Idol Industry in 2014: When Will Enough be Enough?

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


About Steve 88 Articles
Steve is a contributor and resident music nerd for Selective Hearing, specializing in Japanese idol industry commentary and coverage. A lifetime musician, film lover, journalist, video game fanatic, philosophy enthusiast, and idol aficionado. A dweller of the idol scene since the late 1990s, he loves to discuss industry trends and ideas, past or present.