The Pete Best of Jpop?

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Here’s an answer to a question I’ve long had: according to Idolizing St. Anna, founding Morning Musume member Fukuda Asuka is currently in the Philippines [NOTE: I misunderstood the article, see below for correction], helping out at a nightclub her father owns and even singing karaoke sometimes – but never Morning Musume songs. According to this report she is attending high school at night, which seems odd since she left Morning Musume to focus on her studies.

I’m not sure what to make of this; I’ve heard a variant that she was simply on vacation in the Philippines, but it doesn’t matter either way. She’s entitled to her privacy, though the taint of past celebrity still seems to haunt her. What the hell, I’ve been curious to know what she’s been up to, though finding this out leaves me ambivalent, at best. Did I really need to know this? If the news was different – say, she’d married young to a rich otaku, or is preparing to release her first solo album – would I feel better about it? And would any of it matter if Asuka is happy with how things turned out? It’s not that her current situation (if indeed, this is her current situation) is bad or shameful; that said, it’s quite different from what her peers in Morning Musume, even those who left Hello! Project since, have experienced. It’s odd for being so… normal.

I guess deep down inside I was hoping Asuka would re-emerge into the world of Jpop, that her goodbye was only temporary, and that she’d have a chance to prove herself. Really, I want to see her come back into the H!P fold with Morning Mothers Ishiguro Aya and Ichii Sayaka. Why is that, considering she’s never been a favorite of mine? Well, because she seemed entitled to it, somehow – she was part of a group that did well and which, soon after her departure, became monolithic and overpowering in the world of Japanese entertainment. She could have taken part in that boom of popularity, could have reaped the benefits of superstardom that others enjoyed, if she hadn’t left so early. The second Morning Musume member to leave the group, Ishiguro Aya, did so after “Love Machine” dominated fin-de-millenium Japan. As a result, her departure came with great fanfare – I remember she actually received a car along with other prizes on some TV show (I think it was Utaban but could be wrong). In comparison, Asuka’s departure – and if I understood correctly, a near-complete disappeareance from the public eye – paled in comparison.

The flip side, of course, is that maybe Morning Musume would have never become super-idols if Asuka stayed on. Her departure was at least part of the reason why Goto Maki joined was because Asuka left an opening in the group for co-lead with Natsumi Abe. And without Goto Maki, it’s difficult to imagine the paradigmatic shift that occurred with “Love Machine”. (The lynchpin for a future post on A Unified Theory of Morning Musume.) Given that “what if” angle, perhaps it’s for the best Asuka left. In this scenario, Morning Musume would have continued as a Jpop group with some measure of achievement but nothing resembling the stature they reached at their very apex of success.

Of course, Asuka isn’t the only idol to leave her career. Members of Zone and Paradise Go!! Go!! immediately come to mind, and education seems to be the most common reason. It makes sense, it’s looking at the world with a clear understanding of the ephemerality of idols… But why not strike why the iron is hot? Why not carpe diem, seize the day and make the most of being an idol? Neil Young said, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” No mention of snuffing the candle and lighting a whole different one. In America, the constant running towards celebrity and achievement is so common, it’s weird to hear of people running away from it. It does happen, of course, but we see so many people reaching for the brass ring, it’s disconcerting to note those walking away from the carousel.

I once saw Los Gusanos in concert, a band fronted by the former CJ Ramone. The only reason I went to see them was because I wondered what happened to a Ramone after he left the band. For his part, CJ at one point during the show stopped, asked if anybody wanted to hear a Ramone songs. There was an awkward silence as everybody looked around, CJ said, “Good,” and the band proceeded to their next, decidedly non-Ramones, number. Was this a tacit admission of the freakshow factor of seeing an ex-Ramone? Was it an attempt to prove that he – and his audience – were past that whole Ramones thing? I don’t know, nor did I particularly care. The show itself wasn’t very memorable, and seeing an ex-Ramone was actually anti-climactic.

The idols who left their entertainment careers are a different story… They’ve found other reasons for their lives and had the courage to pursue that. I guess as somebody who worships these idols, there’s a certain heartache – a sense of abandonment? – at seeing an idealized figure opt for the more mundane alternatives in life. It’s like Wings of Desire when the angel becomes a human to be with the woman in love. Except that was romantic and beautiful and this is just a hard cold taste of the real world.

Correction: Santos left a comment correcting me on something I didn’t understand right:

By the way, Asuka is not in the Philippines, but in Tokyo. “Philippine” nightclub is a nightclub where Philippine women working in Japan serve the guest as barmaids.