Idol Theory And Taking Jpop Overseas

Idol Theory 101 – Idols Beyond Borders – Samurai Tamashii

The latest from SagSousuke is interesting – if anything, it brings back the debates in the first couple years of Intl Wota about Morning Musume coming to America. (Which if I recall correctly, was a very lively debate but also a huge clashing of personalities that led to needless headaches.) 

First, I need to point out that there’s a problem with the composition of this latest essay. At no point in the beginning is it stated that the topic is about Japanese idol music being exported overseas. The title alludes to it, but could allude to other aspects as well. As a result, my first reading of this essay was mildly discombobulated – I had a general feel for what was being argued, but the lack of parameters made it all seem fuzzy and confused. If we’re just talking about idol muwic being made available overseas, that’s already the case to some degree – I can get H!P from American iTunes, and there are other services as well. This can’t possibly be about J-idols going overseas and performing, since they’ve been coming to more and more events around the world, mostly anime cons and Japan- and Asian-themed cultural festivals. 

Is it about Japanese idols and other performers actually signing onto overseas labels? Would that also include singing in other languages? Is there any measure of success or Mission Accomplished that we can go by to help better define the debate? To quote my man Yul Brynner, it is a puzzlement.

SagSousuke does state that his intention was to gather argument points and ideaa regarsing this broad topic, and he does bring out most of the major issues addressed… But this is a case where a whole lot of theory isn’t being carried out in practice. There have been repeated attempts for Japanese artists to try to break into the American market and none have made a serious dent, unless you count Pink Lady as more than a strange seventies joke in the States. Utada Hikaru could not do it, and she did everything that was expected of her. Akanishi Jin is currently trying to do the same, but Lord knows the deck is stacked agaist him. So it has to be asked: are there other factors not being considered? Is there something missing from all this theory that is an ovrrwhelming fact of practice?

And I do think there is. And I think the main reason it doesn’t enter into arguments as much as it does is because it reflects badly on Western culture. Put frankly, Western – and especially American culture – is still too xenophobic to embrace Japanese idol music (and other aspectw of non-Western societies) in the mainstream of its culture. Mainstream. That’s the important part. (Especially since that does seem to be where SagSousuke wants to take it.) And quite frankly, as the dominany cultural force in modern global society, America can AFFORD to be xenophobic and even benefit from that attitude in a variety of ways, not the least of which is economic.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t pockets of Western society that won’t embrace non-Western culture. The wotasphere is proof of that, right? And it isn’t lke a fluke or two won’t capture the mainstream attention in a novel manner – Slumdog Millionaire being one such recent example, though it sure as shit didn’t lead to dozens of Bollywood films hitting our multiplexes.

To me, this truth is so self-evident that an debate about Jpop or J-idol music in the West must contend with that first.

Oh, wait! But how about Wonder Girls making huge moves in th Nickelodeon corner of our culture? Doesn’t thqt refute the argment? Well, maybe… But SagSousuke doesn’t want to consider Kpop and how much more it’s penetrating Western culture than Jpop at the moment. And by shutting down THAT part of the discussion – in part because he has no interest and little knowledg of Kpop, as he admits – we again hit something of a dead-end. I don’t blame SagSousuke for letting his tastes dictate the direction of his inquiries, but at this point it’s akin to discussing the major wars of the twentieth: century without mentioning Germany because one doesn’t know much about them. It’s the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed if the debate is to go forward.

So there’s still a lot to think about, to debate – but we need more defined parameters, and there’s a couple of aspects of the discussion that need to enter as well. What do yo all think?