Kawaii Aidoru

YouTube is an incredible distraction throughout most of the issues that have been going on in the world, and in my country.

One thing I’ve been watching is Babymetal reactions.  It’s quite amusing to see someone reacting for the first time – “Well, this is a band with… three girls?  And they’re Asian?  Korean maybe?  Well, I have no idea what to expect…”  “SOMEONE GIVE THOSE GIRLS SOME CHOCOLATE”  Anyway, I find it amusing.

There’s this one guy, NeonReaperGaming, who has been really going down the foxhole – to the point where he’s diving into Sakura Gakuin’s stuff, just to see where Su, Moa, and Yui came from.  He comments all the time about how cute they are – and they are!  And there’s nothing really wrong with that.  I find some of Sakura Gakuin’s stuff to be super cute as well.

But something doesn’t sit well.  It’s something that hasn’t sat well with idol culture for me, for a long time.

All we see of idols is exactly what they want us to see.

Are the members of those idol groups (Morning Musume, AKB48, Sakura Gakuin, et al.) cute?  Damn right they are!  But are they really cute, or have they been trained to be cute just so we can have a dose of cute?  Is it really respectful to them to look at what they present to us and judge them solely based on that?

I saw a video once of one of the lesser known AKB48 members.  She made a video where she was crying that she didn’t have enough money for chicken nuggets and matcha cookies.  While I felt a little bad for her, and thought it was a little bit cute, I remember it.  Because that was a look behind the scenes, when the curtain falls.  Even though her concerns were a little trivial in some ways, she was actually sharing a little of her true self with the world.  All she wanted in life at that moment were some chicken nuggets and matcha cookies.  Don’t we all experience that every once in a while?

And I value that genuineness much more than artificial cuteness.

Manufactured cute is a distraction.  Real cute is what melts hearts.

It’s an industry that can chew up young girls and spit them out when it’s done with them.  I’ve even written a few posts (one of which is really popular) about just this topic – I’ve wondered if Akimoto Yasushi is doing the world a service or a disservice by coming up with the AKB48 groups.  It’s an industry that can lead to, to put it charitably, unrealistic expectations, both of the girls and of the relationship the girls have with the fans.  It’s an industry that, I imagine, can put a lot of pressure on young girls to perform in ways that maybe they’re not ready or able to.

It’s an industry that, quite literally, sells cute and innocent.

Is cute and innocent something I want to consume, as a product?  Those girls are someone’s daughters!

I don’t know.  It makes me uncomfortable.  But at the same time, it’s nice to know there’s a little bit of cuteness in the world right now, even if it’s manufactured, packaged up, and sold with a little sailor-uniform bow.

But I most treasure those little moments where the mask comes down and you can see who they really are.  Because those are the few moments where they’re not producing, and I’m not consuming.  It’s too bad that those moments are, by their very nature, one-sided and rare.

Why J-Pop?

I was actually trained as a classical pianist.

Yes, it’s true.  I went to college and everything.  I learned how to either play or appreciate much of the repertoire – in point of fact, if I put my mind to it, there are piano concertos that are not out of my reach.  I am very, very familiar with many very complex pieces, even if I can’t play them yet, and I find composers such as Rachmaninoff to be quite sublime – even if the lay person might hear it as just a jumble of noise.

Why, then, have I grown to like J-Pop?

If I were to put, say, “Ponytail Shushu” up against Rachmaninoff’s second or third piano concertos, “shoujiki”, it would be like trying to compare fine art to the drawing of a five year old.  There is utterly no comparison.  Rachmaninoff’s music has a very definite structure, with every note thought out, all meshing together into a cohesive whole that is not even obvious without careful and educated listening.  J-Pop seems to be kind of what you’d expect from seeing two young teenage girls chatting with each other over a milkshake or boba drink.  You’d lose several IQ points just by hearing the conversation, and yet…

And yet.

Do you know what a conversation between two young teenage girls has that classical music does not?

It’s the same reason I like J-Pop.

Classical music is not alive, not really.  Most of the composers are long dead.  Most people listen to classical music quietly, and when you attend a concert, you usually dress up, sit there, and watch a conductor waves his arms, and out emanates some lovely music that you can only consume.  But J-Pop is like being included in a youthful conversation between several teenage girls – it’s stupid and mindless and immature – but there is also love and friendship and parting and angst and all of the things that make life life.  They capture the life and energy of youth in a way that classical music does not and cannot.

Is it beautiful like classical music?  Absolutely not!  But is it beautiful in its own way, expressing things that we as adults forget and only seem to get back when confronted by youth in all of its hormone-ridden, angsty, immature glory?

Yes.

It is a reminder of a long-past part of my life that I, thirty years later, had forgotten.  It hearkens back to a time when I didn’t have to worry about pleasing bosses, or the next performance review, or paying the rent, or what happens if and/or when I get sick, or all of the worries that adults like me destroy ourselves with.  It hearkens back to a time when young love overpowers all, when friendships were made and broken, when living on one’s own is nothing but something that may happen in the distant future, and one has their whole life yet ahead of them.  It’s a celebration of youth.

And sometimes, it is nice to forget how much the ravages of age have destroyed all of that optimism.

That is why I like J-Pop.  It is not always happy, but it is a reminder of how things once were.

AKB48

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.