Vote With Your $$$, Invest in Idols

14650070_1268817809818462_8110861212278796872_nSo boom, it was just announced that rock-idol darlings PASSCODE will be releasing their major label debut album, “MISS UNLIMITED” for iTunes in Canada, Mexico, and the USA on November 18th. (Yes the same day that was chosen for the “New Idol Army” event, so it’s gonna be quite a weekend!) This is yet another valuable opportunity to flex our idol consumer muscles in North America, and we need to rally the troops (or “Hackers”, in Passcode fandom terms.) and make this count.

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A couple of things I’d like to stress. When Babymetal’s first album debuted at number one on iTunes international metal charts, that was an event that made their record label and their management take notice that there was a very real market underway here. The eventual worldwide success of Babymetal, and the reason why it actually became feasible to see them live on your soil, started becoming a truly tangible thing that day. It made news over here and in Japan. It made Senpai notice us, you dig? I have no idea if any Jpop group will ever repeat a crossover on that level, and I won’t even attempt to promise any such thing, but we owe it to ourselves to try to alter the game wherever we can.

Even if the Passcode and BiSH’s of the world never come abroad, at a minimum we can help stir a market where it’s easier and more accessible to purchase their music and merchandise, encourage them to share information in other languages, and maybe even get some more of this doggone YouTube region blocking resolved. (Case in point below.)

Second, there’s another issue international fans of Japanese music need to understand. Sometimes I’ll hear fans point out that they’ve already pre-ordered or bought an imported CD of a Japanese artist they love, therefore they see no reason to get “double-dipped” and buy a domestic release. Or perhaps you don’t like digital music, or dislike iTunes in particular. I can understand that. Buying music from Japan is awesome, and I do the same thing as much as my finances allow. But there’s a very frustrating “but” to that. Oricon, Japan’s primary music chart, does NOT count ANY sales outside of the country. I cannot explain why, because I don’t understand it either, but if you buy a record or disc from CDJapan, Amazon Japan or wherever, while the sales royalties of course get paid out, the purchase is exempted from the charts once it leaves the country. I’ve looked it it up and discussed it with others, and it’s been confirmed that that’s the way it is. I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but the fact is, we don’t count among Japanese sales figures. (A minor clarification, labels do pay attention overseas sales though services such as CDJapan, but these sales still aren’t included in chart sales apparently. I still suspect they are overlooked and perhaps under appreciated. I welcome any feedback I can get on this if anyone can help further.) 

SO here’s what I’d like to emphasize, I realize most of us aren’t wealthy, but if you really truly want to help a Japanese group you love, spending the extra 13-20 bucks (or whatever the currency) for a release specifically marketed in your home country will make an impact. If 10,000 North Americans order Passcode albums from Japan, but then decide they don’t need that iTunes domestic release since they already bought it, the label assumes that North America isn’t very interested in Passcode. That’s the unfortunate truth. Buying this music is a vote with your $$$, and it’s an investment that may improve the odds of getting more music you love with much easier availability, and if we’re very fortunate, may plant a seed in a group’s management to say “Hey, maybe we should book a couple of shows over there, I think we could fill a medium-sized venue.”

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It’s notable to mention Passcode’s management reached out to the North American market using their official Facebook account, with a statement in English. They just dipped their foot into our waters to see if they get a nibble, and we owe them for their efforts with a generous response. If we prove this venture is worth their while, there can be rich rewards for all of us, maybe even “UNLIMITED” rewards. (Sorry, that was really lame.)

Anyway, on November 18th, “Let’s unlock the PASSCODE!(Y’know, I’m just gonna shut up now.)

PS: I’m certain anyone reading this is already a member of the Homicidols Army. Keep an eye on the Maniac’s blog, Bookface, and Twitter because there will be some kind of hashtag in honor and celebration of Passcode’s highly anticipated North American release.

Let’s Help BiS CHANGE THE WORLD

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For the three of you who haven’t been paying attention, anti-idol icon Pour Lui has reformed Brand-New Idol Society, with a new line-up joining her after a grueling selection process. They’ve been preparing, practicing, performing, recording, and on November 16, 2016, the fruits of their endeavor will be unleashed upon an eagerly waiting world. Their “debut” of sorts “Brand-New Idol Society 2” will be officially released, and it’s kind of a big deal. BiS are after all, Exhibit A of the New Idol Revolution, the shot heard around the world, and the first inductees in the Alt-Idol Hall of Fame. There’s a solid case that most of the new idol music that’s currently sweeping us off our feet wouldn’t exist without them, and we need to get to the church on time and them know that we know it.

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We Western idol fans fight a bit of an uphill battle for the music we love. While the internet makes things much easier, there’s still a lot of barriers. We can’t go to a store easily and buy this stuff, so we pre-order (expensive) imports, or get the goods digitally (and legitimately) as it becomes available to us Plus we have to deal with language barriers, YouTube region-blocking (grrr) and dealing with creative ways to google for info since “BiS” isn’t specific enough. Thankfully, the best resource we’ve developed is a cabal of committed fans who network around the world to share the wealth and help spread the word of this crazy mixed-up genre we love. With blogs like Homicidols and collaborative Facebook groups, we’ve got a means to start making a dent as fans who can deliver a positive impact on this scene.

And that’s where this is where I offer a modest proposal…

Let’s make November 18th Brand-New Idol Society Day for fans in the West. The new album comes out on the 16th, but that day will dominated with Japanese fans celebrating the new release. We’ll let them tout the new album for a couple of days, and then we’ll let social media know that fans outside of Japan love BiS too. Primarily, Twitter will be our main tool, but I think we can certainly utilize Instagram and Facebook, as well as whatever additional social media you think is fitting.

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It’s simple, we’re all going to post photos of us holding up a sign that says “IDOL”. Ideally, the word in white text on a black background. I’m even posting a file for you to print out if you wish, (link below) but you can of course customize your own instead if that’s your thing. (Heck, reverse the black and white if you can’t afford the ink, it’s okay.) We’re going to be disciples of BiS, just like in the new “Change The World” PV. We’ll share our photos, tag BiS in our pics, use the hashtag #NewIdolArmy and spread it like Nutella on a graham cracker.

Additionally I want to encourage those of you who have pre-ordered and received your copies of the new album by then to proudly show it off. Or if you bought a digital version, show a screenshot, or anything else to let BiS know you “idolize” them. The sky’s the limit, the only point is to make an impact as a fan.

bis1 bis2 The goal here is to send a message that BiS’s influence doesn’t end at the Japanese coastlines. We want to hammer home that BiS created a monster that has made it’s mark on the world. Will our effort make a difference? Who knows? I don’t know if it’s likely that BiS will suddenly decide to cross the sea and perform for foreign fans, but I can guarantee that an organized mobilization of international fans will, at a minimum, strike a chord of support for Pour Lui and company, and they will be aware of it. And I think their management and label will feel that love too. It’s the sort of thing that has no absolutely zero negative side-effects, so even if an impact were a bit minimal, so what? This is what idol fandom is all about, showing support, so let’s make some history and Change The World. (Or at least a minor trending topic for a day.) 

Save the date! November, 18th, 2016: The Day of the #NewIdolArmybis3bis4

CLICK HERE FOR A PDF OF THE “IDOL” SIGN. (This is an 8.5×11 PDF, but feel free to resize as you see fit. You could also take this large jpeg image if your prefer)

UPDATE!!! Super alt-idol overlord the Homicidol Maniac is also a key ringleader to rally our forces. Check out his say on the matter for some additional updates and follow-up progress reports!

Is There Life After Idol, or Once an Idol, Always an Idol?

As it’s been discussed before, this loosely-defined genre we call idol is one that essentially guarantees a career full of evolution, frequent changes, and quite often, rather abrupt endings. Some artists will end their careers by choice, and others due to undesired circumstances. It’s also very common for many performers to move into a new post-idol career path, be it acting, to television hosting, or moving into a new type of music. I’ve been thinking about two such instances lately, and wanted to share them here…

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In September I wrote about the disbandment of chika idols Shoujo Kakka no International, who parted ways largely due to financial struggles. They held their final show and left behind a legacy in the form of one of my favorite albums of the year regardless of genre. One of the members, Mochi, has joined Rhymeberry and is no-doubt enjoying the buzz over their well-received relaunch. Meanwhile, another member, Risa Satosaki, is pursuing a rebirth as a singer/songwriter with the moniker “Lisa Lisa”. (I’m pretty sure sure she’s too young to remember “Cult Jam”.) and she’s really quite amazing. Actually, I think we’re seeing a rising star. Seriously, watch this girl do her thing and prepare for an spine-tingling emotional onslaught of sweet, sweet music

It’s beautiful, just beautiful. Go watch it again if you want, I repeated it myself at least four times in a row.

So I’m watching this and thinking, “Well, she’s not technically an idol anymore, is she?” She sings like somebody who’s in it for dear life, with more at stake than handshake greetings and cheki photo sales. She”s got a tight band behind her and a full crowd politely waiting to wave light sticks only after her song is over. But when she’s done, she sort of kicks into idol mode with a warm and joyous thanks to the crowd that seems challenge the sort of self-imposed distance that more “serious” musicians seem to maintain with the audience. In those last 30 seconds or so, she became an idol again for a moment. I think that’s the sort of crowd connection that really enables an artist to rise above the rest in a crowded field.

I also notice that Risa hasn’t disconnected herself from her idol peers. She seems quite comfortable with it, and she she still hangs out with her Trash-Up! Records crew, and recently appeared at one of their events. She’s developing her career in a way that all artists in this genre should take note of, and I think she’ll be very well-rewarded for her hard work.

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Speaking of Trash-Up!, another artist associated with the label is also making a new mark with a musical switch-up and using a new name. Nayuta Hoshi, a graduated member of the underground darlings Avandoned, is now called Aku Seto, and she’s the voice and a musical contributor to asimov. is. magician, a sort of quirky lo-fi electro-chiptune duo that is slowly but surely getting some deserved attention. As it turns out, Trash-Up! will releasing a special debut ep of theirs on vinyl in early November.

But again, the question occurred to me: Is asimov. or. magician considered idol, or a new entry into another genre? The music is certainly out of the traditional idol wheelhouse, and Aku (I keep having to remind myself not to call her Nayuta.) is very much involved in the production. I don’t see the word “idol” used anywhere in their description, so does mean the “I word” is no longer applicable? I’ve seen a couple of short live videos online of the group, and they clearly have a lot of the Nayuta fanbase out supporting her. She even still sings Avandoned songs, So perhaps while she may longer be making idol music, her idol connections will always be a part of her, and I think that’s okay.

It’s taken years to get there, but we live in a pop-culture world now where the term idol no longer immediately conjures images of fabricated dolls being propped up to sell cheki more so than making music. The credibility of many of these young artists is unquestionable now. I find it wonderfully fulfilling to see this evolution take place and I’m convinced that things will just keep getting better for some time. I think we’ll continue to see the lines of japanese music genres continue to blur, and all of us will be enjoying the rewards.

Linkage for your further study:

Risa Satosaki:   Website     Twitter     YouTube     Soundcloud

Aku Seto:    Twitter     Band Twitter     Soundcloud

Recent Work…

Some recent sketchbook shots and mixed media experiments…

What the Heck’s an “Alt-Idol” Anyway?

BiS: Our Revolutionary Anti-Idol Icons

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.

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BiSH’s “Nevermind” Tour! Brought To You By STAPLES!

YOU’LL MELT MORE! : The Coolest Idols In the Room…

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You’ll Melt More! (Prior to the graduations of Mone and Chibo) from the shoot for their “もっとも美しいもの” MV…

YOU’LL MELT MORE! (ゆるめるモ!) were never the “average” idol group. (Whatever average is in the idol world anyway.) They’ve always been “the cool kids” in my book, marching to their own genre-smashing drum while working with artists outside the idol spectrum like Guitar Wolf and Hiro from POLYSICS.

Aside from their quirky new-wave/krautrock/psychedelic/shoegaze music, from the get-go they’ve always had a fantastic visual aesthetic and groovy graphic design accompanying  their releases. One thing I love is they way they drop homages to their influences in their fashion and album covers…

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I guess you could argue that one runs the risk of looking “too cool for the room” when reaching for a hip reference to display, but as a music lover, pop culture archivist, and one-time record store employee, I feel compelled to respect anybody who digs deep into the crates for inspiration. And yes, there is a certain elitist smugness you may feel when getting a reference that the average person may not be aware of. I try to not be “that guy”, I really do, but I’m being honest here.

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YMM! reference to the the groundbreaking krautrock band NEU!. Note the exclamation point that both groups use as part of their name…

And while I’m being so honest, here’s a major confession that may mark me with a “turn in your pop culture archivist card” violation: YOU’LL MELT MORE! stumped me on a cover art reference. Yep, totally stumped me. They dropped a homage to an underground group that I had never heard of. And it’s a group highly-regarded by people in the know as groundbreaking. Excuse me while I wipe the egg off my face…

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The reference that went over my head: YMM!’s nod to ESG’s 1981 debut EP.

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The group is called Emerald, Sapphire, & Gold (ESG). They came from the Bronx and they played minimalist post-punk funk that earned them a loyal cult following in the early 80’s. Aside from the super-infectious grooves they put down, their legendary status was secured in history by their influence on hip-hop and electronica. If you listened to some classic hip-hop, then you probably heard ESG’s tunes getting sampled like mad and never knew it. I finally gave the band a listen a few weeks ago, and all I can ask is “Where has ESG been all my life, and why hasn’t anybody turned me on to them?” And I can also imagine some of my fellow deep music-loving nerds saying “Dang man, I’m surprised you didn’t know ESG, that’s right up your ally, you’ve been missing out!!” But you know, there’s always something out there to catch up on….

So here’s yet another moment where I need to shout out praises about how much I love the new-idol revolution. Dig this: A Jpop idol group schooled me on an obscure cult band from the South Bronx and led me to the water of enlightenment that has expanded my musical horizons that much more. If I ever meet the members of Yurumerumo!, I’m going to need to thank them.

And while we’re on the subject, here’s a few other times YMM! showed us how cool they are…

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Once again, Yurumerumo!’s Krautrock influences on display. Kraftwerk has always had a cool design vibe, so it’s pretty much perfect here!

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YMM!’s EP “SUImin CIty Destroyer” cover art plays off the debut of New York electronic protopunk band Suicide. The minimalist, pulsating synth of Yurumerumo!’s song “もっとも美しいもの” (“The Most Beautiful Thing”) always reminded me of Suicide, so I especially enjoyed this tribute.

I’m pretty sure you know these…

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These are worth mentioning as well. Although they’re not patterned after any specific albums, they both pay homage to an aesthetic style…

ymm-homage4The YMM!/Hijokaidan collaboration album “Watashi wo Noise ni Tsuretette” captures the feel of old “exotica” albums of the 60’s. (You could also a make a connection here to the pioneering noise band Throbbing Gristle, who also happened to be Martin Denny fans. TG even referenced Denny’s album art vibe on their “Greatest Hits” release. You see, it’s all a big circle!!!)

The EP “Literature and Destroy” looks back at the heyday of 1960’s Asian and “group sounds” psychedelic rock art, with it’s unmistakable groovy text! It’s one of my favorite YMM! cover designs.

Yurumerumo! are not the only group in the idol world to pay tribute to punk rock or cult classics, so perhaps later I’ll compile some other references as well. I could probably put a dissertation’s worth of research into this topic!

Some collages….

A few collages I made with images cut from (mostly) vintage magazines…

Shoujo Kakka no International: An idol group releases one of the best albums of the year, but hardly anyone seems to know about it?

209228Sometimes you just find out about new music by chance. Such was the situation for me with the album “Satsujin Jiken” (Murder Case) by an underground idol group called Shoujo Kakka no International.  (translates roughly to Girl Excellency International) I just happened to see their album cover come across my twitter feed, and the eye-catching retro Saul Bass inspired art grabbed my attention immediately. The album was released on a favorite indie label of mine, Trash-Up Records. Trash-Up is also the label for Avandoned, and have released some other great unconventional indie-idol stuff as well, including a low-budget film starring Bellring Girls Heart. They also publish a trash-culture magazine where their love for idols connect with quirky exploitation films and punk rock. In other words, it’s as if I have spirit animals in Japan reading my mind.0

The surprising thing is that Trash-Up very quietly uploaded this album on iTunes outside of Japan and didn’t really say much about it aside from a single tweet. And you know, if I hadn’t seen this tweet, I doubt I would’ve known I could so easily purchase the album. Actually, I doubt I ever would’ve even listened to it at all. I clicked the link and listened to some lo-fi samples: It was brilliant. Utterly brilliant. Totally brilliant and absolutely impossible to describe in it’s genre-bending insanity. I needed no more prodding to buy it. I downloaded it to my devices and I’ve been obsessed with it for the last few weeks. But now here I am, listening to an album from a group I’m completely over-the-moon-with despite knowing next to nothing about the girls behind the music. And also, why isn’t anyone else (at least in the Western world) freaking out over this masterpiece like I am?

I looked up Shoujo Kakka no International on YouTube and found a channel listed for them. One thing was for sure, they were about as underground as it gets. Their performance videos reminded me of punk-rock bands playing basement shows for a handful of people. They were endearing amateurish and low budget, playing pre-taped music and singing along to it in a messy, but incredibly fun display of charming youthful enthusiasm. They even covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit”! The tiny little crowd of fans clearly adored them as well, running around the tiny room in circles only a few inches away from the group. But the videos were all a few months old, and again, there was nothing here promoting the recently released “Murder Case” album that I was so into.

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Digging deeper into search engines, I finally happened upon an article that made everything clear, but sadly it wasn’t what I wanted to learn. Shoujo Kakka no International was no longer together, and “Murder Case” was a posthumous release of their final recordings. Their manager, Sokichi Nagata, wrote a couple of insightful and rather heartfelt essays of his experience and the lessons learned (Both personal and professional.) from taking on the challenge of managing an underground idol group. It’s some fascinating and highly recommended reading (Translated in English) that pulls back the curtain of the indie-idol business. You can read Part One Here and Part Two Here

My feeling after reading their former manager’s essay, and then re-evaluating the album, is that “Murder Case“, with it’s Hitchcock-esque art-vibe and genre-be-damned musical experiments, is the last gasp of a crazy dream that decided to cram everything it had in that final breath. The music is all over the map, with jazzy film-noir flourishes, minimalist synth, weird audio collages and desperately emotional screaming. This is what happens when you have nothing to lose in the moment so you simply unleash it on the masses so there’s at least something to look back on and be proud of.0-2

My hope is that Shoujo Kakka no International‘s final recorded output will one day reach enough ears that a sizable cult will worship this group’s post-career memory the way it has for rock bands like The Velvet Underground and the Detroit punk band Death, and though there will be no more music, people will know their name and speak of them with fondness. I’m going to try my best to advance that along.

Currently, two of the former members are active with ongoing activities. Risa Satosaki is a rising star, building up a ton of positive buzz as a singer/songwriter with some lovely tunes under her belt. Meanwhile, Mochi Fukumaru is now going by DJ OMOCHI and officially became the new DJ for the idol-hip hop unit Rhymeberry. Best wishes to them and all the former members!

Shoujo Kakka no International’s twitter account is still active, mostly with updates on the former members. Meanwhile, their official website is still online, although no longer updated.

Purchase-wise, Amazon Japan still has their albums and singles stocked. And don’t forget that you can buy their music digitally from OTOTOY and iTunes internationally.

Idols and Impermanence

Anyone who’s followed an idol group, even if they are fairly new to the genre, has most likely already experienced more than one “graduation”, a new member addition, or all too often, an entire group disbanding. One thing’s for certain in the idol world, and that’s that nothing is ever certain. I think one of the first lessons to this type of music is to accept that things change quickly, and quite often unexpectedly. We all get reminded of this practically weekly.

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In March I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing Avandoned, (Old line-up photo above) a four-piece up-and-coming idol group, live. I knew going into the show that one member, Kononome, had announced her intention to step down from the group in the spring. At the same time, another member, Nayuta, had run afoul of her management for unspecified violations and was essentially being let go. I didn’t even know if she’d be appearing on the tour, but she was indeed there, and performed like a total pro. I received confirmation a few days later that the very show I attended was her final time singing as a member of Avandoned. Apparently she admitted to holding back tears as they finished their set that night and prepared to return to Japan, where she would take a brief hiatus from public life. (She just recently made a very quiet return to music.) Avandoned continues without Kononome and Nayuta, but brought in a terrific new member (Yay Kotao!) to fill that void. And while I’ll certainly miss that version of the group I enjoyed so much, the new line-up is full of promise that keeps them very much worth watching. (New PV with the current line-up below!)

Within that time and throughout the summer, we’ve seen other group’s lose beloved members (You’ll Melt More!, Billie Idle), amazing new members added to groups (Ayuni-D, welcome to BiSH and we all LOVE you!!) and sadly, some great groups decide to call it quits and ride off into idol history. (Goodbye Kuroneko no Yuutsu and ShoujoKakka no International, I feel like I never got to know you.) And yeah, this is all terribly sad, but like Hyman Roth said in “The Godfather Part II”, “This is the business we’ve chosen”. If you want to enjoy this crazy amazing music, you’ve got to learn to accept what you cannot change.

And this brings us to two well-regarded Japanese philosophies: “Wabi-sabi” and the related concept of impermanence,“Mono no aware”. Wabi-sabi is an appreciation for the beauty of imperfection. How that relates to idoldom is pretty self-explanatory, with idols generally being amateur girls, untrained and awkward, stepping into the light while the fans cheer them on and become endeared to their novice shortcomings. Mono no aware is an acceptance that all things can never last forever, much like the simple paper-walled rooms in ancient Japanese architecture. The philosophy is an understanding that the moment, even if the moment is sad, can still be beautiful, and that when things must change, it’s best to accept them and adapt to what’s to come with dignity and grace. It’s these roots that connect what’s old and new in Japan’s unique rich culture, and it an understated way, apply to modern pop as much as the deepest traditions.

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We genuinely don’t know where the state of idol will be next month, next year, or in the next few years, (although it’s fun to speculate!) and that is inherently a big part of what makes this such a completely special genre to bring us lots of joy, and a little sadness as well.

Mono No Aware: A Sensitivity To Things

A strong reoccurring theme that frequently appears in Japanese film, music, and art is sadness that’s wrapped in beauty. Once as I was watching a Japanese film about a group of men following out a suicide pact, I realized that every single one of the previous Japanese films that I watched earlier in the week had ended in loss, tragedy, or an ambiguous sense of melancholy.

But yet, not a single one of these films left me depressed and cold. The thing is, despite the longing and sadness on the screen, these films were absolutely beautiful, and the beauty of those films is what resonated strongest within me, and so I fell for the strange power of Japan’s most personal examples of film making.

From the early arts of the Edo-Period, and through the difficult post-war years, the Japanese mastered expressing what they call “mono no aware”, a transcendental understanding of our lives being impermanent and the world ever-changing.

This zen-like acceptance greets tragic events with a bittersweet awareness that they cannot be altered, much like the lazy flow of a river that occasionally floods over violently. I find this cultural philosophy fascinating and inspiring.

With this understanding, Japanese films which deal with heavy-hearted emotions often contain a positive undercurrent that helps the viewer see the ending in a affirmative way. I’ve found over the years that I simply adore a good sad Japanese film, and likewise I savior sitting in the dark listening to a wistful enka song.

To some people, the Japanese passion for the melancholy must seem somewhat odd. But you see, the yearning and the despair never bring me down, rather they help me embrace life and this gorgeous world we’re born to, and as weird as that may seem, that makes me very happy.

 

Tokyo. Sora is a fascinating study of loneliness in modern Tokyo by minimalist filmmaker Hiroshi Ishikawa. Trailer here.

Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story is considered by many to be his masterpiece, an amazing film about generational differences in post-war Japan.

Ikiru is Akira Kurosawa’s highly personal film about a man reflecting on his own mortality.

5 Centimeters Per Second is a gorgeously animated film made up of 3 short stories. A beautifully sad small-scale epic with a glimmer of hope within. Trailer here.