As 2012 draws to a close, the doomsday nutcases continue to predict the end of the world and insist that nothing will ever be the same. Time to grab my emergency supply of Puccho candy, melonpan and Yasai vegetable drinks (can’t forget my precious Tenga either) and prepare to spend the rest of my life in the basement (like I don’t do that enough already). Interestingly enough, many parallel, idol-related opinions have been floating around this year consisting of stuff like “The age of AKB is over,” “The world truly must be ending if this is how men carry idols through the streets these days,” and more seriously, “The age of idols as we know them is coming to an end.”
Is there any truth to this claim? Well, I’ll present the facts, claims, quotes and opinions collected from the events that have happened recently, briefly analyze them and leave that decision up to you. At this point, all we have is speculation, but there is definitely no doubt that there is something interesting, possibly industry-altering that has and is happening in the fandom that we all enjoy.
#1: Rise Of Genre-Mixing
Within the past couple of years, several groups have captivated the idol music scene with unique, successful blending of J-Pop and a radically different genre, the notables being BiS, Lyrical School, and BABYMETAL. This concept has seen rising commercial success and has even captured a sizable audience overseas as well. With this emerging trend possibly poised to begin producing even more similarly-minded groups such as Rhymeberry and Alice Juban, will we see groups in the future that mix hip-hop, metal and other genres top the Oricon charts?
#2: EDM Virus
Electronic dance music’s presence isn’t a new one in J-Pop, but idol music specifically has generally been rooted in a blend of 80’s music and bubblegum pop, retaining its retro sound. However, it seems as if not even idol music could escape the influx of EDM, with the two biggest idol group production companies, AKS and Hello!Project succumbing to its irresistible beat. Although AKB48’s ‘Beginner’ dabbled in trance a little bit, it’s generally agreed that Morning Musume took the first plunge with ‘Renai Hunter’, following up with ‘One Two Three’ and ‘Wakuteka Take A Chance’. AKS has also produced songs such as ‘Nante Bohemian’, ‘Show Fight!’, and ‘UZA’ that experiment with everything from trance and house to dubstep. American pop has been in this niche for a while and so has K-Pop, with J-Pop idol music being the general exception amongst the three. Is this simply a temporary style change in attempts of attracting the more beat-driven fans or is it a permanent marketing strategy that is now being used to stay on top of the constantly evolving music industry?
#3: Love-Ban Law Conspiracy Theory
Easily the most debatable subject of the three, it is pretty obvious that strange things, mostly within the AKS groups, have been happening regarding love and scandal. The amount of scandals both big and small that have happened due to ‘innocent sleepovers’ or ‘mysterious boyfriends’ have reached a record high for AKS this year. Punishments dealt seem unusual given the gravity of the situation. Kitahara Rie has been sent off to live with a bunch of horny males in a house with a terrace. No matter how you look at it, you can’t help but think, “Wow, there are definitely too many scandals occurring, too many rules being broken, too much weird stuff that is happening way too frequently. What’s going on here? I can’t believe this is happening \(°O°)/.”
So what is happening?
As modern idol tunes are being updated with the latest sounds and beats from the EDM craze, it seems that the cardinal idol rule may be changing as well (at least for AKS). One of the chief criticisms of the idol industry is the enforcement of the love-ban rule in maintaining a fantasy between an idol and her wota. Many fans would even concede that this is a somewhat antiquated idea, but nevertheless an idol knows the rules when she auditions and should follow them during her tenure. This brings us to the fundamental shift in our perspective of idols from the beginning of 2012 to present, or…the end of the idol world.
To fully grasp how there’s a conspiratorial nature to the banning of love rule, we must look back to the last genuine scandal in the AKB world, and the plights of Hirajima Natsumi and Yonezawa Rumi. Since most of us remember what transpired a short summary is all that’s necessary here. January 2012, Yone-chan, who was roommates with Nacchan, broke up with her boyfriend, got on a flight to Singapore, and the world discovered that Yone-chan was a dirty, dirty cook.
What hurt the most with this scandal was Nacchan being an original member of AKB and Team A; she of all people should have known better. Adding to the emotional impact of the situation was Aki-P’s reaction on G+.
Aki-P’s response to the Yone-chan/Nacchan scandal seemed genuine and heartfelt as he lamented the differences between society’s rules and the idol rules. It’s around this time I believe Aki-P decided it was time for idol subculture to start catching up to the 21st century.
Fast forward to June, Sashihara Rino, the apple of Aki-P’s eye has recently released a solo debut, finds herself landing in the midst of the Kami 7 in the General Election and is currently preparing for an idol extravaganza show which she is also producing. Suddenly, the unthinkable occurs. Some upstart tabloid releases grainy photos and a story from a “Mr. A” alleging a wota boyfriend, aggressive sex, and other improprieties. Sasshi’s stirring rebuttal amounted to, “Some of it’s true, but some of it isn’t.” The time was rife with speculation, anger, and disbelief, but we all know how Sasshi was punished by being transferred to HKT so she could appear on even more TV shows.
The next blip on the radar occurred right before the Tokyo Dome concert where 5 prominent HKT members were summarily dismissed due to accusations of inappropriate conduct on G+ and for having sleepovers with fans. The timing for this was especially strange since Sashihara had just joined the group, and this riled some fans as being inconsistent. With this fresh in our minds Takamina was promoted at the TD concert to general manager, with one of her chief responsibilities being that of handling scandals among the entire ***48 family.
With a new general manager we began to see a new attitude towards “scandalous” behavior. A graduated Acchan let it all hang out on a rumored group date with Yuko and Harugon, which AKS reported was an approved celebration. Likewise, when Sato Amina and Chikano Rina had their own little get together with a couple guys AKS management claimed to have approved this activity. Incidents which in the past would have resulted in suspensions or dismissals were suddenly being declared as okay. The only repercussion for these girls was an apology to fans for being careless and causing us to worry.
This all culminated with the very recently graduated Masuda Yuka, who freely admitted to spending the night in a male co-star’s apartment, albeit rather harshly friendzoning him. She not only performed several more stage shows, but received a formal graduation ceremony at AKB’s Kouhaku event. Compare this to a hapless Yonezawa Rumi in January of this year getting off a plane in Singapore shortly before a scheduled performance and not being allowed to perform.
2012 was admittedly a rough year for AKB, but perhaps not in the way we fans think. While many might point to the scandals of the year and claim how they have damaged AKB’s reputation, I can’t help but look at this year as the beginning of a transition. Not just post-Atsuko but in a way…post-idol, that is, assuming Aki-P is a brilliant mastermind who intends for AKB to achieve successful longevity beyond what any other idol group has managed. Perhaps, Aki-P recognized the love ban as a hindrance to idols truly becoming mainstream artists and engineered nearly every “scandal” to prepare the way for them. Perhaps it’s something as simple as needing something to talk about in the next documentary. Either way, it seems that AKS is challenging the oldest idol rule of all, who knows…maybe idols fart too.
Our Final Hours
As the clock of 2012 ticks down to the last final seconds before we enter 2013, we have to take a moment to look at the changes that happened this year. Whether they be fantastic, subtle, or insignificant, what occurred this year might signal how the next year will play out. So before you retreat to your underground bunkers and prepare for a life spent polishing your idol memorabilia, tell the community what’s on your mind. Do you think that these changes listed above will be prevalent in the years to come? Were they fads that will soon fade from our memories? Or are there some patterns not stated here that you recognized and you believe will soon become known? Sound off in the comments!
Cowritten by Chase Lim and Steven Henderson.
Steven’s Twitter: @texasbullnettle
Chase’s Twitter: @starlancerpg