In my ever widening exploration of Japanese popular culture, I have run into a few groups in the style of Morning Musume. AKB48 and its sisters, etc.
One thing I particularly liked about Morning Musume was, in its golden days, the way the girls all seemed like sisters. I realize that a lot of this could have been scripted, but I don’t think all of it was. They were a small group, I think thirteen or fifteen at most, and they worked closely together. As girls cycled in and out, it was clear that they took care of each other and looked after each other (for the most part). This was a dynamic that impressed me. After one of the graduations – I think Niigaki Risa’s, they went backstage with the girls, and if they were faking that, they were some of the best actors that have never been given credit for it. They were utterly heartbroken.
It was sincerely touching. They loved each other (for the most part).
So many other groups were created to try to capitalize on the “idol” craze. One of the most popular were AKB48. It is a group that has something around 140 members and its own theater, separated into different “teams”. They even had a variety show, something like “Hello Morning”, where different members played games and sometimes had batsu games.
It just wasn’t the same. They didn’t have the chemistry.
No, it’s true that there were some members that were more notable than others. Takahashi Minami was one of them. But they were in an environment that was far rougher. The MCs were very hard on them in a comic fashion, insulting them and calling them names. Their shortcomings were paraded about as if they were in a circus, and perhaps they were. Even the songs they did were more racy and less playful. It’s as if the producer of that group took all of the wrong lessons from the popularity of Morning Musume.
Which, I suppose, is to be expected when there’s that much money on the line and that many girls to undergo varying degrees of exploitation.
There’s a reason they called the early days of Morning Musume the golden era. And if you want to see why, contrast them with how the idols are presented now. It’s really no contest.
And it’s quite sad. The Japanese culture is not immune to cultural rot.
I like Japanese Idols.
It is one of the most fun things about liking Japanese popular culture.
I was a big fan of AKB48 in their “golden years” I guess. They were at their peak when Atsuko Maeda graduated. My fandom fell off in the last couple of years, but I still like them and other Idol groups.
Liking Idol music is a hard thing to explain. Some of my friends who like anime have a hard time convincing others as to why they like something so odd. I am probably the same way with Idol groups. I don’t listen to Idols in the same way I listen to other music.
Hi, thanks for the comment. I am a musician, so from a purely aesthetic perspective, I really don’t like their music. In fact, I almost never actually listen to the music itself. That being said, I have to give them credit for a few things. First, J-Pop tends to be actually harmonically interesting, something that much western pop absolutely cannot say. They do surprisingly interesting things with the music, it actually moves. Second, the breadth of genres is shocking to me – Mister Moonlight by Morning Musume, for example, is a very well executed swing-style song. They’re not afraid to play with genres. Perhaps because they are so prolific and expected to churn out new titles like a machine, they are able to experiment with different styles. Perhaps that’s even a part of the girls’ education.
Japanese idol culture is uniquely Asian – there is nothing like it in western culture, nor am I confident that it could succeed even if it were tried. It’s a genre where the group is more important than the individual, and while there are standouts, there are no true stars, and the bigger the group the stronger the identity and the less important the individual. But even though parts of it are scripted, they let you care about them. I think that’s something missing in western pop. As talented as they may be, you just don’t *care*.
I will say that there are a few bits of music that really stand out. Here’s a youtube with one piece (towards the middle and end). I have no idea who sings it or what it’s called. But it’s really cute and clever.