Idol Cults of Personality: Theory And Practice, Tin Tee and Nogizaka46

Personality Reigns Supreme – Tin Tee Treehouse
Nogizaka46: Your Loyalty To Your Oshimen – Pure Idol Heart

Over at Tin Tee, our own IW curator Brian attempts to cross the bridge between Kpop idols and Jpop idols by saying that both are based on the idols’ personality and everything else is secondary. It’s an interesting idea, and he’s up-front about why it works for him: he isn’t as concerned about idol music as music, and his primary interest in the idol world is due to the personalities, the more interesting the better. He includes a rather lurid wrestling incident to help clarify his ideas, then uses it as a metaphor later on when he writes, “I don’t know if Leeteuk shits in Suzy’s bag. However, he does it metaphorically, and it works.” Ah, what an image that conjures in the mind!

I like it and would agree for the most part, but that’s because my interest in idols is very similar to my fellow curator. (Though I must admit that I actually have a recent counter-example in my own experiences: I was initially turned off by all the stupid shit Stellar was saying in interviews and thought they were too needy for attention. It was only after I heard the song and saw the MV that I changed my mind. The argument can be made, though, that I simply saw a different side of their personality with the MV and that’s what won me over. Also, Eric is smoking hawt.) I kind of wish it was tied in further to the ideas about how idols are marketed and merchandised, that would add a nice neo-Marxist heft to Brian’s premise and make it more productive in applying to idols of both the K and J variety.

And then, as if to prove Brian’s point with a simple elgance, it’s announced that the first public event of Akimoto Yasushi’s AKB-killing idol group Nogizaka46 will involve fans choosing a specific idol in the group and publicly pledging loyalty to that idol. I don’t know if this is marketing genius or just plain bugfuck crazy, but it’s certainly a good way to catch a potential wota’s attention. On the one hand, this is like a more ritualized version of the senbatsu – even a bit of the chivalric code and courtly love, in this decision to pledge to one and only one. But to me there’s also a hint of those mass weddings held by the Unification Church, given a bit of a polyandry Akihabara flavor as each idol bride takes on as many wota grooms as she can get. And, you get a nifty card showing your devotion to that one-and-only idol, a “fan no akashi”!

i can see how it can backfire theoretically. What if this is too weird for the potential fan base out there? (Yeah, right.) What if it accidentally trips off fears of commitment? (Well, considering we’re talking nubile young idols… No, not a concern either.) What if somebody later decides that the idol initially chosen isn’t the one wants to be publicly committed to? Do you cheat, do you file for a wota-idol divorce, do you go the polygamy route? Or do you just soldier on and keep the union together since you had, indeed, made your loyalty pledge and don’t want to seem an uncouth and lying wota scum by going back on it? I think that’s at least a little of the reasoning behind this – to lock you in but GOOD.

I hope Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” plays on repeat while the event is taking place.

And what about female fans? Will this feel too weird for them? I know I’m overplaying the whole marriage analogy here, but is there any way to do this so that it can be as comfortable for female fans to pledge loyalty as male fans? Or would it be too much like the popularity ecosystem that has defined high schools for decades, you just take your clique and run with it?

Whatever the case, this DOES illustrate Brian’s point wonderfully, doesn’t it? You can’t really choose at this early stage based on abilities or a work ethic or anything substantial. You’re going by looks and whatever quirks of personality grab you from snippets thrown in the fans’ direction. Somebody who wants to make a wise choice – and has too much time on his hands – may go on to research each girl in detail and then come to some better-informed conclusion from there. But better informed about what, really? Because these are still idols and there should still be a wall between what they’re like in private and the idol persona they project.

I’m interested in seeing how this turns out, if the most popular girls – i.e., the one with the most loyalty pledges – will reflect the current senbatsu or actually re-mold and change that core line-up. I also gotta wonder what will happen if a girl receives zero pledges – because it IS too early in the game and some WILL slip through the cracks, I’m betting. Will this be the next trend? (God help me, please no.) Will casual fans follow suit and try this out? And is this Aki-P essentially putting on his Nogizaka46 hat before shitting in his own AKB48 bag? As always, time will tell.