Irie Saaya To Give Up Bikini Shots?

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

According to Idolizing St. Anna, the members of Sweet Kiss – including Irie Saaya – are considering not posing in swimsuits any more. To paraphrase, the group’s management stated that the girls are freaked out about the attention received by their bikini photos, especially with its circulation on the internet and in adult magazines. They want to focus on their music as Sweet Kiss and be taken seriously – more Amuro Namie than Morning Musume. Or rather, more Destiny’s Child than either of those other examples.

Artistic integrity, then, is the issue. Not necessarily protecting the children from unwanted sexual attention – though that seems to be a factor – but on making sure their nascent music group is taken seriously on its own terms.

The management is being at least slightly naive. In allowing Saaya – and really, this is about Saaya – to pose in a bikini in the first place, weren’t they hoping for attention? Did they think an 11-year-old with F-cup breasts would garner only positive, non-prurient attention? And in this age of the internet, did they truly believe that such photos wouldn’t make their way online? If anything, the internet is incredibly populist – giving the people what they want. (What the heck, I seem to get more hits on this blog whenever I write about Saaya and include pictures. Luckily, my interest and the readers’ match in this regard…) Shouldn’t that be used as a barometer of what works and what doesn’t?

The girls of Sweet Kiss are ambitious about their music career and that’s laudable. However, the fact that they’re preteens with modeling backgrounds and a rather cloying group name can’t help but make them idols. If anything, they’ll be lumped together with other preteen idol groups such as SweetS and Berryz Koubo. That’s not bad company at all, Sweet Kiss would be lucky if they were favored comparably to those highly talented girl groups.

I think bikinis aren’t the real issue. Bikinis may do more to show Saaya’s figure but she can still be depicted in a sexual manner with other kinds of outfits. Never mind the maid outfits – summer dresses and kimonos and schoolgirl outfits have all been quite flattering on her. t’s not like the photographer has any qualms about sticking Saaya in the water even if she’s dressed in such outfits…

Bikinis hold a special cultural power for its exposure, for its evocation of hedonism and pleasure, for its value as fashion… It’s the easiest target and certainly the best way to show off Saaya’s figure. But that’s certainly not the only way to go. A summer dress with cleavage or a low-scooped blouse or a kimono with the hem pulled way up could also work wonders.

And hey, some people like cosplay better than bikinis in the first place.

Even if the bikini photographs – or the whole preteen gravure idea – was approached as an expediency, as a quick way to earn the girls attention, that doesn’t mean it can be jettisoned now that the attention has been earned. The group risks falling into obscurity again if they don’t give the people what they want, and the girls will have to choose between a chimeric artistic integrity (“we’re talented singers, not bikini models!”) and attempting to re-win an audience (“we’re talented singers and will pose in bikinis if you’ll listen to our songs”). Would management complain about that turn of events, express surprise at how difficult it is for a trio of young girls to prove themselves in the music industry?

Saaya can stop with the young gravure approach and still have a loyal fan base. Not one as large as she would if she continued the gravure path – but I’d say a good percentage of the people who’ve been charmed by Saaya will want to continue seeing her in public and performing. That said, it’ll be a minority of the people who’re currently interested in her. I know I wouldn’t be buying any Sweet Kiss CDs unless it features production by Bounceback or someone equally talented.

Which brings up another point: singing talent is a much harder sell than sheer beauty. Given a choice between a mediocre CD single or a mediocre bikini photobook, I’d argue that many potential customers would pay good money for the photobook. For many young men (and older men), staring at even a half-bad bikini is better than listening to a crap song. It’s less demanding and more stimulating, and that’s what entertainment is all about.

If Saaya isn’t happy, that would certainly effect her work as a rising talent and she should take that into consideration. If she chooses not to do this because she’s not comfortable, then she has the right to stop – no matter what her management or parents may want. (For all I know, her parents and management may also be experiencing a change of heart and not want Saaya so exposed to the public.) But she should be aware of the consequences on her career goals and her media visibility.

It’s ridiculous and cruel, but Saaya is already making decisions about her career that people twice her age struggle with: beauty or talent? Why does it have to be either/or? What is lost and what is gained with each path? She’s still a child but now faces the dilemmas of a woman entertainer.

On a related note, I finally saw part of Saaya 11– I’m thinking it’s the first DVD, not the recently released one, as both have the same title. Watching Saaya in action – not just in still photos – made me rethink what she’s capable of and why she’s captured people’s attention. As a result, I’m now something of a fan of hers. I guess that’s what happens when you stare at an idol for too long…