The end of the year is always a great time for reflection. While I don’t necessarily get serious about resolutions or anything, I like doing end of the year lists because I think it’s a great way of summing up the year and taking a big picture look at things. It’s hard to think about these things while the year is going on, but I do like thinking about these things. As such, here are some of my assorted thoughts about 2014.
AKB48 is falling – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As someone who has been a big AKB fan in the past, 2014 was not a great year. In addition to having subpar musical output, the attack of Kawaei Rina seriously put into doubt one of the cornerstones of AKB’s fandom, the handshake event. Things are slowly cooling down, but right around the time of the event there was serious doubt thrown into it. Members are graduating left and right, and the last real notable single was, by my count, Koisuru Fortune Cookie. Kokoro no Placard was really trying hard to replicate the viral success of Koichun, but not working.
In 2015, AKB48 is going to seriously have to do something – Takahashi Minami is graduating, and while she hasn’t been to the level of Maeda Atsuko, she is probably the biggest grad since Acchan. Nothing against Yuko or Mariko, but Takamina is a huge influence within the group as well as outside of the group. They will have to seriously work if AKB is to remain the biggest group out there.
That said, while the 48 groups have been starting to struggle (and, mind you, this is while they are maintaining their chart dominance – by no means has the 48 groups failed YET), I don’t know if this is a bad thing. While I have maintained in the past that the 48 groups dominance is a pretty good thing, for bringing idols into the public eye, this might also not be a bad thing. We are at the point where there are several groups out there that have big followings. Idol groups are out in the public eye, and a decline in popularity for AKB might not be terrible. If even half of the current AKB fans decided to support other idol groups, should AKB fall, that would be a huge boon to smaller groups. While I’m sure there are a lot of AKB fans that are just fans of AKB and nothing else, there are certainly fans that are mostly interested in idols and might be inclined to move on.
The point is, even though I do think it’s possible to point at AKB and say it’s the beginning of the end (unless they make some big changes to make themselves more relevant) I don’t think this will necessarily be a bad thing for the idol industry as a whole.
Lesser known idol groups keep on growing and doing great things for the industry
More and more idol groups are going major; I recently saw that Yumemiru Adolescence is going major, for example. While working on my top 25 list of songs, I was really amazed at the variety of the groups, and how many groups I’m enjoying that either just went major or are fairly recent groups. The idol boom is really paying off for a vast number of idol groups who are managing to do good things with it.
I think this could be excused by the idol boom, which I would say started at the end of 2009 with AKB48’s River but really came into its own in 2010 with Heavy Rotation. So it’s been several years, and groups that were formed around that time are finally coming into their own. That said, these groups are often diverse musically, and there’s a ton of really quality stuff out there. Beyond idols being a trend, there are a ton of groups that are filling musical niches and doing really interesting stuff. These are the groups I think can stand the test of time, but I think beyond that they are showing that idol groups don’t just have to exist as a trend or as nerd culture, but can fill musical niches as well.
I’m really satisfied with where the idol industry is going, and I have high hopes for the future, even as idols become less trendy.
International appeal is gaining notice, which is good for me!
As a live music fan, being a fan of idol music can kind of suck. I love going to live concerts, but I’m at the point where I have to fly out somewhere to see shows. That said, the distance I would have to go is shortening.
This year, Morning Musume, Babymetal, Cheeky Parade, Tokyo Girls Style, Itano Tomomi, RYUTist and Aither all performed live in the United States. That is quite a lineup. With Babymetal’s huge fan following outside of Japan, with Morning Musume’s successful live at a decently sized concert venue, with Cheeky Parade making a PV and performing at a non-Japanese themed event, things are going well for Japanese artists in the United States. These are all still incredibly niche followings, of course, but slowly but surely Japanese groups are starting to realize they have a passionate following outside of Japan.
I really hope this trend can continue, partially for my sake, but also so that idol music can possibly expand and grow.
On a personal level, 2014 is the best year I’ve experienced as an idol fan. While my blog writing has definite room for improvement, I had a lot of really great things happen this year. The big two were Idol Matsuri and seeing Morning Musume in New York. Honestly, thinking back, it’s hard to fathom the things I did this year. I flew to both coasts of the United States on my own, stayed in a hotel with friends, met idol groups, met more friends, and had two incredible weekends.
Idol Matsuri was another level of fun. It was a very small event, but that lead to a really fun, intimate atmosphere. It’s a little surreal, hanging around at the hotel, and seeing the idols you are into hanging around the hotel as well. Or being in the front row for two indie lives. It was a really full weekend of fun. Even beyond the idol moments, of which there were many (Chatting with Aither’s Misaki about Morning Musume and her singing Ikuze Kaitou Shoujo, RYUTist doing their intro to me during their interview), this is the first time I really hung out with idol fans I know online in person, and it was ridiculously fun.
It’s easy to imagine how fun going to an idol live, but almost equally memorable are things like going out to a late night meal with a bunch of idol fans, fellow bloggers and twitter buddies. Being able to mention to people at the con that I love Team Syachihoko, and have other people go “OH Team Syachihoko is great!” is a weirdly amazing kind of thing that I don’t get in my personal life. I don’t want to list everyone I met because that would get boring fast, but if I met you it was an absolute pleasure. Talking idols was so much fun, and I want to hang out again sometime.
New York was another really fun time because, while RYUTist and Aither were really fun, Morning Musume is really the group that got me into idols in the first place. Seeing Renai Revolution 21 and The Peace performed, two of my long-standing favorite idol songs, was a moving experience. Even though this group is very different from the group that I became a fan of, and even though they performed updated versions of my favorite songs, it was still an amazing experience. Hell, even waiting in line for over six hours was totally worth it, because it allowed me to meet more people and chat with more people. Waiting in Times Square and seeing this concert was practically surreal, as was meeting the members. Even though I can barely remember meeting half the members, because it all went so fast, it was really wonderful. Ishida Ayumi has been a favorite for a couple of years, now, so telling her that I was a big fan of hers and getting to wear her colors was so fun.
Again, meeting people was just as big of a deal, if I’m being real. I stayed with my friend, Dani, who I’ve been good friends with for easily over 5 years at this point. I had a lot of fun hanging out in New York with her, and being able to meet her was really special. Hello! Party was very fun, as well, and it’s also exciting being able to see all sorts of fans and people I knew (I also got to see the trophy the Koisuru Fortune Cookie Fan Version won, which was pretty nifty). I got to meet and hang out with people I’ve known for a while on Facebook and Twitter, which was both fun and surreal. Even standing in line, I met twitter friends who I didn’t even know I would meet. Again, I won’t list everyone, but wow it was fun.
2014 was a year of meeting friends, seeing idols, and having a great time. I think it has pulled me even deeper into the idol fandom, really. I just feel so privileged to have met so many amazing people, done so many great things, met idols. I just can’t put into words how grateful I am to everyone in this fandom and for the amount of fun I had. While I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in 2015, if it’s anywhere near as fun as 2014 then I am looking forward to it!