Idol Invasion, NYC 2014

Airi Totoki

Five idol acts attended NYC in the span of about six weeks: Cheeky Parade, Morning Musume 14, Miku, Babymetal and now Perfume. That runs basically the whole gamut of today’s Japanese visible idol scene north of indie. And if some indie JP idols dropped by NYC during the last 6 weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t know them. I didn’t even make it to Cheeky Parade’s free show at BCGC because *effort*.

And I think this is important. Japanese idols, the post 1999 kind of thing, is a maligned if entirely foreign creature. It’s too easy to liken them to boy or girl groups, because that’s what they are. But that entirely misses what makes idols the engines of Japan’s entertainment industry today. Too many geeks and nerds and “otaku” (US ver.) turn their noses to them. I’m not sure why there’s so much resistance for Americans against Japanese idols, but that’s how it feels.

In light of bringing the “Sharon Apple joke-making” types into the 21st century, here’s a not-serious chart that I made. Maybe it makes up for the lack of blog posts lately? Nah.

Google Doc: hereidolcompare

Let me annotate the list. The big asterisk I want to add is the “anime” thing. There are pics I can link to, but too lazy to do so. The other big disclaimer is that I’m ranking a concert I didn’t go, just saw pics. I’m sure Cheeky Parade is great (and so far from Youtube they look p. okay–this is like a PV based on their trip) but eh.

The chart has blue cells to indicate a “leader” in the category. As per above I gave all of them one point for their shows, even to the girls whose show I didn’t attend, because it felt fair. If you can count fast, you would note that MM14 and Perfume both has 13 blue cells, making it “objectively” my picks for the idol assault Japan brought upon NY this Autumn.

Babymetal is a great show that those blue boxes don’t highlight. It’s way cool. But you had to like it. Same with all the nerds who exhaled in estacy at Miku. It’s nice and otaku-friendly but ultimately those polygonal jaggies will run up against you. I guess she’s gone a long way but our favorite synth mascot still has room for improvement. And Miku will continue to improve even against Japan’s top idol acts. I mean, MM and Perfume…how much better can you really get, at least from this end?

The rest is cultural baggage that a simple live event can’t quite possibly export. In that sense a lot of the rows I left empty because there are no winners. Or rather, I am a winner for attending most of these, on my home turf. Idol is the future guys, get over it already so we can have more please?

8 Responses to “Idol Invasion, NYC 2014”

  • DarkFireBlade25

    I still don’t understand what makes idols the engine of Japan’s entertainment industry today even after reading all the stuff you’ve said about it. Americans probably turn their noses at it cuz how you experience it is probably alien to them, or at least me.

    • omo

      It’s kind of like a more natural version of, say, The Voice. Millions tune in and watch it. There’s a reality TV aspect to all of it.

      Japanese idol acts are, for better or worse, Japanese, so their mileage will vary outside of the country.

  • arbitrary_greay

    Well, technically we’re missing the actual mainstream idols: anyone from the 48 Juggernaut, and Momoiro Clover Z. Most Japanese don’t even consider Perfume idols anymore. I guess MM has lingering goodwill from its Golden Age, and is slowly gaining support back now that it’s the home-grown alternative to Kpop. (work harder, Avex) But the shadow of 48G and MomoClo (and Johnny’s, ofc) is so great that while an idol boom is technically going, most Japanese don’t recognize anyone outside of them. Hell, the mainstream probably don’t even know the current 48G frontgirls, since most of the iconic big names have graduated, or will soon.
    Idols are driving the entertainment economy, but not really the peoples’ attention. For a short while, AKB members topped the CM charts, which are the best measure of mainstream marketability/perception, but in recent years, it’s been actresses back on top. Some of them you could consider “idols” in a technical sense, but everyone in J-showbiz does geinou activities, so I wouldn’t.

    As for the NYC concerts, (which I went to the MM one for) it’s not so different from the parade of minor Kpop acts also holding US concerts these days: reverse-imported acclaim. They hold overseas concerts so they can go back and use it in advertising in Japan. “Such-and-such had a successful concert IN AMERICA. Have some footage of non-asian fans.” Idol groups that don’t need that PR edge haven’t bothered with overseas concerts in years.

    As for the stigma against J-idols, I’d primarily point to cult of authenticity, which is also responsible for much of the resistance against moe and/or SoL without some sort of cynical or dark caveat. Even the bronies do it.

    My personal worry is that the latest wave of J-idols coming overseas is waning, (previous waves: 2009-10, 2012) as they once more realize that there’s not much to be gained financially from con or festival appearances, that couldn’t have been spent pounding the pavement back home. The difference in quality of idol guests (at least for non-anisong idols) from last year is markedly lower, in the US. (Europe is more fertile ground for acceptance, so Japan Expo will probably still get mid-tier guests)

    The highest profile thing was probably Babymetal’s Lady Gaga opening gig. And Jpop Matsuri was a flop compared to KCon.

    • omo

      You kind of hit on my pet peeve about idol fandom’s tendency regarding insular thinking. Mentioning the “cult of authenticity” in the same blog post about Miku only serves to highlight how outdated that line of thought is in this particular context–of oversea acceptance of Japanese stuff. I actually think it’s even less relevant to the actual problem of American acceptance of idol music in light of the problem that ultimately, it’s about making that connection.

      You cannot realistically expect a bunch of young Japanese girls to form a strong connection with an oversea audience, not without some special help. I think that’s where Babymetal and Miku succeed. And their NY crowds reflect that.

      But anyway, thanks for the comment and notes. I think 48G/Johnnys/etc have a place in all this but as you say foreign curbstomping isn’t going to happen if they don’t expect any long-term success overseas, much like their fans. It’s probably best to consider them irrelevant in this context, as they don’t really bring anything new to the table anyway.

    • arbitrary_greay

      Can you elaborate on your pet peeve? I’m not sure I understand the point. Cult of authenticity drives American skepticism of even regular pop music, as well as western idols, much less the even more sincere Jpop idol music. They can’t make that connection with the artists because they don’t believe that the connection’s fabricated/calculated nature can be trusted.

      Kpop overcomes that barrier by playing to a veneer of authenticity, trumpetting up commonly accepted artistic talents. Even then, groups with more “authenticity” (appearing to have more creative control) are favored over those who follow more Jpop aesthetics. Same with western idols.

      Babymetal succeeds through a combination of novelty (“lol Japan is cray-cray” sentiment) and the consistent genre of their music outweighing their idol origins.

      Similarly, western acceptance of Miku stems from her complete divorce from a human frontgirl factor. She’s technology from head to toe, so authenticity exists in the composers making the music and programming the visuals. This is where Genki Rockets fails, and since other 2.5D idols still have seiyuu blurring the lines, that mistrust of the system kicks in.

    • omo

      I think the authenticity aspect is largely irrelevant. For starters Kpop is not really popular in the USA, and for most it’s indistinguishable from Jpop. The authenticity aspect only contributes as a factor at best, and it is far from the one thing that makes or breaks Japanese idols’ appeal.

      The pursuit of authenticity is a nice thing to point out in the ’90s when the concept is crumbling, In the 2010s it’s just what people complain about when something is mainstream enough to gather those types of conversations. Outside of that context nobody really gives much of a damn as it’s a core conceit of entertainment business.

      As said, it can’t be more unauthentic than Hatsune Miku. I don’t think people flock to her because she seems authentic.

      And you’re flat out wrong about Babymetal and why foreigners like them. And what does “idol origin” even mean anyway? I think this is basically what is my pet peeve here. Does it really matter? Are you just making up what sounds good without actual proof?

      And LOL Genki Rockets. They’re entirely different than Miku–and that you are comparing them to Miku shows that underlying… bias. Insular thinking. Things don’t work that way (and if they did, they’d make more Genki Rockets).

  • arbitrary_greay

    Argh, wrote a giant comment that disappeared on submission. It did include an URL, so it probably went to the spam folder. Can you check? Thanks.

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