Idol Thoughts: Morning Musume vs America

I’ve mentioned a few things about idols and foreign fans in the past,
but generally, if you like Japanese idol groups and you’re not
Japanese, you have a bit of a disadvantage. Shipping stuff from Japan
is a pain, there is probably a language barrier involved, and, most
importantly, you can’t go see live events. Seeing live events is a
major area of interest for some idols, and, frankly, vital for some
(especially indie idols that don’t have much in the way of
professional releases). So every time I see idol acts become known in
the US (since that is the country where I live) or when I see idols
perform abroad, I get excited.

The Japanese music industry is strong, which is both a blessing and a
curse, in a way. It’s a blessing in that the industry behind our
favorite acts isn’t in any danger; it is profitable to be in the
Japanese music industry. However, in a selfish way, it is a curse, in
that there is not much of a financial need for exportation of music.

There’s a reason that KPop has had some success in exporting its
content. The Korean music industry, for all its renown, isn’t that
strong. South Korea is usually around the 10th or 11th largest music
markets in the world, which isn’t terrible unless you consider that
Japan made about 14 times more in music sales. So it makes sense for
Korean acts to promote in Japan and even the US; there’s money there.
However, for Japanese acts, there’s a ton of money in the industry.
Further, most of the really profitable music artists are Japanese;
some of the artists are from elsewhere (America, Korea) but those are
outliers.

So really, there aren’t many reasons for Japanese music artists to
expand beyond promoting in Japan. That’s why, whenever an idol group
or idol singer has a concert outside of Japan, I’m always excited but
intrigued as to why. Lately, idol groups are looking more and more to
perform in Europe, in the US and other countries in Asia, for a
variety of reasons.

When I saw that Morning Musume was planning on performing in New York
City this October, I immediately thought to the concept of
“reimporation” that was brought up at the beginning of this year.
Basically, the idea was that by improving Morning Musume’s
international reach, that the buzz about Morning Musume would travel
back to Japan and help them (presumably so that they can make it to
Kohaku Uta Gassen). It’s an idea that was discussed a lot when it was
brought up.

It’s not a terrible idea, and Morning Musume certainly isn’t the worst
idol group to try this. Morning Musume is arguably the most popular
idol group outside of Japan, at least in the English-speaking world.
They have a recognized fanbase in the US; it’s a relatively small one,
but large enough to justify focusing on trying to improve that
relationship. Far smaller groups have attempted to reach an
international audience (Starmarie at Anime Expo, Cheeky Parade’s
upcoming New York concert).

Lately, Up-Front has been doing a pretty solid job. On their
merchandise site, E-Lineup, there’s a link for international shipping
through Tenso.com. They’ve been putting English subtitles on their
videos on Youtube (though I’ve seen the argument that this will make
people want to buy DVDs to see the non-subbed videos). And recently,
they reached out to JPHiP to do a survey to judge the interest of
Hello!Project fans outside of Japan. I don’t know if that survey lead
to Morning Musume’s concert in New York decision, but it’s a fair bet
that that survey helped.

The biggest thing that I’m wondering about is how much of this concert
will be American fans and how much will be Japanese fans willing to
fly out to make the concert. It’s a reasonable assumption to say that
this concert will be used as a promotion for Morning Musume to talk
about their New York live. The biggest question is how much of this
concert will be in service of the American fanbase and how much of
this will be for their promotion.

I’m planning on trying to go to this. Morning Musume isn’t my top
group anymore, but I’ve regretted not going to see them at Anime Expo.
I’m also excited to meet other people that I’ve known for years, but
only online. However, much like Greg of Selective Hearing, I have to
say that this is going to be a struggle. The VIP tickets ($100 a pop)
are going to be gone in no time. Since the basic ticket is $42, an
additional $58 isn’t a bad price for an additional CD, an autographed
VIP pass and priority entrance. That said, I have a feeling that these
tickets are going to go fast in general.

All of this is making me excited for the future of a more global idol
world. Idol Matsuri and Morning Musume are spanning the gamut of indie
and major, and, more and more, the international fanbase is making
itself heard. Do I see Jpop being more than a niche in the US?
Probably not. However, things are slowly starting to snowball as idol
music is making itself more and more heard outside of Japan, and
that’s really exciting.

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