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.

Your Thoughts + An Announcement

Hey guys!

Last week I got one comment from NyNy of Ny Ny Online who wrote:

Interesting to see what you are doing lately! I’m loving your “Your Thoughts” posts right now.

First off, thank you! I’ve gotten really good support so far for my proposal. Someone on the 33 1/3 site said they wanted to read it, I’ve gotten excellent support from my family and friends, and I feel very loved. I’m hoping that my book proposal gets chosen, but I’ve been happy to see people supportive of me. Again, my biggest hope/goal is to see more and more “serious”, well thought out idol writing, preferably in the mainstream, so I’m hoping that this will happen!

And thank you for your comment on my “Your Thoughts” posts! I’m glad that you like them. I think it’s interesting to get people involved more and more with thinking about things, especially thinking about wider implications regarding idols, so I hope more and more people get interested, or start their own similar posts! Recently I’ve gotten into reading reviews on a certain site, and the comments are almost more interesting than the actual review itself. I would like this to be something that keeps on going in the idol fandom.

ANNOUNCEMENT

I already mentioned this on Twitter, but in case you don’t have twitter. I am trying to get as many people supporting Idol Matsuri as possible. They currently have an Indiegogo up, and I’d like you to consider donating, even if you aren’t going.

The thing is, even the huge conventions of today started out small. The first San Diego Comic Con only had about 300 attendees. But the thing is, the first year is really going to be indicative of what’s to come. If this year is a big success, that opens up opportunities for more and more groups to come to the US. A successful first year is key for the future of this enterprise.

Even if you aren’t going, think about if you would want to go next year, or the year after that. You don’t have to donate much, but if the idol fan community can pitch in and make this a rousing success, it will make future events much much easier.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/idol-matsuri-usa-s-first-j-pop-idol-convention

As an incentive, I’m giving a special Happy Disco bonus. In addition to the rewards listed here, if you donate over $30, you can choose the subject of a future Happy Disco post.

Now this is with a caveat; it has to fit within my usual post structure. So you can’t demand I start doing nothing but photo posts or magically get an interview with a group. But you can either:

A. Pick the subject of a review post, by picking an album, single, PV, or anything reasonable that you want me to review. It has to be something that’s relatively accessible for me to watch and review. So if you like a specific idol group that you want me to cover, this is your time!

B. Pick the subject of an Idol Thoughts post. Want me to talk about line distribution more? Done. Want to read about how people perceive idols in America? Done. Really, as long as it’s a coherent, thought out thought, it should be fine.

C. Want me to make a list of my favorite songs relating to a specific subject? Any list idea is welcome for List Friday.

If you have any other ideas, please let me know. All I ask is that when you get the confirmation page up for your contribution to Idol Matsuri, take a screencap and send it to me. Either put it in a comment here or as a direct message to me on twitter (@writerserenyty). If you are a Facebook friend, that’s fine as well.

Let’s work together to make Idol Matsuri a huge success! Thank you for listening to my spiel, and I hope you’ve considered donating money to make this first convention really special.

Idol Thoughts: What I’ve Been Up to..

Hey gang! Sorry I suddenly dropped off the face of the planet for two weeks. I was working on a project…

If you follow my twitter at all you might have seen, but I made a book proposal to the 33 1/3 series. This is a series of books focusing on a single album for each book. I found the series through Ray of Idolminded, and as soon as I saw that the series was accepting submissions I jumped on it.

And yes, my submission is AKB48’s 1830m.

I have no idea how this will be received, to be honest. The series hasn’t really done anything like it; the majority of the albums reviewed are rock, and idol music isn’t the natural progression. Yet, on the other hand, they don’t exclusively do rock albums or even albums that are considered “good.” The book I’ve read from the series was based off of Celine Dion’s “Let’s Talk about Love” and it was focused on ideas of taste and why people like music that others hate. I saw that two people this year submitted ideas on writing about Miley Cyrus’ album BANGERZ. I feel like AKB48 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Even still, this was an interesting experience for me. I was trying to pitch the idea of idol writing and a Japanese idol group to people who, as far as I know, have little to no knowledge of it, let alone interest. Writing my proposal was an interesting exercise in trying to convey idol culture and AKB within the constraints of the questions at hand. I worked hard at it, but if a miracle happens and they decide to accept my proposal I know that this is something I will have to polish and test on others, to see if I did a good enough job.

I like writing on Happy Disco. Writing about idols and Japanese music is fun for me, and it’s the type of thing that I wish I could do professionally. If this works out, this wouldn’t necessarily make me rich or famous, but it would be writing about idols, getting some money, and getting a very nice stepping stone to show for possible future writing jobs. But like I said, this is still a very long shot to get, so I’m not going to bet on this.

Ultimately, though, I do wish that something like this would happen; if not my book than another JPop book. There are some assorted books about JPop and idols; at this point a lot of them are academic and, thus, expensive. I would like to buy Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Culture, for example, but justifying that $69.30 price for a kindle version alone is difficult. Some books touch on the concept of idol music (like Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential) but not to a really major extent. An accessible book about idol music might be a good step into getting more people to talk about it and think about this type of thing seriously, which is something I’d like.

Again, I have no idea if this will actually be accepted, and I don’t want to get my hopes up. This is just why I’ve been away from the Disco for a while. Wish me luck!

Your Thoughts: Idol Demographics

Hey all! Long time no see! I was busy with a personal project, but I’ll let you know about that in this week’s new Idol Thoughts post.

We’ve got comments from Steve Summers (writing at Selective Hearing) and Skoban! Comments from these guys are in bold italics, my responses are in plain text. First comment is from Steve:

The main point I wanted to bring up here is just in regards to your last 2 paragraphs. You seem to speak with the assumption that idols are something new and have been “working themselves into the mainstream culture” lately. Thing is, idols have been around since the 60s, and for most period of history within those almost 60 years, idols HAVE BEEN pretty mainstream and accepted outside of wota, with a few exceptions like the early 90s and mid 2000s. It isn’t something new that idols are being marketed to the mainstream and accepted by it to some extent.

I understand where you’re coming from. I mean, I really like Matsuda Seiko, and the 80s in particular had a lot of that back and forth between Matsuda Seiko and Nakamori Akina in sales. Idols have been in the mainstream since their introduction. However, that’s not always been the case. I doubt that people are going to go “oh, I like Matsuda Seiko’s music, so I ought to give MomoClo a try.” The idol industry has changed a lot over the years, and if your experience with idols is liking Candies and Yamaguchi Momoe, you might need an introduction into current idol culture.

Also, I think time really makes things look different in retrospect. Take western music; The Beatles could be considered a boy band, but I doubt Beatles fans care much about One Direction. Even if you don’t consider The Beatles a boy band (and I don’t blame you if you don’t), then even The Monkees have gotten a lot more respect in retrospect, and I doubt people who liked them would swoon over the boys of One Direction. Even if the genres and celebrity styles are similar, it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily compatible.

Even though the main chunk of the idol’s activities are targeted at wota, they can change their image and activities at a whim to appeal to other audiences whenever they want, and they often do. Like when idols do TV commercials or advertisements for computers or food or something else that has nothing to do with their regular activities, they’re just adapting to the situation and using their general image as “attractive, youthful people” to sell the products they’ve been commissioned to sell. These kinds of things are most of the exposure that idols really get with the mainstream most of the time.

They’re really just marketing tools who are molded and changed on a whim when they get commissioned to do a different kind of job or appeal to a different kind of market, so I think this magazine in particular was highlighting some of the aspects of the idols that more specifically appealed to the audience that is the magazine’s target readers.

That’s true; I know that the groups they focused in particular on were groups they decided were appealing to women. Which makes sense. The thing I found interesting was that there were sections that focused on education, saying “these are major aspects of idol culture.” It wasn’t just the articles about C-ute, 9nine, Tokyo Girls’ Style and the other idol acts deemed popular enough with women, but introductions to very indie groups, glossaries, a map of idol groups and where they fit in with each other, etc. It got fairly in depth for what could have been puff pieces which had interviews with the girls about fashion or something and had them model. It was specifically “these are important aspects of idols” and I thought that was fairly admirable.

With those two things in mind, I think you make it out to be a little bigger of a deal about it than it really is in regards to the industry or culture. Not saying you shouldn’t be excited about the magazine, as you can be excited about whatever you want, but I just don’t think it means anything major for the industry or culture. Interesting to hear your thoughts, though~

I don’t know if the magazine itself is 100% going to change anything. I just think that it’s kind of a way of showing that the times are changing, and that, years into the current idol boom, a popular magazine shows a spotlight on idols that aren’t AKB or MomoClo. I think your points are really valid, but I do think that the female idol fan demographic has been growing, and this indicates that it’s a significant enough interest for a women’s fashion magazine to dedicate an issue.

 

With that, here’s Skoban’s comment!

Haha, I have the same magazine cluttering my desk XD

I agree with you – it does seem like recently, the tides are turning from hardcore, predominantly male idol wota towards increased acceptance by the mainstream. Anecdotal evidence suggests that female attendance for Morning Musume and C-ute events seem to be steadily rising, and this new female audience seem to be composed of more relatively ordinary girls rather than hardcore female wota.

Oh yeah, it really does seem that way. I mean, it’s all anecdotal, but watching older Morning Musume concerts, when they called out “female fans” it used to be a lot quieter than it is now. I watch Team Syachihoko events more than anything, and the female fanbase is really sizable; not just one or two in a crowd. Even at smaller fan events there’s usually a decent number of ladies there. And then you have the Onna Matsuri events for Momoiro Clover Z, where they filled the Budokan with female fans. (I remember the concert where they first announced the first Onna Matsuri; some of the female fans were flipping out).

There seems to be more acceptance for working as an idol as well. It’s not uncommon for a newcomer to the idol scene to mention a senior idol as their inspiration to enter the industry. Contrast this to the motivations of some pretty established idols:
When they made a guest appearance on an Arashi show, all of MomoClo Z mentioned that they had joined their agency with the hopes of becoming actresses or singers. The agency just happened to put them into a sort of experimental dance group thing, which then blew up to where they are now.
Also, some members of early generation AKB48 joined with the intention of gathering experience in order to become actresses, variety talents, and the such.
There’s also Kusumi Koharu, who created quite an uproar when she mentioned that she considered Morning Musume as a stepping stone on the way to becoming a model.

This is something I have thought about a lot, actually. Even if this current idol boom starts fading, there are a lot of girls who are dreaming of becoming idols, rather than becoming something else. I mean, I’m not sure if that necessarily makes better groups, but I seriously doubt there will be a shortage of idols or girls who want to become idols. It’s already starting; a lot of the younger groups have girls who admire AKB or MomoClo. Yuzuki from Team Syachihoko admired Reni from MomoClo so much that she wanted to become an idol. It’s kind of cool, really.

All in all, I’m in agreement that this kind of increased coverage is something good. It shows that idols aren’t just being supported by wota, but are also being backed by the mainstream audience. And as a plus, it also supports new entrants into the idol scene. More lolis for us!’

And I got another comment from Skoban:

Just so you know, I dashed off this translation of page 14, where the idol feature begins. It does state at the end that they are trying to move beyond AKB and MomoClo

{Huge pink letters} Researching idols in secret {/pink}
Now, you can’t talk about entertainment, the economy, or fashion without mentioning idols.
“Japan’s idols are on the move!”, one really feels.
Therefore in this anan, an idol feature of women, by women, for women.
From the ability to produce themselves; we get feminine power, expressive power, willpower,etc.,
We’ve been studying from these idols, and there really is a lot.
Now, study with all your might the things you want to keep an eye on in the idol scene beyond AKB48 and Momoclo. (Emphasis mine)

As a bonus, top left on the cover: Currently surging, girls hooked on female idols!

Thanks for the translation! I think this is a really interesting statement, especially the whole “feminine power” part. It’s great to see that this was a concerted effort to go past AKB and MomoClo. Thanks!

Idol Thoughts: Idol Demographics

I recently got the female idol issue of anan in the mail. While I was initially excited because Kanna from Rev.From DVL is on the cover (even though she’s not even my rev.From DVL favorite) and it looked like it was writing about a variety of idols, this magazine has been even more interesting.

anan is a Japanese women’s magazine aimed at women in their 20s; it’s not obviously for teens. So in doing this special issue about female idols, this magazine interested me for a couple of reasons.

1. A women’s magazine is doing a whole issue about female idols, which is not the demographic typically associated with idol fandom.

2. The magazine notably doesn’t talk much about AKB48 or Momoiro Clover Z.

This isn’t to say that AKB and MomoCLo are ignored; they are absolutely mentioned. But these mentions are more in the context of other groups, rather than the other way around. The acts that get big features are Kanna (though I wish more focus was on rev!), Morning Musume, E-Girls, Tokyo Girls’ Style, Babymetal, etc. These aren’t small groups, mind you, but it’s interesting that this magazine seemed to want to go for introducing idols to this group, rather than talking about groups that the demographic already likely knows.

There were other interesting aspects of the magazine, as well. One thing I found interesting was how the majority of the magazine was taken up by idols. There were the regular magazine sections near the end, but this magazine was taken up by idols; it wasn’t just an article or a feature. I also thought it was interesting that they clearly seemed to be trying to teach their audience about idols. There’s a section in the middle that has a map of the various idol groups and their relations to one another, a glossary of phrases, and so on. The magazine also didn’t shy away from the indie side of the spectrum; there’s a section that does small introductions on groups that didn’t get a larger feature, and groups like X21 and Sanmyu~ got a chance to shine.

Really, I think this is one of the biggest signs that idol culture has become a thing in Japan, beyond AKB48 and beyond who are traditionally considered to be wota. This magazine is proof that there’s an interest at the very least in learning more about idols, and that idol culture in itself has hit the mainstream. AKB and MomoClo are still by far the biggest players, for sure, but this shows that this idol phenomenon has reached beyond the male wota audience that most people tend to associate with idol fandom.

Is the audience 50-50 men and women? Probably not, especially for the tiny indie groups. Is every aspect of idol culture going to be accepted by the mainstream? Probably not. That said, this is a step, and a big one at that. This is the type of thing that those of us who love idol groups should be excited for.

Your Thoughts: Fan Behavior

I got two replies this week, from Chiima of Okay!Musume Time and Steve of Selective Hearing. So it’s an exciting Your Thoughts Week!

Chiima Wrote:

have only ever been to two lives; a 30 seconds to Mars concert, and a small Pub live by an amazing Welsh band called 4th Street Traffic. Both were terrific lives, however I never found that there was much communication between fans during either of these lives as, in general, we Brits stick to whoever we’re going to these performances with – we don’t really mingle unless we’re going out to do that sort of thing specifically.

From what I see on videos or from concert clips is that Idol Fans actually come together, as you said – in their chants and how they react to the songs or who is performing. However here, if you chant, it’s usually between you and your friends rather than everyone – the only time we come together is to scream lyrics when the performer stops singing for a second to let the crowd sing along. Really, we don’t join as a whole community of fans, we’re just individual fans in one huge space, watching the same performer.

I want to go to an idol live because I want to just be around a community of people and feel like I belong, rather than standing there as an individual who is seeing the same person as everyone else, but doing their own kind of thing.

Interesting article, it definitely made me think about the only two lives I have ever been to, and how disconnected the fans are from each other here!!!

This is pretty much how I feel a lot of times at shows; at most shows I go to I stick with whoever I’m with and it feels like I’m watching a show and I’m not really part of things. That’s the thing I think I like best about idol shows; the fans are not only there, but they’re participating.

And now, from Steve:

I’ve been to about 60 or 70 concerts in the last 15 years or so, ranging from extreme death metal/black metal to electronic music as well as plenty of idol concerts and even a few random country and bluegrass shows. I’ve been all over the spectrum, and while some concerts generally do have a kind of “community” aspect to them, I never really get too involved in that kind of thing. Here’s an attempt at explaining why.

I guess just as a personal thing, I don’t like associating myself with a crowd or group of people too closely, and not just for some silly fear of “conforming” but I’d just rather be someone taken as an individual. In any group of people I find that I do have something in common with or do find something I can relate to them on, there’s usually at least an equal amount of things about those people that I am against and don’t agree with and don’t want to be associated with. And that’s a part of life, is celebrating being different from others and still being able to get along with them, but there’s something about being part of a “crowd mentality” and blindly banding together with other people that makes me uncomfortable. Again, while I do find things that I can get along with people about, becoming part of “the crowd” just for the sake of community rubs me the wrong way, so I usually just do whatever I feel like doing, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

As I had said earlier, maybe a good example of this is like I said on twitter before, the type of show doesn’t necessarily dictate what kind of “community” or bonding you’ll have with other people. I’ve been to loud, crazy death metal shows and met some of the nicest, most considerate people I’ve ever run into, and run into some of the biggest and most inconsiderate assholes at idol shows. Contrary to everything usually associated with idol music, not everyone who likes idol music is a good person by default or someone I want to be associated with. Just as I’d like to be viewed as an individual, I view everyone else as an individual and don’t use my association with a certain crowd or group to define myself or fill in parts of my personality.

I love and value meeting new people as much as anyone else, especially when I have things in common with them, but it doesn’t mean I instantly want to become their best friend and become part of a “community” with them.

It also rubs me the wrong way how much they put forth this kind of “community” and togetherness aspect amongst idol fans (Japanese ones in particular) at the live shows and stuff, but then proceed to be hateful, disrespectful, and otherwise very unfriendly to other fans in the online space and at some other kinds of idol events that aren’t concerts. It makes the “community” that they represent at concerts feel a lot more hollow and dishonest as a whole, when, in a different environment, they act completely differently.

Hopefully some of this makes sense, even if it seems like we just have different kinds of personalities and approaches to these kinds of situations and may disagree in the end.

I understand where you’re coming from, Steve; I normally don’t like crowd mentality, especially for things with very commercial interests. However, that is something I think I’d like at a concert. If I was able to actively show my individuality at a setting like this, I would; however, it’s impossible to hear or notice one person in a concert crowd. I don’t think the audience has to be noticed, or even should be noticed, but it’s just something I’ve thought about.

I understand where you’re coming from; there are people you don’t want to be associated within any group, and there are some fans in particular with idol fans. However, I personally think there’s value to bonding with someone, even if it’s only for a concert or because you’re chanting together. Due to  my short stature (5’1″) and my general shyness, I generally have to hold back at concerts: I find a place where I’ll be able to see, and I have a hard time meeting people at these situations. I just think that there’s something to be said for becoming part of a group, even if that’s not something I’d even want in my day to day life.

But yeah, I think this boils down to a difference in experiences and a difference in what we value/want.

Idol Thoughts: Fan Behavior

Sorry for the late post, but I got this idea and couldn’t stop it.

Last night I went and saw Arctic Monkeys perform at a local venue. It was a really fantastic concert; Arctic Monkeys have become a pretty big deal, but they keep coming to a pretty small venue that holds 1500 total (to be fair, this is a pretty well-regarded venue for rock acts). But one thing I’ve noticed whenever I go to concerts for rock acts is that there’s generally not a lot of specific fan behavior; people cheer and clap, to be sure (I may have yelled REALLY loudly when they started playing my favorite song by them, ‘Flourescent Adolescent’), but it’s a really big contrast to go to a rock concert in the US (by a British artist, but still) and then watching idol acts.

It’s just interesting, how the atmosphere of concerts changes. I’ve gone to one idol live (an international one, as well, since I’ve never been to Japan), but I’ve been to really small club venues and I’ve also seen concerts at huge arenas. All of these have their own merits and demerits; seeing Freelance Whales at 7th Street Entry was really fun and intimate, but seeing Katy Perry at a huge arena was a major spectacle. However, the one thing I’ve always noticed from idol lives that I’ve never quite gotten is that sense of crowd unity that only comes with things like fan chants and glowsticks.

I’ve seen people criticize idol fan crowds because of this type of conformity of sorts; that you can’t be an individual with that. This might be true, in a way. Personally, I think the worst thing (and in a way the best thing) about fan chants is how they treat the other; unless you know what to shout when, you’re going to feel like an outsider at an idol concert. If you don’t know the mix to shout during the overture, you might have a worse experience. The reason I say this might be one of the best things is just because (I imagine) it would make you feel like part of a community.

The reason I think I’d prefer going to an idol concert is that sense of community. Going to see Arctic Monkeys last night was really fun, and I enjoyed myself a lot, but I didn’t feel that connection to the rest of the crowd. I was happy to be at a place where others liked the same music I liked, and it was fun to get pumped up when they started with “Do I Wanna Know?” from their latest album.

However, it’s easy to get drowned out when shouting at a concert like this, and I know that personally I look forward to going to more idol concerts and shouting along, as conformist as it may be.

Idol Thoughts: Indie vs Major?

I’ve been trying to do some more writing for Pure Idol Heart as of late. It was one of my favorite idol sites before I joined as a writer, and I really admire what it does to try and get people interested in indie idols. There’s a great world out there beyond the main groups of idols, and I want more people to learn about these groups.

The thing that I’ve been thinking about, though, is the increasing blurred lines between indie and major. The basic concept is easy; indie are all groups on an independent label and major is on a major label (like King Records, Sony, Avex, etc.). However, what really are the main advantages of a major debut? It’s what a lot of idol groups aim for; the biggest indie idol contest, the UMU award, takes local idols and makes the big prize a major debut. This could be a huge thing for a lot of groups. However, what about indie idol groups that are already fairly successful?

Lately I and some others have taken interest in the Fukuoka based HR. This is a group I’ve had my eye on for a while (mostly because Fukuoka has had a really good track record lately for idol groups). However, recently they hit #6 on the Oricon weekly chart. With an indies single, Evolution da. I know that Oricon chart rankings don’t mean everything, but that’s definitely higher than even some major debut idols.

This isn’t a fluke or one group; WHY@DOLL recently hit #10 on the Oricon weekly chart, as well.

One answer I thought of was major distribution; it is difficult for some idol groups to distribute their stuff. I know there are a few idol groups out there that I’d love to buy their singles, but they just don’t sell them at major retailers. Which is the case for a lot of the smaller indie groups. However, again look to HR. I recently purchased a copy of Evolution Da because I like it so much, and they’re selling it through CDJapan (and I assume most retailers in Japan). It’s still possible to get Rhymeberry’s indie single “Hey! Brother” through these types of retailers, as well. It’s no longer necessary to have a major retailer to be on the national scene.

I’m not trying to say that getting on a major debut isn’t a big goal; it really is, especially for idols that perform at the tiniest venues or at street lives. However, there is an increasing class of idol group that I’d call ‘high-profile indie,’ and it makes some of those benefits fade a little.

Your Thoughts: Team 8 and Professional Endorsements

This week’s Your Thoughts post comes from Steve, who notably writes at Selective Hearing!

I guess I’m generally really skeptical of any kind of major endorsement by these huge corporations like this or the recent MM thing. Not because I necessarily think it’ll change what they’re doing or bring down the “artistic integrity” so to speak, but I just feel it’s somewhat exploitative of these companies and almost kind of…shallow to approach these groups to try to capture some kind of new audience for their products, and there’s something especially weird when it comes to things like mobile phone service or cars, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

I feel like maybe since phone carriers are technically a service and not an actual product you can see/touch/feel/taste (so marketing for these products just feels like nothing but “trust us, we’re great!” with no real backup or direct contact with potential customers) and for cars…they’re just kind of a luxury item for most people in Japan, which feels like…why would teenage idols help in you selling luxury items, especially when most wota are the poorest people out there after spending their money on all the idol goods?

I guess a general sense of “image” comes into play with these things, the idols’ history/notoriety notwithstanding, but the whole thing just feels weird. Random marketing stints for TV shows, new electronics, food items/restaurants, etc. doesn’t seem nearly as…misleading(?) as cars or non-tangible services. It’s hard to put together a lot of thoughts about this without actually discussing it with someone else, but I guess that’s what these posts are for. I’m interested to hear what you think about that.

I’m inclined to agree that it is a shady practice, but isn’t this the case with all celebrity endorsements, idol or no? I mean, this is a very common practice within advertising, idols or no. I mean, look at some of the high profile commercials. Do you think that Stephen Colbert really really loves pistachios and therefore went to them to make their commercial? Of course not, that would be silly. The people who market products look for something to increase their brand, and celebrity endorsements are one way to do that. I’m sure you understand this, but I just don’t see why idols endorsing something are much different.

As for cars… I mean, yes they are a luxury item. However, I heard something interesting recently. I was listening to a podcast (the OverthinkingIt Podcast) talking about Superbowl ads. They brought up the idea that car companies aren’t necessarily looking for you to buy a car of theirs NOW, but in the future; that these ads (especially the nebulous ones that aren’t really for a specific car) are trying to bring up brand awareness and getting you to associate this brand with a specific feeling/emotion. Since Toyota isn’t specifically selling a car with this deal, I”m thinking this is what they’re going for. They want AKB fans to associate the feelings of being an AKB fan with Toyota, so that when they’re ready to buy a car they have positive feelings about Toyota already in their head. It’s still a bit weird, but not as weird as “You like AKB? Then buy this car!”

Personally the idol ad that made me feel the weirdest was seeing that Morning Musume were featured on a recruitment poster for Japan’s Self-Defense Force (the closest thing Japan has to an army now post WWII). “In 2003, a Self-Defense Forces poster featured the all-women pop group Morning Musume in an effort to target high school students. The members of the group appear in their pop costumes and are crying out “Doing One’s Best Feels Good – Go! Go! Peace!” ” (Source)

Idol Thoughts: Team 8 and Professional Endorsements

Since my last Idol Thoughts post, AKS announced that AKB would be getting a Team 8. This announcement has (understandably) gotten a lot of interest and buzz, because a lot of what Team 8 is going to be is very unprecedented. 47 Girls in an audition, one from each prefecture? This is going to be an odd generation. “Idols who come to meet you?” It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out (I doubt one of them will fly to Minnesota to meet me, though). So understandably, these are the things people are talking about. However, the one thing that I think is very interesting and perhaps hasn’t been talked about enough is that Team 8 is officially sponsored by Toyota.

Idols aren’t strangers to commercial endorsements. Last week I wrote about how Morning Musume getting a major CM deal with au was a major sign that things were going well for MM. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to do commercial endorsements. They get public awareness up for your idol/group and get some new funding. Corporate sponsorship CAN do some good things. I’ve been watching the show Chuck lately, which was in danger of cancellation for quite a bit of its run. However, fans reached out to one of the show’s major sponsors, Subway, and made a concerted effort to show that they were spending money at Subway. Some of the endorsements were slightly obvious, but it allowed the show to be on the air for longer than it would have been.

However, I have some reservations for the Team 8 announcement. This is the first time a company has sponsored an audition for AKB (or really for any idol group that I can think of). I don’t imagine that AKB is strapped for cash; they have a lot of members, but idols don’t get paid THAT well, at least as well as Western celebrities do. But this level of corporate endorsement has me a bit nervous. Toyota is from Aichi prefecture; does this mean that Aichi is the prefecture that will produce the next AKB frontgirl? Even if Toyota doesn’t say “the girl from Aichi should be the center,” I’d imagine there’s some level of pressure to have her be up front.

At the most innocuous this will be just something they say during press releases and put on the website, that this is being sponsored by Toyota. However, I just wonder if this is going to affect either the members that are chosen or how those members act. Idols aren’t some bastion of artistic integrity; I know that idol groups are formed by companies. However, will this affect the creative choices that do get made. I’m not saying it will, but I am saying that I am a bit hesitant on this.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments and I’ll post that as a part of my “Your Thoughts” post next week!”