Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Idol blogging and social networking: Don't be a TOF

(Pictured: A prime specimen TOF in its natural habitat.)

We all have our very own That One Friend.  

You know, the TOF who still refuses to text because "well, 'tis just a TERRIBLE communication method, sir!" 

The TOF who still refuses to get a Facebook page because "it's just for 'collecting people.'"

Or conversely, the TOF who is all like, "I used Facebook before it was cool, and now it's just too mainstream and corporationey, duuuuuude."

The TOF who won't use Twitter because "PSSHAW, the truly erudite simply do NOT express things in 140 characters or less."

The TOF who refuses to get a cell phone because reasons.  (Yes, those still exist.)

The TOF who won't use Tumblr because "it's a slippery slope of stupid." (Okay, I'll let that one slide)

Well, until very recently, I was 100% guilty of being a huge TOF.


When I first started doing the idol blogging THING in late 2010, I had no clue what I was doing.  Before that, this blog housed a mishmash of political posts (UGH) and creative non-fiction that I was too embarrassed to post on Facebook.  But during a couple of dark, heavy quarter-life crisis years that hit me like a brick shithouse after I finished my first B.A., I dove headfirst into idol culture and discovered an honest-to-jeebus passion.

And for a while, it confused the crap out of me.

On one hand, I was taken aback by the weird love-ban rules and the mostly male fanbase and the gravure photobooks and all the institutionalized fuckery those imply.  But on t'other, I was ineffably drawn to the happy fun music, the adorable girls and the complete otherness that comes with being both an idol fan and living the West.  I blame my Gemini-ness, truly.  And that's how fly in the f*ing wine was born!

(Exhibit A: Occidentally in love)

As an idol blogging nooblet, I just kind of just "wrote stuff" in the hope that someone would stumble across it eventually.  I knew that wasn't how the big bad interwebs really worked, but, well, I was too much of a TOF.

What was I to do to get the word out?  Well, playing WoW (yeeeeeeeeeah... yeeeeeeah...) "taught" me that forums are the playground of small-minded 12-year-olds, so that was out...even though I did leave my blog URL in my signature on H!O, and continued to post occasionally.

I also thought about doing Twitter, and I did for a while, but then I came up with some big sophistic rant about how our culture is sloganizing everything to cater to THOSE SILLY COMMONERS, and decided to float away on my big fat cloud of smug to LANDS MORE SOPHISTICATED MMMMYES.

Tumblr was fun for a while, but I got annoyed with how easy it was to just reblog stuff and not come up with original material.  "Well, HARRUMPH TO THAT," I said, twirling my sexy moustache over a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, "I SHALL TAKE MY PHENOMENAL COSMIC SMARTNESS ELSWHEAH!"

(Fitting that this cat is black and white, ne?)

When someone on International Wota found a post of mine and plugged it (probably by finding it through SOME SORT of social media), I felt like a newly discovered starlet.  But I'm not going to lie, I also felt a little smug.  "FINALLY," I huffed, "THE WORLD SHALL KNOW OF MY GREATNESS."  And what happened then?  Well, in Meville, they say, Mara's BIG HEAD grew THREE SIZES THAT DAY!  

Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but replace "head" with "confidence," and you've got it spot on.

I decided to try using the "recommend a post" function to promote some of my posts (while, of course, making it clear that that was exactly what I was doing), and I got addicted to surfing the recommended reading section and reading all the awesome stuff idol bloggers have to offer.  I felt icky every time I promoted a post, but in the end, I wanted to participate in a community more than I wanted to NOT look like an arrogant prig.

In addition to being a bit technophobic, I also had some really strange ideas about modesty when I started out as an idol blogger.  For some reason, I had it in my head for the longest time that if I tried to promote myself in any way for any reason, whether I was good at the thing being promoted or not, then I was bad and I should feel bad.  

Thankfully, as time went on, I felt less and less bad about plugging my writing.  But that pesky TOFness still remained.  I got comfortable just coasting along through that one medium.  My audience had increased quite a bit, and for a long time, I thought I was happy with that. But then I joined a few idol fan groups on The Facebooks, and my mind changed almost overnight.  Through the Facebook groups, I got to know a bunch of other idol fans, including some fellow idol bloggers.  And they were cool, hang-out-with-able people!

I've always been someone who likes talking to people.  Any people, about anything, at any time.  That's just who I am.  But *emo flashback noise* I'd also had some confidence issues in that area as well, so it took me a little while to really start participating in conversations.  But once I did, it was fun!

We all traded Twitters and Tumblrs and various other social sites, and everyone was super-excited about it, so I decided to give it a shot and see what everyone was up to.  And you know what?  It wasn't so bad.

Twitter in particular is quite useful.  Yeah, posts are short, sure, but you can post a lot of news in a short amount of time, as well as read about it if you don't feel like clicking the link.  You can have themes to your tweets if you want, where you just post about one thing and give it a short, pithy intro (my current obsession is posting songs I listen to while I write with the intro "Songs to Write to."  Maybe not super original, but simple and fun).  Tumblr is also a great time-waster, and while I do not use it much myself, I follow a lot of my friends that way.

I also started exploring the world of fanfiction recently (as well as writing it myself), and have talked to some fun people while reading some fun stories about how they see their favorite fandom.  People have some neat ideas, and even if they're not the most expertly crafted pieces of literature EVAR, I still have fun reading them.


In short, the world of social networking has not just been a great tool for me to get the word out about my idol blog, but a great growth tool for me personally.  The internet is scary, kids.  This is a fact.  But not all people out there are trollbags.  In fact, most of them aren't.  And not all fanfiction is JUST FOR THE FAPS.

If you're a new blogger and you want to get the word out, get out and talk to people.  There are people out there who want to read your stuff!  I promise, we don't bite, you're not a conceited jerk for promoting yourself, and you'll have fun.

Give stuff a try!  Don't discount something new just because it's not brainy enough for your face, or you've had bad experiences with it in the past.  Don't wag your cane at the kids on your lawn just because they do things differently.  Don't be that guy who just won't.

Don't be a TOF.

P.S.: Whoever is reading my old gnu jokes post, you make me smile :P

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The wait is over! Ieiri Leo: Message

Since Ieiri Leo released her debut album back in October, I've been impatiently waiting for her to release another single.  I should have figured that it was going to be a while, what with her starting her tour and graduating from high school and all (with flying colors, I'm sure).  She's had a busy life recently.

Ieiri's new single is entitled "Message," and will be released on 5/22.  (STILL TOO LONG TO WAIT, DAMMIT!)  The 18-second preview was released a couple of weeks ago, but the full 1:30 preview was released about an hour ago.

So far, I am pleased as punch with how it sounds.  Ieiri is going into that sexy lower register near the beginning....OH GAWD HURRY UP AND RELEASE ALREADY JEEZ.  (so eloquent, yallz)  There are quite a few first presses left up for pre-order, all of which come with a clear file (and they are gorgeous.)

Check out the gorgeous PV preview below: it is looking like it will be her best one yet.  (I will embed the video as soon at the code works--it's giving me issues...)


Sunday, April 7, 2013

When kamioshi depart...

In my time as an idol fan, I've not had the emotional experience of a true favorite, an honest-to-god oshimen, leaving a group. Until today.

While Erika of C-ute and Akari of Momoclo are still close to my heart, it was too late for me to really get to know them by the time I'd become a fan of those groups.  I really liked Linlin, Aichan, and Kiyomura Kawane, and Aika will forever be my baby.  But even they never found the place in my heart that Sayaka has.  And that she will always have.

I can make a good and convincing case for saying that I was not shocked at her graduation announcement.  I can go on and on about how we all saw it coming after the team shuffle last year that traded Sayaka for  Oshima Yuko as Team K captain.  I can lament about how her decreasing rank in the glorified pageant senbatsu election was a sign of the times for her.  I can happily observe that she has been very active outside of AKB48, and know that she does, in fact, have much better things in store.  And I can also see the correlation with several other popular first, second and third generation members graduating, and make the argument that their *expiration date* has passed, and it is time for them to go.

But even still, I was shocked.  For the past year or so, Sayaka has been one of three reasons I've really bothered paying attention to AKB48 as a group (the others being Mariko and UZA, lol).  And now that she is leaving, I really have no reason to continue.  I adore the sister groups, but for me, AKB48 has become a black hole, and I don't have much left to say about it aside from cynical quips and calculated jabs.

I know now how it really feels like to have the impending loss of an oshimen looming on the horizon.  And it feels icky.  But I really do feel better knowing that Sayaka has lots of better things in store for her.  And I am looking forward to seeing them.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Album review: Ieiri Leo "LEO"

Welcome to my first album review!  I hope to be able to do lots more of these (and acquire lots more albums in the process EEEE!) in the future.  I plan on reviewing S/mileage's latest, as well as a couple non-idol related albums: Bahashishi's "Luminescence" and Sweet Vacation's "pop save the world!!"

It's been a long time coming for this one, but I wanted to give it its due no matter how long it took.  "LEO" is Ieiri Leo's debut album, released on October 24, 2012.

Track 1: Sabrina (サブリナ)

What better way to kick off the album than with this beauty.  Her debut single, released in February of last year, introduced listeners to Leo's distinct, bell-clear vocal style and quirky-fast vibrato.

There have been very few singers who at first encounter have caused me to stop and say, out loud even, "Wow, who is THAT?"  Hamasaki Ayumi and Amy Winehouse were among the first.  Because of this song, Ieiri is now in that group.

Rating: 4.5/5

Track 2: Last Stage

I mentioned before that this song was my favorite of Leo' repertoire so far, and I am happy to say that it still is. I grew up listening to a lot of 70s folk and rock, and while this song certainly doesn't fall into the "just like that" category, there are a lot of elements to it that remind me of just such tunes, like the viola and the minimalist, thumb-picked sounding guitar.  This song also has some sexy swells of orchestral goodness.  I really can imagine her doing this song with an orchestra.  Not a full one, perhaps, but a decently-sized one.

While this is probably not the strongest track on the album, it is my favorite because of how much energy it exudes when Leo performs it live.  In the couple of live performances I have watched of hers, this song was the most intense and alive of her set.  I'm looking forward to watching her perform this on her Quattro Club Osaka performance.

Rating: 4.5/5

Track 3: Say Goodbye

"Say Goodbye" was released as a digital single a week before this album's release, but I kinda wish it had gotten a physical release too, if for no other reason save my WANT MOAR GOODS!! impulse.  (don't we all, though?)

This song is a powerful yet calming ballad--a mix Ieiri does very well with.  I can see this song being very good live...we shall see now, won't we?

Rating: 4.8/5

Track 4: Shine

Chances are, this is the song you think of when you hear mention of Leo's music.  Her best selling single by far, this track was used as the theme song for the drama Kaeru no Oujo-sama (which features AKB48 center Oshima Yuko in a prominent role).

Rating: 4.6/5

Track 5: Ashita Mata Hare Masu You ni (明日また晴れますように; Tomorrow As You Shine)

A LiveJournal translator of Ieiri's lyrics commented that they liked this song "more for the lyrics than the music."  I can agree with this assessment.  This song is very lovely and very simple in its construction.  One feature I really like is the little almost-leitmotif at the end of the chorus, used mostly to highlight the thematic title of the song.  It's really quite lilting, and provides a nice transition.

The lyrics are lighthearted and spiritual, but in a somewhat eccelsiastical way (LERN SOME WORDS OF THE DAY!! :P ), like many of her spiritual themes are.  In learning her lyrics, I've found myself wondering more than once whether Ieiri is Christian.  Christianity is not a huge thing in Japan, but there are so many little skywardly-directed spiritualisms in her lyrics that I can't help but wonder.  Cool stuff!

That being said, I think this is a song you have to be in the mood for.  It's a little simplistic for my regular listening habits.

Rating: 3.8/5

Track 6: Second Dream

On of the greatest challenges I've found with reviewing this album is the problem of favoritism.  Not just "playing favorites," but the -ism that arises from deeming material and ideas which you feel are the most comfortable and perfectly palatable the best and the strongest.  Since some very harmful "isms" have arisen from having this attitude toward other ideas (e.g. thinking that all hip-hop and rap is about thuggery and bitches), my goal in reviewing this album was not to let favoritism dictate which tracks I deemed the strongest in terms of musicality/ology.

Is my thinking little too scholastic for an album review?  Eh...yeah, maybe :P

After a lot of thinking, I've concluded that "Second Dream" is the strongest track on the album.  The instrumental arrangement is damn clever.  In true Leo style, never is one group of instruments or one motif overused or exaggerated.  While exaggeration is not always detrimental, in this song it would have been because of how key the lyrics and the vocals are to the song.

In some of her other songs like "Fake Love" and "Ijiwaru na Kamisama" (b-side to "Bless You"), the instrumental and the vocals drive each other equally, but not so with this one.  The instrumental, while detailed and gorgeous, is still meant to live in the background.  And that's why it's damn clever, kids.

Rating: 5/5

Track 7: Kimi Dake (キミだけ; Only You)

The best words I can find to describe this track are "absolutely freaking lovely." (Very technical and musicological terms, mind.)  This lilting track features a fairly modest instrumental backing, which highlights Leo's voice in a way many of her previous songs have not.

Rating: 4.8/5

Track 8: Bless You

Ieiri's 3rd single, while being a strong track, flows more abruptly than many of her other songs.  Be that as it may, I still hesitate to call it a weak song.  Because it's not.  Leo's vocals have a kind of raw power not seen in her previous singles.  This song clearly has some deeply personal meaning for her, yet she conveys it in a way that draws listeners in and helps us to relate.  (Seriously, go watch the PV...)  That and the octave-jumping is quite impressive.

"Bless You" is a fantastic song, but the abruptness threw me off the first few listens.  I very much like Leo's edgy songs, though this one is not one of those I could put on repeat for hours.

Rating: 4.4/5

Track 9: Fake Love

Is it just me, or do angry songs suit Leo exceptionally well?  This driven, brightly colored track is my second favorite off the album.  Her vocals do get quite gritty...and it's mighty sexy.

Beyond the musicality, my favorite feature of this song is Leo's clever wordplay with "You lie" and "kirai" (basic crappy translation: I hate you).  "Fake Love," more than almost any other song in her current repertoire save "Hello," demonstrates Ieiri's ability to be quite creative, and shockingly deep, with the English language.

Rating 5/5

Track 10: Hello

Hello is the b-side to "Shine."  I have waxed lyric about this song before in a previous post, and I still feel much the same about it.  When up against  many of the other tracks on this album, it comes out as being one of the weaker ones, but that is not a bad thing.  The fact that this popular song looks a bit dim compared to the other tracks on the album is not a bad sign for the song--rather, it serves to show how Ieiri has grown as a composer and songwriter since this song's original release.

Rating: 4.2/5

Track 11: Mister (ミスター)

"Mister" is cute.  Terribly cute.  Almost too cute for Ieiri.  But she pulls it off.

 When the song first started in, I wasn't really sure how much I'd like it, but of course, I turned to the dark side eventually. It's very cute and flirty, which is a quality I tend not to like as much unless it comes from Ga In.  But with all of her songs being so mature and worldly, it is safe to say that Ieiri had to take a break and just be lighthearted for a bit.  She is only 18, after all, yeesh. (^ω^)

Rating: 4.4/5

Track 12: Lady Mary

This song, as you can see by the title, is one of those ecclesiastical-ish pieces I was talking about earlier.  The lyrics are quite tragic and moving, but even those with no connection to the Virgin Mary, whether by lore or by religious practice, can connect to this song.  As well you should.  It's kind of amazing.

That being said, I thought long and hard about whether this track and "Mister" should switch places on the album.  It originally felt like the transition from this kanashimi ballad to the girl-anthemy, kinda punkish sounding "Linda" was too abrupt.  But going over it again and again, I had to concede that my initial feeling was wrong.  This song has such gravitas to it that you really need something completely, antithetically  different to pull you out of the experience afterward, and "Mister" just doesn't fill those shoes.

One of my favorite songs of hers by far.  I actually recorded a cover of it at one point, but I took it down because it was hastily thrown together and I ended up hating it :P

Rating: 5/5

Track 13: Linda

If you needed any more proof that Leo can indeed ROCK OUT, listen to this.  This is one of those songs to listen to when you need a pick-me-up.  It's 3 1/2 minutes of no-nonsense badassness, guys.

Vocally, I would have to say that this song best demonstrates the scope of Leo's skill.  She can hit all those notes spot on, she can gliss all over the place, she can wail, she can...yeah you get the picture.

I am very curious about her use of the word "Linda," though.  Is it used as a name?  Is it used in the Spanish/Portuguese meaning?  INQUIRING MINDS, IEIRI-SAN!!

Rating: 5/5

That's a wrap, folks!  Now you know why this album will probably be on my Recommended Listening list for the rest of time :P Forgive me for wandering off into bookish nerd land at times...it's just how I get my music appreciation groove on!  (Not to mention my undying love for this girl.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

60,000 pageviews NO FOOLIN!! Thanks, everyone!

(My #1 H!P girl totally brought this to my door today...then I woke up.  Best April Fools EVAR :P)

Today of all days, I checked my stats and was thrilled to see that fly in the f*ing wine has now reached 60,000 pageviews!

In late 2010, I quietly joined the idol blogging world, and a few months later I was found by (and thus I found :D) International Wota.  Since then, I've had the pleasure of getting connected to many other idol and J-music bloggers, and it's been a wild ride.  

I'm so happy to be part of this great community.  Thanks for reading my weirdness, and I promise I will do my best to stay with it even while I'm busting my ass in grad school.   Huh, I guess I'll have to pick a cake day now, won't I? :D