Japanese Musicians Screw Their Fans For Cash (And I'm A Fan)
If you threw Hot Topic and a Renaissance fair into a blender and fed the resulting slurry to Ziggy Stardust, you'd get "Visual Kei." Visual Kei is a Japanese genre of music that ... actually, that's not right. It's not so much a genre as it is a set of aesthetics that ... no, that's not right, either. Visual Kei is ... okay, what the hell is Visual Kei? Let's start there. We asked "Sonya," a hardcore fan who follows a Visual Kei band around on tour, like somebody adapted Phish into an anime.
Visual Kei Fans Will Sacrifice Everything For Their Favorite Band
Despite the country's reputation as the world's largest, open-air insane asylum, Japan has pretty standard musical tastes, with pop reigning supreme and Visual Kei bands being more of a niche market. But what they lack in mainstream appeal, they more than make up for in frightening, almost-religious devotion from their fans.
"I had the opportunity to go to Japan when I was 19," Sonya explains. "Back then, I was still a casual fan until I found my 'honmei,' or favorite band. Soon I was going to concerts three to five times a week and spending my life in venues. I went back to Europe to finish my degree. I was accepted for my continuing degree at an elite university ... Then one day I said 'fuck it' and went back to Japan to become a professional insane person who wore too much makeup, didn't sleep enough, and lived for her shiny boys in leather and lace. My mum cried when I told her, but I had to do what makes me happy ... I haven't gone back to reality since."
Neither have the bands.
Nowadays, Sonya works as an English teacher in Chiba because it's the only Japanese job where "time off" isn't considered a dirty word. "I sometimes work 112-hour weeks just so I can take a few days off where I'll spend 48 hours straight on a crammed night bus to headbang with my band for an hour, usually less. It's a tough life. You skip meals, lose sleep, deal with busted faces, fucked-up knees, bruises, cuts, gashes ..."
But in reality, it's not as simple as downing a few Potions and calling it a day. In fact, if you're not careful, you may even need yourself a Phoenix Down ...
Visual Kei Fans Are Hardcore To The Point Of Insanity
Every subculture has a set of unwritten rules. For Visual Kei fans, the chief rule is: "Look at my favorite band member wrong and I'll eat your soul." Sonya elaborates ...
"Some of the fans can be bloody mental. The girls can get brutal if they think you're moving in on their favorite member ... I once got head butted and broke a finger in three places. Another time, I got stabbed with a broken drumstick. It actually went in deep enough to leave a nasty scar on my back. I had an earring ripped out of my ear and I damn well know it wasn't an accident. That nasty cunt threw it back at me."
"Next time I'm taking the ear part!"
"I've even seen girls get their hair pulled out of their head or purposely slammed into at shows so hard their ribs broke. I also know a fan who had her nose broken more than once. Mostly, though, if you piss off the wrong people, it starts off as cyber abuse. I escaped that by deleting a generous portion of my social media, but some fans have killed themselves over cyber-bullying ... According to another story I heard from an older friend of mine, a guy in some band was paying too much attention to one girl, so the other fans actually tried pushing her in front of a train."
It's one thing to love metal -- it's another to hear "Crazy Train" and get inspired to make one a weapon.
Wow. Even the most die-hard punks would ask you to dial that dedication back a smidge. Well, they wouldn't say "smidge," but you get the point ...
Some Visual Kei Bands Are Also Prostitutes
Hardcore fans of Visual Kei are known as "bangya," which is both a Japanese portmanteau of "band girl," and an accurate description of their hobbies. Sonya insists that a real bangya would never sleep with her honmei, even if they ejaculated free concert tickets. But there are still plenty of horny female fans out there who would, which is why some groups cash in by turning themselves into musical prostitution rings.
"We call this 'mitsu,'" Sonya explains. "Every month you send your favorite band member an amount of money. If you go low-end, it could be anywhere from [$200-400] a month. In these kinds of relationships, you get to maybe talk with the guy on the phone. The more expensive ones can go as high as [$1,000] a month. What you usually get with these are dates and sex. He will meet you, take you to Disneyland, bring you home, fuck you, and whisper how he loves you.
Place Ending On Earth
I once met a girl who pays [~$5,000] a month, and for that, she had a song written about her by her honmei ... I've never done mitsu, and it gives me the creeps."
The whole practice is very hush-hush, but also widespread in the industry. That's why, according to Sonya, "A lot of bands are just in it for the pussy. Some literally don't even know how to play their instruments because they don't have to. When I ask my friends why they like this or that band, they talk about how cute the bassist is, etc."
Plucking at guitar strings is optional, but tugging at heart strings is mandatory.
To fans of actual music, like Sonya, it's a strange and foreign practice, like wanting to bang the Mona Lisa. Which hey, if she dressed like that ...
Being A Fan Costs A Small Fortune
A bangya is basically a music fan that was bitten by another bigger, more radioactive music fan. Their dedication is insane:
"I have probably spent somewhere above [$50,000] while being a bangya," Sonya says. "We have cheki, little Polaroids of band members that we trade like Pokemon cards. They cost about [$4] a pop. I once bought 100 of them ... Another time I traveled hundreds of kilometers to Nagoya just to pick up a [special edition] CD to make my collection complete. Bye bye [$250]."
You could go on eBay but where's the adventure in that?
Let's break down one of Sonya's recent expenses, mainly because it will make us feel better about dropping $50 on Kim Kardashian: Hollywood last week. "Last year, I did a tour for my band. It was 18 lives, with the tickets being about [$40] each. I traveled 12 times, with each averaging [$70], though there were two times where it was [$180] each. I spent [$30] per day on food and other basic expenses, I needed a hotel five times, while my cheki count for the tour in total was 82. At one live, I bought about [$120] in merchandise and [$250] in CDs."
All in all, Sonya's stint came out to about $3,000 ... just like the time when she popped over from Europe to Japan to attend just ONE concert. What's even scarier is that she's actually considered one of the thriftier fans. "I saw a girl buy a band guy a new guitar because he mentioned it on Twitter. Sometimes girls will buy them cars, and houses, and expensive equipment. Mostly it is jewelry. My close friend bought my favorite vocalist a [$650] necklace."
And, as mentioned earlier, for $650 some bands will give you pearl one in return.
We're happy with our own careers and all, but Japanese Fantasy Rock Gigolo does look pretty good on a business card ...
The Bands Want To Be The Only Men In Your Life
Once you've seen a bunch of androgynous guys dressed in one square foot of leather and 50 square feet of lace, frantically gyrating while shredding a guitar behind their heads, your threshold for lust changes:
"I find myself on dates with nice, successful men, just staring at them and thinking 'You know, my favorite vocalist would fucking hate this little prissy-ass boy.' They broke my standards for men. Like, nothing feels the same as being at a concert and your favorite member smiles at you, and you know it is just for you."
Visual Kei's answer to Teddy Roosevelt, apparently.
Visual Kei bands survive by keeping their fanbase nice and fanatical, and they do that by promoting a select few of them to Super Fan status. They'll invite you backstage or to parties, hang around with you, and pat you on the head when your dog dies, all of which happened to Sonya. Most importantly, though, they will keep you on the hook until you start thinking of them as your fake boyfriends.
"I have NEVER brought a boyfriend to a concert. It'd be like bringing home your boyfriend to meet your parents for the first time, only it's more like your fake boyfriends meeting your real boyfriend ... I mentioned to a member of my band that I had a boyfriend once and he got wide-eyed and told me 'What? No. You can't. Don't say that to (my favorite member).' He honestly worried he'd be jealous."
"I wore my most glittery tube top just for you, and this is how you repay me?!"
It's all about image. Visual Kei bands want to be surrounded by young, single fans, and are willing to give them enough false hope to keep them unattached. That's not to say there's no love, though ...
The Band And The Fans Eventually Become Your Family
According to Sonya, it's impossible to recall every single nice thing her favorite band has done for her ... because it would reveal her real identity and get her murdered by an insane fan at the next show. But, for example: "When I popped over to Japan to attend a show, I didn't actually have a ticket, but my honmei put me on the guest list after I sent them a message. In the west, bands are rarely this close with their fans. Some of the bands I follow(ed) would often ask me (and only me) to hang back after the show with them."
When the heroes of every Final Fantasy want to chill, you dare not say no.
It's like getting to live in the friend zone with your favorite musicians. And for all the harping we do about the crazy fans, Sonya actually loves the fanbase at large. "We always have one another's backs. We give each other cheki, concert tickets, and we get drunk together. One time I was so drunk that they stayed with me until 2 a.m. until I got on my bus, even though they had a hotel and could have left me hours before ... Sometimes bands have shitty fans that all openly hate one another but most of us are only looking for a safe place to be ourselves."
And what do you call a group that cares for and loves you, despite all your faults? That's right: A family. And what do you call a family that also asks for your total devotion and all of your money? A cult. Or Visual Kei. One has better fashion sense than the other.
It could have been worse. They could have become Juggalos.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at email@example.com.
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