Idol Thoughts: YouTube Red

It’s been two months since I’ve last posted to Happy Disco. What has pulled me out of my unannounced and frankly unplanned blog hiatus?

Why, possibly the biggest thing to impact foreign fans of Japanese music, of course!

YouTube Red

Let me take a step back. Recently, YouTube announced YouTube Red, a new subscription service where, for $10 a month, users can watch YouTube free of ads (plus some additional features). However, the way it has affected foreign Japanese music fans (as well as Korean music fans too) is the implementation. A lot of this is speculation, but right now YouTube is requiring its creators to sign off on this subscription service. This is essentially forcing creators to take it or leave it with YouTube Red, and causing quite a bit of disruption with creators.

Let’s stress this again – YouTube Red being the culprit is still speculation – it hasn’t been confirmed yet. However, the fact that multiple Japanese music channels all got region-locked at essentially the exact same time that other Youtube channels began to be affected means that it’s probably pretty accurate speculation.

Honestly, I don’t think YouTube Red is a terrible idea. The price is a bit steep – it’s more expensive than Netflix and Hulu Plus, which both offer much more long-form content. However, I could see myself paying maybe $3-5 a month to enjoy YouTube without ads – I often listen to Youtube videos in the background while I work, so being able to have a playlist of music without ads would be worth that much.

However, this move is very divisive. I don’t think I’ve seen any posts that are unabashedly praising YouTube Red; at best, people are being cautiously optimistic. That said, while it’s not a popular move, it’s one that YouTube CAN do – they’re the main host of internet videos, and for most people there aren’t other alternatives. Sure there are other video hosting sites like Dailymotion or Vimeo, but those haven’t caught on in the way that YouTube has.

I honestly don’t know how the Japanese music channels will respond to this. Before this, there wasn’t much of a downside to having your channel be completely open globally, even if the music group wasn’t actively looking for foreign fans (which is honestly most of the Japanese music industry). However, now this is actively making Japanese music channels accept YouTube Red, which means they have to actively accept foreign fans, in a way. I can imagine that Up-Front will want to do this for their artists; Hello!Project has put in multiple efforts to try and maintain its foreign fanbase, and I can’t see them giving it up just yet. However, I could also see the Japanese music industry collectively shrugging, thinking that they aren’t aiming for foreign fans anyway so it doesn’t really matter.

The biggest impact I see in this is the foreign fanbase, specifically new fans. I found a lot of JPop groups through YouTube, and I consider it to be the biggest tool I utilize in my JPop fandom. While I am now at a point where I know my favorite groups well enough and spend money buying DVDs to not necessarily NEED YouTube (though I would still like to use it), I’m concerned that this will have a negative effect on newer fans. If someone is curious about Japanese music, they’ll probably turn to YouTube. If they can’t access this music from YouTube, will they care enough to buy music or look to other streaming sites? I doubt it.

Right now, there’s not a lot you can do. I’d personally suggest not subscribing to YouTube Red and urging friends and family to do the same. The Japanese music fan community is pretty small, but we absolutely don’t want YouTube to think this move is a success (I’d suggest avoiding YouTube altogether, but I’m sure most of us use YouTube too frequently for this to be a very viable option). I’d also try to make your voice heard if you can. Up-Front Promotion’s official English language page, Up-Front Link, is getting quite a few comments asking about this – I doubt it’s something that they can ignore. Other groups unfortunately don’t really have an official English language page, but if you have the opportunity to say something then do.

Happy 5th Anniversary Happy Disco!

Five years ago today, on February 23rd 2010, I started a blog. It wasn’t on this domain, and not all of my old posts are on this current site (though my old blogspot blog is still up, if you want to sift through it). But it was still Happy Disco. So today is the fifth anniversary of the day that I created Happy Disco.

Throughout this week I’m going to post a few retrospective things. But man, I just want to reflect a bit on this. Because really, I’m not sure I expected to keep doing this for as long as I have been. When I created this blog I was 18 years old and in my freshman year of college. I’ve changed a lot in those five years, and I didn’t know if I would even still be an idol fan five years down the line, much less still wanting to blog about it. But here I am, five full years later. I haven’t always blogged as much as I should have, and I’ve taken breaks here and there, but I am still here.

As much as I have changed over the years, my writing has changed as well. Looking back at the early days of Happy Disco feels like looking back at an embarrassing old photo or, perhaps more accurately, an embarrassing old diary entry. However, I owe most of that change to the mere existence of Happy Disco. Writing on this blog has helped me foster my writing skills by the sheer volume of practice I do on this blog.

Blogging has helped me feel like a bigger part of the idol community. I know I’ve gushed about this community several times before this past year (with Idol Matsuri, Morning Musume in New York and my end of the year review) but it’s so true. While I would have met people without Happy Disco, it’s certainly helped make me feel like part of this community, like I’m contributing what I can. Meeting the people I have in this past year has been a real privilege, and it has me excited for the next big idol event in the US.

The idol world has changed a lot in the past five years. February 2010 was before Momoiro Clover’s major debut, it was just after AKB48 released Sakura no Shiori, it was before Morning Musume’s 9th generation. It was before iDOL Street, E-Girls, Rev. from DVL. It was before the very first Tokyo Idol Festival. It was just at the start of the idol boom, and so much has changed within the major idol collectives. It’s kind of staggering, really, to think about just how different the idol landscape was back then. I became an idol fan when things weren’t looking so great for idols, but things have turned around in a major way.

My personal idol fandom has changed a lot. At the start of Happy Disco I was primarily a Hello!Project fan, just barely starting to consider the idea of following other idol acts. Now, while I still care a lot about Hello!Project, my tastes have veered off to a variety of different acts and groups, major and indie. As much as I like to say I became an idol fan in 2007, my favorite groups are radically different. Part of that is because so many groups were formed in the recent years, but I also like to think that I’ve become a bit more open to trying new things.

Thank you to every single person who has ever read this blog, commented on it, or mentioned it to me. You all mean a lot to me, and I always appreciate the kindness I’ve been shown.

As for the future, well, I look forward to the next five years of Happy Disco.

Idol Thoughts: Is it possible to have an “accurate” Request Hour?

I will probably write more about AKB48’s Request Hour after the top 200 songs are performed later this week, but this year deserves some special notice because, for the first time, they are doing a request hour 1035. This is every single AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, HKT48, JKT48, SNH48, SDN48, solo and unit songs, ranked by fan votes. Since performing all of these songs live is pretty impossible, everything up to 200 is put on YouTube. This is a fascinating look at AKB48 for anyone, so I’d consider taking a look.

The first thing that’s pretty easy to notice is how much the 48 groups have changed in terms of structure. The low ranked songs from 2006 – 2009 are almost all stage songs. The low ranked songs from 2010 – 2014 are usually the B-sides to singles. Any AKB fan could tell you that the focus has moved from the theater to other venues, but this is a clear reminder that stage performances have taken a backseat.

However, the main thing I was complaining about is that this ranking does not seem to be about quality at all. I know that must seem incredibly obvious, since this is a fan ranking, but it got me wondering if there was a way to “fix” this.

Essentially, voting for Request Hour is a second Senbatsu Sousenkyo – it’s a popularity contest for members, hidden in the trappings of voting for songs. People tend to vote for the songs that feature their favorite member most heavily, which is why Itoshiki no Natasha ranked so highly for quite a while (because Sashihara Rino fans were voting it up high). There are always some very highly ranked stage songs because of that very reason.

However, is there a way to have a more accurate fan vote focusing more on quality of songs? Fan voting is always going to have an element of bias towards favorite members. I’ve listened to many more Watarirouka Hashiritai songs than I have listened to no3b songs, for example, because I much prefer Watarirouka as a group, and that’s the case. Newer songs are going to have an advantage because current fans will have more likely listened to them than older songs. Older fans are smaller in number, and many of them may have moved on from 48 groups.

Further, there is an incentive to vote for recent songs because of the changing lineup of members in the groups. Say your all-time favorite member graduated. You might vote for the song featuring your current member, because you know that at least they will be there to perform the song.

I don’t think there’s a way to get away from this affecting the rankings, especially the top spots, as long as you have fan voting. However, ranking every song gives an interesting opportunity to see all the songs voted higher. I’m not sure if AKB will do this again next year, since they are making a big deal that this is the 10th anniversary of AKB48. However, if they do it again, the “fix” that might make things more interesting – allowing each vote to vote for multiple songs.

Now, I doubt that AKB48 will do this. Since votes are limited to fans who either members of a subscription or for fans who bought a copy of the most recent single, there are financial stakes in the request hour. That said, there are financial stakes for the fans, too. If you are going to buy a single and have a limited number of votes based off of what you are willing to pay, you aren’t going to throw away those votes

However, if you got a ballot that allowed for, say, 10 songs without repeats, you might be inclined to vote for songs you like to listen to in addition to songs that feature your favorite. Weighting these might make the results even more reliable; have fans rank the songs 1 – 10, and weight it at 10 points for 1, 9 points for 2, etc. I know this is how a lot of foreign fans tend to weigh voting systems, but it works pretty well. So that way, fans could definitely vote for their favorite member’s biggest song, but they might be inclined to give their #10 vote for a song they just like to listen to.

The biggest issue with this list is the lowest songs have too many ties; I’m assuming they’re songs that got 1 vote, then two votes. This system could help break those up and get a more solid ranking, as well as allowing for more popular group songs get further (Party ga Hajimaru yo and Wasshoi B do not belong in the 400s, I’m sorry).

No system is going to be perfect for getting an accurate ranking of 48 groups songs, especially if you want a ranking that is about quality rather than who is in the song. However, allowing for more songs per voting system might give people the perceived ability to vote for more songs, and get a more varied and more interesting Request Hour.

Idol Thoughts: The End of the Idol Boom?

So so sorry for my prolonged absence! Long story short, I’ve been figuring out some things in my professional life for the past few months, which is part of why I’ve been absent from Happy Disco. I’ll be trying to get back on track in the next couple of weeks.

However, another reason I’ve been gone is, frankly, there are sides of the idol fandom that are just not impressing me. For a long time I’ve reviewed things from the 48 Groups, for example, but there has been exactly one 48 song that was released this year that I even remotely like (NMB48’s Ibiza Girl). My 48 interest is waning fast. I don’t want to focus on negatives, because if you like what the 48s are currently doing you can feel free to disagree. However, I do think my feelings are corresponding with a general trend.

It’s hard to say for sure if a group like AKB is dying down. I would personally argue that their peak in terms of recognition and popularity was in 2011 – 2012, before Maeda Atsuko started the slew of front girl graduations. However, their best selling single (according to wikipedia) was 2013’s mediocre Sayonara Crawl. Even though Heavy Rotation is their most well-known song, its sales pale to Koisuru Fortune Cookie and Kokoro no Placard. That said, if you do look at these sales and compare them by corresponding singles (i.e. comparing the numbers from election single to election single, janken single to janken single, etc.) it does look like AKB is finally on a decline of sales, despite their best efforts otherwise (which is most likely what inflated the sales for as long as they were up there).

Other metrics of looking at popularity seem to agree that AKB’s peak is behind it. Conventional wisdom would state that the idol boom is fading. Certainly AKB is the representative idol group of this current idol boom.

That said, I would personally argue that last year and this year are when things are getting more and more interesting. Even as AKB is coming off of its peak, more varied idol groups are doing incredibly well. Morning Musume is having a resurgence of popularity I never expected. Momoiro Clover Z continues to enjoy their popularity as well as bringing more and more groups under the Stardust banner to their own levels of popularity. Babymetal is having international successes. Indie idols are having a lot of really varied, interesting groups and they are starting to enter into a level of maturity, a few years into the idol boom.

Instead of having one idol umbrella completely dominate the idol scene, instead we’re at a point where many idol groups and many idol companies can enjoy the idol boom. This is leading to a much more sustainable idol model where, instead of the fate resting on one group, is spread out to many other groups. If people, like myself, find themselves bored with 48s, there are a lot more groups to find and be interested in. And now that other idol groups are popular in a major way, the casual listener isn’t limited to only 48s.

I do think that some of the groups are going to disappear and the idol boom isn’t going to be quite as big as it is now. However, as things settle down, groups are going to keep proving themselves to be lasting, which is, I think, quite exciting.

Idol Thoughts: Thoughts for Ladies Code and EunB

Hey everyone,

I know I don’t write about KPop at all, but just wanted to make a quick post about this.

As many of you are I’m sure aware, the members of Korean idol group Ladies Code were in a car accident. Member EunB sadly passed away and other members are in the hospital in critical condition.

it’s hard to know what to say about this, because it’s an utter tragedy. My thoughts are with Ladies Code, their families and their fans.

It’s really easy to start asking questions about how this happened, but I just want to remind people that ultimately this is a tragedy, and while speculation is easy our focus should be on the girls and their fans, not on that.

If you know anyone who is a fan of Ladies Code or even anyone who’s having a hard time with this, try to do your best to comfort them. As Japanese idol fans we all know how easy it is to be affected emotionally by idols. I can’t imagine the feeling of a favorite member of mine passing away. It has to be devastating. So let’s just keep that in mind when discussing this online; EunB was someone’s oshimen (or bias, since Kpop), and so there’s an element of grieving going on.

Even if you’re just a JPop fan like me, let’s do whatever we can to support Kpop fans as they deal with this. This is a really difficult, scary thing.

Again, I just want to reiterate that my thoughts are with EunB, Ladies Code, their family and friends, and all the fans of Ladies Code who are emotionally affected by this. May EunB rest in peace.

Help a Blogger Out Survey – Courtesy of Magi-Kat

When checking out posts via Idolminded, I found this survey posted by Magic-Kat on ‘Magic-Kat Presents “Morning Meteora.“‘ Lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on myself and, by extension on Happy Disco. So, as such, I thought this survey would be a great way to nail down some of my thoughts, as well as sharing my personal insights with my readers. So, I hope this isn’t too much of an exercise in navel-gazing, and I hope you actually enjoy it!

Goals

Why do you blog?
I started blogging in 2010 because I had so many thoughts about idol music that I had to get it out somewhere. I overthink things and I’m an opinionated person. Happy Disco has become my outlet for idol music blogging and thoughts. Writing for Happy Disco, Idolminded and Pure Idol Heart is a singular pleasure, and one that I’m grateful for.
Here’s a bit of an anecdote, one that has motivated me to continue blogging. Last week I wrote a review of Team Syachihoko’s newest single, “Ii Kurashi.” As a Team Syachihoko fan, I was happy to write the review for myself. However, after posting it I noticed a giant spike in my site metrics. Seeing that most of the reviews were referred from twitter, I did a small investigation. Not only were a few Syachihoko fans tweeting about it, but Yoshida Tetsuto, the songwriter of Ii Kurashi, tweeted about it. I introduced myself to him, and mentioned that I loved the song, and he thanked me for it. All the while I was completely floored that any of this happened.
That said, I don’t need praise or comments (though I would gladly take both). Just writing Happy Disco makes me, well, happy. I’m incredibly proud of my blog, and pleased as punch whenever someone mentions it.
What long-term goals do you hope to accomplish, if any at all?
Not (necessarily) Happy Disco related, but I would like to become a paid, published writer. I don’t even expect that this would become a job for me, but I’d like to take my writing further. I can’t see myself stopping blogging about idols, though. Not unless I stop liking idols. And to be honest, I can’t see that happening
I’d also like to expand Happy Disco. I keep toying with the idea of a podcast, but I’m not sure how to make that happen. If anyone reading this does podcasts or would want to be a cohost, contact me on twitter or Facebook and we’ll talk.
Where does your blog fail to meet your goals?
I am disappointed I haven’t been as good at sticking to my blogging schedule. I have been trying to figure out getting back on track, but I wish I had been better at sticking to the schedule I’ve laid out. Stupid life and job getting in the way.
If you do have goals, what will accomplishing them do for yourself?
 Mostly I want to be satisfied with myself as a writer, improve my craft, and possibly become a talented enough writer/blogger to have that either supplement my income or even become a career path. Writing for fun is much more important to me than writing for money; if I was writing for just money, frankly I wouldn’t be an idol blogger.
What do you want to gain out of blogging? A creative outlet? Praise from others? Personal satisfaction? Money?
Personal satisfaction and a creative outlet are the big two, but I wouldn’t say no to others. Running Happy Disco is mainly based off of getting personal satisfaction and an outlet for my thoughts and writing, but I do enjoy praise and I would enjoy some money if it came my way.
Do you feel that your blog should meet a requirement for amount of entries? Do you feel any particular entry should be a certain length?
My goals were to reach three entries a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) but that has been very difficult lately, given my personal life. I try at least to reach one blog post a week, even when I’m at my busiest and most procrastinate-y.
Length… if you read Happy Disco on a regular basis you know I tend to be long-winded. Actually, I’d prefer to start shortening up my posts. I like being able to write and discuss things in depth, but sometimes it’s better to be concise. That said, I do like writing long posts, and generally my posts end up at 600+ words.
For any particular entry, what motivates you to start and finish blog posts?
I have three types of posts I post. Reviews (which I aim to put out near Monday), Idol Thoughts and either lists or TIFriday. For reviews, I generally write based off of whatever I find interesting. For example, when I covered AKB’s Suzukake Nanchara single, I had a lot to say about the PVs, and my opinions on idol PVs. I also tend to review stuff I like because I want to promote the things I enjoy. So that’s why you see me write piles and piles of Team Syachihoko reviews and posts; I want you all to become Syachi fans.
Idol Thoughts are based off of either current events or something I’ve just been thinking about lately. I keep wondering if I’ll run out of ideas, but I generally have too much stuff to write about.
Lists… I’m not sure how much I like writing lists, to be honest. It’s fun to do some rankings; ranking my top idols, ranking Team Syachihoko songs. But it’s really a replacement for my Tokyo Idol Festival posts. I love writing about TIF because I’ve discovered a lot of idol music through covering the festival yearly. I became a big Rhymeberry fan because of TIF. I’m really getting into i*Ris now because of TIF. My first experience with Team Syachihoko was with TIF. It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore the more indie side of the idol world.
Do you actively consider long term goals for each individual post?
Not really. I just want to write the best post I can, but I don’t overthink my posts much. I should probably edit them more.
Subject Material:
What do you blog about?
Idols. I cover Stardust, 48 Groups, Hello!Project, and all kinds of indies. I generally cover stuff I’m interested in, so my subject varies as much as I do. I do reviews, profiles and general interest pieces. I mostly focus on opinion pieces over just news.
Would you be keep a blog even if it wasn’t about the subjects you tend to cover?
Anyone remember Happy Media? No? OK, me neither. (Happy Media is my non-Jpop blog that desperately needs to be updated).’
Do you write about the material to promote it to others?
At times, yeah; I try to be honest about what I’m reviewing, and generally critical. I’m happy when writing about stuff that I’m not super into. Ultimately, I want to write about something that I find interesting, rather than just good or bad. However, if I really like something, I’ll want to share it with people, and Happy Disco is a great place for that.

Readership:

How much do you care about readership?

A bit? I want people reading my blog. But, to be honest, I don’t care that much. I’m happy whenever someone gives me feedback, and I’m gratified whenever I do have a solid readership, but it’s not something that will make or break Happy Disco.

Does it satisfy you to know people are reading, even if they don’t comment?

I prefer comments. I mean, everyone does, but I’d like to get more comments. That said, I’m terrible about leaving comments. I’m the absolute worst person about that. So I just hope that people enjoy Happy Disco, even if they aren’t commenting.

What effect does receiving a comment have on you?

Something like “Oh my god, they actually care enough to comment?” Something like that.

Do you write with a particular audience in mind or an unspecified general audience? Why?

Not really; this is much more of a personal activity for me. However, I try to be honest and fair in my reviews of things, just so that I don’t unnecessarily anger someone or frustrate them. I want someone to read Happy Disco and know what to expect; that they can look at a review and think “Oh, I agree with Serenyty about X Y Z and disagree about A B C, I’ll probably like this.” I

So there’s no real audience I’m aiming for, I’m just aiming to be a great blogger.

If you write for a particular audience, is it Idolminded? If yes, why?

It is gratifying to see myself covered on Idolminded; it’s part of why I love contributing when I can. Hey Ray! =D

Community: (The Idolminded section)

If Idolminded didn’t exist, would you blog?

Probably; I’d still be on my Blogspot domain, though. I love being on the Intlwota domain, you have no idea.

When IM covers an entry of yours, are you encouraged to blog more or less?

More; I know that more people read my stuff when it’s posted on Idolminded. I don’t want to let down any of my readers.

When IM does not cover an entry, are you encouraged to blog more or less?

Generally all of my entries are covered, but back when my blog was a new thing and new to Intl Wota, I was encouraged to blog MORE, because I wanted to impress everyone at Intl Wota. Oh man, thinking back to the early days of Happy Disco, memories…

How often do you read other blogs?

Daily. I check Idolminded daily, and I check my favorite blogs on a very regular basis (New School Kaidan, Selective Hearing, Okay! Musume Time, Tokyo Girls Update, the posts I don’t do for Pure Idol Heart, etc).

How often do you comment on other blogs?

Rarely. I am a terrible human.

If another blog covers a topic that you wanted or wished to cover, do you still blog about that specific topic? Why or why not?

Yep. I write mostly on a personal level, writing my opinion, not news. And there’s always room for more opinion pieces, I figure.

Commitment:

How serious is your attitude towards blogging? Do you consider it just as something to do for fun?

Kind of a mixture, I guess; I take Happy Disco seriously enough in that it’s something I’m passionate about and something that I care about, but it’s not life or death to me. I write it mostly for fun, but I’d like to get more into writing as a career potentially. But at the same time it’s not my job now, it’s fun, and I treat it as such.

How often do you blog? How often would you like to blog?

Right now it’s about once or twice a week, even though my goal is three times a week. I’d like to get three times a week. I’d LIKE to do something every day, between Happy Disco, Idolminded, Pure Idol Heart and Happy Media, but that’s not something I can do right now.

What priorities do you or have you put aside in order to blog? Why?

I blog in the afternoon, usually. I’m tired from work and just want to rest and play video games. I have to force myself to blog sometimes. But I love it.

Do you see yourself blogging in 6 months? Why or why not?

Yes. At this point I have to blog. I can’t not blog. Plus, the five year anniversary of Happy Disco will be here in about 8 months (!!!!!) so I have to make that!

Personal:

Would you say you blog for yourself?

It’s not for fame or fortune, that’s for sure. 😉

What is your feeling after posting an entry? Is it relative to the time and effort you put in an entry?

I’m tired but happy. Proud of myself, really. It’s probably not relative to time and effort, to be honest.

What needs does blogging fulfill?

My creative needs; it’s an outlet for my thoughts and opinions. I have a lot of thoughts and opinions. Therefore blogging has become a really important safety valve; otherwise I’d just be ranting about stuff to people who didn’t really care. Now I’m ranting to the internet, and people probably still don’t care.

Do you consider yourself a writer?

I think so; I certainly write enough.

Do you consider yourself good at writing? Good at blogging?

Maybe? Here’s the thing; I’m self-critical. I’m not really happy with the things I post. Yet, I look back at old Happy Disco posts and feel really happy about how far I’ve come. People tell me I’m a skilled writer, so I guess I’ll choose to believe them.

And I am not good at blogging, no. I don’t quite have the discipline to put Happy Disco on the strict schedule I want it to be on.

How much of your personal life do you share on your blog? If none, why do you leave this out?

If it’s pertinent I’ll bring it up. I don’t want to share personal details, but I’ll share how much something affected me. I share bits and pieces. Idols are my focus here, not me.

Idol Thoughts: Morning Musume vs America

I’ve mentioned a few things about idols and foreign fans in the past,
but generally, if you like Japanese idol groups and you’re not
Japanese, you have a bit of a disadvantage. Shipping stuff from Japan
is a pain, there is probably a language barrier involved, and, most
importantly, you can’t go see live events. Seeing live events is a
major area of interest for some idols, and, frankly, vital for some
(especially indie idols that don’t have much in the way of
professional releases). So every time I see idol acts become known in
the US (since that is the country where I live) or when I see idols
perform abroad, I get excited.

The Japanese music industry is strong, which is both a blessing and a
curse, in a way. It’s a blessing in that the industry behind our
favorite acts isn’t in any danger; it is profitable to be in the
Japanese music industry. However, in a selfish way, it is a curse, in
that there is not much of a financial need for exportation of music.

There’s a reason that KPop has had some success in exporting its
content. The Korean music industry, for all its renown, isn’t that
strong. South Korea is usually around the 10th or 11th largest music
markets in the world, which isn’t terrible unless you consider that
Japan made about 14 times more in music sales. So it makes sense for
Korean acts to promote in Japan and even the US; there’s money there.
However, for Japanese acts, there’s a ton of money in the industry.
Further, most of the really profitable music artists are Japanese;
some of the artists are from elsewhere (America, Korea) but those are
outliers.

So really, there aren’t many reasons for Japanese music artists to
expand beyond promoting in Japan. That’s why, whenever an idol group
or idol singer has a concert outside of Japan, I’m always excited but
intrigued as to why. Lately, idol groups are looking more and more to
perform in Europe, in the US and other countries in Asia, for a
variety of reasons.

When I saw that Morning Musume was planning on performing in New York
City this October, I immediately thought to the concept of
“reimporation” that was brought up at the beginning of this year.
Basically, the idea was that by improving Morning Musume’s
international reach, that the buzz about Morning Musume would travel
back to Japan and help them (presumably so that they can make it to
Kohaku Uta Gassen). It’s an idea that was discussed a lot when it was
brought up.

It’s not a terrible idea, and Morning Musume certainly isn’t the worst
idol group to try this. Morning Musume is arguably the most popular
idol group outside of Japan, at least in the English-speaking world.
They have a recognized fanbase in the US; it’s a relatively small one,
but large enough to justify focusing on trying to improve that
relationship. Far smaller groups have attempted to reach an
international audience (Starmarie at Anime Expo, Cheeky Parade’s
upcoming New York concert).

Lately, Up-Front has been doing a pretty solid job. On their
merchandise site, E-Lineup, there’s a link for international shipping
through Tenso.com. They’ve been putting English subtitles on their
videos on Youtube (though I’ve seen the argument that this will make
people want to buy DVDs to see the non-subbed videos). And recently,
they reached out to JPHiP to do a survey to judge the interest of
Hello!Project fans outside of Japan. I don’t know if that survey lead
to Morning Musume’s concert in New York decision, but it’s a fair bet
that that survey helped.

The biggest thing that I’m wondering about is how much of this concert
will be American fans and how much will be Japanese fans willing to
fly out to make the concert. It’s a reasonable assumption to say that
this concert will be used as a promotion for Morning Musume to talk
about their New York live. The biggest question is how much of this
concert will be in service of the American fanbase and how much of
this will be for their promotion.

I’m planning on trying to go to this. Morning Musume isn’t my top
group anymore, but I’ve regretted not going to see them at Anime Expo.
I’m also excited to meet other people that I’ve known for years, but
only online. However, much like Greg of Selective Hearing, I have to
say that this is going to be a struggle. The VIP tickets ($100 a pop)
are going to be gone in no time. Since the basic ticket is $42, an
additional $58 isn’t a bad price for an additional CD, an autographed
VIP pass and priority entrance. That said, I have a feeling that these
tickets are going to go fast in general.

All of this is making me excited for the future of a more global idol
world. Idol Matsuri and Morning Musume are spanning the gamut of indie
and major, and, more and more, the international fanbase is making
itself heard. Do I see Jpop being more than a niche in the US?
Probably not. However, things are slowly starting to snowball as idol
music is making itself more and more heard outside of Japan, and
that’s really exciting.

Idol Thoughts: Saying Goodbye to Sayumi and Idol Leadership

Earlier this week Morning Musume’s current leader Michishige Sayumi
announced her graduation from the group. This news isn’t terribly
surprising; Sayumi joined Momusu in 2003, has spent nearly 11 years in
the group, and she has the longest tenure of any Morning Musume
member. If Michishige Sayumi would graduate was never the question; it
was always a matter of when.

At this point, this feels like a really logical time for her to
graduate. The 9th generation members now have already been in the
group for three years, with Fukumura Mizuki having more Egg
experience. She has seen the group through grow and improve and reach
the heights they are currently, doing the best they have done since
before Sayumi was a member. If she stayed much longer, she might even
outstay her welcome. Morning Musume, for all it is, is not about being
stagnant. It is a constantly growing and changing group. Ai no Tane
era Musume is vastly different from Platinum 9 Disc era Morning Musume
which is vastly different from Colorful Character Morning Musume.

This graduation probably won’t affect the sales, at least not that
much. I have already seen alarmist fans worry about this, but this is
just not true. Kamei Eri was arguably the most popular member while
she was in the group, and while sales dipped when she left it wasn’t
the end of the group. Same with Takahashi Ai, Niigaki Risa and Tanaka
Reina leaving. Tanaka Reina left after Brainstorming, and sales soared
with Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke. This isn’t against Reina; she was
a really popular member. But I do think it suggests that sales are not
as dependent on the front girls as one might think, and that Morning
Musume tends to be greater than the sum of its members. Sayumi fans
may leave, or they might decide to still follow the group, and fans
might find whoever is in the 12th generation really appealing. ‘

Sayumi leaving has me thinking of idol leadership. With her gone, 9th
generation MM is now the senior generation. Which is weird! But now
Fukumura Mizuki and Iikubo Haruna are taking on leadership within the
group, which has me thinking: how much does a leader do, really?
They obviosuly don’t make business decisions; Sayumi being the leader
can’t be the cause of their recent au CM tie-in, for example. But a
leader does have a purpose within the group, and I would argue that
it’s almost completely symbolic and related to the members of the
group.

My basic thoughts about the job of a leader are as follows.
Essentially, an idol’s job is to draw attention to herself. This is
reductive, but it’s not inaccurate; an idol’s job is to draw sales
based on her own personality, performing skills, etc. A leader’s job
is to tie that group together. An idol’s job is to promote herself,
whereas a leader’s job is to put the group first. Now I’m not
necessarily certain that this is how all idol group dynamics work, but
it’s the impression I get from a lot of the great leaders of idol
groups.

One anecdote I always think of is a long interview with Berryz Koubou
and C-ute when they did their joint concert together. The girls were
talking about their early times in the H!P Kids and Arihara Kanna, a
former Egg, seemed to be left out of the reminiscing. Yajima Maimi
focused on Kanna, and asked her questions about joining C-ute after
H!P Kids were a thing. It’s a small moment, but it is one I think of
when I think of idol leadership.

Takahashi Minami is always the person who I first think of when I
think of a compelling idol leader. Whenever you hear Takamina talk,
you get the sense that she loves AKB; not just being an idol, but
AKB48 on its own. That’s an important distinction of what makes a
compelling leader. Takamina also has strong leadership skills, which
certainly helps, but I think AKB members really rally around a leader
who clearly puts the group first.

I think the most compelling evidence that being a leader is tough is
that idols have left being leader; Takagi Reni was the original leader
of Momoiro Clover, but chose to step down and Momota Kanako was the
leader. While they might not be making any decisions, it’s pretty
clear that there’s an additional element of stress associated with
being a leader as opposed to the existing stress of being an idol.

Of course, this isn’t to say that being a leader in an idol group is
only relegated to the members who have that title due to seniority or
age; there are plenty fo idols I would consider leaders without that
title. Washio Miki is no longer the leader of Rev.from DVL, but I’d
consider her still a major leadership force within the group. Mitsui
Aika was considered a big influence on the 9th generation of Morning
Musume, and took opportunities to help her juniors. A lot of the H!P
Kids looked up to Ishikawa Rika, who from day one acted in a
support/leadership role in the 4th generation of Morning Musume. I’m
sure there are many more examples, but these are the first that come
to mind.

Michishige Sayumi, for insisting on her cuteness and whatnot, seemed
to slip into a leadership role in her later years in Morning Musume. I
do think the younger members admired her, and will have to work to be
able to move past this shock of her leaving. That said, I’m pretty
excited to see this new Morning Musume past her graduation, and I
think that they are ultimately ready.

Idol Thoughts: Rev. From DVL

One of the things I’ve come across lately is discussion about Rev.from DVL that focuses on Kanna. Which is totally fair. I mean, look at this face. One in a thousand year idol indeed.

lovearigatou1

But seriously, I understand why this group is being regarded as being overhyped, or, when people review the group, they are just reviewing Kanna. She is really big on her own. However, as the resident Rev.from DVL fan (at least, from what I know of the international idol communitY), I would like to give my case for the group and why I think they’re more than a flash in the pan group.

Before 2ch and Kanna

One of the things that I found out just as I was writing this post is that Rev.from DVL has been around much longer than you guys probably think. The group was originally just named ‘DVL’ and was formed in 2003. Yes, not 2013, 2003. There is one member left from that original lineup, and that’s Rev’s former leader and one of my favorite members, Washio Miki.

But most of the current members have still been around for a long time. There are thirteen members in the group, and nine of them joined before 2011, which is when the group became Rev. from DVL. But still, the fact that this has been an active group for so long is fairly remarkable, and has allowed all the girls to hone their skills (mostly in dancing).

The songs featured on Rev’s recent major debut single, Love Arigatou, are all songs that have been done by Rev for some time. Before this single, Rev actually put out two local only singles, Love Arigatou and Ai ni Kinshai. Love Arigatou in particular was the big signature song for Rev. from DVL, at least since the name change, so it’s notable that they kept this song (even though there is a change in arrangement).


But even though the group has been around for a long time, most of what they did was perform locally, doing lives on the street and doing things for local events. They were supported by their agency, Active Hakata, but they were very indie. In fact, much of their success is traced to self-promotion. I found the group through Miki, because she followed me spontaneously on twitter. While the group has been around for quite some time, the individual members are very active on social media, through blogging and twitter (each member has both a blog and twitter).

In fact, one of the prevailing theories about how Rev blew up online was that the original poster of Kanna was someone from the agency or someone related to the group itself. This is just a wild guess, but it’s an interesting one at that.

Kanna and Rev’s present

Just a recap: Rev from DVL hit the national idol scene when someone posted pictures of Kanna on popular site 2ch. Since then these pictures spread like wildfire and Kanna has gotten a lot of attention, through the news, CM deals, and so forth.

One of the things that I’ve seen people wonder is how the other members view Kanna, since she’s getting all this attention. Which is a fair question. However, I don’t think there’s a lot of animosity. First, Kanna was always the most popular member of the group. She was certainly not known to the degree she’s known now, but Kanna got a lot of attention before hand.

Rev from DVL made an appearance on Hey!Hey!Hey!, and they actually asked something along those lines. The answer the members gave, which is what I was thinking, is that because Kanna blew up, the group was able to get a lot further. They could have a major debut single with a sizable budget and they could perform on national TV. I’d imagine there is some level of jealousy, but I think, almost more than anything else, there’s a feeling of gratitude for Kanna. She became popular, but she chose to stick in Rev from DVL instead of going to another group or even going solo.

In fact, I’m pretty pleased with how much other members are being focused on. Hey!Hey!Hey! specifically allowed for other members to get some focus. This Music Dragon performance gives a lot of close ups to other members. There is a lot of focus on Kanna in the PVs and on these programs, but they make it clear that Kanna isn’t the only member, which is gratifying.

Rev’s Future

So now that Rev from DVL has made their major debut, what’s the future for them? Well, Love Arigatou just came out, so it’s hard to tell. However, they did just receive #3 on the daily Oricon charts, selling 6625 copies. Which isn’t terrible, for an indie group’s major debut with two main versions. There are a few more web versions sold via Chara-ani, so it’ll be interesting to see where the group ends up. I imagine that the total final sales will end up at around 10000, which is a very respectable debut.

Beyond that, while I don’t know if Rev has ability to be the next big group on the level of AKB or MomoClo, but I don’t think that they’re going to go away any time soon. The group has been around for over 10 years; they deserve a bit of time in the spotlight.

My Thoughts

Honestly, it’s hard to describe why I love this group so much. Since the group has been getting a lot of hype, it’s hard to justify it. However, here’s my basic thoughts.

When I found the group, they were very indie. But, for an indie group, they had a very strong performance level. Love Arigatou was a really catchy song to hear from such a tiny group, and I was really impressed by the group’s dancing and singing skills.

This is the first performance I really watched, and I was immediately impressed by the level of performance of this group, and the subsequent performances I’ve seen. The biggest thing that draws me to an idol is a genuine love and excitement for performing, and I got that from all the members of Rev from DVL. They’re all just really excited to be idols, which is what made me happy as a fan. If you pay attention to all the mmebers, you’ll see a lot of enthusiasm,

Yukki

Since their major debut, I’ve continued to be impressed by them. While I prefer the original arrangement of Love Arigatou (I plan on reviewing the two PVs for this single on Monday…), all the things I was impressed by have only magnified. I really enjoyed their appearance on Hey!Hey!Hey! and I hope they get more variety exposure, because that could be a big strength for this group, as shown by that appearance.

While Rev from DVL might seem like a flash in the pan, I see a group that has been around for a long time and is finally achieving success after ten years of growth. I honestly can’t wait to see more from them.

If you are interested in any particular member or aspect of the group, their website (rev.jp.net) has a solid site. Otherwise, feel free to ask me any questions because I love this group!

Idol Thoughts: Indie Idols and Barriers to Access

One person so far has taken me up on my offer of suggesting a topic for Happy Disco after donating to Idol Matsuri’s Indiegogo campaign! (DONATE HERE). That person would be James of This is Your Wake Up Call! James’ biggest idol interest is in Indie idols, and asked me to talk about it. Once we talked briefly, we got on a subject I’ve considered talking about, and that’s the difficulty of being a foreign fan of indie idols.

I have been neglecting Pure Idol Heart unfairly lately, but I do contribute to that site, and often the owner of the site, Gaki, will suggest groups he likes (since he’s in Japan). However, it’s hard to look things up for most of these groups in English. James mentioned that he doesn’t speak Japanese, and my Japanese skills are rusty and spotty. I’m honestly terrible at remembering kanji. So there’s a clear language barrier in enjoying idol music, especially indie idols that might not have a huge English-language fanbase.

However, beyond that, there’s often not that much out there for indie groups. Back when I was covering RYUTist for my TIFriday posts (about Tokyo Idol Festival), I sung praises for the group’s website. While part of that was a bit hyperbolic and I really do like the group for other reasons, it is rare that an indie group would have just so much stuff online. There are a lot of idol groups out there that might only have an ameba blog as their website, if even, and very basic things in terms of youtube presence. I think a lot of this is due to many indie groups mainly existing as a live presence; they coast along on one or two releases and do the majority of their work in lives. This means that they aren’t always focused on keeping an up to date twitter, Facebook, website, youtube, etc. It makes sense, but it again makes things harder on foreign fans.

All these barriers make it really difficult to keep following smaller idol groups. Occasionally there are dedicated Japanese fans that make it easier; Aither has Chibineko Suwano who uploads a ton of videos and has been contributing in English to Idol Matsuri plans. MMJ (a Hiroshima-based group I like) has Kats/Grayengineer who has contributed to the Hello!Online thread about the group and generally writes in both English and Japanese about the group (mostly if you ask him, but he’s very nice!). But that’s the thing; to be a follower of an indie group where the management isn’t thinking too much towards international fans, you need someone to be the gatekeeper of information. And really, why should an indie group try and think of foreign fans, when they won’t be coming to live events and can’t purchase goods?

That said, being a fan of indie groups can be a lot of fun. I’ve written a few times on twitter to MMJ’s Kyao, and she responded to me. I’ve been able to get responses from the Rev.from DVL staff (though this was pre-Kannagate, so idk if they would now) and from a few idols. There’s just a lot more of that direct communication that isn’t allowed or possible with larger groups. In a way, even though accessing videos and information is harder for indie groups, they can be easier to reach, despite being foreign. And while this does require some Japanese skills, one of those barriers, watching indie groups grow can be really rewarding. As a Rev. from DVL fan, I was so ecstatic to see their PV for Love Arigatou, because it represents years of hard work. The growth of Rhymeberry from a smaller group to the group that did SUPERMCZTOKYO is also very rewarding. And I still can’t really believe that small upstart group Momoiro Clover is where the are right now.

Indie groups aren’t always easy, but the rewards of being a fan can be definitely worth it.

And, for a bit of fun, here are some of the indie/lesser known groups that I’ve been following lately!

Tochiotome25

This group really caught my eye at last year’s Tokyo Idol Festival, and they have really blown me away with this latest song (“Dokkaan! Ichigo Sakusen”). The girls all have ridiculous amounts of energy, and while their previous work has been cute and fun, Dokkaan! is taking things to a new level for them.

MIKA☆RIKA

This song, “Funky OL ~Shigoto Shitaku nai yo~” (Funky OL ~I don’t want to work~) has kind of been my jam since I started working full time. While Rhymeberry is my hip hop group of choice, I kind of enjoy how fun and silly MIKA☆RIKA get in this song and PV.

Kawasaki Junjou Komachi

Aside from Kawasaki Junjou Ondo being pretty much a perfect song, I like this group’s commitment to wearing yukata and being generally traditionally Japan inspired. Created to support Kawasaki, this group has a lot of talent and I enjoy every song I’ve heard from them. In a weird way they remind me of early MomoClo, which means I definitely want to hear more from them!

GALETTe

This group has been getting some hype lately, but it’s pretty well deserved. Taken from idols who have been active idols in the past, GALETTe is basically an indie idol supergroup. ‘G’ is still my favorite single by them, but Jajauma to Yobanaide has gotten people talking because it added former HKT48 member Komori Yui to the mix. This is a group who is still very new, but has the opportunity to become big.

Muto Ayami

While Mizuno Yui has always been my Sakura Gakuin favorite, there is something special about Muto Ayami. She has a really strong idol presence that was pretty captivating in the Sakura Gakuin stuff she was in before she graduated (especially Twinklestars. Never forget Twinklestars.). So when it was announced that she was making her solo debut, I was all on board. She’s just started putting out music, but she’s really a soloist to look out for.

Sunmyu

Sunmyu is a group I never thought would get as good as they are now. I mean, they were always a cute group, but it took them covering my favorite Japanese song ever “Natsu Matsuri” that got me excited. While they did a great job with a song like Natsu Matsuri, their regular focus is on mellow, pleasant songs and generally having the feel of being classic idols (though they don’t quite have the music of the greatest classic idols). I’m amazed at how far they’ve come, and I’m interested in more.

RYUTist

I’m super excited for Idol Matsuri, and all the guests who are coming. Aither is really cute, and I can’t wait to meet them. However, RYUTist is a group I was starting to grow to like before Idol Matsuri, and the prospect of meeting them has fanned the flame even more. They have a lot of fantastic music and are all solid performers. I’m planning on buying some goods to support the Idol Matsuri Indiegogo, but I’m waiting on buying an oshi towel until I can figure out who my favorite is, because I like them all.

This is just a small segment of the really strong indie idol scene going on right now. This is why I follow Tokyo Idol Festival so much every year; it’s a great resource to finding newer idol groups. While they may be harder to find, there’s a lot to like in the indie idol scene, and it’s a scene I know I need to keep digging more into.