A recent question about the content of this blog got me thinking. The question being “Where is Amuro Namie?” – courtesy of Patrick over at Who’s Afraid of Music? – and my contemplated answer being “I like Namie, but there are so many bloggers out there who can and do blog about her, so I don’t.”
Let’s face it, I write excessively about boybands here. Even AAA, under the definition of “a boyband with two girls”, counts, and I’d wager that they make up about a third of this blog’s content. (Only a third? I don’t do my fandom proud enough.) This Arashi quicksand trap I’ve stepped into isn’t especially helping either, since I practically announced my intention to go back through their albums on this blog.
It’s not because boybands are the only musical acts I listen to – nor is it because they’re excessively easy to blog about. Frankly, they’re pretty hard. Same old scandals (Extra, extra! A of [xxx] was seen going out with B! Is C-san underage drinking? D is under suspicion of cheating in school/doing drugs! [zzz] is under suspension because of something E-kun did. Gasp, shock, yawn. NEXT.), same old news (New dramas, new release, new concerts, hitting whatever spot on the Oricon charts), same old personalities (giant dorks. End of story.). Even with all the Arashi variety shows I’ve been watching as I sink deeper into that particular mud pit, I don’t have much to write about.
They’re boys. They sing, they dance, they act, they joke around, they have fun. They may different people deep inside, but they’re all marketed the same way regardless of how good or bad the stylists make them look or their individual talents. That way is what sells them so well in Japan. That same way is also what makes it so hard to do a serious post on them that doesn’t quite involve reviewing or fangirling – because that’s what they’re marketed for.
In contrast – most J-pop blogs with actual writing (which I define as anything that doesn’t make my head hurt to read; I know, not an especially good definition – fine, we’ll define a J-pop blog with actual writing as one where the focus is on the writing, rather than media of any sort) can be split into two types of writing. Reviews, and analytical. They either discuss the music/videos (which is more often than not what I rely on to fill this blog); or discuss various aspects of the person/people involved in the music/videos – which includes (but isn’t limited to) fans, news/gossip/scandals and how it affects both fans and artist, or the growth of the artist with time. The main subjects of J-pop blogs also seem to be easily defined – female idols (H!P, AKB48); or more serious artists who either don’t qualify or have gone past idol status, like avex’s leading divas or various bands.
And these people are safe to write about. They provide plenty of material – material that leads to controversy, to arguments, and to discussion. They’re all marketed differently, whether it’s the innocent-yet-promiscuous image Koda Kumi’s achieved, the career woman that is Hamasaki Ayumi, the punk rocker chic that makes Tsuchiya Anna who she is, or the “Go! Girl” upbeat attitude of most girl pop groups that covers the different personalities of the members (and it’s this underlying factor that really draws crowds in).
Left in the dust, of course, is Japanese boybands, who really just make news-related or media posts, artists that half the time don’t get considered as “J-Pop” but “Anime”, and teenage “idols” who are still developing into bigger artists and talent but are being pushed into a generic, safe mold that sells. There is no interesting enough point about them that could speak out to readers – and of course, that’s not what Japan wants because overseas bloggers are far from the marketing companies’ concern. They want numbers and yen. Preferably more of each on the “Sold” side of the chart instead of the “Still on the shelves” side.
So I like to think of my blog (henceforth) as a crusade. I will write about Japanese boybands without squeeing or delving into capslock or being completely nonsensical (because half the time what I write seems like complete BS). I will try to make these cookie-cutter boys seem interesting and potentially dangerously controversial. (Actually, as far as I’m concerned they’re already dangerous. You all saw what Arashi did to me.)
But the safety of the boys does come with a bonus, at least. They sell. You know what you’re getting into with a Japanese boyband – decent vocals, decent looks, decent music. Because they’re all the same. Whether it’s wFL (well, more like w-inds., because FLAME has died out again and Lead has been slacking off), or the brainwashing of Johnny’s, or the pretty-boy musical duo WaT (whose good looks and ways of appealing to the girls, despite the fact that they make their own music, places them in the boyband category), or the many numbers of budding (but never really going to sprout) indies boybands, they’re all males who sing, dance, and when they aren’t, are acting like endearing idiots that seem so close (because you can just see them in that guy in your Maths class or that Starbucks barista with the lopsided grin) and yet so far (because they’re way too edited with make-up, airbrushing, and living in Japan hiding under sunglasses and hats when they go out shopping). That indiscriminate nearby fantasy makes girls (and middle-aged women) swoon and sends them up the charts.
(I’d even refer to DA PUMP and EXILE as boybands if they hadn’t discovered and stuck with R&B and a particular kakkoii-otona image because otherwise they’d fit the basic blueprints. Except that they’re not always at the top of the charts, but we chalk that up to the kakoii-otona vibe they give off rather than the forever-young image most boybands work.)
With girl groups, though, there are too many factors. They’re all trying to claim the top spot, they’re all trying to do it differently. Morning Musume holds true to the “Be genki! Girls! Japan!” stuff Tsunku has been writing for the past decade. dream – sorry, DRM, stays safe (and low-selling) with bland pop that attacks at a dwindling crowd of Japanese listeners. AKB48 tackles real issues and goes to their fans instead of vice-versa. As a result, each is compared (incorrectly) to the other by sole virtue of being a group of dancing, singing girls in the Japanese music industry and not a single one will actually come out as “the best” – which is what, half the time, they seem to be focused on. This allows for more discussion – how can they return to the top (or in AKB48’s case, reach the top), what are they doing wrong. Same with the “actual artists” and divas, with an extra bonus of name-calling (Koda the slut, Hamasaki the plastic surgery empress).
One of these days I want to see all of them – yes, all of them, be it divas, boybands, visual kei groups, girl pop groups, teen idols, powerful vocalists, actors/actresses with singing as a side job, even the old enka people – dressed in trash bags. We’ll make it the newest in Japanese couture or something. See who really comes out on top. (Someone forbid it be Sawajiri Erika. Please don’t give her a real reason to be bitchy. I’ll do that for her.)
But until then, I shall work at carving out my little niche in J-pop blogging. I could easily be mistaken. There could be a bunch of great J-pop blogs (much greater than mine) out there that deal with Japanese boybands in an articulate, level-headed, intelligent manner, and I just haven’t seen them for all my roaming about Technorati, WordPress tags/categories, International Wota (though would the hordes of boyband fangirls count as wota? Probably not.), and the web in general. In which case… please speak up?
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