Community Article: Is Indonesia Ready

Today we have another guest article from our community! Malcolm, known around these parts as SleepyOta, asks important questions about JKT48 and if it will have the impact in Indonesia that it needs:

As you may have noticed, Japanese idol groups, most notably AKB48, have been branching out into other parts of Asia. AKB has frequently performed overseas and there is already a prominent fan community outside of Japan. Currently, most of the focus has been in South-East Asia. AKB48’s involvement has escalated to the point that there is now an AKB theater in Singapore which hosts performances every month and a new 48 group has been established in Jakarta, Indonesia named JKT48.

I feel as though I should put in my two cents. I live in Malaysia which has a similar culture to Indonesia. Also, I feel like I would receive much more exposure to JKT48 than someone in the States. I have a bit of knowledge of how pop culture works in SEAsia so I might have a different view on the project.

First things first, I must address the question: Is there even an interest in Japanese culture? I would say yes. Japanese culture especially otaku culture has a strong following in SEAsia. In Malaysia, magazines can be seen in every retailer with translations of popular manga into the local languages. Also, popular anime are shown on the television sometimes even with the original Japanese dub. Otaku culture is big in SEAsia so this might be in JKT’s favor.

But is the interest in Japanese music large enough to sustain a music group under Japanese management? That I am unsure about. Right now, in SEAsia and other parts of Asia, there is a much larger interest in Korean music. The following in SEAsia is absolutely huge and just about every teenage girl here has some sort of interest in K-pop. K-pop is played on the radio constantly, given a lot of airtime on local television and sometimes artists perform at the same venues as popular American and local artists. This popularity can be attributed to the fact that American music has been in the region for a long time. K-pop being essentially American pop with Korean lyrics was able to assimilate very easily to what SEAsians were already listening to.

On the contrast, you do not hear a lot of Japanese music here. Rarely have I heard a Japanese song on the radio. While Japanese music videos are in fact shown on TV, they are usually only the openings or endings to popular anime. Simply put, Japanese music is extremely different from other countries’ music. It follows its own path and does not try to mimic popular international artists. Being so different, it is hard for foreigners to swallow unless they have a genuine interest in Japanese culture. Just being an anime fan sometimes doesn’t cut it.

Despite this, it is not impossible for there to be a following for JKT or other idol groups. Recently there has been a new idol group hailing from SEAsia. They call themselves Sea☆A and the members are all South-East Asian (3 from Singapore and 1 from Malaysia). They have been gaining some popularity and their second single is even the ending for the anime, Toriko. You can check out their second single, Deli-Deli Delicious below.

My opinion is that it is possible for JKT to be a success in SEAsia. However, they have to get past a lot of obstacles to get there especially the stigma that Japan is just for anime and videogames. Furthermore, Japanese music currently does not have a place in the mainstream SEAsian music scene and JKT must find a way to appeal to the masses. JKT can do it but it’s going to be very very hard.

So, those are my thoughts. What do you guys think? Can idols make it big in SEAsia or even in Western countries? Are you interested in JKT? Leave your responses in the comments.


About Dae Lee

-Dae, aka Mizu -Writer, broadcaster, and podcaster on New School Kaidan

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