6 Insane Realities Of Life As A Japanese Pop Star
Japanese music has been taking gold at the Crazy Olympics for some time now, mainly thanks to the country's pop idols -- cute young starlets who sing and dress as if they were starring in a burlesque rendition of Power Rangers directed by Katy Perry.
Frankly, we may have downplayed it a bit.
It's a fascinating world, and one we wanted to understand better. So we reached out to Ricky Wilson, who manages Necronomidol, a Japanese idol group with an occult twist. He told us how ...
Japanese Idols' Kayfabe Puts Wrestlers To Shame
Kayfabe, in case you haven't heard about the greatest thing ever, is a rule among pro wrestlers which forbids them from ever breaking their onstage character, in order to make their matches feel more "real." Idols have a similar concept, except that every one of them plays the exact same character: the single virgin who doesn't even know what a human penis looks like.
But who's also a very bad girl.
According to Ricky: "Everyone knows idols are human beings and have human relationships. But as long as that fact is under wraps, everyone can operate under the kayfabe of plausible deniability and keep the fantasy alive -- the fantasy that they have a chance with the girl. But if there are undeniable facts out there showing that the idol IS in a relationship, then the kayfabe doesn't work anymore." And the consequences of that can be horrifying.
In 2013, Minami Minegishi, a core member of AKB48 (probably the biggest and most famous idol group in Japan), was caught leaving the house of a boy band member after spending the night with him. As punishment, Minegishi was demoted to the group's "trainee" team, and forced to apologize while crying her eyes out on their YouTube channel for her "thoughtless deed" of being a normal 20-year-old. She was also (most likely) forced to shave her fucking head.
All she's missing is a six-foot-tall nun with a bell following her.
Right Now, Japan Is In The Middle Of A "Warring Idols Period"
"There have been numerous 'eras' in the history of idols in Japan," Ricky told us, "most of which were punctuated by 'idol ice ages' [literally a term used by Japanese pop historians] when idol groups played free shows at shopping malls or theme parks. But then in the early 2000s, groups like AKB48 started to become more popular, and idols now play sold-out arenas." But it all came with a price.
Not counting the price of front-row seats.
Currently, we are in the midst of the "Warring Idols Period" -- an era characterized by a massive number of idol groups competing for a limited fan base, which has apparently led to some serious musical rivalries. "Rival groups will deliberately set things up to create competition. For example, Sakura Gakuin and Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku had a pretty strong rivalry going on for a while there, and without fail, their large shows would always fall on the same day. It was basically engineered to ensure that fans could only really support one group or the other."
They're like street gangs, but with more dancing and ridiculous clothes ... so exactly like West Side Story, now that we think about it.
It's Less About The Music, And More About Being Crazier Than Other Groups
With the advent of the "Warring Idols Period," idols quickly learned that they had to use any weapon at their disposal to win more fans. But because you can only make miniskirts so short before they technically become belts, a lot of groups gave up on trying to be the sexiest, and instead went in a "dark" direction.
As a bonus, it really saves on the electricity bill.
Ricky explains: "You had groups like BiS [Brand-new idol Society], who would make music videos with the members running naked through Jukai, the ill-renowned 'suicide forest' near Mt. Fuji, or teaming up with a noise-rock band and throwing around pig heads." You can find the naked music video below, but know that the girls' nipples have been edited out, and the results can only be described as "boner-murdering."
If you watch it on mute, it looks like a found footage horror movie.
If you don't have the money or connections to get amazing outfits and hire the best songwriters, you need to make your mark in some other way, whether through extreme visuals or a completely unique concept. Sometimes, it could be as simple as pairing up cute vocals and lyrics with thrash metal and blast beats, like what Babymetal is doing. Other times, it could be about mixing musical genres, or at least words that Ricky assures us are musical genres:
"Different groups take it in different directions. There's screamo and metalcore (NEXT Shoujo Jiken, LoliSyn), Krautrock and space synths (Yurumerumo!), '60s Psychedelic and Brit-Rock (Bellring Girls Heart), '80s ambient synth pop (Tentenko) etc. It's almost a constant game of one-upsmanship." And naturally, Necronomidol plays that game.
They blur out everything.
"We play out at some relatively extreme shows," Ricky said, "grindcore, powerviolence, etc. We did a show with the 666 Underground Wrestling group some months ago that was really interesting. Backstage was basically all either wrestlers or members of punk bands, but we still had a great time."
This picture doesn't surprise us. That's not a good thing, Japan.
The Whole Idol Scene Exploded Thanks To The Rise Of Geek Culture
For the longest time, Japanese idol music was considered something that only dateless geeks got into in lieu of talking to real girls. Bands like AKB48 and Dempagumi.inc were born in the backstreets of Akihabara, an area of Tokyo known as the center of Japanese geek culture -- which is also (in a possibly related fact) home to one of the largest sex shops in the world.
But since then, the public perception of idol music has ... not changed in the slightest. What has changed is everyone's attitude towards geeks. Now, a lot of them are considered kind of cool.
Thanks to that, these beautiful, flawless, young girls can finally be accepted by society. *sniff*
As Ricky tells us: "A big part of this change is a shift, particularly among the younger generation in Japan, from nerds being ostracized and marginalized to acquiring an almost rebellious, loner type of image. Unlike in the West, it's more akin to the cool outsider -- you're in on a secret, underground culture that the 'norms' around you don't understand. After that, 'geek' groups like Perfume (who had really accessible, cool music along with fashionable outfits and videos) and Momoiro Clover Z (who had a lot of female and celebrity fans) came onto the scene, and suddenly it wasn't so weird to be a nerd or into idols."
The "geek loser" stereotype is still very much a thing in Japan, but it's on its way out thanks in part to idols pushing a narrative that they too used to be shy, virginal shut-ins. That's also what the group Dempagumi.inc is doing, and their albums now shoot to the top of the charts.
See? One of them even has horn-rimmed glasses. Total geeks!
Pop Idols Have The Most Hardcore Fans Imaginable
Let's say you're a fan of a Japanese idol group and want to have fun at one of their shows. Great! Do you know their chants, dance moves, and have clothing matching the band's colors?
Also, do you like Kool-Aid, and have no long-term plans?
According to Ricky: "Idol fans have specialized calls (or "mixes") that they like to use during the show as a form of stylized cheerleading called (w)otagei (nerd performance). If the fans of a certain group don't have a solid, cohesive mix, it's not uncommon to see fans of other groups making fun of them on Twitter. But groups that have strong, cohesive fanbases are usually envied (and defected to)."
You are supposed to learn all of that by going to your favorite group's shows and forgetting the meaning of the word "individualism," but there are specialty sites like otagei.com out there which will teach you the necessary chants and moves so you can fit right in.
Just think ... one day, you can be as cool as this guy.
This kind of dedication isn't reserved for big-name bands. "Necronomidol isn't a huge group by any calculations," Ricky admits, "but for the last birthday celebration, we were shocked to see that the fans had arranged for two giant displays of flowers to be placed at the venue and specially ordered cakes for each member with their faces drawn on them (it was a double birthday show). One member likes Dragon Ball Z, so a fan bought her the entire series (40 or so volumes) and brought a wheeled suitcase for her to take the comics home in."
Here's an adult man dancing along to a group of teen girls dressed like horror villains at a private concert
which he won at an auction, because music as we once understood it simply doesn't make sense anymore.
These Are Still Kids Working In A Weird/Sleazy Industry
The youngest member of Necronomidol graduated high school this year, but it's not like the band has been around for a mere couple of months. In the beginning, it was essentially Ricky managing four underage girls, trying to build the group's dark and occult theme while having to get their parents' permission every step of the way.
"But Mooooom! All the other girls get to be beautifully haunted by the futility of existence!"
"It's tricky to get permission for some of the more extreme stuff, like shooting in "haunted" buildings, etc., because the first thing you'll hear is 'My mom won't let me.'" Then there are the numerous curfews you have to watch out for. Not just the ones set by the girls' folks, but also by the law: "Labor restrictions mean you have to keep an eye on when your group will be playing to make sure they aren't working when they shouldn't be. And of course, their parents want them home before it gets really late."
In all fairness, though, nights are when the creeps start coming out, and you will not believe how many of them ogle the underage performers.
Or maybe you will.
"We play out in some areas that are traditionally, well, less than wholesome," Ricky says. "There are a lot of live houses in Kabukicho [Tokyo's red light district] ... Amazingly, I've actually been chaperoning high-school-age members home in their school uniforms at night, and had some of the more persistent club hawkers try to get me to come in for a drink. What do they think I'm going to do? Bring the members in with me? Or leave them to fend for themselves?"
Wait, don't all Japanese high school girls carry weapons and know martial arts? YOU LIED TO US, ANIME!
Necronomidol recently got back from Taiwan, and would love to visit your country next! Check out their website and YouTube channel. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yeah, things can get pretty weird over there. And even crazier is how low-grade a lot of Japan's technology is. See what we mean in 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Japan. Or check out 6 Japanese Subcultures That Are Insane (Even for Japan) and get a load of those tricked-out trucks, shit.
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