Monday, 11 November 2013

On Idols, Rivalry, Image and Idoling!!! by Chiima & Steve - Part 1

All opinions within this post are those of Chiima and Steve. Please respect BOTH opinions, and do not bash anyone for what they think or feel. There are two sides to every coin, just like there are two sides to an opinion; positive and negative. Take what we say with a grain of rice or a pinch of salt, and bear with it. You may not like what you read, but please, just tolerate it. Thank you.

NOTE* This is Part 1 of 2 of a discussion between Steve and I. Be sure to read Part 2 if you read this part. Thank you.

For a few days now, my mind has been on one topic, and I have wanted to write about it badly... the thing is, how does one start such a topic? It could be easy enough, but my inspiration for this specific topic, Idols vs Idols (or: Idol x Rivalry, as it was originally going to be called) was pretty much at Zero... and then, I decided to ask the very person who inspired the Topic to collab with me on it.

... Don't ask.
So, I asked Steve, one of many fantastic writers of Selective Hearing (I do not include myself, because I am an idiot.) if he would like to collaborate with me on the topic of Idols x Rivalry. This was actually a spur of the moment thing, but I am really glad that I asked him if he would talk about this subject with me. It did, of course, spurn many other topics concerning Idols, as you will when talking about a subject like this, but the conversation itself was interesting, and it really made me want to write this as we said it... with a few omits, that is.

Either way, my Journalistic juices are flowing (that sounds gross...) and I really just wanted to share this with everyone, because the conversation itself was fun to write and talk about with Steve. Originally, I did think of simply a half/half essay, but Steve suggested this format early on when we discussed how it would turn out, and in the end, I like the idea of just writing it out as it is because it is just so much more natural, and it allows for you, the readers, to understand what we are talking about more, I believe.

And, as Steve said at the end of our discussion, we have come to understand each other a little more now that we have talked extensively about this topic of Idols, and honestly, I am really happy to share this all with you. It was a lot of fun to talk about it, and I hope that it is quite fun to read it, too!

I also think that this is a great chance for people to take a look at what Steve genuinely thinks. He has a strong opinion, and it can come across pretty brutal for those who are new to what he says, so I feel like this is a great chance to see things from his perspective, and learn a little about him and his views on groups. You may not agree with him still, or me for that matter, but I hope that this will bring a little bit of an understanding towards him and what he says.
 I like a strong opinion, though. This is why I get along well with him, I believe. Anyways...

I hope you all give this post a chance, regardless of how long it may be, and enjoy!

Please jump after the break for the full post!

Chiima: I've wanted to write about the topic for a few days now, ever since I read your post about Idoling!!!, so I thought it best to ask if you wanted to collab on it because you're the one who pretty much initiated the idea itself and inspired it all.

Steve: That makes sense.

Chiima: Basically, I want to talk about how rivalry is just barely there between companies' own groups now, or something like that. Kind of like, how H!P used to have it, and how AKB are supposed to have it, and how Idoling!!! have taken the concept and now have it.

Steve: So, what ways would you say H!P did it in the past?

Chiima: They had shuffle units, didn't they? The shuffle units would release a different song, but have the same B-side, and it would sell on the same day - whichever group sold the most singles won.

Steve: I know lots of H!P fans imagine rivalries in their head that don't exist as a way of trying to strengthen their belief that one group or girl is better than another.

Chiima: It was to basically test what the fans like, or *who* they liked

Steve: But there hasn't been a whole lot of actual competition in a while.

Chiima: No, there hasn't. Their shuffles kind of died when 6th gen came in.

Steve: Yeah, shuffle units were definitely a good example, and oddly enough, the last 2 shuffle projects had all the songs on one CD. So there was no competition at all

Chiima: Yeah, that was pretty strange, but I guess it showed they were dying. Even Sakuragumi and Otomegumi had a good rivalry, pitting a more traditional look and sound against a more modern concept.

Steve: Yeah, the Gumi groups were pretty awesome too.

Chiima: I know that you said before fans have created a rivalry of sorts between C-ute and Berryz, but they don't have the rivalry that Gumi and the shuffles had, I think.

Steve: Haha, yeah, I don't know if you caught much wind of that, but there was a HUGE surge of butthurt once they announced Berryz were also going to Budokan after C-ute was announced a few months prior. C-ute fans started screaming that Berryz didn't deserve such an honor and that only their perfect C-ute did and Berryz is dying/dead and they never "work hard" at anything, so they don't deserve to have such "rewards". But yeah, you're right though, the Gumi groups were really the last time H!P touched that.

Chiima: I'm going to be honest here, I was one of those fans. But I'm not the biggest Berryz fan, however they have worked for it now that I think about it. It's just that their sales weren't peaking as much as C-ute's, but much like Morning Musume, C-ute or any other Idol group like TGS, they do deserve Budokan. But I also think there is a little bit of rivalry between Berryz and C-ute, but it is probably one-sided (for Berryz).

Steve: I dunno, I think the whole thing is kinda silly to begin with, cause playing at Budokan isn't really a huge honor like it was back in the 80s & 90s and such. Its really just another concert venue, and their standards for quality and attendance have gone down quite a bit with time. But I guess that's fairly unrelated.

Chiima: I think that it is just because it is a huge venue, and has had so many acts go there. But yeah, Tokyo Dome is the place to go it seems. I guess the memories are what makes it special for Idols

Steve: Yeah, that's all just kind of...subjective, I guess. As far as the importance of the venue.

Chiima: Hahaha no worries.

Steve: But yeah, that's not really important to what we're talking about XD So you think that C-ute having slightly better sales was directly related to some kind of quantifiable amount of effort being put in by them? I kinda don't.

Chiima: I think that effort is up to management, rather than the girls, when it comes to a peak in sales.

Steve: Right.

Chiima: I believe Management wanted to promote C-ute more because a sound worked for them, and it showed results, so Berryz were left in the dust.

Steve: And how many versions of a single they were releasing and what kind of bonuses/perks came with the CDs.

Chiima C-ute seem to have found something people are noticing them for (you can disagree XD) I believe, but yes, bonuses and perks with multiple CDs helps a lot. Though whenever I go to buy a C-ute CD, there are never any external bonuses, it's always MoMusu, Berryz (as of late) and Juice=Juice who have them.

Steve: The AKB marketing bug hit H!P management the last few years, basically. And yeah, management probably noticed that C-ute fans were just more profitable on the whole than Berryz fans, so they just tried to run in the direction they thought it would succeed, then when it actually started succeeding, they just did it with all the groups, basically.

Chiima: Basically, what isn't broke does not need fixing, in a way... unless you do it for a long time, and then it gets boring. Which is basically what happened when MoMusu deteriorated in the Platinum era.

Steve: Berryz was also around for a number of years before C-ute even existed, so I think some Berryz fans are more old-school type fans. Who aren't as apeshit about buying every piece of merchandise, etc. Between the time that Berryz debuted and C-ute debuted, I think a lot changed about H!P management. Not as much as has changed between C-ute's debut and say, the 2010-2011 era. but I think quite a few things had changed.

Chiima: That was probably around the time the shuffles died, because Berryz had debuted when AFO&OFA was released. And MoMusu was kind of losing the public interest even then.

Steve: Yeah. So that conversation actually did come back to being on subject, haha. (Referencing to when *I* deviated from the topic at hand a bit earlier XD)

Chiima: It did!

But looking at Idol groups now, we very rarely see shuffle units produced, or when they are, pitted against each other. I mean, AKB48 and the sister groups are an example of this; their B-sides generally have shuffle units now, but they are very rarely used to go against each other.

Steve: Yeah, AKB has a really weird, passive way of handling that, too.

Chiima: In fact, AKB and the sister units have yet to go against each other in terms of CD sales.

Steve: With most of their groups they have these very weak, mostly inconsequential rivalries. Like with each single they have the B-sides by Team A, Team B, Team K, whatever, and like with NMB/SKE they have Shiroigumi/Akagumi. But they don't really seem to affect anything, and either way, no matter which one you buy, you're still buying an AKB/SKE/NMB CD.

Chiima: Exactly, but in the end, it always amounts to xxx48 as a whole, and no individual unit or group.

Steve: Yep.

Chiima: They do have another form of rivalry, which is their senbatsu system, which is good in a way, but also a bit brutal if you ask me. It seems unfair to the girls behind the scenes who are never noticed.

Steve: Yeah, that's a weird subject for me, I'm pretty jaded about it, haha.

Chiima: Though the Janken senbatsu can kind of change that... kind of.

Steve: And not just because I didn't like the results or something, I just really think there's more going on behind the scenes of senbatsu than what meets the eye or what we're told. We really have no way of telling whether or not a certain girl actually got that many votes besides from what AKS tells us - there's no 3rd party involved to verify that information like with something like Oricon.

I think they very carefully choose what girls are going to be on top and make up some excuses to sell more products and make fans feel like they're directly involved in the success of a certain girl or group.

Chiima: I do agree that there must be something going on behind the scenes, even with the Janken tournament, which is supposed to be random.

Steve: And senbatsu is a way of breaking news on decisions that people might not be happy with and having an excuse like "well, you voted for it!" if people complain.

Chiima: That's actually a good way to look at it, especially towards the fans who like to complain about things.

Steve: Yeah. It keeps people around, despite management making arguably shitty decisions.

Chiima: But really, I don't think the senbatsu is much of a rivalry towards the girls... it's more like a rivalry between the Wota to decide whose fans are willing to spend the most amount of money just to vote for one girl, to take centre stage in one single.

Steve: Yeah, exactly. But again, I think management pads those votes to fit their own agenda as well, but I guess that's also somewhat inconsequential here. And in the same way, even things like the Gumi groups, either way, you were still buying a Morning Musume-related product, but at least they were going head to head with a little more at stake, so to speak.

Chiima: Thing is, I would like to see more Idol groups really rival each other in things like CD sales right now like the Gumi groups did... I mean, I know some H!P fans have stated they would like to see MoMusu or all of H!P take on the Senbatsu system... but I don't, because it's just a way for fans to say 'my bias is better than yours'.

Steve: Different versions of the same main single is not the same as actually having 2 or more different groups doing different songs, etc.

Chiima: Exactly, it gives variety, and it shows what the fans personally enjoy.

Steve: Yeah, and even from the beginning, I think Idoling!!! management had things right in this respect.

Chiima: This is why Idoling!!!, though I rarely listen to them now, have actually impressed me by doing just this.

Steve: Since even in 2nd gen, they had shuffle groups that went head-to-head on releases. The NEO/Idoling!!! thing is actually the 3rd sub-unit rivalry they've had for the group.

Chiima: I think it's a good way to go about things, really. It's nice to see that there is a rivalry there, and that they are treating it like it truly is a rivalry, rather than having a separate unit singing the same song.

Steve: 2008 was the first one.

2009 was another one.

Chiima: I do want to see more of the bigger Idol units take this one, because it's a really fun concept if you ask me, and when done well you are given two great songs from two great groups. And it allows the fans to just have a chance to hear the girls individually, especially if the group is a giant like Idoling!!! is in terms of numbers.

Steve: And interestingly enough, the sales were actually very competitive between their previous rivalry attempts and yeah, more than anything, its a really good way to introduce people to the members in a more intimate way instead of just seeing the huge group all lumped together. So if anything, its putting a small investment out there to get people interested more specifically in certain members so those members can have more interesting activities in the future, if enough people are interested in them.

Steve: And really, as soon as I heard that Idoling!!! 6th gen was joining and that there were 5 more girls, my first thought was "wow, that's too many members, it'll be hard to even find anyone in the sea of members now".

Chiima: Exactly. Idoling!!! NEO was made up of the newest members and two of the best Idoling!!! singers, if I am correct? This allowed for the fans to really see what the new girls were made of, even though it seems a bit shocking to pit the newbs against such refined and talented older members. But I do think it was a good thing to do, because it allowed for us to see what these new girls were made of, whilst still allowing us to see what the Idoling!!! we know of is made of.

Steve: And apparently management thought the same thing, and I think they definitely made the right choice to separate 7 of them from the rest. It brings them back down to a more reasonable number in the main group, even though they often appear all together on the TV show, that's a whole different thing than music releases/PVs, etc. A TV show has a lot more ability to showcase certain girls and put the spotlight on them.

Chiima: It's a good decision, I do agree. And yeah, with PV's, you kind of get swamped in how many people there are. If you have ever watched Bakusute Sotokande Icchome's PV's, you really just get lost in how many members there are, and you can't pick any one out.

Especially in the tiny studios they film in.

Steve: Well, not 2 of the BEST Idoling!!! singers, but definitely the best from 4th gen, and I think I also understand that decision, since even before 6th gen, 4th and 5th gens were often kind of separated from 1-3rd gens on the show.

They were kinda viewed as the young generations and often appeared by themselves, so they looked at the girls they had from the "young" generations to see which ones would be best equipped to have their own project, and out of 4th and 5th gens, those 2 pretty much take the cake.

Chiima: I have no response to that XD I really don't.

Steve: 1st and 3rd gens technically have much more talented members than 4th or 5th, really, but they like to keep them as they are and wanted to keep this project "young".

Chiima: That's understandable.

Steve: I think that was the general concept here, hence the name NEO.

Chiima: But it makes for an interesting rivalry, with the youngsters going against the older members. I mean, you could say it is unfair depending on where you stand with these types of rivalry, like 'more talented' against 'less talented', though I think all Idols (in some way or another) are talented.

I mean, I like the idea of this rivalry. You have the refined and professional Idoling!!! against these raw, young and talented girls who have the energy that most new Idols have. They still have yet to become refined, but their enthusiasm is equal to none, which in itself is amazing

Steve: Yeah, I was going to comment on that.

Chiima: You basically have the best of both worlds rivalling each other.

Steve: Since the general age/image of idols has just been getting younger and younger recently, its interesting that they handled it this way, in essence, really is kinda pitting the "new" vs "old", as in a new style of popular idols or more traditional style of idols. Which is a little more "meta" in a way than just "here's this sub group vs. this sub group". They each have a somewhat distinct concept.

Chiima: I was actually rather taken aback when Idoling!!! introduced the new members, they seemed too young for the Idoling!!! I remembered, but they seem to have used all of the girls and their age differences well. They have even made the debut of the new girls pretty interesting.

Steve: Yeah, very true.

Chiima: Very few groups now have interesting debuts, actually.

Steve: True. I think they chose very specifically. of course idol producers always say "we're choosing girls that'll have an impact" or something of that nature. And oddly enough, just before the 6th gen auditions, Idoling!!!'s main producer stepped down and was replaced, but I think this time, the Idoling!!! producers truly did look further than just some face value elements for some girls who really would make a difference in some way and if they chose the girls strongly enough to make the NEO debut as interesting as it already is, I think they actually withheld their promise.

Chiima: To be honest, even the rivalry in getting into a certain Idol group has gone down, if you think about it thanks to the Idol Boom, any young girl with a cute face can become an 'Idol'.

Steve: Exactly.

Chiima: Heck, even the factor of watching an Idol grow into a talented young individual has gone out of the window. As long as a group or girl has a gimmick, they can become an Idol.

Steve: Especially since they've already been doing the TV show for so long, which focuses so much more on interesting personalities, I think they were looking much further into the auditions to find girls who actually were more unique, not just another cute face. Yeah, you're definitely right about that.

Chiima: When I saw all of the girls for Idoling!!! 6th gen, my initial thoughts were that they were cute, but not all of them were stand-out cute, like most Idols are now.

Steve: Very true, and oddly enough, I think a lot of fans weren't too happy about the 4th and 5th gen auditions of idoling for a while.

Chiima: I mean, most Idols now, unless you are in BiS that is, are based around your looks and/or gimmick rather than your talent. This is why Stardust Promotions do so well, I guess. They have cute, bat-shit crazy kids.

Steve: Sooo true. 4th gen was completely arbitrary by the staff, and I honestly think its the weakest gen of all, besides the 2 girls that got chose for NEO.

Chiima: Some fans are pretty set in their ways, I think. Especially if it has been so long since the last audition.

Steve: And 5th gen, they tried an AKB-style "let the fans vote" thing and even though, in the same way as AKB, that makes fans feel empowered, some fans felt sort of "betrayed" by management, because they prefer the group to be more of their own thing, and more the product of management's caring hand.

Chiima: I can understand that, it's as if you are saying 'we don't want to choose, we don't know who to choose' etc...

Steve: So when they took a step to make it more like AKB, even in that little way, some fans were like "this isn't AKB...why are they doing it this way?" Right. Fans had confidence in management to make good decisions, so when they turned that back on the fans to make the decisions, they weren't too happy. Maybe just stuck in their ways, but I could understand why, especially since, as I say pretty often, their management generally does seem to actually make good decisions, not just ones that'll make the most money or suit their own agenda or are completely pandering to fans.

While of course they still try to make fans happy, they don't do it in a disgusting, pandering kind of way like most idols do.

Chiima: I think if Idoling!!!'s management were in it for the money, they would be a lot more gimmicky, and would probably try to collab with AKB once again just to get known, rather than just honestly doing what they do now.

Steve: The staff and management of Idoling!!! is actually kind of like a closely-knit family, not just like an informal business-like relationship. The staff members are actually pretty well known on the show and even appear on the girls' blogs and social media pictures and such, so it generates a genuine relationship of trust and care, and I've heard from a lot of Japanese fans, that's why they stick with the group like they do.

Chiima: Well if you are working with them a lot, like most Idols do with their managements, it does make sense to become close to the people who work with them.

Steve: Good point, with the AKB collab thing.

Yeah, that's the thing, is they're very open about this and have that very close co-worker kind of relationship where you can tell they actually care about each other, and not in a creepy "love interest" kind of way but a real, human care kind of way. I just feel and have felt from the beginning that this is what draws me (and a lot of other fans, from conversations I've had) to the group.

Where most idols strive to be as transparent and marketable as possible, they have a more down to earth kind of feeling. Its like yes, they're idols, but there's a little more substance to that.

Chiima: With major Idol groups though that are really popular, that sense of fakeness and transparency is rather popular with the fans.

Steve: Yeah, that's the weird thing.

Chiima: Which is sad, but it's true. I guess the fans like personalities that are overly manufactured because it paints a more positive picture of a female and what that person wants in a female.

Steve: That's exactly right.

Chiima: Rather than actually looking at the Idol with all her flaws, and accepting her for that. The idea of perfection is so tempting for them, which is why Idols such as Suzuki Kanon, the *fat* one in MoMusu, or a girl like Ikuta Erina, who is annoying and not as perfect as people want her to be, are less than appealing.

Steve: And I've touched on that in a lot of my recent articles, too.

Chiima: They don't have that sense of perfection like girls who are quiet like Mizuki Fukumura and Maeda Atsuko are because, at the end of the day, they are a reminder that Idols are humans as well.

Steve: That's what I like so much about groups like Idoling!!! and Denpagumi, they focus on the flaws more than anything and that's what I love, and also why I love the opportunities I've had so far to interview and talk to some of these idols.

Chiima: I think that BiS do well in that area too, though they look at the weird and wonderful aspects that they can distort.

Steve: Because it lets you look behind what you see on the outside and see them for what they really are, as human beings.

Very right about BiS. The way they handle their stuff is a little too much on that side of weird and "exploitable" though i still like them a bit.

Chiima: BiS do exploit what they do, but they do it so well. At least, they exploit themselves better than Kyary, who is just a marketing billboard now.

But even an Idol like Sashihara Rino, who is from one of the most manufactured groups in Japan right now, is interesting - but she's very realistic and blunt, which makes her a lot more relate-able than other Idols out there. I mean, I like my manufactured Idols and all, but my favourites are generally the girls who have a lot more bite to them than the Potato Idols of Society.

Steve: And it's not like I'm trying to be an agent of espionage and break down the illusions that idols put up to bring them down or something, but I like being able to reiterate to fans that what you see is not exactly as it is.

Chiima: I do agree with that. But it's like, for some fans (not all), what you see is what you 'get', you know? Like, originally I thought Iikubo Haruna was sweet and quiet girl, but actually, she's apparently quite gross in her nature and a weirdo. Regardless of that though, I still adore her, more so for her weirdness than her looks now, but I did originally like her for what she looked like and the attitude I thought she had and what she was probably originally going to be portrayed with.

Steve: What do you mean by the "what you see is what you get"?

Chiima: Basically, how the girls are originally marketed, especially in audition videos. Obviously, I am going off of Hello! Project audition footage here.

Steve: That's interesting too, that's another way that Idoling!!! is also a bit different in that respect. I don't think we had this conversation before.

Chiima: Girls are generally shown in a certain light when footage is produced, like how Iikubo Haruna was shown as a crybaby who was working hard to try and be in MoMusu (which did result in her being a 10ki) or how Masaki was this... diamond in the rough who needed a haircut or something.

Riho is portrayed as the quiet one, and pretty much still is, and this is basically the personality we see or think about, because that is how everything is marketed, but girls like Ikuta Erina or Sashihara Rino just market themselves differently to most other Idols. Yeah, they have a gimmick, but they come off a lot more realistic than the girls who try to fit the stereotype of a quiet, cute girl who doesn't want the spotlight.

(To be Continued in Part 2...)

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