiko Matsuda: Hadashi no Kisetsu
Much better I think was Kyoko Koizumi, who recently appeared in the phenomenally popular NHK morning drama Ama-chan playing a woman whose childhood dreams of becoming an idol had been dashed when her manager fucked her over and used her voice to overdub another girl. Koizumi was one of the last big names to come out of Star Tanjo! so she sort of spans the changeover from the 70s production model to the 80s.Kyoko Koizumi: Makka no Onnanoko
Lastly, you can’t talk about 80s idols without mentioning Onyanko Club, the first mass idol collective, the first group produced by Yasushi Akimoto, and the source of all our current horrors. They were quite fun, although given how many of their (by which I mean Akimoto’s) lyrics were just direct invitations to sexual harassment with a very clear message of “no means yes”, it’s makes the group quite an uncomfortable listen sometimes. But then this saucy flirtatiousness was way more part of the 80s cultural discourse than it is in these more austere times. Kyoko Koizumi was notorious for flashing her underwear at every opportunity (not that I’m complaining there), and the flipside of it is that it ran parallel with some real advancement in the social position of women. When Seiko Matsuda had a baby and then went back to her singing career instead of retreating into docile motherhood, it was a scandal, but she trailed the way for numerous other singers to do the same. Anyway, here’s Onyanko Club being saucy:Onyanko Club: Sailor Fuku wo Nugasanaide
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.