Editors note: The following is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of the other Selective Hearing staff, its affiliates and/or partners.

After what I saw as a hugely successful and innovative year for Japanese idols in 2013, I was very much looking forward to see what 2014 had to offer, and I’d even say I had a bit of optimism for it, which is somewhat rare for me when it comes to music or entertainment in general.

By about four or five months into 2014, a good amount of the idols who had great releases in 2013 were either stagnant with few or zero releases, or simply releasing some disappointing material. By those few months into the year, I was ready to start diving further into the idol stuff that required a little more digging and was more on the indie or underground level, to catch up on what I had missed since the beginning of the year to see if there were any gems under the surface.

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This is where things started to feel a little different. While there have been a lot of new idols hitting the scene since the recent boom started around late 2010 or so and it has been steadily increasing in frequency, it feels like in early 2014, it hit a boiling point. The industry is so hyper-active and so full of itself right now that there’s nearly a new idol project started in Japan for each of the 365 days of the year. Not only this, but it also feels like a good majority of the new things that are hitting the market now are blatant copies of something else that came out within the last few years or are just trying to cash in on the phenomenon of the current idol boom merely for the sake of it, because they think it’s a quick profit.

There’s an epidemic of carbon copies and projects that are very apparently just trying to ride on the coattails of other projects’ successes and capitalize on some of the business and fans from something that’s getting bigger exposure instead of trying something new (the tired “metal idols” bandwagon seems especially popular this year.) For me personally, this has made the vast majority of new idols I discovered this year very uninteresting, as they seem to be churned out quickly to capitalize on the success of something else before people lose interest, and often much too fast to devote the appropriate time and resources it takes to create good music and quality content.

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Much to the dismay of many of these new idol projects, it seems that fans aren’t always so willing to drop their money and attention to follow some of the new copycats, as 2014 has already set a record for the amount of idols who have graduated from their projects and groups that have disbanded. Here is a comprehensive list of idol graduations, gathered from deep searches of idol blogs, websites, and news for the year 2014. The current tally, as of September, is at almost 450 idol graduations (or confirmed graduation announcements) and there’s still 3 months left in the year.

We haven’t seen turnover numbers even close to this since the late 1980s, when there was a similar boom in the idol industry and new idols were being debuted at a frenzied rate and scrapped just as quickly as they appeared. If history truly does repeat itself, all signs point to the idea that we’re going to have a repeat of the late 1980s fairly soon, when the market became grossly oversaturated, the industry collapsed on itself and idols were mostly forced back to underground niche markets while other forms of mainstream entertainment took center stage for Japan in the early 1990s. I’ve seen some writers predicting what they’re calling an “Idol Ice Age” for the near future (the name speaks for itself,) which doesn’t seem too unbelievable right now.

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The industry in 2014 has given me a strong deja vu feeling of this horrible oversaturation, and especially when the quality and value seems to be dropping off, it makes the industry as a whole a lot harder to enjoy. It makes searching for new things to enjoy more and more time-consuming and difficult when the market is being bombarded with new products, and especially when most of those products are rushed out with no regard for quality (yes, idols are products.) I’m sure many will argue “the more the merrier,” but I beg to differ, especially in the case of pop music/idols.

I’ve heard predictions and rumblings that there’s going to be a lot of big changes concerning the major mainstream idol groups in 2015 (the accuracy or relevancy of which I can’t exactly speak for) and I think some of these stale old groups dissolving or slowing down their activities would be the first step to the industry actually becoming interesting again. It would stop giving the illusion that idols are truly popular with the mainstream just because their CD (handshake ticket) sales are really high, and as a result, likely stop the incoming flood of new idol projects in their wake. With Tsunku on “indefinite hiatus” right now and most of the remains of early 48G idols falling to the wayside with drastically declining sales or calling it quits entirely, it’s hard to say what kind of year 2015 will really be for the big names.

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This isn’t to say there hasn’t been any good new idol music in 2014, but there’s far less than there was in 2013, to the point that I’m even having trouble finding enough good releases to go in a top releases list for my wrap-up this year, yet, in 2013, I had too many good releases and had to trim the list down a lot. A number of projects I enjoyed were also put to an end this year (or at least announced to end) including AeLL, BiS, Watarirouka Hashiritai, and Berryz Kobou, just to name a few. While that’s a bit discouraging, the idol industry has always been a revolving door, and I’ve always moved on after my recent favorites were gone.

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I know these kinds of statements and writings have become pretty common in the idol communities the last number of years, usually being tagged as “doom and gloom,” and I’m sure most people will dismiss this writing as merely that, but this is more of a personal statement of where I’m at and where I feel the industry is going with some of the trends I’ve noticed. This year has made me lose a lot of interest in following the industry as a whole, and I’d very much like to see it die down and go back to a more reasonable level of releases and new projects or even underground if necessary, which I had already stated in my assessment of the industry from a solo idol focus last year.

This isn’t the first time that the idol industry has made me lose interest this severely, as I had paid almost no attention to idols from around 2005 to 2007, when the quality and variety of what was hitting the market were both very low. The market did manage to get gradually more interesting after that huge lull, and I’m hoping that’s what will happen this time around as well, but who knows if, when, or how it will happen; only time will tell.

Until next time, hopefully things will straighten themselves out and the industry will make itself appealing to me again, otherwise, I’ll stay in my backseat here and watch what happens from more of a distance. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing, I’m just distancing myself from being so involved in the idol scene for a while.

 

Comments

  • ijikawa September 9, 2014 at 3:22 am

    Hello! I am from Japan. I read this article interestingly and am surprised that your interest in idols seems to fade away especially from this year because on the contrary I am even more into idol music than ever now. From what you write I guess your taste in idols focus on mainly major idols.

    I have a bit biased taste in minor or lesser-known idol groups. There are so many idols not appearing on the Tokyo Idol Festival stage.

    I even pay attention to lesser-known but promising idols I think. If you close look at minor scene, you might discover something interesting.

    In my opinion recent idol boom for several years are unprecedented compared with that of around 1980s because there are a lot of non-Tokyo-based idol groups. If my memory is correct, 80s idols are mostly made up of Tokyo based major ones, and indie idols are relatively rare. This time aroud now, so called “gotouchi or local idol”(which I dislike the wording because I feel this word makes their possibility to national entity less likely.)thrive in almost every prefectures. But That doesn’t means they are“mass production of inferior goods”I suppose.

    Last but not least, every man has his own taste, so in the end nobody persuade you to stay in keeping your interest in idols. Thank you for reading this long, awkward post.

    • Steve Summers September 9, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      I definitely can’t discredit your opinion, as it is your opinion, but I do pay a lot of attention to the lesser-known or local idol groups in the industry, and I do find things I enjoy from time to time, but it seems like the quality of even the local idols has diminished lately in 2014, but of course, this is my opinion.

      I know there are tons of idols that don’t even make it to the level of TIF appearance, as many of them are starting to release their music online through YouTube or other outlets, so it’s easier to get access to many of them, even if you don’t live in Japan.

      The boom right now does feel a little different than the 1980s one, in the way you described, though it seems a common trend from what I’ve observed (and stated in this writing) that especially with smaller or local idol groups, they have a much higher failure or turnover rate, as they cannot sustain themselves for too long without having a wider audience to support them financially. While the indie productions are often very interesting, they have a much more grim fate than those idols with a bigger financial backing.

      Thanks for reading and your thoughts.

  • Derek Vasconi September 10, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    HI Steve,
    You know, 99% of the time, I would say you are on point with everything you write. I really enjoy and love reading your opinions. I would say that I even value them highly, as I’ve joined the idol world over the past several years and can sort of see what you are saying. It seems like there’s a new idol group you hear about every other second popping up from the woodworks, so to speak. For me, I’ve always been a die hard Perfume fan (can’t wait for the NY AND LA SHOWS! WOO HOO!), but I would hardly call them Idols. Maybe a throwback to the Showa style idols, but they were my gateway into the Japanese music world. Since them, I have come to love and adore so many Japanese artists, and especially and almost unequivocably the idols groups of note.
    My favorite is of course the AKB family. I would have to say this is where I think you might be seeing a lot of the saturation come from. AKB became this FORCE OF NATURE over the past six years or so, and as a result, people want to cash in. I would say it’s no different than when Nirvana toppled the 80’s hair metal world, it seemed, overnight. I still remember when Nevermind topped Michael Jackson at number one back in the early 90’s. Next thing you know, EVERYONE was starting a grunge band, trying to cash in on the success of Nirvana and all the Seattle grungers. However,
    I think the idol world is always going to thrive and won’t go through another Ice Age. The reasons for this are too numerous to list here, but I’ll just briefly state a few that come to mind which I feel are the biggest:
    1. For starters, there isn’t THAT big of a decline in sales. AKB STILL clears about a million sales of a single, give or take. That’s not a small number to sneeze at. They are everywhere, in every commercial it seems, on every billboard, have about fifty tv programs, do variety shows on Japan mainichi, and basically are the rulers not just of Akiba anymore but EVERY city in Japan. Everyone knows them. You can’t walk even out of Narita Airport without seeing them someplace. So honestly, to have that all go away, even if it’s in an Ice Age like fashion, is going to take a VERY LONG TIME. Aki-p knows what he’s doing, and as long as AKB is going strong, I think the other idol groups will follow suit.
    2. Morning Musume is still around. You might think this has nothing to do with the idol trend continuing but I think, as icons of the idol world and some would say the most important idols EVER to come out of Japan (I’m a huge Tsunku fun so sue me lol), the fact that they are coming to America, still doing music sales and are generally part of the everyday consciousness of the average Japanese individual… that’s another HUGE beacon of light that keeps shining, despite their many graduations, scandals, and in their case, declining sales of albums and interest. They are still there. This, to me, is proof that once an idol group really gets their feet planted in Japan, it’s hard to see them disappear so easily.
    3. There will always be imitatiors of anything worth checking out in any genre of creative pursuits, but I liken the idol industry to the movie industry…. there are going to be ups and downs and right now, the idol world is in a full upswing. The fact that there are so MANY imitators now surely does saturate the market, no questions about it, but to the average idol lover or the otaku extraordinaire who adores all idols, this isn’t a bad thing by any means. It means more chances to find new talent to love, and more chances to find a way to escape on any given day or night. I would KILL to have this in America, where I can walk down the street of my local town and find somebody doing an idol show. I would support it whole-heartedly.
    I say this too because I was in a band for ten years and toured the world and was lucky enough to headline shows and play to thousands of kids every night. BUT I never once looked down or felt that because the opening acts for us were often local kids wanting to sound just like us that this was a sign of the end times, or that people would lose interest in what WE were doing. On the contrary, we were in a fortunate position to INSPIRE people to do the same as us, and in doing so, we created a family of friends that way who all enjoyed the same music. Whether they played what we were playing or not didn’t matter… it was the fact that they celebrated the style and culture we were part of. THAT is what kept it going year after year for us. And so I think the same is for the idol world, just as it is for movies, just as it is for other styles of music that have huge followings, and so on.
    If anything, I predict that the idol industry will MORPH into something better, more larger, and more stable. I see this boom not as asomething that will peak and dissipate, but will give birth to something very solid that will consistently churn out interesting idols and appeal to fans who won’t get tired of them, much like the movie industry is established, or hardcore/metal music is established (which I was part of ), much like anything worth anything in life gets established.
    Sorry for such a long post. I love ya for everything you write Steve, but I encourage you to look at what’s going on as a step into something even bigger, if you can believe that, not as the high point before the fall. The idol world has a purity on the surface that all of us normal losers need in our lives everyday. When we see on the news people getting beheaded, politicians lying blatantly to our faces, the world basically going to hell in a handbasket, idols keep us sane and happy. And I think now, more than ever, this world being as stupid as it is, we need idols, and I think that need will grow exponentially as the world turns more and more violent and extreme. You feel me?
    peace Steve. Keep up the great work!