Sunday, October 24, 2010

In defense of Suzuki Airi: a cultural and musical analysis

Meet Suzuki Airi--the 16-year-old "shocking!" lead singer of C-ute, one of Tsunku's favorite H!P Kids, and one of the most popular Hello! Project members at this point in time. She is an atypical Aries, loves Harry Potter and Hayao Miyazaki movies, sushi, spaghetti, and her six dogs. She often says that her dad is the best dad in the world, plays the cornet, is scared of lightning, and wanted to be a singer since she was very young. This girl has loads of talent, good looks and an adorably awkward personality to round it all out.

...And people just love to hate her.


Well, let's take a look at what some dumbasses people in cyberspace have to say before we look at a) where it's coming from and b) why it's total ethnocentric bullshit.

I agree that the way SHOCK! was formulated was not conducive to fan happiness, much less to displaying the unique talents that all the C-uties have. I miss Erika and Kanna, too, and I think Chisato is WAY underrated. HOWEVER....

It isn't Airi's fault.

A few of the most common complaints against Airi:

  • 1) "I don't see the point of having Airi in °C-ute because pretty much of the solos are hers...It's not that I hate Airi but imo it's not fair to others" (Found on a SHOCK! posting on YouTube)
  • 2) "Start to hate Airi...She sings all the song!! I hate her! XD I think ÂșC-ute was better when Umeda was in there! Now It's Airi and the backdancers...T_T" (Found on a different SHOCK! video)
  • 3) "Tsunku needs to stop giving all the lines to Airi. Good voice, but it's not fair that she's so "special" in both buono and c-ute. it NEEDS to be evened out. love cute like i said, and buono, but tsunku needs to even out the solos. it's truly not c-ute anymore. it's airi." (Found on an iteration of Dance de BaCOON! on YouTube)
  • 4) "im so happy that Airi and The Background Dancers has stopped. i'm sick of her" (Found on a posting of Campus Life on YouTube).

Ok, so I pulled a fast one and implied that any of the comments were at all different. D'oh.

Less common, but still seen fucking everywhere, complaints include:

  • "Uhm… she already has four [photobooks]? Shouldn’t they be giving someone else a chance now? @________@" ~Commenter on Hello! SayuNii on the announcement of Airi's 5th photobook, released this summer.

All comments are from real commenters on the intertubes who will not be named. Four commenters were from the US, and one was from Mexico. Very seldom will you see otherwise, though it does happen. (I have, for example, seen a couple comments like this by someone from Germany, a few girls and a couple guys from the UK, and two girls from Australia, on the ones that pissed me off enough to look at their profiles.).

Seeing this crap everywhere since SHOCK! came out in January is really pissing me off. Yes, comments like these (against both Airi and Yajima Maimi) would show up occasionally before SHOCK! came out, but then all hell broke loose when Tsunku had a temporary lapse in good judgment and the angry mob fans got out their torches and pitchforks and charged the fort. I can understand some of this annoyance, but when it leads people to flat out LIE about the line distribution in Buono! (which has been 100% even throughout the existence of the group)...that's just plain not thinking.

The culture of the commenters and its follies and foibles:

The main demographic of the negative comment pool is vastly Western, and here is where we can start to find a major trend. Let's look at the commenters from the US, since that's my stomping ground and I'm most familiar with it. The comments with the most venom are almost ALWAYS from young, high-school and early college age kids from the United States. Now, I am not a confrontational person, and I don't like to generalize, because that often creates some nasty lies about innocent people who don't deserve it. But I am going to make some generalizations right here, right now, that are a) true and b) are going to piss people off. A Lot.

American public high schoolers and those of early college age in 2010 generally:
  • 1) Receive piss-poor social studies education. In some states (TEXAS), this has even meant changing or attempting to change the curriculum to exclude important civil rights leaders, famous women and some world history.
  • 2) Are often ill-prepared to learn about other cultures because our society and education reinforce some silly idea that America is the best country EVAR!...and the only people who think otherwise are liberty-hating pinko commie Soviet fascist nazi infiltrators from MarxLeninSocialismoStan. (Remember "Thank You For Smoking," when Nick Naylor's son had to write an essay about why American government is "the best government in the world?" That shit actually happens.)
  • 3) Are raised to believe that life is always fair, always should be fair, and everyone is special (even though I and people like me are more special), dammit.

(Now, if any public high school student who happens to be a H!P fan should stumble across this post, read the previous three points again VERY CAREFULLY until you understand these three things:
1) Never once are the words ALWAYS, NEVER or ALL used when referring to groups of people.

2) You yourself, or some of your peers, may not fit into those norms

3) Those statements are completely true of American child-rearing culture as a whole, though they may not have been true for you.)

Now, what do all those things have to do with Airi haters? Everything.

A lack of cultural understanding, or worse, a lack of willingness to understand other cultures, is what is behind all this negativity toward Airi.

Cross-Cultural Bias...and why it's retarded.

Japanese pop culture works very differently in Japan than it does here. For one, mediocrity is not celebrated there. (I'm sorry, but even Michishige Sayumi (whom I absolutely adore, but see her flaws) has more talent in her pinky than Miley Cyrus has in her whole body and tiny brain.) In our culture, we are growing more and more to coddle our kids, rather than teach them with kindness, to improve or even just to TRY HARDER. Even those who try harder are better off than those who are taught that half-ass is good enough.

Airi has a LOT of natural talent, but she has worked very hard to improve even more since she began her career at the ripe old age of eight. (It helps that she also happens to have perfect pitch. How do I know this, you might ask? Backstage at fan events when she's practicing, she ALWAYS sings in the right key with no piano or pitch pipe.) She got to be a lead singer because she is better, stronger lead. That's just the way it is. Later, I'll explain the musical reasons WHY she is better.

Secondly, idol culture works very differently than our music industry here. Unfortunately, most idols and singers have approximately ZERO creative control over their craft. They are shaped largely by their society and, get this, the MEN who dominate the industry's leaders, producers, you name it. (Seriously, if Tsunku one day gave the Hello! Project to a woman, like Yuko Nakazawa, I would LOVE to see how it changed.) Airi has no control over how many solo lines she gets, nor over what songs she performs on stage (remember when people got all mad that she sang "Natsu Doki Lipstick," a song written for Maimi, at a Buono! concert?).

She also has almost no control over the personality she portrays to the public, which is the meat of the real charm of idol culture. After watching her for a while, it's clear that the personality she portrays is very genuine, but she never has a choice. This is where the bulk of the bullshit in those comments lies. Instead of being annoyed (understandably) with Tsunku the Creepy Elf for not giving anyone else lines in SHOCK!, they direct their vitriol at Airi and occasionally mention Tsunku on the side. And that, kids, is just stupid.

Those women who work hard for creative control (like Goto Maki and Hamasaki Ayumi) have to work more than twice as hard as idols. (and infinitely harder than two-bit little girls in the US who are only famous because their daddy was famous and who sound good under an autotuner.) This is where the Japanese music scene makes me a bit sad. The girls in the industry are under immense pressure from their producers and from the society on the whole, to be perfect. To be idols. It is no coincidence that they are called that. Many, like Kago Ai, buckle under the pressure and are treated as criminals for minor things because they didn't meet the ultimate standard of the perfect Japanese wife and mother.

Airi is one of those next generation idols who is constantly on a pedestal built by her largely male fan base. The pressure on her, as a lead singer of C-ute, and as a young woman in general, is HUGE--NOTHING like what the little popsters in the US experience, purity rings and all. I don't believe this is healthy, but it's the way it is, and it needs to be understood so she can be treated like an actual human being by foreign H!P fans.

Music geekery: why Airi is a better singer than most of her peers.

Airi and the rest of the H!P Kids/Morning Musume are naturally gifted singers, but there are a few technical things that make her and a few others (Miyabi, Momoko, Kanon, Ai-chan, Maasa and Linlin, to name a few) stand out from the crowd. Here's a few:

  • 1) Airi has very few problems staying on pitch. Sure, every singer has those "few cents sharp/flat" moments, but the amount of those one has is directly proportional to how technically good a singer they are. This is a BFD, and the reason Sayumi doesn't get many lines in Morning Musume.
  • 2) Airi understands, and works well with, her passagio. Passagio, the Italian term for "passage," is the point in the voice where one must switch from your chest voice to your head voice (where most of the high notes need to be sung, unless you're an exceptional belter with buttloads of training). Airi is not a soprano, but she hits high notes very evenly, cleanly and easily, moving from head to chest voice with smoothness. An example of a H!P kid who does NOT work well with her passagio is Sugaya Risako. I adore Risako. She's got a great voice, and a very unique vibrato. BUT--if she keeps straining her passagio on high notes, shouting where she can't belt, she will ruin her voice. She hasn't gotten to know her alto range well enough, and it's going to mess her up if she doesn't stop straining her high notes.
  • 3) Her breath control is unmatched. This is one area where both Maimi and Chisato struggle, even though they otherwise sound awesome.
  • 4) She doesn't lean on her sparse vibrato. It's easy to tell when singers rely on their vibrato for quality (another thing Risako is VERY, VERY guilty of). Airi does not.
  • 5) Homegirl gets INTO IT!! While Airi may not be the best dancer in the group, she makes up for it with pure, unadulterated SOUL.

As far as singing goes, Airi is simply the best, technically speaking, even though the other C-uties have unique voices that are great to listen to as well. This is why she was given a lead role. This is why any singer is given a lead role, no matter which culture they come from. And she deserves it.

In closing...

Support C-ute, support Airi, and stop being assholes. Oh, and support Chisato's 1st photobook, WHICH IS COMING OUT IN DECEMBER OMG OMG OMG!!!! *gush!*


ForeverLove!~ said...

Nice!!! :D

IchigoAmu said...

YAY!! Finally a person who sees things like I do!!!
LOL and I totally agree about Tsunku being a creepy Elf...

The Fly said...

Hooray! You guys are awesome :P

Thanks for commenting, too :D

Anonymous said...

Nice Job! It really isn't Airi's fault that she gets so many solo lines. Tsunku being the creepy elf... nice name! :D

chisatointelligenceagency said...

Great defense of our Airi ^^

I won´t never understand the hate in H!P.

the only thing i don´t agree is the "she sings because her voice", she is a great singer but the 1st step is the popularity + promotion....not the voice

that´s why there are still great singers who don´t sing enough in H!P

best example is Chisato, she has never got the chance until now (despite she is the best singer in her group imo) she is becoming popular and tsunku gives her lines ¬¬ yes, popularity usually gives the lines xD

Anonymous said...

Finally! Someone who actually understands something about singing and how this business works. Sick and tired of western hate comments. I'm North American and I completely agrees with you.

Anonymous said...

let just say i don't really agree with what you said because well it's called a "group" for a reason, so i understand why people say what they said, although i'm not expecting them to give complete equality of lines they should still make it so it sounds like a group and not "Airi and the background dancer" and called me too "americanized" or what you well this is just how i see it, it's called a group so give me a group not a single person and their back ups, look at how "the pussycat dolls" work out, didn't they fall out because nicole was the only singer and everyone was literally just back ups, although i said all this i am actually a fan of Airi and wouldn't want her to stopped getting the lines but that doesn't mean i don't want to hear the others either

i do agree however Airi has no control over what she or the other girls get, so people shouldn't be directing their hate at her but really at Tsunku, even so everyone has the right to complaints especially if what they're selling is not what they're promoting