Idol Thoughts: On Perfume, Homophobia, and the Reactions

The one week I had a lot of ideas in mind for what I wanted to write, and I got asked to write a blog post on the Perfume scandal (of sorts).

First, let me just say that while Perfume isn’t a group I talk about a lot, I do like them. While I don’t follow them as much as I used to, I enjoyed the group a lot in early 2010. In fact, the reason for the Disco in Happy Disco is because of Chocolate Disco and (mostly) One Room Disco. In fact, I’d consider One Room Disco to be one of my favorite PVs and a favorite song of mine.

If you haven’t heard, there’s been a bit of fuss online over statements made by Perfume in an interview. The biggest article (that got people talking) was the one on aramatheydidnt. This took  snippets from a longer interview that was originally published in English. 

Copy-pasting the section in question from the longer interview:

Earlier this year, the trio embarked on a world tour, covering the U.K., France, and Germany (Read: J-Pop Sensation Perfume Takes Paris by Storm). For Japanese pop acts used to polite crowds who listen attentively, the crowd’s reaction in other countries came as something of a surprise to Perfume. “In Japan, we usually would start hearing people shout right before the performance, but in the U.K., people started shouting out passionately, ‘Per-fu-me!’ while clapping forty minutes before the show started, as if it were a soccer game!” says A-Chan.

“Also, when we met about ten fans from each country at the autograph sessions, there was a person who had ‘Perfume’ tattooed on his wrist. That was pretty shocking. He had tattoos on all sorts of places. I asked him, ‘didn’t it hurt to get a tattoo there?’ and he replied, ‘not really,’ then he started taking his pants off and we were like, ‘what is he going to do?’”

“He had another tattoo that said, ‘Love the World,’ which is an album that we released worldwide. He seemed so proud of it. I don’t have any tattoos so I’m not sure how deep a love that signifies, but I think it’s pretty incredible. And there were people who made gifts for us — tissue cases made from Japanese paper, for example. One particular fan said, ‘a Japanese friend gave it to me, but I want you to have it.’ I was like, ‘isn’t it a reverse import!?’ I can buy something like that anytime, but I guess for that person it was something very special. I answered a bit awkwardly, ‘tha…thank you,’” says A-Chan.

The group also discovered that their fan base demographic in European countries was somewhat different to Japan, where the ratio of male and female fans is almost equal. “Overseas, there were more men than women, and also people who were neither!” says A-Chan. “A gay couple came to our singing session and one of the guys introduced to us his ‘girlfriend.’ But the guy gave me a huge rose saying, ‘I love you so much! ­– I also love him (a guy), which means I like guys, but because I love you so much he doesn’t believe I like guys! Tell him something to convince him that I like guys!’ and I was like, ‘what in the world am I supposed to say to that!’ A lot of extraordinary things happened.”

First off, the thing I find very rude that hasn’t gotten a lot of discussion was what A-Chan said about the fan who gave her that gift from Japan. It actually shocks me to read this. Not to say that Perfume and other acts might not think that certain gifts are strange, but I assumed that music acts, especially ones with such longevity and media appearance as Perfume, would have enough tact to not single one fan’s gift out for being odd. It made her seem a bit ungrateful, which put me off.

Secondly, there are two sections in question: the “Men, women, and neither” statement and the meeting with the gay couple.

First off, the “men, women, neither” statement. Brian of Idolminded posted a link to the Perfume City forums where they discuss this in greater depth which educated me, as a casual Perfume fan. Essentially, A-chan uses this at Perfume concerts, emulating another singer who did so first, and it does reach out to the gay fans. Some foreign fans have speculated it’s reaching out to genderqueer fans, fans who don’t identify with a gender, but I think this is giving Perfume a bit too much credit in terms of gender representation. Most Western countries have enough of a hard time thinking outside the concept of a gender binary, and gender is behind a lot of these countries in terms of LGBT rights and representation. So I do think it’s referring to the gay fans, especially given the juxtaposition in this article, and what I’ve read on it on Perfume City leads me to the same conclusion.

Sexual orientation and gender identity have absolutely nothing to do with one another. So, even with the background and the rationale for saying this, it does make A-chan sound fairly ignorant. That said, I don’t think she was intentionally ignorant or trying to be intentionally malicious with her statements; it’s just something reinforced by the culture in which she was raised, and she frankly might think what she’s doing is fine, especially if LGBT fans of Perfume rally around that. This doesn’t necessarily make it OK and perfect; I have a lot of issues with Japanese culture (mostly around feminism and LGBT rights) and this just shows an aspect of the culture I’m not fond of.

Some fans are getting a bit defensive, so there’s one thing I’ll want to say about this: to be homophobic, you don’t have to be doing it consciously or intentionally. In fact, I’d say one of the worst kinds of homophobia, misogyny, etc. is the unintentional kind, because it both reflects and reinforces negative aspects of the overall culture.

As for the second issue, the fans, I’d say the worst part of the whole thing was the use of the word “girlfriend.” However, without context, it’s difficult to know what happened. Did the man introduce the person as his “girlfriend” or was that something A-chan put in? Did A-chan specifically use the word “girlfriend” or did she use “koibito” (non-gender specific word for ‘lover’) and it got translated funny? It’s hard to know, really, what went down. Personally I don’t blame her for being awkward because that fan did put her in a strange spot, trying to somehow prove his sexuality. I don’t know if A-chan necessarily needed to mention it, but I don’t think she was at fault here.

So ultimately, is Perfume a giant group of homophobic people? Nah, not really. I mean, they could probably use more coaching on how to approach the press, but there seems to be zero malicious intent and some ignorance that stems from the culture.

That said, the one thing I don’t really like is how people have been reacting to this. The almost overwhelming response has been people saying the initial arama poster was overreacting, getting defensive over Perfume, and being kind of angry.

First off, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and they’re allowed to support whatever they want. Some people have called to boycotting Perfume, and they’re in their right to do so. If you’re not offended, good for you. People are allowed to be offended at things, and stop supporting a group for whatever reason they want. I stopped watching the show Glee because of a rape joke that just made me quit the show entirely. Some people might think that’s extreme, but it’s my prerogative. Just because you’re not offended doesn’t mean people aren’t offended. And that goes both ways.

It’s also OK to criticize things you like and still like them. A blog post I posted around the time of the Miichan scandal comes to mind. If this bugs you and you still want to like Perfume, that’s absolutely fine. It’s OK to be critical of things you enjoy. I’m a big fan of the show Once Upon a Time, but I wish there were more characters on the show that weren’t white. It’s not a terrible thing to disagree with something and continue to like that thing.

That said, I think that for a lot of people this is bringing up the issue of how to view another culture entirely. I’m not saying everyone in Japan is regressive in terms of gender and sexuality, but the track record for LGBT rights in Japan isn’t great. Which goes along with that blog post I linked; it’s OK to like things from a cultural perspective you may disagree with. I personally wish that Japan would end up being more progressive, but I still listen to way too much idol pop and follow the music industry. I do think that people should be aware of these things, though. I think it’s easy as a Westerner to become enamored with places like Japan; it’s a very different culture with a very different history, but it’s still modern and industrialized. I think it’s important to be aware of the issues within a culture, so that there isn’t a blind adoration of an interesting but flawed society. I’m not saying America’s perfect; goodness knows that there are a LOT of things I would change about American society and culture. However, no country is perfect, and I think it’s important to keep that in mind.

So while I don’t come out of this hating Perfume or hating Japanese culture, I do hope that this might bring around some awareness. Unfortunately, since so many people disagree with the idea of these statements being homophobic, I could see a lot of people rejecting this altogether. So I can only hope this is an educational experience as much as it’s able, and that it causes people to think.

What do you think about the situation? Leave a comment and I’ll reply to you in next week’s Your Thoughts post!