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.

Review: Dempagumi.inc – World Wide Dempa

This is an album that I have no idea WHY I didn’t review it when it came out. Musically, Dempagumi.inc was my top group of 2013. Sure my favorite overall group is still Team Syachihoko, but in terms of releases Dempa tends to be the best mix of exciting while being consistently good out there.

So here’s there latest album, World Wide Dempa, and my thoughts on it!

1. Hajimari ~ World Wide Dempa

Intro track! I actually really like this intro track, thematically. It takes a lot of separate themes and ideas and throws them together into one track, which is kind of what W.W.D does. So not only does this opening track get fans excited about the upcoming album and serve as an introduction, but it works very well thematically. Ultimately  it’s not something I’ll listen to unless I’m listening to the whole album right away, but it serves its purpose well. 8/10

2. Demparade Japan

I like Demparade Japan. Really, I do. It has a lot of energy and did a good job of introducing the current lineup (minus Atobe Miu and now with added Moga and Pinky). It feels like a typical Demapgumi song, and is generally well-made. However, after the other single songs on this album and the stellar music that Dempagumi has been putting out on a regular basis, Demparade falls a bit flat? I mean, I like the elements of the song, especially the chiptune background. Everything about this song is nice, and I don’t dislike any of it, but it just doesn’t live up to the high standards I hold for Dempa. Unfair? Perhaps. But I imagine a lot of fans might feel the same way. 7/10

3. Future Diver

Hyadain! Nostalgia! This is the song that I first listened to from Dempagumi.inc. At the time I really liked it, bti had no idea if the group would go anywhere. Future Diver is another song that doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the Dempagumi.inc oeuvre, but still skates by a lot on personal feelings. It is a pretty standard upbeat idol song, by many measures, but has a lot of cuteness and sweetness to it, as well. I particularly like the energy and excitement during the “Dive” chants. I also like the use of chiptune in here, as well. It’s kind of a match made in heaven, given Hyadain’s video game remix roots.

As a fan, I had a bit of a hard time getting into Dempa’s vocals (here it’s mostly Nemu and Eimi that I had an issue with), and if you’re a new Demapgumi.inc fan this might be the hardest song for you to listen to (unless you’re a Beastie Boys fan listening to Sabotage for the first time). However it’s fairly easy for me to get past, and once you get past the exterior Future Diver is quite nice.

4. Vandalism

I was sure with how unhinged this song was that it was written by Hyadain, but no; it was written by Tsutaya Koichi, a producer who has worked with acts like YUKI, Ikimonogakari, among others. I don’t see any other big idol acts among his acts, so this is a fairly unprecedented grouping.

In short, I love this song. It has a lot of attitude and manages to be an interesting, unique song while feeling still very much like Dempagumi.inc.

First off, while the vocals were slightly uncomfortable within Future Diver, all the girls here sound great. Risa in particular is a shining star with her vocals in the Danse Macabre-esque section at about 1:45. Risa’s always been the vocal talent of Dempagumi.inc,  but here she sounds lovely. I also enjoy the girls at the beginning; they have a lot of attitude.

The song passes through multiple styles and segments, but manages to maintain a fairly cohesive whole. As I mentioned, that’s what I feel this album and Dempagumi.inc as a whole have been going for, so this song goes even more towards that. Vandalism is another wonderful entry into the Dempagumi.inc library, and the most played of the new songs for me. 9/10

5. Sabotage

You guys know I love this. Before I became a big Dempagumi.inc fan, this is what I ranked in my top 25 songs list of 2012. Hyadain + Beastie Boys; it’s a combination that magically, against all the odds, works incredibly well. It matches the original song with some trademark Dempa oddness, and makes a memorable cover. It does what, in my opinion, a good cover should; it still has a lot of the flavor of the original song, but Dempa made it their own. 8/10

6. W.W.D

I’ve already written about this in my top 25 songs of 2013 so I’m going to keep this brief. But essentially, this song is brilliant. First off, the lyrics are lovely and personal, about where Dempagumi.inc started out. Then the song reinforces the theme of the song, how six unique girls formed a group, by having various unique styles come together into one unified song. It’s fun, moving, energetic, and one of the best songs from 2013. 10/10.

7. Nazo Kara

This was a tie-in with JOYSOUND and a B-Side of one of the versions of W.W.D II. Honestly, this song initially baffled me with its cool, KPop esque sound. This is still Dempagumi.inc, so there’s chiptune sounds in there and the chorus is high energy JPop again, but the rest of the song is trying to be dark, cool KPop. Or Lady Gaga maybe?

This isn’t terrible, but it’s clear that this isn’t Dempa’s forte. I do like how the arrangement has bits and pieces from Dempagumi.inc proper, but the shift in tone between the chorus and the verses doesn’t quite work for me. It’s all a bit sudden. I like some of the individual pieces of the song; the melody is fine, for instance. Just as a song this just doesn’t work. 6/10

8. Itsuka Haruka Kanata

Slowing things down! This is the start of the slower/sweeter section of the album, which might not be something you think of when you think of Dempagumi.inc, but these songs prove they do it quite well.

Unfortunately, Itsuka Haruka Kanata is a solid mid-tempo song, but it’s not the most memorable. Of the three new songs, Itsuka Haruka Kanata is by far the least interesting and the one I have listened to the least.

I enjoy the opening a lot (Pinky sounding her best), and the strong production of a Dempagumi.inc song is there. Unfortunately it falls into a weird spot; it’s not as sweet and pleasant as Kira Kira Tune and Fuyu e to Hashiridasou and it’s not the high energy fun songs. The arrangement is really good and the girls are great, but this doesn’t quite do it for me as much as I wish it would. 6/10

9. Kira Kira Tune

Hey, speak of the devil! This is the single song that might seem like the odd one out for Dempagumi.inc, but in a way that makes it one of the most interesting. It’s a guitar-heavy song that’s pretty mid/fast paced, but still sounds incredibly sweet and heartwarming in a way that I can’t really describe in writing. It’s the chorus, mainly, with the extended long notes by Dempa and the swelling strings. The whole song is very well written, in this way, and sounds great.

The thing that doesn’t get quite enough credit, I think, are the strange lyrics that subvert expectations about idol lyrics; Kira Kira Tune makes you think it’s going to be “kira kira” as in shining/sparkling, but it’s actually “Killer killer.” They sing at one point what sounds like “doki doki” (heart thumping) but it’s actually “dorky dorky.” It’s pretty basic wordplay, but I’ll take what I can get.

Kira Kira Tune is well-written and subverts what I expect about Dempa. 9/10

10. Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo!

This is a song that I didn’t fully appreciate until lately. It’s off W.W.D, so when that single came out I was really focusing on how much I LOVED W.W.D without listening as much as I should to Fuyu.

Fuyu is a perfect contrast and complement to W.W.D; whereas W.W.D is brash, out there, and almost aggressively strange, Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo is much quieter, mellow, and has a heavy emphasis on acoustic guitar. It’s still well-written and interesting, but in a much different way to W.W.D. The girls sound lovely and do well in this understated song. It is lovely. 10/10

11. Nantettatte Idol  Shangri-la

This takes a turn for the strange after a couple of simpler, lovely songs. This takes some of the kind of stereotypical non-Japanese but Eastern aesthetic (think GOUNN and Naniwa no Haniwa) and gives it a Dempagumi.inc twist. And do they ever; the girls’ vocals are at their zaniest and most unhinged. They aren’t unpleasant, but just odd.

That’s an accurate description of this song, in general. It’s almost shocking after Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo. There are a lot of pleasant things in here; I quite like the harmonization that goes on, and the melody is very pleasant. And I personally enjoy my fair share of weird songs, so this hits that spot.

If you don’t like weird or strange (why are you listening to Dempagumi.inc) this may not be your cup of tea, but I personally enjoy it. 7/10

12. W.W.D II

Again, I wrote about this at my end of the year stuff, so this will be a bit shorter. W.W.D II is a well-paced epic of a song, with a lot of energy and a lot of heart. It has the emotion of some of Dempa’s best as well as the energy of their other best songs. It’s an epic of a song, and one of the finest things to come out of 2013’s idol music scene. 10/10

13. Orange Rium

Oh man, I love the opening to Orange Rium too much. The arrangement of Orange Rium is one of my favorite bits of the song; the piano sounds lovely whenever it shows up, and there’s so much excellent stuff going on. And there’s a reason this stands out; as I found out from twitter recently, the guy who arranged this also wrote a lot of my favorite idol songs including Pera Pera Perao, Gingham Check and Kiss no Sono Oto.

But this is another sweeter, softer side to Dempagumi.inc, a side that I’m growing more and more fond of. While it’s easy to be drawn in by Dempagumi.inc’s weirdness, their songs are just well-written and good, and Orange Rium is yet another one of those examples.

This is really quite pretty, and pleasant. While the melody is nice, the arrangement is where Orange Rium shines. 9/10

14. Tsuyoi Kimochi Tsuyoi Ai

Oh man, the disco influence in this. I love it. Even though the song itself isn’t as disco-y as some of the other things that have come out as of late, this is probably one of the best arrangements of a song using that kind of influence. Aaand it was done by Hyadain. Of course.

This is another song that stands out most for the arrangement; I mean, I love how broad the melody is in the chorus, but the arrangement stands out more than anything to me. I’m not familiar with the original song, but while it sets up a good base the arrangement makes it much more worthwhile.

Thiough not quite as revolutionary as Sabotage, Dempagumi.inc’s other cover is certainly good. 7/10

15. Den Den Passion

Den Den Passion not getting on my top 25 songs of the year is a pretty big regret. It’s a great song, and one I love, but it doesn’t quite have the weight of either W.W.D. Den Den Passion being sandwiched between W.W.D and W.W.D II was a bit unfortunate, because it’s just so easy to forget how nice it is. It’s high energy and very fun, but at the same time it’s fairly restrained in structure. It feels like a typical idol song, polished and given a weird coat of paint to make it fitting for Dempagumi.inc.

That’s not to say it’s bad; it’s great. It’s wonderful.  It’s just not quite as unique as the others, which I think adds to the tendency to forget about it. But Den Den Passion is great, and feels like a fitting cap to this album. 9/10

OVERALL: This is a really great album. I love how the songs flow together; there’s a sense that there was actual thought and care that went into putting the songs together, which I always appreciate. I liked every song at least a little, and I straight up love most songs. This album really proves that Dempagumi.inc has some of the best music in the idol business, perhaps just THE best.

The biggest disappointment to me is just how few new songs that Dempagumi.inc had on this album. I understand that they wanted to get everything on there, and I appreciate that they didn’t make the album bloated and unlistenable. However, three new songs (and an intro) for an album of this length is frustrating.

Despite the frustration at the lack of new material, this is a very strong album and one that I highly recommend.

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.

Review Monday: 1 Oku 3 Zen Man Sou Diet Oukoku

I’m not Berryz Koubou’s biggest fan. Sure, I got into them as my first ever idol group, and I was (and still am, to an extent) a pretty big Tokunaga Chinami fan, but they just haven’t impressed me as of late. I rank them generally as my least favorite Hello!Project group, and I don’t pay much attention. I was not planning on reviewing this single at all. However, it completely surprised me, so I thought that I had to review Berryz’s Diet Song.

Song: As a song, I do like this. I feel like Berryz is finally starting to figure out their style lately, which is good. IMO Berryz’s biggest downfall was their Inazuma Eleven years. Not that what they did there was bad; some of my favorite Berryz songs on their own come from that era (I particularly like Otakebi Boy! Wao! and Ryuusei Boy), but they really lost group identity then. Berryz is a weird group. None of the members particularly fit together, they’re all shapes and sizes, and they’ve done really odd things in the past (Dschinghis Khan and Yuke Yuke Monkey Dance?).

This song doesn’t quite bring back the Berryz I became a fan of, but I mention this because I like the weirdness. I like the repetition of phrases and how robotic it sounds. This is still more in their recent Asian Celebration phase than their Monkey Dance phase, but I like how it sounds. I don’t know if I’d consider this a good song as a whole; Some of the phrases go on too long, and it’s a bit sad when repeated phrases hold my attention more than anything else. However, this is a better song than Berryz have been given lately, which is a good thing.

Lyrics: Normally I don’t pay the lyrics much attention, aside from the really obvious things. Lyrics can matter, but most idol lyrics aren’t the best and are pretty irrelevant to how I feel about the song. However, this song is all lyrics, in terms of my interest in reviewing it. By the way, I’m referring to the official video translation. I know these aren’t perfect, and I’m supplementing this with my own Japanese knowledge, but they’re what’s being promoted to the US.

So. These lyrics. The way I see it, the intent of these lyrics are unclear, and there are two main options for how they could be taken; it could be either, or, or a little of both (which is what I think it is, mind):

1. Tsunku is mean, and fatshaming is in. Since he’s said that Berryz has heavy members, this is a dig at them. This is promoting a nation of dieting.

2. This is a critique of fatshaming and the concept of a nation of dieting, saying that other things are more important.

Here are my thoughts on each of those ideas.

1: Both Japan and the US have a complicated relationship with weight. A lot of people do, really. It’s difficult, really. Healthy eating and exercise habits are important, and something to promote. On the other hand, shaming overweight people doesn’t work and makes people gain weight. A healthy diet is a good thing, but promoting unhealthy diets is a bad thing.

When the lyrics mention that Japan is a nation of dieting, while that might be synechdoche, it’s not inaccurate. Japan has a law on the books that fines people with a large waistline after the age of 40. Japan is the least obese industrialized nation, and “To the contrary, there is a problem of leanness in young females.” (Source) Health is admirable, but this isn’t necessarily the cause.

It’s easy to see this song as promoting that type of behavior. The song focuses on “every single person likes beautiful girls,” which could infer that by beautiful they mean slender. All these lyrics about dieting are surrounded by “I want to love” and lyrics about aiming for one’s dreams. If this is saying that this is achievable by dieting, then this is a terrible message. Being healthy is a good thing, but unhealthy dieting and getting too underweight is a bad thing as well.

2: However, the more I’ve thought about these lyrics, the more interesting I find them. Take the “all year around” and “every single person” lines that are repeated; by using repetition, the part that’s repeated is how this affects every single person and that this is a constant thing. This isn’t necessarily promoting diets, but saying that this is a long standing thing that’s firmly embedded. The girls almost sound robotic, as well, which reinforces that this isn’t an individual choice but something that was put in them.

There are a lot of interesting things about the lyrics as well. There are two lines in particular that stand out; the first is the one that ‘even slender girls diet.’ This is true in life as well as in song; haven’t all of us seen an idol blog and been shocked when an already slender idol is talking about dieting? But this means that slender girls are still caught up in this cycle, that even when you get to a healthy (or beyond) weight that it’s not enough to make them happy. The other line that makes me pause is the line about waking up drenched in sweat; the only thing that the subject of the song can think of is all the weight she’s burned, never mind things like being late and grades. This shows the skewed morality and skewed priority system.

Still, even things like the “koi shitai” and lines about the girls wants can be interpreted differently. All those things are expressed as desires, things they want to do. The dieting is all present or at best not far into the future (today I will start my diet). While it could be that these things are seen as achievable post-diet, it could also be that they want to break this cycle of dieting and actually focus on these other things instead.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more this is a judgment call. I personally think it’s more of the second category than the first, but that this could and probably does promote unhealthy dieting. However, things are ambiguous for you to decide what the song ultimately means.

PV: After the lyrics, what can I even say about this? This is fine. The production values have gone up, but that’s not by much; there’s still issues with lighting, especially in closeups (a girl with hair and features like Risako is not treated kindly with this type of lighting). The set doesn’t look terrible (much better than some of the other Berryz sets), but it’s not particularly great. I was going to do a whole review, but the PV is wholely unremarkable in most ways. It’s serviceable, and not awful, but certainly not good.

Verdict: Berryz Koubou’s latest isn’t very interesting musically or visually, but the lyrics are interesting; depending on your opinion you may hate or love them.

List Saturday: Top Idol Acts I Want to Follow More

Happy List Saturday! For the month of February, I have plans nearly every Friday, so I’m putting out this list on Saturdays instead!

I follow a lot of idol acts. Part of that is because I want to be up with all the major idol acts for this blog and Idolminded (as well as the indie acts for Pure Idol Heart) but part of it is that I’m genuinely a fan of idols as a whole, and I want to like more groups than I can really reasonably follow. So here is my list of groups that I wish I could follow more or for whatever reason I like, but I just haven’t been hooked yet.

LinQ

It’s honestly kind of inexcusable how I don’t follow LinQ. I really like a lot of their music (Sakura Kajitsu, Calorie Nante and HANABI are particular favorites), I have a favorite member (their leader, Amano Natsu) and I’ve liked just about everything I’ve seen from them. Their album that I reviewed for Happy Disco was REALLY good. I really enjoy their live performances as well. I just haven’t really given them the time that they deserve.

But seriously LinQ is great.

Idoling!!!

I reviewed Idoling!!!’s latest album, Gold Experience, recently and I really enjoyed it. Idoling!!! Is a very professional group with a lot of good music, good members, and a good variety program. I honestly don’t know why Idoling!!! Hasn’t captured my attention more; they’re a very good group. Just for whatever reason I can’t seem to follow them.

Babyraids

I really like Babyraids’ debut self-titled single. I think all the girls have a lot of energy, personality, and I like the sound of the group. Unfortunately, I haven’t been that enthralled with the rest of their music. If everything they did was on the level of Babyraids, I would probably be a much bigger fan.

Bump.y

I like Bump.y a lot. Like. The only song I absolutely love listening to is Gotta Getcha, which is already a cover. The rest of their music just doesn’t do it for me, unfortunately. Which is a shame, because the members seem great, and I do like that their goal seems to be more acting and less full-time singer. However, music does matter, and I can’t seem to keep following Bump.y.

Kikkawa You

I once said on twitter, and I stand by this, that if all Kikka songs were like Konna Watashi de Yokattara, I would be a much bigger Kikkawa You fan. Which is true. I want more idol soloists to be successful, and I think that Kikka really benefited from her years in training before débuting. Say what you will about Morning Musume’s 8th gen auditions, but Kikka is much better now. However, I really only like Kikkake wa You and, especially, Konna Wabasha de Yokattara. Which is kind of a shame, because she’s a talented girl who deserves good material.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari)

For years I was a fan of Sekine Azusa. She was my favorite Egg and I rejoiced whenever she had even something small to do like being a back dancer for Mano Erina. Now she’s doing an actual group and I can’t really follow them. I’m not sure why I haven’t followed them, but I wish I did because I still think Sekkii is fantastic, and I’m happy for her.

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)

Review Monday: Morning Musume – Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa, Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai, What is Love?

That’s right, I’m reviewing Morning Musume’s latest. I’m sure you guys don’t need much more introduction!

Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa

Song: When I first listened to Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa, I hated it. Not just dislike, I thought it was just terrible. However, something amazing happened. I kept watching the PV (partly out of my interest in the group and partly because of the PV), and the song suddenly grew on me, where I began to like it where I had hated it.

This isn’t to say the song is perfect. By all means, there are still the flaws it had before. The most noticeable flaw is the weird phrasing of lyrics in the song, where words get bunched together and the girls have to very quickly sing lyrics in small places. It’s hard to imagine this particular melody without the weird phrasing, but it does sound unprofessional and a bit odd.

I think the thing that I appreciate most about Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa is more of what it represents for Morning Musume than anything else. While I’ve really enjoyed Morning Musume’s latest output, I have wondered, like many others, if the group would get stuck in the EDM genre and eventually play out the genre until people were sick of it. Hello!Project has a terrible habit of adopting a “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality, and since Morning Musume has been suddenly selling better than the group has sold in years and years, I was worried the group would get stuck in a rut. Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa still fits the mold in that it does use EDM. However, this song experiments with using the group’s signature sound and making a lighter, happier song. In a way, they’ve proven that they can take the group’s signature sound, and still have very varied songs.

This song, while initially something I really hated, has grown to become a song I love, and one that I think represents good things happening for Morning Musume. 8/10

PV I think green screen has been getting a bad rap lately. It’s a tool, and like any tool it can be used well and used poorly. I understand why Morning Musume fans have lately held it in contempt, for sure; Up-Front tends to use it pretty poorly, like in the case of the Help Me PV where it was a poor substitute for actually being outside. However, with an interesting aesthetic style, a green screen can be a great asset. Morning Musume has somehow managed to use this well.

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By only using the green screen sparingly, as patterns that move with the girls to the song and to the dance, the PV looks a lot more interesting than in something like a Help Me situation. This elevates the standard H!P studio PV from being basic to being something visually interesting and appealing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a H!P PV because I found it to be an interesting PV.

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The PV is actually shot well, too. I really enjoy the opening shot that starts up overhead and tracks down to in front of the girls. Since Morning Musume is still (rightfully so) getting known for its formation dance, I’m glad that they capitalized on this with some good bird’s eye shots.

The lighting is also good, especially by Hello!Project standards. While I would change it a few places, this is miles above the awful flat lighting they were trying to use for a while.

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By far my biggest complaint is the blurry, bloom effect that they used on the close-ups. I don’t object to the idea of it, but I do object that it gets used as much as it does. This isn’t as bad as some other effects (see: One Two Three), but it does detract.

This is a solid PV that is a step up from other recent H!P efforts to show off Morning Musume’s strengths while having a unique visual style. 8/10.

Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai

Song: This is the least interesting song on this single. Not to say this is bad; I actually quite like it. But for being a fairly experimental and interesting single, Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai is fairly standard. Which makes sense; this is being used as the cheer song for the Japanese team at the Olympics this year, so they would want something that was energetic, exciting and all that (I do particularly like the “Nippon” chants; they sounded nice here).

This doesn’t sound particularly like Brainstorming or Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke (It might be a bit closer to Ai no Gundan) but it’s in the same mold of cool song. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Brainstorming or Wagamama, but that’s in part because of how great I thought those two songs were when I first heard them and now some of the novelty has worn off.

Really, I don’t have much more to say about this song than that. I know I like it, but as a song it’s the least interesting and least remarkable one of the lot. 7/10.

PV: As a PV, this is a lot less interesting than Egao no Kimi.

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Production values are still good here; I like the camera angles and the lighting. I feel like H!P hired a new team or got their PV people in gear, which makes me VERY happy. This PV is shot much better than a lot of H!P’s older stuff.

Like everyone else ever, I’m not sure how I feel about these outfits on this background. They kind of clash, but at the same time look fine. H!P’s always had iffy costumes at times, and this is hardly the worst of the lot, but it does stand out.

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One of the biggest strengths of these PVS (not just Kimi no Kawari but all three) is just how strong these girls have gotten. Gone are the awkward days of early PVs, Morning Musume is now full of pros. While I think that a stagnant lineup is a mistake and that they really ought to be working on that 12th gen, I can see why H!P would be hesitant; all the girls in MM are solid, and work well together. Riho and Ayumi do a great job of starting things off here, and Kudou Haruka stands out.

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The green screen used in the closeups is the weakest part, but it’s mostly harmless and unobtrusive.

Despite weird costume choices, H!P puts out a solid effort with this PV, even despite being unremarkable. 7/10

What is Love?

Song: What is love? How I feel about this song.

What is Love brings back Morning Musume to what made me fall in love with the group in the first place; playing with genres within the contexts of pop music. The first Morning Musume song I heard and loved was the good old Mr. Moonlight Ai no Big Band (also probably why my first favorite was Yossy), and I still love how it brings back an older genre of music into pop music. What is Love does what Mr. Moonlight did to big band, only with swing, and adds on some additional interest with combining it with the EDM/dubstep inspired sound of Morning Musume’s current era.

What is Love is catchy, exciting, and I just love the swing music sound that they throw in there. This is one of Morning Musume’s best songs in years, and I don’t say that lightly. Morning Musume has improved a lot in the past year, year and a half, and What is Love is, to me, the culmination of that. 9/10.

PV While I’m not opposed to the idea of a live PV (especially on a single where there’s two other PVs going on). However, live PVs can be done well and they can be done as, well, an easy PV.

Team Syachihoko’s Soko Soko Premium is a good example of a live PV; it takes multiple live performances, and edits things together so that the PV conveys some of the energy of the group’s live performances. What is Love often falls a bit flat at this.

What is Love isn’t bad, per say, it just feels like a bit of a cop out. I like Morning Musume live, and I don’t see much wrong with the PV, but it could be a lot better. 6/10

Overall, I’m impressed by this single, in addition to being impressed by Morning Musume as a whole in the past years. While the first two songs took a while to grow on me, once they did I really enjoyed this single and I’m happy it’s been so successful.