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!

3 thoughts on “Idol Thoughts: On Perfume, Homophobia, and the Reactions

  1. Hello…I am a reader of idolminded, which brought me to this blog. I really can’t thank you enough for bringing such a well written and thoughtful article to light regarding this completely idiotic scandal. Here’s the deal, and maybe this will help people understand some things a little better:
    First, Perfume is not anti-gay or anti-lesbian or anything of the sort. How can they be when they work with people in these communities on a regular basis? I believe to be a fact (of course whether it is true or not I wouldn’t know unless I actually KNEW Perfume personally, but please follow my logic for a moment here…). I’ve seen virtually every single interview and behind the scenes programs released by the Perfume camp and TV stations since 2006, when Perfume first came onto the Japanese national media map. I have followed them religiously and consider myself to be one of their biggest fans. I have seen them, REPEATEDLY, work with, smile with, joke with, and be friendly with MANY MANY openly gay Japanese celebrities in all the aforementioned interviews and behind the scenes docs! There isn’t a single shred of anti anything by them! And if there was, trust me, they wouldn’t show that to the general public no matter what!
    That leads me to my next point…they are Showa style artists, meaning they conduct themselves in a manner that has bordered mostly on being stoic and unaffected by the world around them. They have been virtually perfect up until this point and though they don’t consider themselves as Jpop idols but rather J-artists, they still have even kept close their personal relationships with men out of the spotlight. The point I’m trying to say by sayiing all of this is that they wouldn’t DARE dream of committing career suicide by exposing anything hateful about their personalities. They’ve worked too hard for the past decade plus…do you really think A-chan would say something purposefully demeaning, even if it was to a gaijin who put her in an impossibly awkward spot to begin with?
    That brings me to my final and most demanding point to consider about what A-chan said. She was talking about the whole PEOPLE WHO ARE NEITHER because she was simply emulating her idol AIKO. Now if you don’t know who AIKO is, go look her up. You’ll see that AIKO popularized this type of affectionate statement towards people who bend genders and what sexuality means…AIKO used to use this in her call and response at live shows. A-chan has said many times that AIKO is her idol…wouldn’t it make sense that she was borrowing this phrase from somebody she and the whole of JAPAN has accepted as a successful J-artist? Think about it. A-chan didn’t read anymore into that statement beyond the fact that she was echoing somebody she looks up to, and AIKO has talked about how she made this statement to be one of LOVE towards gays and lesbians and gender benders/transvestites, not one of hate. What I believe happened here, consequently, is just a misunderstanding of culture. I mean, for crying out loud, in Japan a bi-racial kid is referred to as a “halfie!” Does that mean that Japanese people think of bi-racial people as only half humans? But to the outside and stupid eye, people would construe this as offensive, which is what happens when you take it out of the cultural context of Japan and its usage of language.
    I am married to Japanese woman. We have a HALFIE child. We don’t think she’s half-human. My wife reminds me everyday of the cultural differences between me and her (I’m a white Italian male). She says things that aren’t really acceptable in America but I know what she means completely from being around her and from living in Japan like I have done several times in my life. Yes, it’s true that Japan is a bit behind on the times with SOME issues regarding sexuality and LGBT themes, but on the other hand, I don’t see too many American shows with gays, transvestites, and cross-dressers on an everyday basis like I do in Japan’s variety shows. I think it’s really amazing that people had ANY reaction at all to this comment by A-chan…it shows a lack of education and open-mindedness by those who didn’t take five minutes to do some research and look at all the facts surrounding the three girls from Hiroshima and the country they come from. If people DID do research, they would’ve seen, very quickly, that the Perfume girls are the LAST people on Earth who probably want to destroy their hard-earned thirteen plus years of work in a single statement, intentionally or otherwise. And for the record, I have literally HUNDREDS of gay friends, and many of them who I showed this article to said they had absolutely ZERO problem with what A-chan said, both with the GIRLFRIEND comment and also with the whole NEITHER thing. They found it simply a misunderstanding and some were actually MAD that the couple put A-chan in a position where she had to comment on another couple’s relationship…something she couldn’t POSSIBLY know anything about. Meh.
    One final note…I will be at the Tokyo Dome supporting Perfume on Christmas Eve AND Christmas night. I am flying 15 hours and spending over 6 thousand dollars just to see them. I’ve saved up so much money for this once in a lifetime experience. I love them with all my heart and have been a fan since 2006. I know I don’t know them personally, but I feel in my heart I can honestly say that this comment by A-chan was taken WAAAAY out of context and also completely misunderstood. And I bet if you asked A-chan today how she honestly felt about gays and lesbians, she would smile and say that she LOVES THEM JUST AS MUCH AS SHE LOVES EVERYONE IN THE WORLD. I would bet my life on it.

    • Hey Derek! Thanks for your long, thought out comment! I really appreciate it!

      Since you just got here from Idolminded, I just thought I’d let you know that I’ll be replying to this in more detail on Wednesday, in my weekly Your Thoughts post. But first off, thank you so much, and I just wanted to let you know I appreciate it.

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