Idol Thoughts: The End of the Idol Boom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 thoughts on “Idol Thoughts: The End of the Idol Boom?

  1. I personally feel that the Japanese female idol industry is moving past its prime.

    Bits of recent news that have come out such as idols not being paid or being threatened with legal action don’t paint a rosy future for the idol industry.

    It feels like these companies are demonstrating a lack of confidence in the industry. They’ve made their cash grab, milking out what they can from the group’s activities. Now that the well is running dry, they’re trying to squeeze whatever money they can make out of the idols themselves in an effort to get every last bit of profit possible.

    While it feels like new idol groups are springing up like mushrooms after the rain, quantity doesn’t imply quality. I feel that, moving forwards, entry-level idols will find it hard to find the backing of agencies. Experiments like throwing together a group of talents into a group and hoping they’ll be successful (Poster child: MomoClo) will probably start to decline.

    On the other hand, I believe that some indie idol groups do self-manage themselves, or are sort of mom-and-pop operations. I’ve got more hope that these kinds of groups will survive, since they aren’t driven purely by profit motives. The big groups with established fanbases will likely weather the storm as well, though there might be some casualties. Perhaps AKB’s part time workers scheme might end up becoming a gateway for young idol hopefuls?

    Summing up, my view of the idol industry in the future is that the big players will be mostly unaffected for the most part, but those groups that haven’t established themselves will have a hard time keeping afloat. A lucky few might catch a break, but without agencies taking the risk, lesser-known groups will likely slowly disappear.

  2. Of course, I wrote a similar piece a few months ago about how I feel the industry has gone this year and may be going in the near future, so many of my points or counter-points can be found there:

    But in direct response to this piece, I’m very much in agreement with the previous comment above me, that things aren’t quite as rosy as they seem and the industry is really going for some desperate cash grabs and more evidence keeps popping up that it may be an industry reaching it’s death throes, at least as far as mainstream marketability (and in turn, profitability) is concerned.

    Even if some other idol outfits are bubbling up to recognizability levels approaching AKB right now, I think it’s only very temporary. Much like the idol boom in the late 90s and early 2000s, I think the early 2010s was a “right place at the right time” situation and is seeing the last of this luck run out right now. Things like AKB are what kept idols in general visible and acceptable to the mainstream media and audiences the way it has in the last 7 years or so, but as has happened many times before, these things don’t last forever. People get tired of it, the industry gets stagnant with no new ideas, quality goes out the window on most projects, etc.

    So even if AKB is declining and some other idols are seeing a rise in popularity because of it, it doesn’t mean these other idols are going to “replace” AKB in a sense, because they’re only going to be able to rise as high as they can without the boom itself being in full effect.

    It’s good to see someone else writing about this, but I wish it was a little more fleshed out, though I suppose that’s what these kinds of responses and comments are good for 🙂

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