In recent years, it’s been clear that the Jpop sub-genre of “Idol” has fragmented into further subcategories, and now it consists of sub-genres within sub-genres. With the need to find a unique way to stand out in the crowded field, and the artistic desire to make one’s own mark in the world, groups are mashing up their sound in diverse ways that previously would have been considered outrageous, even blasphemous among the old guard of fandom. And along with the changing music, attitudes and business practices are evolving as well.
It’s a big bold new idol world out there, and the question arises “Is this still idol music, and if it’s something different, then what do we call it?” I’ve been pondering this for nearly a year now, and I’ve entertained my own thoughts on what this musical phenomenon could be labeled:
- “Anti-Idol” (Because of BiS, obviously, but many of these groups aren’t necessarily “against” idol-dom.)
- “Indie-Idol” (Well mostly, but some of the groups are signed to majors.)
- “New Wave of Japanese Pop Idols” (A play off of NWOBHM.)
- “Non-Traditional Idols” (Cause they’re not. Except now many of the groups are getting popular enough that maybe they’re becoming the new traditionalists.)
- And the one that seems to be gaining the most traction, “Alternative Idol”.
Alternative. What does that even mean? To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the term. You see, I grew up in the post-punk, pre-Nirvana’s “Nevermind” world. I loved punk rock, but I also loved a lot of music that often got called punk, but that was mostly because we didn’t know what else to call it half the time. There were the subcategories like goth, industrial, jangle-guitar pop, hardcore, etc. but if somebody asked “What kind of music do you like?”, you couldn’t list all that off, so you were left without a clear answer. A lot of music lovers went with “postmodern” but that only confused people. Then some people started saying “Alternative listening” and somehow that clicked. Fast forward to Nirvana breaking it big, and the word alternative became a marketing term for major labels and mainstream radio, and once you had bands ditching their spandex, getting haircuts, and deliberately calling themselves alternative, there was very little that was actually “alternative” happening.
Then the term was modified to “alt” and it became a prefix, and that’s where it bothers me the most. It brings to mind “Alt-Country”. Yeah, I know mainstream county music is a shadow of it’s former greatness, and I can most certainly understand artists wanting to distance themselves from that world. But to me, Alt-Country comes off like it’s country for hipsters who want to emulate the vibe and the sound, but are too afraid to just say they’re country. You put that “alt” in there, and you get to put yourself a little higher up on the social “coolness” chain. You also see this attitude within hip-hop and metal quite often. So I find myself wondering if Alt-Idol is ultimately a just a term to drop when you want to pretend you have nothing in common with AKB48 and Hello! Project fans.
But on the other hand, I get the need to separate these new idols from the old guard. The new wave aren’t following a lot of the old rules, and that’s a plus. We’re getting more interesting, more experimental music, made by female artists who have a larger say in what they get to record and perform, and thankfully, many of the unsettling exploitation issues that have plagued idol music are finally being pushed out. There’s a greater freedom to the music and the movement, and that’s something it’s been needing for too long. I know for myself, I used to keep my interest in this genre in the closet because it “looked weird” and was difficult to explain to outsiders, but now the music is at a quality level where I don’t feel that way. On multiple levels, this is all as exciting to me as when my teenage self discovered punk rock for the first time. This is good time to be a Jpop fan.
I guess a lot of this navel-gazing is moot now. I think Alt-Idol is largely going to be the accepted term in the West, and that’s okay. Actually, we should all just call it anything we individually want to call it. (My other considered term was “Post-BiS”, but since BiS is a thing again, it seems like that isn’t going to work.) All that matters is that we love the music and enjoy the ride on the New Idol Revolution Express.
Hmmm…“New Idol Revolution”… (Geez, just stop already.)
An interesting development came up as I was writing this piece. It was announced the “it” girls of the movement, BiSH have opened a fan club called “Smells Like Teen Spirits” and are calling their latest set of shows the “Nevermind” tour. I posted a comment on the Maniac’s blog and will restate here since it’s relevant to the post.
I notice that BiSH seems to spell out their goals pretty clearly. They let you know what they’re aiming for and how high.
The Nirvana references are getting to the point: They have decided that they are the chosen “Alternative/Punk/non-traditional/whatever” idol group to break the mainstream mold and change the rules. They are the Nirvana of Jpop.
I just hope there’s a happier ending.