A few thoughts about the idol industry


I wasn’t planning on posting, although I’ve already written and screencapped a review of Seibu Dome Day 2. But then I read this article in Arama they didn’t and I just had to say something because this is breaking my heart.

You should really read the full thing because it’s a great look into the ugly side of the idol world, and incidentally, the one we don’t really hear about since everything is supposed to be about hopes and dreams and smiling and Tehe~ but that’s what made it all the more powerful to me. I’ll give you a review though.

Hara Mizuki is graduating from NMB48. She’s a 14 year old 1st generation member of the group who is still a kenkyuusei and was never promoted to any team. She posted a very long entry about her feelings during her tenure as a NMB48 member, and long story short: she ended up very frustrated because she was always working hard and doing her best but she got no recognition for all of her efforts and never really got a chance to prove herself.

haramizukiprofile

One of the boldest complains she makes is about the girls that were punished, allegedly for fooling around with boys against the rules. She says that they came back after their punishment and retrieved their frontgirl positions without any hassle and she (who had done nothing wrong) was thrown again in the shadows. She talks about how everyone was promoted to N or M and how everyone in the 48 franchise is always talking about how “Hard work pays off” so she felt offended that people might believe that her 1st generation friends who haven’t been promoted either aren’t working hard, because they are getting nowhere, and that’s a lie, because they do as much as they possibly can attending lessons everyday and juggling school with their idol duties and getting pretty much nothing in exchange for their sacrifice. So she’s had it with the 48 thing and she’s calling it quits.

This is already hugely revolutionary because none of the graduates have ever been so honest about their true feelings when they leave. Most of the times, all that is issued is a “Thank you for your support, please keep looking after me in the new path I’ve chosen for myself” cookie cutter statement, even in the awful cases like Saotome Miki’s graduation.

It’s also rather impressive that she wasn’t censored, because almost everything in the idol world is carefully monitored; so much that NMB captain Yamamoto Sayaka had to ask their management to stop censoring their posts.

I wonder who had a hand in leaving this confession out for the public to see? Nowadays the 48family groups have become more and more of a reality show: the first documentary was sweet and moving with its personal interviews and gritty rehearsal footage; but the one that’s coming out this year looks like something out of the Kardashians, with girls fainting and having melt downs all over the place. I understand that these things happen in AKB, but I don’t take pleasure in watching Yuko get a panic attack or Maeda hyperventilate painfully. I don’t take pleasure in watching my idols getting overworked and being miserable just so that their management can cash in on their suffering and say that it’s all because ~they work hard for their dream~ that’s just disgusting.

In any case, Mizuki’s given them all a piece of her mind, and it’s certainly given everyone something to talk about. Starting with the NMB captain, Yamamoto Sayaka

yamamotosayaka

I think Sayanee is one of the greatest members of the whole 48family. She’s talented, charismatic and down to earth, but what strikes me the most about her is that she genuinely cares about her members, and she’s very honest about her feelings in her blog and G+. She is on point when she says that people might think she has no right to talk about this because she’s always been the most popular NMB member (Milky eat your heart out! j/k I love Milky, she’s one of my favorite idols, but this supposed bitchy character of hers that’s become a meme by now is too funny to pass up :P), but then she brings out a story about her past as a member of the MAD CATZ band that flopped. And she tells Mizuki that her efforts will be rewarded in something else, which is also incredible for me to be reading because everyone is always sugarcoating everything in this damn fandom.

All you ever read is “AKB has given me so much, thank you Akimoto sensei for giving me this fantastic oportunity” as if all of them were Acchan instead of underdogs and rejects who never even got a chance. I mean, I’m not saying they should be ungrateful, but it’s refreshing to hear some honesty at all in this world of mirrors and smoke.

Sayanee’s message was great to read precisely because of that: She’s acknowledging that the idol world is completely unfair, and that Mizuki is probably right in her observations, but encouraging her to move on and not give up on her dreams just because this didn’t work out.

And then, Akimoto Yasushi himself is weighing in his thoughts on the matter, and part of me wants to punch him and another part wants to stare in awe. I swear I’ve never felt love/hate in its purest form until I heard about this guy.

I’ll spare you guys the Akimoto picture because sadly, he’s not a looker. So have a picture of NMB instead, including Mizuki

nmb48

Akimoto says what he’s always said: That he’s got a bad eye for picking stars so maybe the hard work of some girls hasn’t been noticed by him. Or something to that effect. But he still encourages Mizuki to try again and keep aiming for her goals in life.

I don’t know what to say, I mean, I agree with Akimoto, there are many 48 members who are incredibly talented and charismatic and never get noticed. However, I’m not naive enough to think that it’s just a case of “Woopsie I didn’t notice you there outsinging everyone else in theater shows! My bad!” it all comes down to profit at the end of the day, because the idol business is, more than anything else, a business; and the producers and everyone else involved in it is in this for the money, especially now that AKB has become a juggernaut force to be reckoned with. Every one wants a slice of that cake, and in order to maximize earnings they have to play if safe, especially because everyone involved knows that this female idol fad will be gone like it appeared, and everyone will move on to something else.

So what is it that bothers me? It’s Akimoto’s fake honesty, actually. It just rubs me the wrong way, but at the same time I understand that he has to keep up an image, and if he appears to be a humble benevolent patriarch everyone will think highly of him. Obviously he can’t come out and say “Yeah, look Hara, you’re just not cute enough and don’t have a gimmicky thing to make people care about you. In turn, you have no fans and the NMB management is not going to push you when they could be giving more exposure to a girl with fans, who will buy a lot of her merchandise and a lot of CDs and bring revenue to the company. So peace out!” so I don’t even know what I expect from him, honestly. That’s what puzzles me and frustrates me the most about him, I can’t have a real opinion about Akimoto without finding polar opposites even within my own impressions of him: either he’s a guy who really tries his best to make this work, and treats the girls right and cares about them or he’s a capitalist mogul who cares only about the money. I think the real Akimoto might be in some kind of middleground, and I also think that he’s not running this on his own, so maybe he can’t have it his way with everything about the 48groups.

Ultimately, I feel like maybe I’m too jaded for this fandom. I’ve lost the spark in my eyes of thinking “Oh, she’s fantastic! I want to see her get her chance at the spotlight!” because I already know if she’s going to get pushed or not and I also know how fruitless and frustrating and honestly heart breaking it is to follow girls who aren’t in the top tier. Sure, my 2 oshimen are senbatsu members, but the rest of my favorites aren’t. Except for Chiyuu and look at how she’s doing after the shuffle!

akb48

In any case, I’m glad that people can get an idea of what it’s like for the idols who aren’t in the spotlight. I wish I could read enough japanese to understand Nakayan’s book too, because I’d love to have more insight about this situation. With the 48family ditching the stages and becoming centered almost completely in the singles a large part of what I loved about the group has evaporated for me, because I feel like the unpopular girls are honestly not given chances anymore.

I think it’s becoming more cut-throat every day for the girls, because the competition just gets more complicated with every new sister group or rival group or whatever Akimoto thinks of next to stay relevant in the everchanging music market of Japan. When everything comes down to singles it’s way more complicated for an underdog to make her way up the ranks of senbatsu, because the girls who will participate in each single are already set in stone; this is why the senbatsu for Manatsu no Sounds Good is like 36 girls: Because the top 18 are unchangeable.

They have even scraped events like the Aki Matsuri thing of 2010 when we had a fantastic karaoke competition where the really talented girls could show their skills, in 2011 we got the AKB Kouhaku concert instead, which was focused only on the senbatsu members and high undergirls and lumped everyone else (and everyone who could sing, mind you) in that stupid godawful ballad that came with Uekara Mariko. And don’t even get me started on the Janken single tradition, which started out as a cool idea, until Uchida Mayumi won and they went all “LOL no1curr” with the promotions of the single, especially when you compare it to Uekara Mariko and all the fuss that was made for that one because Shinoda was center and made it marketable.

The stages we have nowadays also give no chance to the unpopular girls to shine, because they aren’t created according to who can deliver a good performance or not, like before, but around who is popular: All units have frontgirls as the lead and the unpopular ones are backup singers, as opposed to what happened before. But I’ll stop right here or I’ll get accused of being an “elitist” old fan who thinks everything was better before, which I’m not. I’m really happy that AKB has gotten where they have, I’m proud of my girls too, but I wish it wasn’t all about the money sometimes.

I wish 2011 hadn’t happened, but since it did, at least I’m glad that the sales stopped rising and have hit some sort of plateau because it’s making them think outside of the box a little bit again this year.

Ultimately I’m frustrated because I hate the way the unpopular girls are treated but I also understand that they have to run a business and look out for their company, and I wish that I wasn’t here since so long ago so that I wouldn’t care or I wouldn’t miss the way things were before ala hipster kitty, I know that attitude is annoying, but I can’t help it. I’m afraid that my love/hate relationship with Akimoto is extending to everything he is in charge of as well, but since there are changes happening this year (Bless your beautiful soul for graduating and infusing a little bit of life in the arid and cookie cutter world of AKB, Acchan) I hope I can work it out somehow.

9 Comments

  1. Pingback by Recommended Reading: April 12th, 2012 | Idolminded on April 12, 2012 3:03 pm

    […] A few thoughts about the idol industry – Aitakatta! Some thoughts on Hara Mizuki’s exit from NMB48 and the unfairness of the idol industry. The must-read for tonight, since Cat gets into the nuances of the debate and really works through some surprising insights. (Her attitude to Akimoto’s reaction is especially enlightening.) […]

  2. Comment by Mina on April 12, 2012 7:41 pm

    I don’t mind the concept for the next documentary. The first one was about them rising to stardom, and the next one focuses on them being at the top. We’ve heard stories from ex-Morning Musume members. I think people should see just how hard they work, so fans can appreciate them and understand why they might not be perfect all the time.

  3. Comment by Cat on April 13, 2012 12:48 pm

    I think that’s relative though. Maybe it’s because my mother is a workaholic, but I don’t take being overworked lightly. Basically, I don’t want to see it if I can help it because I’ve lived in situations where you are extremely tired and it’s awful and I’m kind of traumatized. I don’t think the girls should be working in those conditions, and I also think that it’s completely irresponsible of their management to lump so many girls in a small backstage and apparently have no medical staff around to look after them when they were hyperventilating or collapsing or whatever, like the backstage footage of Seibu Dome, that just doesn’t sit well with me personally.

    I can understand the point of view of people who think that this is cool and that they are sacrificing even their own health for their dreams in a romantic way, but it doesn’t work for me. I can also understand that sometimes you just have to do what you have to do, especially in an industry as competitive as theirs, or else you’ll just be replaced with someone else who isn’t squeamish or sickly. I just wish the girls were better cared for and I didn’t have to see that footage because to me it’s simply distressing. It’s just my personal opinion though.

  4. Comment by zqube on April 13, 2012 9:49 pm

    You know, saying that you wish 2011 didn’t happen strikes at the feeling I have had this whole time but couldn’t find the words to express why. I use to follow every little detail that surrounded the AKB franchise but in 2011 I found myself drifting away to a bystander position. There’s just not enough upwards movement. Things aren’t changing fast enough and if it keeps up like this there won’t be a recovery.

  5. Comment by Cat on April 14, 2012 1:08 pm

    @zqube: I think Acchan graduating is definitely altering the status quo though, they’ll have to come up with something. That, coupled with the sales that aren’t going up anymore but have hit a plateau (although how much higher can you go when before AKB the last million seller single was in 2006…).

    In any case, I’m seeing them making small changes and luckily 2012 isn’t a carbon copy of 2011 because I was ready to throw the towel; now I think I want to stick around and see what happens.

  6. Comment by Claire on April 15, 2012 6:58 pm

    Brilliant and all very, very true.

  7. Comment by Cat on April 16, 2012 9:50 am

    Thank you Claire!

  8. Comment by Isilie on April 16, 2012 5:42 pm

    I must say I was struck by this story too and I have no idea who she is. In fact, I’ve come into the fandom so late that I am not even aware of what it was all like before when they were all starting out. I like how you say that you know exactly why things are like this but that doesn’t make it suck any less (only you say it much more eloquently than I). It really does. I will never get used to (in my view) children who overwork themselves when they should just be focusing on growing up, when they are at the age they are arguably the most vulnerable. I get it, I just don’t feel particularly comfortable with it. This comment is way too long, sorry. Anyway, my point with this was that I agree with you and I love reading your posts because I can feel the love of AKB in here. It’s wonderful that you love the group enough to be sad because you *understand* not because you don’t. I hope that made sense. >_< <3

  9. Comment by Cat on April 16, 2012 7:00 pm

    @Isilie: Thank you so much! I’m glad you understand where I’m coming from. It’s frustrating because I feel like I care so much about these girls and I’ve invested so much of myself in this that it can get a little overwhelming at times. And don’t worry about long comments! As the Queen of tl;dr I welcome any other verbose wotas in my blog with the utmost glee 😀

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