Thursday, December 31, 2015

Awards and commemorations compendium of 2015

It's been TWO DAMN YEARS since I did one of these things. But I'm so excited to have the time and space to write again, and to know so many more amazing people in the idol fan community that I couldn't keep the awesome to mahself no mo'.

2015 has been another amazing year to be an idol fan, but it hasn't been...without....its...

So, without further ado, here we go!

Painful Losses:

Sakurai Takamasa 

On December 4th, we lost a giant, a pioneer, a champion. It is hard to imagine a greater figure in the world of Japanese cultural exchange than Sakurai Takamasa. Sakurai helped international fans understand anime and the genre of anime music (anison). His columns beautifully blended a modern interpretation of pop culture with Japanese history. His work is one of the reasons anime is no longer such a niche market. RIP, Sakurai-san.


The brains behind perhaps the most famous Megurine Luka song to ever happen (Eurobeat-flavored "Luka Luka Night Fever"), passed away on September 24th. Not much is known about what happened, but I was very sad to hear the news. This song was my gateway to the world of Vocaloid and Nico Nico dancers like Aikawa Kozue. Other notable samfree releases include "Lily Lily★Burning Night" and "Euthanasia" (Hatsune Miku). samfree's last release was the incredible "Mind Voice," featuring IA.

Tragic Déjà vu award: 

Of course, I decided I had to include this TWO DAYS before Ayano left. Two. Days.

I confess: this is more of a joke than anything else, as it doesn't seem like their "color of tears" will be ~on the way~ anytime too soon (BAHAHAHAAAAAaaaaaaa *sniffle*). I just could not help but see a parallel--though in reality, I think TGS has at least a couple years left in them. Their break from the idol identity is the best thing to happen to them in a while, and Mei and Miyu are proving themselves to be quite the budding lyricists.

...On that note, would an Aya + Ayano duo not be something amazing?

Best H!P single : ANGERME ("Desugita Kui wa Utarenai / Dondengaeshi / Watashi")

While 2015 was a pretty boss year for single releases (save C-ute's last one...), ANGERME's offerings were consistently incredible. Maybe this is the new members + name-colored glasses talking, but eh. "Dondengaeshi" was awesomely complex and perfectly mixed, and Fukuda Kanon's curtain call "Watashi" was a whole new innovation for H!P: a song written by an active idol. It wasn't my favorite thing ever, but she did a great job on everything. She's going to have a lot of success in the future, and her contribution to this release proved just that.

Out of these A-sides, "Desugita" was definitely the weakest, though it was still a great song. If they attempt to break into the metal side of things again though, I'ma need me a sugared-up and throat-screaming Rikako jumping around on set. Just sayin'.

Runner-up: C-ute "The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~ / Gamusha LIFE / Tsugi no Kado wo Magare"

Best little group single (TIE): Chubbiness "Motto, HOT ga motto!" / Linda Sansei "Ruby Monogatari"

FOREVER CRYING about the fact that Chubbiness has not had a physical release yet. These girls are so talented, and Kotomi is one of the most charismatic and funny idols out there. This single was silly fun despite the "I want to eat all of the things" motif that Avex seems to love so much for them. Their acting is also top-notch, and they never ran out of energy. Not once.

My forever non-H!P bias girls only had one MV release this year, but it is a good one. And not in the charmingly bad way their first couple of singles were. Their dancing still needs work, but their vocals are improving a lot (especially Mutsumi), and they seem more at home in front of a camera. The PV is stupid adorable, and it looks like it costed more than 5 bucks. I hope they release more soon. They've been a very entertaining underdog project to watch.

Honorable mention: Sunmyu "Toge Toge"

Most mind-blowing collaboration award: Momoiro Clover Z + KISS "Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemita" 


Honorable mention: Sak Noel+FEMM + FAKY "No Boyfriend", proving that FEMM's kayfabe game is stronger than yours.

Most impactful graduation of 2015: Berryz Koubou

Unpopular opinion time: I was not sad when BK graduated. Nostalgic and proud, yes. Sad? NOOOOOOOPE. It's not that I was bored with them, per se, but it just seemed like the right time. But now that they have graduated, the BK girls are actively and VISIBLY helping reshape H!P for a new generation. I can't help but wonder if that was Tsunku's plan for H!P Kids the whole time, really. They fit in their new roles perfectly, and I love imagining a H!P-Kids (and girls!)-led idol project. Mad props to them for being awesome, and to Tsunku for leaving them such a legacy.

Honorable mention: Fukuda Kanon

Most FUCKING TRAGIC Departure of 2015 (TIE): Ruuna, Koumi, Mimori (Dorothy Little Happy) / Shimamura Uta (Country Girls)

I loved Dorothy Little Happy as a unit, so I was shocked when 3/5 of the group made like trees this summer. It is strange only seeing Mari and Kana as a duo, but on the plus side, the departed trio's new unit, callme, is pretty swell. They have a Perfume meets One Door Cinema Club meets Studio Ghibli sound to them. Check 'em out!

Uta-chan leaving Country Girls was devastating. She was not a great vocalist, but her presence just screamed "perfect idol." She was something truly special. Thankfully, Momo didn't let the group fall apart after Uta left, but the fandom is still wondering what could have been months later.

Honorable mention: Yurika Akiyama (Ciao Bella Cinquetti) AFTER 9 YEARS, SERIOUSLY ALSO WAY TO RUIN THE NUMBER NAME THING LOL?!?!!!

Best Berryz Factory cover: "Rock EROTIC:" Kobushi/Tsubaki Factory

I HAAAAAAAAAATED "Rock Erotic" as a song until the Factories did it. While it's a super-performable piece of musical theater and beautifully choreographed, I just did not like it. The sound was very generic H!P in a bad way. (Also I really think Momoko should have worn a suit instead of Chii :D )  The girls do a great job with the song on stage, and Reirei is absolutely enchanting.

Best international outreach (TIE): Morning Musume '15 / Linda Sansei

As the musical ambassadors of J-MELO, MM '15 has made waves post-Sayu. I'd bet a lot of money that Mikipants has a lot to do with it. And I really don't care. This is great exposure for the group, and a chance to show that they can hold their own without an uber-veteran like Sayumi at the helm. Miki has also done a couple of interviews with the J-Melo staff, and her confidence still blows me away. 12ki was a good decision. Anyway...

Meanwhile, Linda Sansei has been really active with their Portuguese-speaking fanbase over the last couple of years. The twins, Mutsumi, and Sakura + Yukaren have their own YouTube channels just for talking to fans and doing silly stuff like opening Christmas gifts on camera. They are also quite active on Facebook, making regular updates in Portuguese and Japanese, with the occasional English thing thrown in there.

Also, they are improving their performance skills every day, and Yukaren is a stellar new member. Literally not sad about Naomi's graduation at all.

Best artist-cum-idol crossover: Kikkawa Yuu "Hana" 

HOLY WHAT ON EARTH. Okay: no one could ever argue that Kikka does not have more talent in her pinkie than the whole of most idol groups as far as musicality goes. (I mean, you could still try and argue if you want, but...Knight Flight.)

I dismissed "Hana" at first because it just reeked of gimmick. Like...something that was only put out there to set/break some kind of record.... 

(...and we ALL know how well THAT goes...)
In reality, "Hana" is kind of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" of idol songs, long, complex, a little ridiculous, and not without its fair share of memorable sound bites. The PV itself showcases Kikka's acting ability well, but really it ends up being more like an image DVD. And I have to admit, that's kind of clever. I thought it was a little silly of her YouTube channel to later break the song up into its constituent movements, because that's not the point.

While I do think Kikka has put out better songs, "Hana" is impressive, and goes a long way toward showing how amazing Kikka is as a solo idol.

Legacy award: BiSH

While it sucked when BiS retired nearly two years ago, their successors have wasted no time restarting the crazy train. Their material is slightly tamer and less experimental than BiS, but "Brand-new idol SHiT" is an ALL CAPS SOLID album. BiSH are also stronger vocalists by a fair margin. I do hope these girls go a little more off the beaten path in the future (maybe more great stuff like "Karada Ideology"), but they're making BiS' departure a little easier to cope with.

Favorite album track: "Hug Me"

Tiny group who needs to blow the eff up in 2016: 3min

I adore this group. Hina has one of the most radiant smiles on all of the planets everywhere, and the addition of Kita Yoko this summer  made the group complete for me. I see great things ahead for this group because they are so solid in their performances and diverse in their personalities.

However, I admit that I'm disappointed at their departure from their original "happy EDM" sound ala Genki Rockets; that's what drew me to them in the first place. Their most recent couple of singles have been pretty standard EDM-ish fare. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I really liked "Panorama World," and I would love to see more stuff like that from them. In the meantime, though, I'll nurse my hopes and dreams and enjoy what they have put out so far.

Top 5 newer H!P idols from whom I expect great things in 2016:

5. Kishimoto Yumeno

Tsubaki, the less polished Factory by a long shot, has not had a lot of publicity yet. They are doing their time in the indies phase of their debut because they need it. But if you watch GREEN ROOM religiously, you will notice that they are more heavily featured than most of the other groups. And to me the standout member so far (even though I'm smitten with Kiki), is Kishimonster. She SLAYED the rap in "Kedakaku Sakihokore" to a degree I didn't think possible from a H!P idol. Not only that, but she's probably their best vocalist and has a fantastically hyper personality. YumeYES, amirite?

4. Kamikokuryo Moe

With Kamiko-chan's addition, it feels as though ANGERME has lost a bit of the cliquishness it had this year. Don't get me wrong: 2015 was beyond a great year for my FAAAAVE group, but nothing I watched of theirs that didn't show stark lines between 1st, second and third generations. The first generation has always had an annoying air of superiority about them, and that didn't really change when Ayaka dragged 3rd gen in...and 3rd gen blew everyone out of the water. But I love seeing Moe getting cuddly with everyone already, even though because of her lack of performance experience, she has an imperial assload of work ahead of her.

3. Aikawa Maho

With Rikako and Murotan, it was painfully obvious why they were picked for ANGERME. With Maho, however, it hasn't been quite as obvious save for one thing: the girl works HARD. I've never seen a performance wherein Maho isn't giving her all. That and her live delivery of her line in "Nana Korobi Yaoki" was incredibly good. Not in a "next Aichan-level vocalist" way, but in a way that shows she knows how to use what she's got. I don't think she's ever going to be a frontgirl, but she's already HUGELY one-upped Rina as a supporting member. Dawa does know how to pick 'em.

2. Hirose Ayaka

Ayapan has, in less than a year, proven that she has the potential to be as competent and formidable a leader as Ayaka the First. (Also that Nice GIRL Project is still relevant-ish--who knew?!!) Her ability to keep her group focused during camera segments is one of the things that impresses me most about her. I'll admit to being bummed when my oshi Rio (yes, I'm using that word again DEAL :P ) wasn't picked as leader but let's face it: Rio is a total spaz. Ayaka belongs where she is. She is one of the best Kobushi vocalists to boot. All-around badass.

1. Yanagawa Nanami

Shimamura-Whota? This articulate and talented little beauty was a perfect addition to Country Girls. I honestly thought Musubu would ace all over the place, but then Nanami came along. She's already an impressive MC, among other things. She's going to help end the Eternal Uta Funeral, and that could not come sooner kthxbai.

Veteran H!P-er who isn't Maachan or C-ute set to impress in 2016: Literally all of Juice=Juice

Juice=Juice's lone non-album single release was godawful, which bummed me out. They've all but fallen off my radar recently, but the one thing that prevented me completely forgetting about them was their stellar first album. Then, with the announcement of their new drama, Aarii borrowing the center position and she promises to give it back no really, and Yuka being the most mesmerizing MC on Hello! Station ever, I still have hope for them. I'm really looking forward to their next release.

...even though it sounds exactly like a C-ute song.

Desperation award: Akimoto Yasushi

Part of the 43rd single senbatsu submitted without further comment...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rihoriho's graduation

If this adorable perv couldn't get me out of a pot-graduation blogging funk, I don't know what could.
...Okay Aika could :)

I lied this morning on Facebook when I saw the announcement. I said that I couldn't believe Riho was graduating.

And that's...not even remotely true. Although her announcement was sudden and certainly unexpected, I absolutely do believe it. I won't, however, say that "she looked like she was losing her fire for all these months before all y'all knew nyeh nyeh." Nah. She wasn't. She absolutely wasn't. She may have had a bit more fuel for her lonely character lately what with suddenly being not only the ace, but one of the most senpai of senpais. That seemed to stress her out a bit, but she wasn't out for the count yet.

Until this summer.

When she took time off for mental health around the time Oh My Wish!/Imasugu/Sukatto came out, right after it was obvious that she'd gained a bit of weight (no judgment, girly: it happens to all of us and it's completely okay!), I think that's when I started counting. Having dealt with a lot of my own mental and emotional health issues in the past two years, I can now recognize burnout from a mile away. Something (or some series of things) finally told her she had to be done for a while.


I'm really broken up about this. Over the past two, nearly two and a half years (about the time when I was last regularly blogging), H!P has helped keep me going through a separation from my former partner, my master's degree, and the biggest move of my entire life. And for some reason, although Iikubo Haruna has yet to be dethroned as my #1 Morning Musume girl, it wasn't her I'd been watching most of that time.

The girls I've watched most the past couple years are Masaki and Riho.

During the past two years, my life has been completely turned upside down.When the PV for Wagamama Jokuuuuuuu/Ai no Gundan was released back in 2013, I was one week (out of what would end up being five) into being homeless and jobless, before my former partner and I found an apartment in South Seattle and I started work on my master's. That was, by far, the hardest month of my short 28 years on this planet. To keep my mind off the stress, one thing I did was watch H!P PVs and DVD mags and everything else over and over again. And something about Riho's lonely, yet random, wabi-sabi character caught my eye because I related to it on a kinda weird cosmic level.

And it made me happy.

I could go on and on and write another blog memoir but screw that. Long story short, I'm going to miss the crap out of her, but I'm glad she knows when to call it. I'd rather see her happy and doing what she wants than not taking care of herself. I wish she'd get a better graduation shindig, but honestly, that doesn't seem to be what she needs right now.

*le sigh*

Monday, February 16, 2015

AKB48's new single has same name as favorite brewery, piques interest.

You're welcome for the free advertising, guys.

No, seriously.

That is literally the only reason I listened to the preview. Because I love Hop Head Red and want to have its wonderful, hoppy, caramelly babies.



Zoidberg damn it all.


I actually liked it.

There's cute idoly rap. There's great (no, really. Guhdam.) acting. There's Ikoma Rina. There's me wondering when Yukirin will graduate already. There's more Ikoma Rina.

It remains to be seen whether this will be the first thing in almost 2.5 years that will actually make me consistently care about something in the 48s again (besides NGZ and Yamamoto Sayaka's eternal loveliness), but I really like how this is sounding. For the 48s, this is probably the most innovative A-side I've ever heard from them.

I lost interest in the 48s because of all the crazy politics and tragic incidents and boring-ass music. Being even a casual fan just got too emotionally taxing for my delicate self. Anyway, who knows. Maybe I'll watch them again.

Probably mostly HKT, though. Can't get enough of dat Meru...and dat Haruppi.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Please excuse mah dust!

Yeah, so I deleted a really old Google account I used to use on this thing...not thinking about the fact that a fair amount of photos were hosted on it.

So I'm in the process of fixing this thing hurr.

I am college.

Be back online soon!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Happy New Year, happy exposition, and random idol hair question of the day!

If this bunch doesn't make you super happy and hopeful for the future of H!P post-Sayu, THEN I DUNNO GUYS.
Hi everyone!

The new year is getting off to an amazing start in the idol world, and even though I'm busy as heck, I once again have the emotional energy to focus on all these new groups coming out and get informed again. I probably don't even need to explain much about how the last year and a half has been intensely challenging for me as an idol blogger and as a person: I'm sure my absence has spoken volumes to that. But reading everyone else's posts (including at least one fresh and awesome new blogger from the Facebook H!P community!!!) and seeing how excited you guys all are about it has helped me find my footing all over again :)  I'm not one of those people who is very vocal in online forums that aren't almost COMPLETELY controlled by yours truly anymore, but since this place is, I can wax personal all I want and not start getting chest pains. :D

So, in my last "flamethrower" (as Ray of Idolminded SO TOTALLY ACCURATELY :D put it :P ) post, I was both heckadoodle godbloody annoyed by the scarier aspects of the oshi culture and coming off the vicarious high of the NYC Musume performance. After I put this post out, I began noticing interesting talk in the blogosphere about the place idols have in people's lives. I also had a couple of great responses to what I wrote which helped me think even more critically about it, and my perspective expanded a bit (and arguably became a bit more merciful :P ).

I'm going to bounce off that theme as we enter a new year of idoly goodness and revisit that discussion. You guys made some great points, and even though I still hold to some of the things I put out there before, I would like to revisit this discussion. I see blogging about these ideas as a medium for growth and seeing how I as an idol fan and a writer have evolved. Honestly, I think this is part of the beauty of the digital age we live in now, but that's a WHOLE NOTHER can of worms :D

So thank you guys both for seeing my point and for disagreeing with me...and also for being great at having a good discussion about it. Y'all rock my world :P (And yes, I have since given into temptation and played the new H!P ranker...though I did have a million ties. SOTHAR)

Anyway, back to THE THING... 


SO: I was watching the footage of The Artist Formerly Known As S/mileage (old joke is old) do their MV-making thing the other day. Then, disaster struck:

For about fifteen seconds, I could swear to jeebus that Rikako had gotten a half-shave. And I was all like DUDE.

But no, it was just how her hair sits. All was well! I was relieved!

But...then I thought "actually she might be able to pull that off." This turned into "naw Rikako would...actually look pretty awesome with a half-shave."

And that became "GO SHAVE HALF YOUR HEAD RIGHT NOW, GOLL." So here's my question for you:

what kind of funky, off-the-wall, or "alternative" hairstyles do you think the girls could pull off? (I'm mostly thinking of H!P here, but feel free to think outside that box)

Personally, I still stand by the Rikako + half-shave = sweet combination hypothesis, but also: Risako looked amazeballs with crazy hair colors, Eripon would look sweet with a medium-length pixie and some blue highlights, I'd love to see Honey get a platinum blonde blunt bob, Meimi could do LITERALLY WHATEVER and I wouldn't say boo, and, come on, I can't be the only one who thinks Airi would look incredible with cornrows.

AAAAAAND REMEMBER: just because a look isn't what your culture considers "normal," "acceptable," "pretty" (blech) or "feminine" doesn't mean it's not awesome. So keep an open and civil mind--the possibilities are endless! Happy styling!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

COMEBACK LOL [Anti-] ranking post: 6 reasons why I just can't rank members of idol groups anymore.

Hm...I've been dying and coming back a lot over the past couple years, huh?
Grad school has done a lot of things with my life, but I loudly and obnoxiously swear that being patient zero of the zombie apocalypse is not one of them. :D :D :D

Though my efforts at writing papers might disagree...

One of last spring's efforts while it was still far under the word count requirement...
BEE TEE DUBS, no I have not forgotten about the lost Orientalism post...just...let me finish my prospectuses and theses and STUFF LIKE THAT BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. ;)


So I was sitting on ze bus this morning, jamming out to Morning Musume '14's latest compilation of awesome, 14章~The message~ (which has been keeping me sane...much to my boyfriend's squealing delight, I'm quite sure...), and I had a poofy light bulb moment!

This epiphany wasn't really the kind you get when you come up with a mind-buggeringly amazing idea; it was the more subtle kind that happens when you finally figure out how to talk about something that's been bugging the crap out of you for AGES. I've had, like, 3 drafts lurking in my blog queue about the super-irksome issue of oshimen/oshihen/ranking, but none of them ever left the draft stage because they just plain didn't sound right to me.

That was before a bunch of awesome people went to the MM'14 concert in New York (still très jealous, guys) and met some of our favorite girls.

And also some of our (formerly) least.

Pictured: Erstwhile Hate Dumpster.
The US fans who attended the event got me thinking with their reactions to meeting the girls, especially in their thoughtful evaluations of which girl got the least reaction from the crowd (Sakura and Eripon, it seems like, followed closely by Riho), who got the most (Zukki by a landslide), and their impressions after meeting the girls at the handshake event afterward (mostly and happily something along the lines of RIHO IS SO PRECIOUS, I SHALL REPENT OF MY SINFUL WAYS). And in the translations of the girls' evaluations of the New York trip, it gave us a little bit of a window into what is different in fan culture in Japan as opposed to here.

Like all idol fans, I will always be drawn to some members of groups more than others. For some groups, the members in whom I am most interested tends to change at the drop of a hat (like Morning Musume, BiS (WAAH) and Nogizaka46). Others wiggle a bit, but always tend to bring me back to the same girl (like Berryz Kobo, SKE48, and Sakura Gakuin (et al)). And still other groups will, for me, always be haunted by the graduation of that one girl whose loss I will never get over, and my attention to the group will never be the same (like AKB48 and Momoclo FFS IT HAS BEEN ALMOST 4 YEARS AND STILL AUGH).

And like most idol fans, I've enjoyed playing a ranker every so often. But I've had a huge problem with the idea of oshimen/oshihen for a long time. And I think now is the perfect time to say why.  Without further ado, here are the 6 reasons why I've decided I can no longer spend precious mental or emotional energy ranking members of idol groups.

6. My (and *your*) reasons for not liking certain idols may never be proven justifiable or not.

First off, like in the case of Riho in New York, it's really hard to gauge how much you like a girl unless you meet them. Who knows, you could be dead wrong about who you think you like and who you aren't so fond of.

Second: In my almost 6 years of being an idol fan, there have only been two girls I have grown not just to dislike or be uninterested in, but outright loathe. Those members are former Morning Musume Kamei Eri and current S/mileage leader Wada Ayaka. I have similar reasons for harboring an irrevocable dislike for both of them, and I know that there is precious little that can be done to change my mind.

With Ayaka, it began with a (possibly) questionably-translated comment she made a while ago about disliking foreigners. I tried to look past that, and see her awesome skills as a leader and mentor to her kouhai, and later as an active part of revamping S/mileage and bringing in the 3rd generation. I tried so damn hard, and if you look back through this blog, you'll find several places where I did so, and valiantly. But in the end, no amount of research showed me anything proving this comment was badly translated, or that it meant anything other than what it means. All I found was a trove of idle speculation. And I can't let go of my resentment based on badly-sourced faith.

With Eri, it was very similar. guys remember this little incident in 2010? Yeah, Sayu and Reina both issued apologies, but I heard approximately JACK from Eri. I have zero patience for racism. Period, end of story.

BUT (seriously, read the but):

This point is not about whether my assumptions about these girls are correct. What this is about is my own inability to prove that my assumptions either are or aren't correct. I read/understand just enough Japanese to allow me to navigate searches, recognize important and recurring phrases and recognize names. I am limited in my understanding.

Furthermore, I don't have time at this point in my life to rectify this. Would that I did, would that I could. I recognize that I myself am an unreliable source on this, and that I can't reasonably expect myself to be right. Therefore, why should I spend time making a stupid numbered list predicated partly on information that might not be sound?

(Allowing ourselves to do this is where all these nasty -isms start in the first place. And I don't wanna be that guy.)

Speaking of information we don't have...

5. Idols are human beings. Seriously.

Have you guys seen the Girls Live footage of Eripon's handshake line? Seriously, Have. You. Seen. This. Be prepared to be brokoro in the kokoro.

So think for a second about the reactions each girl gets at events. How must it feel not to be Riho or Sayu or Mizuki? Some people have argued that, because idol culture is so hugely staged, Eripon's sad face in this clip was staged as well. I can see the point of arguing that, but I'll be honest here: that argument is inhuman and cynical and y'all should be ashamed. 


Come. On.
That face is not the face of someone who is acting sad to get attention. That is not the face of someone who has been told to ham it up for the camera. That is not a publicity stunt, even if, in the end, it was intended to be. (I know; that sounds really confusing, but it makes sense to me) This is the face of someone who is trying very hard to keep herself together to avoid showing the world how awful she feels.

I can't support bringing girls who aren't your/my/our favorites to their knees after a show after not getting as much attention as the others. As heartening as it was to see Suzuki Kanon flip her lid during the reaction she got on stage in New York, it sucked to think about the attention she is NOT getting back home. I can't support that kind of treatment of the less high-profile members, and I won't. 

It doesn't matter if I will never truly *know* the girls' personal heartbreak while they are part of the industry, nor does it matter to me the degree to which being an idol is staged or not. I can't flip that magical "give a shit" switch some fans seem to have. (Sorry, it's true.) Barf.

Which brings me to my next point...

4. Idol culture sets certain people up for failure while propelling others to crazy-go-nuts stardom. And it has yet to apologize either for or to the young women left behind.

We all know this, but the shitty part is that we can't yet say precisely why that is the case.

(Random side note: I love being able to write blog posts like this because I can't yet pepper my academic work with expletives without getting boned for it. Tenure is weird. :D )

One thing we all love about idol culture is how inclusive it can be, and how diverse the girls are. Anyone can be an idol, because everyone has their own talents just waiting to be drawn out. For some young women, being an idol is the perfect way to work this out.

Example 1: Tsugunaga Momoko is taking her idol badassery to the next level by becoming a manager for Country Girls because her time in Berryz Kobo showed both the world and herself what she is awesome at: herding cats and being a great, self-effacing and graceful stage personality. And I admire the crap out of her choice to stay in the industry.

Example 2: Matsui Sakiko may not be most people's conventional idea of a good-looking girl (UGH RAGE FUCK THAT or amazing singer, but she works magic at the piano. The idol industry helped her explore that further and showcase it beautifully.

More pianists named Matsui in the world is also a very right and godly thing, too.
But the girls who are left behind and forgotten far outnumber those who succeed, especially in the wake of the -48 epidemic. The stories that have come out recently about "lower tier" members' (the very existence of such a label being in and of itself another value judgement) struggles to make it in the 48 groups or in smaller indie groups scream that something has to change. These young women don't deserve to have to and work 2 jobs and live on the street to make their dream. No one does.

Conversely, idols who become über-popular (sometimes because of OMG DUH TALENT; and sometimes for nebulous reasons I'm not culturally savvy enough to understand) get somewhat of a golden ticket to success.* (I'm thinking about Maeda Atsuko, Yaguchi Mari and Takahashi Ai in particular.)

*But often times, this success is limited to their time in the industry, and it tends not to carry over well because...

3. The objectification of (particularly female) idols hinders their ability to move further in their careers.

When I say "objectification," I don't mean it in the Western media theory sense of viewing people as merely pretty things to look at (although there is a lot Lot  LOT of that going on as well). I'm talking about how idol culture tends to turn idols into ad hoc objets d'art, meaning that, vis-à-vis fan talk and industry presentation, idols are given purpose through being metaphorically transformed into demigods of openly appreciated (and very detailed) beauty.

I have to say that I've always found something truly artistic about how idol culture discusses individual women as being ideals of beauty--whether that beauty is physical, in their talent, in their personality, or in their constructed cultural value as good people. It is artistic, nuanced, and sometimes beautiful and quite positive. There is something particularly moving about seeing these young people on the verge of fulfilling their adult dreams discussed and viewed so thoroughly.

But just because a thing is artistic, poetic, or other such thing doesn't automatically make the thing A Universally Good Thing. Once the shiny box of an idol's role is painted with her talents and personality traits, the girls tend to get locked into it, and it is the more popular idols who become trapped to a greater extent than the less popular ones...

...unless said less popular girls go into AV...

Yonezawa Rumi, formerly of AKB48
If you click the link, you'll be greeted by a prime example of talk that happens when the non-megastar idols get dismissed for not staying in their pure little idol boxes. It has become NORMAL in the idol fandom to think like this, not to MENTION the vomit-inducingly Puritanical way sex is viewed within the idol fandom and idol culture in general.

And of course, there's whole books written about the male gaze and women's sexuality and stigma around sex work and...things that will truly make this post TL;DR if I get started.

Placing such value in popularity and ranking creates the perfect environment for the devaluation of these immensely hard-working young women to thrive. Speaking of hard work and sacrifice...

2. Being an idol is goddamn hard

We've already gone over a lot of reasons why being an idol is no cakewalk. Haven't even mentioned the long hours, countless live events, not to mention those crazy girls like Suzuki Airi and Momo, who juggle university AND their hugely successful idol careers. Good god, I've already almost lost my nut by juggling work, chorale, grad school, etc....bleh.

These girls NEED fan support. They NEED to know they are appreciated. All of them. Not just the ones you're most drawn to.

Plus, those of you with theater experience know that acting is hard. Imagine having to do it 24/7.

1. The concept of oshimen is TOXIC AND NEEDS TO CHANGE.

So yeah, this opinion might get me shot, buuuuuuut

Now, I like some of the awesomeness that comes with the term "oshimen." I like calling Mitsui Aika and Akimoto Sayaka my eternal oshis. I like it because it sounds catchy, it's a fandom inside term, and, well, those two girls will always have a special place in my heart.

But the concept of what an oshimen is, how to oshi, and the stigma around oshihen Need. To. Go. Like, Yesterday-ish.

To oshihen, in really strict (and some a little less strict) idol fan circles, is a sin only outclassed by murdering your grandparents or liking Justin Bieber. And to say that I find that icky is a GROSS understatement.


In a lot of circles, once you pick an oshimen, you pledge to support her all the time, no matter what, to your grave. To buy another idol's fan goods, or attend another idol's handshake event, or (to some) to even LOOK at another idol like she's awesome are verboten. You pledge yourself to her. You are, to borrow a term from geisha culture (SORRY, BUT IT WORKS HERE...), her danna. And if you oshihen, it's like you're actively cheating on your significant other.

Now think about that for a second.  Let that *really* sink in.

It's true that these examples illustrate the most extreme fan behavior. When you get right down to it, all these extreme behaviors border on stalking, if they're not already. To hardcore oshimen, they basically, in their headsmarry their oshis.  Without the girl's consent, the fan makes her the focal point of his life; his reason for being. There is no universe in which acting out this fantasy should be considered right or normal. But unfortunately, while far (far, far) from every fan approaches oshimen like this, this behavior is more or less brushed aside, accepted in a toned-down form, and otherwise not talked about, and thus oshimen is just accepted as another part of being an idol fan.

The narrative of "these women are just the girls next door" is sold by the industry (run mostly by men) and bought in bulk by (mostly male) fans, but it was, at least originally, just meant to create a fantasy playland in which people could escape from their stressful lives a bit. It was meant to be fun and harmless.

It's not anymore.

In its current form, the idea of oshimen is fucked up, and it needs to stop. The definition of oshimen has to change, and fans have to talk about it because the complacency of fans is half the problem.

Need more convincing? How about this: most idols are underage girls. If the lack of consent surrounding stricter oshimen behavior wasn't enough, that should be.

I can't reconcile ranking, popularity and oshimen with my idol fandom anymore. I love the music and the fun culture that idols make, and the theatricality of it all is part of its charm, and part of what makes being an idol fan fun. But if we really love our girls, we need to treat them as human beings instead of goods to be bought, sold and coveted.

Edit: Discuss! Share ideas! Say things! You can do it! :D

Another edit: You are welcome to tell me I'm wrong or be angry at my opinion. Just be classy about it ;)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Let's talk social science! Part 1: "The body of the colonizer"

This is something of a continuation of my thoughts from the Avril Lavigne "Hello Kitty" discussion.  Possibly NSFW due to some images of underwear models, proceed at your own discretion.

(Love, peace, and inter-cultural chicken grease.)

Before we get started, I'd like us to remember that there have been a number of fantastic posts and perspectives on the topic of Avril Lavigne, cultural appropriation and othering in the past few days, and y'all should take a peek at at least some of them.  I'm trying to curate as many as I can here: we'll see if I can come close to getting them all :P :
I argued in my last installment that while Lavigne's video does engage in a bit of cultural appropriation (coming close to minstrelsy), it needs to be considered with nuance, and considered with Lavigne's background in mind as well before we tar and feather her for acting the weeaboo (a term I find grossly offensive for a number of reasons).

However, even though I defended Lavigne's choices in the "Hello Kitty" video, there is still much to discuss on the topic of cultural appropriation and ignorance (a term which I use in the most literal sense; not pejoratively).  Thus, therefore, hence and suchthings, I'm going to put my professorish hat on and address a few social science topics with a J-pop bent over the next...oh...week or so?  We will see how timely I can be :D

So, we're going to kick off this series (there will be at least one more part, if not two or three) with a somewhat controversial topic.  Why is it controversial, you ask?

Well, if you're reading this, and you're white of European descent, you're about to find out :P  

"The Body of the Colonizer"

(A cuppa for the empire your thoughts?)

When I was in India in 2008, one of the first things my prof told our group was to be conscious of the fact that, as people of European descent traveling where we were, we had "the body of the colonizer," and we needed to be mindful and respectful of that in our interactions with people and places.  This is very useful advice for people like us traveling in South Asia, because much of it (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, to name a few) was under British imperial control for quite a long time, and life was not sunshine and roses for many people native to these regions during this time.

India in particular was under control of the British Raj from 1858-1947, and before that, controlled by the East India Company from 1600 or so on.  In these nearly 400 years that the people in these regions lived under British rule, they lived with many things typical to the phenomenon of colonialism: things including, but not limited to:
  • Religious conversion (and all the threats to one's livelihood, personal autonomy, and spiritual growth that go along with this)
  • Slavery/indentured servitude
  • The imposition of laws which were based on a way of life that was not that of the land
  • The slow, slow degradation of relations between people of different traditions who already lived in the area.
This is an UBER-ULTRA-MEGA SHORT introduction to what colonialism and imperialism are (two subtly different terms), and the effects it has on the people touched by it.  This is also a prompt for you to go out and do some research on it, since I can't give a very extensive world history lesson in just one post :P  And India is far from the only place touched by European colonialism and imperialist ambitions.  Some other regions of interest:
  • South America: Chile and Argentina are the most famous examples by far, but the tiny country of Suriname also has a very entangled history with Dutch colonialism.
  • Australia and the people of Tasmania
  • New Zealand: If you haven't seen "Cloud Atlas" or "The Piano," well, here's your chance to get a quick glimpse into to mid-19th-century anthropology without sentencing yourself to death by academic writing (Trust me, it's fascinating stuff, but incredibly dry and jargony and racist and....yeah).
  • South Africa
  • Kenya: Wanna know how Nairobi became the capital?  Or what the word "nairobi" means? Well, go read about it!
  • Mount Lebanon circa 1839-1860ish: A good area to see not only what European colonialism's goals were, but Ottoman imperialism as well, which was at least as influential as the Europeans, but most Westerners aren't well-acquainted with that unless they've read a metric buttload of orientalists.
  • Israel/Palestine: See how I deftly avoided a massive Godwin here? (Wait, did I just jinx it?)
  • North Fucking Muricuh: Yeah, bitches, I went there.
  • South Korea: particularly how Christianity took so quickly after the Korean War in the 1950s.
  • And, of course, Japan.  Though this is much more a discussion on imperialism than colonialism.
The hardest thing for many people of European descent to consciously acknowledge when traveling abroad is not the fact that icky things happened between people who look like us and people who look like them; but rather that these things are still ingrained in the collective memories of other cultures; and that sometimes, trying to do as the Romans (or Delhites, or Johannesburgers, or Singaporeans, or Tokyoites) do just may not be enough to erase all prejudice.

Or annoyance.

Or fear.

To have the body of the colonizer means that one looks like part of a group of people who exert/had exerted undue power or dominance or lots and lots of influence over another.

As a person of European descent, I look like British women who employed Indian maids in their wealthy households.  I look like Dutch women who hired African people to work her (husband's) land for little to no pay.  I look like the the people who owned the sugar cane fields in Hawaii in the early 20th century.  I look like the disrespectful, ignorant American women who saw photos of geisha after the war, thought their outfits were lovely and exotic, and put on "kimono," etc., for costume parties or for fun or to make themselves look worldly and well-traveled.

And so does Avril Lavigne.

And so, quite likely, do you.

(What's pink, black, white, and obnoxious all over?)

Here we see the interaction (read: T-boning...) of two cultures who have a tense shared history.  

"...But wait...Avril's Canadian, not American!" you might say.  

Well, at first glance (our *first impulse;* that evil, seductive little trickster to whom no sentient being is immune), that doesn't matter.  On a philosophical level, it might, but immediately, it just doesn't.  That argument simply has no place here.  Why? (And here's where, for the sake of simplicity, I'm going to get super pretentious...) Because she is phenotypically similar to a people with a history of conflict with Japan.  

We're going to get super cuddly with this fun little technical word because, well, it's a lot more concise than "she looks different" or "she's not part of their race ethnicity," or worse "she's white."

Avril's phenotype matches that of Americans, and is also somewhat similar to the Portuguese researchers/missionaries/traders who started nosing around in feudal Japan in 1543.  (Note: this is a group of people whose appearance is VERY well-documented by Japanese writers of the time.) 

Let's go back to our other buzzword: cultural appropriation.  The reason that using/being outwardly fond of images that don't match one's phenotypically-assumed culture (yes, that's really all I think it boils down to), especially if *your phenotype has had a tense history with *their phenotype (PHENOTYPES ERRWHER, YOU GUYS), is problematic (holy shit, this sentence is already 4 lines long...) is because of how the colonizers tended to regard and use the cultures they encountered.

A very simplistic definition of cultural appropriation is "is the seizing of another culture without their consent. " (source, and great article, though the author uses the term "Orientalist" somewhat incorrectly. #foreshadowing) The word "seizing" is a bit absolutist and lacking nuance, but in some cases it is absolutely true.

And in some cases, a definition that sounds startlingly close to a definition of rape is exactly the kind of wake-up call our culture needs. 

(No means no.)

The ignorant use of cultural iconography reflects a time when that kind of laissez-faire attitude toward the exotic other was the norm in Western cultures, and while these attitudes are changing; while other cultures are no longer widely regarded as "aww look at the cute widdle primitive people," cultural appropriation is still a problem that needs to be addresssed because we are taking that for granted.

For a very long time, Western colonialists had a nasty habit of talking about the cultures they encountered politely as being "quaint," "exotic," or "unchanging;" and not-so-politely as "backward," "barbaric," or "simple."  Many writings by early European explorers, imperial ambassadors, anthropologists, tradesmen, travel writers, and even novelists will speak of South and East Asian cultures as though the people are children or highly intelligent animals, and that attitude has not completely disappeared in some circles.

The reality of the world we live in is that if you are of European descent, you have an especial responsibility to be aware of that fact; to be aware that we have the body of the colonizer.  (This is not to say that this is right or good or beneficial to the progress of humanity, per se.  It just *is.*)  And this, right here, is why we find ourselves so concerned with Lavigne's video.  And whether or not our criticisms on that matter are entirely founded, we should be concerned about it anyway.  We need to be critical about these things.  


(Kaylee the cat seems to think there is!)

There really is a happy part for us young Euro-type folks when it comes to fucking up the cultural appropriation *thing.*  


**I went to a conference on activism as an undergrad way back in 2009, and one of the workshops I went to was about diversity.  Even in Wyoming, only half-ish of the people who went were Euro-types.  But we had a blast.  We did exercises in pairs to demonstrate a metaphor about white privilege, and we talked about it without judgment.  But after talking about history and civil rights and everything in between, I became very, very conscious of the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes.

And it hurt.  A lot.

I went into the bathroom and cried for a while (yeah, I'm a bit of a touchy-feely super-sensitive type like that), and when I was certain I didn't look all puffy and shamey anymore, I walked out...just as one of the workshop leaders walked in.  She was Native American and worked for the counseling department, and was just an overall awesome person.  And when I saw her, the waterworks started all over again.  Yeah, it was kinda gross :P

She asked me what was wrong, and I just told her that I felt horrid about...well, what I was, basically.  I told her I hated the history of people who looked like me, who lived like me, who had access to the kind of lives that I might have.  And all she did was put her arms around me and say:

"That is a history.  That is not your history."**

Stay tuned for part 2: "Orientalism"  :D  LATERZ!