10 Favorite Jpop News Items of 2005

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I know there’s a good deal of other things that could be mentioned. For starters, Koda Kumi selling a million copies of her Best collection strikes me as very important, cementing her status as one of the top divas in the Avex stable. And Oikawa Nao’s decision to become a singer, that should be noteworthy. And Akina not releasing a new single this year, which is disastrous… And I know a bunch of you are upset about the breakup of Day After Tomorrow and Do As Infinity, while others thrilled at the Nana-mania that peaked with the live action movie.

So here are the news items that mattered most to me from last year – pretty much limited to the girl group realm, but it’s not like my biases weren’t obvious to start with. So without further ado…

10. Morning Musume clip creeps through America media. There’s still blogs out there mentioning the lizard clip like it’s something new. I find it appalling and mildly amusing – the American fascination for this old clip, that is. Strapping a pork chop to Nacchi’s head and scaring her shitless is just par for the course, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, maybe this’ll lead to growing awareness of Momusu in America, maybe not. I kinda doubt it, though

9. Pop idols sex things up. Hasebe Yu pursues her gravure career and Gocchin plays a lesbian for an upcoming drama. Melon Kinenbi and Viyuden do PVs with lesbian overtones. I’m sure it happens all the time, idols proving they’re grown up by showing themselves to be sexual beings – but this involves groups whose fan base expects a certain purity in their idols.

8. MM membership changes radically. Include under this Yaguchi being Friday’d and resigning from Morning Musume, as well as the stunning news of the first gen seven audition and the even more stunning result of the seven-point-five audition. This would have placed considerably higher, except the changes have now sunk in and it seems more tempest in a teapot now that Mari’s done some singing in public and Koharu’s proving her worth. But there was a while there where my otaku nerves were positively frayed at all these developments.

7. Hinoi Asuka gives up solo career, gains lucrative para para lobotomy. Okay, that’s unfair… but I like her solo work and it was astonishing to see how Hinoi Team was such a departure from that. It turned out to be a ridiculously smart move, though, as did pairing up with a fat wrestler-wannabe comedian. Aside from Morning Musume themselves, Hinochi and Koriki’s "Night of Fire" was probably the best-selling girl group single of the year. Who’d’ve thunk it? Asuka’s even smarter than we thought, I now suspect… (And she’s 15 now, too!)

6. Other units get shafted while Berryz becomes the princesses of the H!P Ball. Let’s see… four singles with matching DVDs, an album and mini-album, three concert DVDs, four photobooks, and they moved up to their own calendar instead of sharing space with W. Compared to some other units in Hello! Project – like Melon Kinenbi (one single and co-star on a concert DVD), Country Musume (no singles), Maeda Yuki (no singles), and some others… Well, we know what H!P’s priorities were, don’t we? One must wonder what the girls in the dying units think of all the attention to Chinami and company. I imagine voodoo dolls figure into at least a couple of those thoughts, at any rate…

5. Aki and Aya go on hiatus. This startlingly common-sense development brought home that SweetS is at heart a five-member group, and showed how management was willing to be flexible for the sake of the group and the girls’ educations. Of course, this is putting a nice spin on it, but it was a welcome change from all the other changes going on in other idol girl groups – instead of losing members and adding new ones, the stability of SweetS was parodixically reinforced by giving Aki and Aya six months off to prepare for their high school exams. Too bad 3nin SweetS had a crap song.

4. Irie Saaya saves universe. No, really. Weren’t you paying attention? She not only added a new word to my vocabulary – or rather, a letter and two numbers (a U, a 1, and a 5) – but she eased Sino-Japanese relations and became a media sensation with her H-cup breasts. So if I told you her pink bikini pics had also averted an invasion from the planet Ghsywrte, would that be so far-fetched? I think not. Anyway, Saaya-mania was interesting for a while – if only because of the heated debate it brought on – but now I’ve had enough of her because, quite frankly, an 11-year-old with large breasts does nothing for me. (An 11-year-old Berryz named Risako, on the other hand…)

3. Yume Morning Musume at Kouhaku. The prospect of the original 10-nin Musumes re-uniting to do this song was ever-present in my mind since the announcement of the fan poll for sukiuta. (It would’ve been too much to ask for the actual "Love Machine" line-up to have gotten together, though I think Ayappe would’ve been game.) So when it was announced that every member of H!P who was ever in Momusu would get together for the performance, that was just… oh, man, I’m still beaming over this.

2. H!P explores Asia but shuts down Hawaiian store. This one hits close to home, but having the Alo-Hello store close up was downright traumatic. That said, H!P has been making an effort to expand their reach across other Asian countries, and hopefully this will pay off in the end. Once H!P can become a noteworthy pan-Asian brand, maybe the Alo-Hello store will return? Okay, not likely – but I think this development is probably the one most worth watching into 2006.

1. Zone breaks up. The worst news of all, and one I’m still not over yet. Regular readers know the details behind all this from numerous past posts. But Maiko’s new band Maria helps leaven the pain, and they’ll be debuting next month!

So that’s about it. I’d actually love to hear whatever news items you guys think was important last year, as well – if only to point out how narrow and provincial my view of Jpop is. And hey, there’s already news to look forward to for 2006 – the Sharan Q reunion, for starters, and the graduation of Miki from Momusu (I hope I hope I hope).

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19 Responses to “10 Favorite Jpop News Items of 2005”
  1. Wapiko says:

    Wow…2005 really was a big year. I had to think “These happened in 2005? They seem so long ago!” for some of those, haha! Guess it seems decades away.

    As for your #10, I posted about that on my LJ after seeing it on The Colbert Report the same night – I was so shocked! X_X It’s here if you’re interested. Not a lot of content to the post but I explained myself in the comments.

  2. crs says:

    Ray, I heard that Goto Maki would be playing a lesbian, but I’m not sure how that makes her a more sexual being, unless in Japan queer existence = sex. And I’m more than open to the possibility that’s how it is, but it would make me sad, since it also seems that heterosexual status and sex are separate issues.

  3. Wapiko says:

    I agree with you wholly crs, but I think Ray just forgot to mention that Maki’s character sleeps her way to the top – maybe that’s what he meant?

  4. Wapiko:

    I liked Colbert’s use of the clip. How did you feel about the report on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown?

    crs:

    Gocchin is said to actually have an intimate scene with an older woman in that drama, I think a kiss. It’s interesting, because people who’re turned on by the idea of Gocchin kissing a woman are less so when they find out the woman is in her forties…

    But broadening the issue a bit – and sort of bringing it into orbit of a recent post of yours I really like – I thought all the displays of sexuality I listed in #9 are performances designed to make the idols’ media personae more risque but are in no way true indications of sexual self-awareness by these young women.

    In 2005, H!P especially seemed to use lesbian overtures as a way to titillate without offending their fan base, since heterosexual encounters would more likely cause an uproar. Mari and Ayaya getting Friday’d last year – and the reaction to Mari especially – seems to indicate this. Melon Kinenbi humping each other on-stage is okay because it’s make-believe and the girls are only touching other girls – but Mari having an actual boyfriend seemed to ring alarms, even though by all accounts the boyfriend was very much the gentleman and even had the approval of Mari’s parents. Ayaya’s “Ki Ga Tsukeba Anata” PV, while there’s a hetero love triangle going on, she seems more attached to the mildly Freudian ice tea bottle than either boy (though really, I think that’s just a byproduct of shilling the product). Just imagine the reaction among H!P fans if Gocchin was doing a drama where she was kissing a man in his forties…

    Even Hasebe Yu’s much riskier forays (as reported in Idolizing St. Anna) strike me as more about enhancing an image than self-expression. All of which is fair, since these idols depend on a very manufactured and controlled image – but the fact that sexual overtones of any sort are being used more frequently in a sector of Japanese entertainment that prizes the “pure” images of its entertainers is, for me, intriguing. I’m not sure if it’s a cyclical thing and I’m just seeing it for the first time, or if this is a true development – but it’s still all about image and molding audience expectations.

    If Morning Musume are ever allowed to date openly and discuss this with the media, that’d be huge news. But it’s not likely to happen, not just for contractual reasons but for simple marketing concerns. And now that I think of it, has Mari been seen in public with her boyfriend much since she’d been Friday’d?

  5. crs says:

    first off, thank you to both Wapiko and Ray for clarifying his point about GoMaki. I think I’m more sensitive to gender and queerness in Jpop-blogging lately, because of some pejorative comments I saw recently about female Jpop stars who dare to genderbend. call it my paranoia.

    Actually, it’s interesting that you bring up the use of vaguely queer actions as a more acceptable substitute for real heterosexual relationships, since I was just thinking about making a post on the use of ‘female doubles’ in BoA’s PVs. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but she uses them all the time as a way of intimating romance without using a male actor. In an even more select handful of her PVs–Jewel Song, Make A Secret to some extent, and most recently, Everlasting–the doubles themselves take on romantic connotations, with the same kind of ambiguity as Ayu’s self-kiss in ‘Rainbow.’

  6. Chuck says:

    I don’t know that anyone would bother printing photos of Mari with her boyfriend anymore since it’s, like, last February’s news and Mari Yaguchi is not exactly a hot name these days. (Still a hot chick, yes, but not a hot name.)

    As for idols becoming less pure — I think more outspoken chicks like Koda Kumi and Ai Otsuka kicking the collective ass of the top four idol groups put together illustrates a gap between what people actually want from girl singers and what has become the status quo for idols. It looks like some of the idol folks are starting to reach the same conclusion.

  7. Wapiko says:

    Ray – I’m not sure I’ve seen that? But it’s possible my mind is just going.

    And damn, if I could only go in depth like you can.

    Continuing with what the other commenters have said, my ex-best friend was bisexual and had this deal with her boyfriend. He could have a boy on the side if she could have a girl on the side. Thing is, he was straight so it didn’t quite work that way for him. But the thing is, she didn’t consider her relationship with the girl to be anything more than a fling, which I found incredibly irresponsible and nothing more than her wanting sex. To me, that isn’t what any kind of LOVE is about. You should be committed to one person when in a relationship, regardless of orientation. …but I could go on for hours about that immature waste of space.

    crs – which Jpop stars would you be talking about?

    And I have a purikura of Mari with Shun if anyone’s interested.

  8. crs says:

    Wapiko – Lately I’ve seen comments about Mika Nakashima and BoA, but I think the criticism was part of a more general trend when it comes to gender expectations. Japanese singers are supposed to have a certain amount of ‘femininity,’ whether they’re idols or popstars or even female rockstars (ZONE), and if you look or act like a man outside of the strictly fictional boundaries of movies or dramas, then you’re fair game for comments that have nothing to do with music at all.

    That’s not unique to Japan, but with the way it’s often phrased, it’s more–innocent? than when U.S. bloggers say it. As if the writers couldn’t possibly imagine a world in which things could be otherwise, and they mean for their jokes to be taken in the same light. For that reason, I’ve never commented when I see things that strike me as a bit off, although I gave it some thought while my blog was on hiatus, and I think I probably will from now on.

  9. Wapiko says:

    Japanese singers are supposed to have a certain amount of ‘femininity,’ whether they’re idols or popstars or even female rockstars (ZONE), and if you look or act like a man outside of the strictly fictional boundaries of movies or dramas, then you’re fair game for comments that have nothing to do with music at all.

    crs – Bah! Screw what people think. Makes me wonder though if this is part of the reason the duo Zwei hasn’t done so well. They’re far from feminine, and I think this is a part of the reason I love them so much. They’re so unconventional, something out of the ordinary.

    Time for the minority to overtake the majority, don’t you think? :D/

  10. crs says:

    Wapiko – I really like Zwei’s music, and I would agree with you about their unconventional image (for Japan) being a part of why they haven’t been as successful as they deserve. I’ve always thought their image and music has a British sound, although that might just be me.

    Another less stereotypically feminine singer I like is Masami Okui, although she’s had enough success to make a career out of it. It seems that for singers who aren’t attractive in the mainstream definition of looks (even ‘feminine’ singers), anime music is one of their most viable options, since it links the music to the cult hype surrounding a series, not a cult of personality. Both members of Zwei seem very concerned with the integrity of the music, so I wonder if that would ever happen/has happened, though.

  11. Wapiko says:

    crs – Nope, it’s not just you! In fact, Zwei’s marketed as a mix of Japanese pop and UK rock, so nice job for spotting it 😀 I wouldn’tve known if not for the Nick Wood quote that’s on every Zwei single – “It’s pop, good pop, with an electronic, dance, groove, fused with rock and roll energy. The amazing team of talent I’ve assembled could only achieve this sound. It’s a very global approach to making records.” Though it says nothing about UK rock, it’s mentioned more than once on their website.

    I used to loooove Okui Masami. Then I downloaded all of her albums from Bunko in one go, burned them to data CDs, and haven’t had any interest in listening to them since. =(

  12. crs:

    It’s funny, but I never thought of Zone as being anything but feminine – but then, I’m used to the gender-neutral look American female punk / alt-rock acts often assume and even described it in my recent Zone piece as “tomboy chic”. That said, they never struck me as marketing themselves in as strongly a sexual light as more traditional girl group bands, which clearly tied into their particular subgenre. Same thing can be said for rappers Halcali, actually, before their revamp with “Tip Taps Tip”.

    I’m wondering if queer theory – particularly theories on drag (which is a lot like the theories of minstrelsy that Eric Lott proposed in “Love & Theft”) – would be the most useful approach here. Since traditional Jpop is one of the most overtly manipulated and managed sectors of entertainment, it tends to reflect mainstream cultural beliefs even more rigidly than other forms of entertainment. (This is going on the assumption that all popular culture is, at its most basic form, a way to reinforce mainstream cultural beliefs in as unobtrusive a manner as possible – the “amusing ourselves to death” approach. Which is itself a cause for debate, I know.)

    The view of femininity proposed in much of Jpop is actually a performance of hyper-feminized ideals – in effect, a kind of drag – as opposed to authentic femininity. An earlier remark on Melon Kinenbi seeming more transgendered than Lady in their respective PVs is what got me started down this road. Any resistance to such an ideal must either make sense in its own generic manner (i.e., Jrock and Zone, Jrap and Halcali) or find itself challenged not only by the mainstream belief but the generic formula of Jpop itself. Then you have to balance against this a fear of feminism as distinct from femininity, which is another part of why there’s such a taboo around any honest expression of sexual identity and self-awareness from idols (the major exception being Otsuka Ai, who’s considered something of a freak for being so open about it).

    All of which may help explain why Koda Kumi’s skyrocketed recently while Zwei hasn’t gotten as much favorable notice. It may also explain why Ishiguro Aya’s return to geinou circles as a motherhood expert hasn’t involved any interactions with H!P – by definition, the fecundity of being a mother is the polar opposite of the kind of image H!P promotes.

    And just to add one last idea, I wonder how much youthfulness has to do with this as well, especially since Jpop is so aggressively youth-oriented. After all, Wada Akiko has no problem with genderbending at all…

  13. Ahh, forgot a couple of shorter answers.

    Chuck:

    I was actually thinking less of tabloid shots than of Mari and her boyfriend appearing as a couple on various shows or whatever. After all, he’s an actor who’d benefit from such exposure. I’d assume the novelty of an openly dating Musume would itself be welcome, but maybe that’s just me.

    Wapiko:

    Olbermann and the correspondent reporting on the Musume clip were considerably more negative and judgmental than Colbert, who just used it to make some funny jokes on racism. Here was my own take on it.

  14. Wapiko says:

    Wow, thanks for the links! Those were both good reads and you made a very good point in your post about calling Morning Musume the biggest thing in Japan in present tense.

  15. crs says:

    Ray – I didn’t mean to imply that I thought ZONE was other than feminine–that was my point, actually, that in a genre that (in Japan, at least) has a long history of male gender ambiguity, the most popular women rockers still appear as femme as many female idols.

    Your points are well-taken and interesting. Although I find idols to be about as queer as Desperate Housewives (which is to say, somewhat, but it’s still too straight for me), I’ll probably respond more in-depth in a trademark long rambling post later this weekend. I would also note that I think we are using “queer” in different ways; I’m assuming you’re using it in the academic, broader sense that includes ways in which heterosexual performances appropriate or align with queer tropes, while I’m just using it the slang way to mean glbt people.

    Re: Wada Akiko, though. Being from the U.S., where the ideal of butchness is a stone butch, I’ve always been surprised by people who describe her using the term “butch,” esp. since she seems to closely embody the appearance of the male roles in takarazuka theater. (Her romantic history may be scandalous by Japanese standards, but not necessarily b/c of her gender.)

    In that way, a way that is v. impt given her double otherness as a Korean-Japanese, her gender is something steeped in a Japanese cultural performance where, although women are playing men and women, the romantic ideals of womanhood are never challenged on or off-stage and are even reinforced. I saw a video interview with some of the actors, and it was very interesting to me that the women playing women felt they should defer to the women playing men, so that the demands of gender trumped the physical reality of sex. so Wada Akiko, though certainly someone whose music I admire, is certainly genderbending by Japanese standards–there’s just not much give.

  16. crs:

    Ahh, I re-read your post and see what you mean now about Zone… My bad. And yeah, I’m definitely using the academic sense of queer instead of the more general sense – it provides a better in-road to states of play and conceptual ambuiguity as opposed to issues of identity politics (which concern me less as a Jpop blogger). I hadn’t considered the takarazuka angle for Wada Akiko – pretty cool approach! – and didn’t even know she was Korean-Japanese.

    There’s a lot going on here and I hope we’ll both spin this off in our own distinct directions. One thing I’d ask you to consider, especially since I’m not at all knowledgeable about it, is how Visual Kei fits into all this. I’m thinking of the obvious male-to-female gender-bend of VK but also the fact that a girl VK band like Danger Gang don’t go in the other direction. Does it have to do with the group controlling the hegemony being able to control the presentation?

    So much to consider! Who’d think the comments section could be this much fun?

  17. Wapiko says:

    Ray – She actually came out as a Korean back in August. Odd to me at the time, I would’ve thought she’d be coming out as something else…but I digress, and isn’t that pretty much what we’re talking about avoiding? Oh well, I’m queer, I can do it. :D/ Anyway, I don’t mean to be steering the topic away, but I would think nobody should be ashamed of their heritage and have to hide it. Then again, America’s all about being a melting pot for the most part and Japan likes conformity.

  18. Wapiko says:

    And dammit, I keep forgetting to mention how much I want to see Takarazuka, just once. T_T

  19. crs says:

    Wapiko – The college where I did my undergrad actually performed an approved translated version of The Rose of Versailles, and it was great. It definitely made me want to see a production in Japanese at least once.

    Ray – There aren’t a lot of all-women VK bands, or even a lot of VK bands with female members (onmyou-za is another good one, if you’re interested). What’s interesting about Danger Gang is that they are kind of going in the other direction, if you take the genre as your universe. VK is separate from but often overlaps with the gothic lolita style of dress, which is gendered female, sort of as a counterpart to the style of the genderbending men in VK. So the fact that Danger Gang assumes the commonplace VK look makes them, in a way, women impersonating men impersonating women. (By ‘impersonating,’ I mean that they’re not actually men; I don’t want to imply that I think it’s bad.) That’s one thought. But my best guess would be that over time, the genderbending element has been institutionalized into an aesthetic; I don’t know that many VK bands even see their style as having a genderbending element, and if so, that would mean DG could appropriate the style without ever needing to consider going in the opposite direction. Genderbending is kind of once removed from VK nowadays, esp. now that angura-kei and oshare-kei seem to have overtaken VK in popularity, at least among Western listeners.