So, you know today’s pop music, perhaps more than ever before (let’s be honest this is always an ongoing criticism) has become homogenised and samey? Well, here in Japan they have seriously taken that to another level, and quite frankly, it’s a worry.
Sure, I’ve talked about AKB48 before, and for those outside Japan that may be the one primary example they know of. AKB48 is a group that supposedly originated in Akihabara in Tokyo. Every year there’s a TV show and some members depart and others are brought in in basically the typical ‘reality’ TV style voting show over many weeks with performances and the like.
The group is divided into different teams who work together to produce songs and often one singer is chosen to be featured as the main singer for a song, and they keep churning out hits. Then there are concerts which presumably feature all the teams and girls and they all have to look extremely cute and sing a bunch of songs that, in all fairness, sound like they were written to underscore a commercial.
|Cardboard cutout at Tower Records.|
It’s a serious industry here, and my last visit to Tokyo I as usual visited Tower Records in Shibuya where I started to realise that there weren’t three or four girl groups dressed like teenagers being cute and singing lollypop music, there were DOZENS. I saw CDs of groups such as Supergirls, that’s 10 girls selected by mass audition again to sing commercial music, wear bright colours and look cute in a slightly sexualised way. Other groups that are popular are ‘Perfume’, and ‘E-girls’, which my students sometimes mention in class. E-girls seems to be made of 20-30 girls, split into three sub-groups called ‘Flower’ (I think I saw a CD for ‘Flower’) ‘Happiness’ and ‘Dream’. And this is the way apparently girls want to be seen in Japan. As young and cute. Do you ever see a female singer, in a group or solo, actually be marketed as a ‘woman’? No.
And so draw what conclusions you may from that. All-in-all Wiki lists 134 girl groups in Japan. There must be more.
|The boys of exile.|
And then there are boybands. Arashi, SMAP, Exile, Hey Say JUMP! and Sexy Zone to name a few. Ok, not so many – wiki lists a mere 34. But they are even more popular and they are a true carbon copy of the boy bands the west knows, reaching back to the 80s with New Kids on the Block. They wished everyone a Merry Christmas bizarrely with a host of Christmas albums available from Tower Records to 7Eleven! They dress up all Christmassy (in a country that believes Christmas Cake is sponge cake with cream and calls Santa Claus Santa-san) looking straight and serious at the camera.
|Arashi in the Christmas spirit!|
It’s seriously, overwhelming sickening. Look at this people in America, UK, Australia, heck all of Europe. This is the future of music. Everything is manufactured and nothing appears to come from the artists. No, you can’t call the girls of AKB48 artists, they are the ‘talent’. The managers here clearly see a used-by date for the girls especially, and that’s early 20s. Not to mention that they are expected to be model citizens and if they are caught making some sort of discretion in public, like maybe having a drink too many, they will be forced to apologise to the entire nation and could be kicked out of the group. Boys and again, especially the girls. In fact, the girls from AKB48 are not allowed to date!
One girl – Minegishi Minami, was caught going into a boys apart. So distraught at being caught she shaved her head in penance! No, I don’t think it’s very healthy either!
Think of their lives AFTER the fame is done with. What are they going to do? I don’t know how many members they have had in total in AKB48, but maybe 100, maybe more. What’s the future there? A 40-year old Maede Astuko? What will she be doing? Who will remember her? Maybe there’s a spot on the end Japanese discussion panel shows they have for one or two, but those shows are 80% men, and 5-10% transvestite and usually the females members are young cute things.
Of the hundreds if not more girls in Japanese girl-bands today, how many of them could still be in the industry in 10 years? I’d say 5% if they are lucky. Many people think J-pop is strange and interesting, it’s kinda fun like Eurovision. But when you stop and think about the reality of the industry here, you can’t help but think of the people exploited as talent are in for a tough life once their 15 minutes has gone.
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