What Other Fandoms Can Teach Us About Idols

This is an article I wrote for Idol Minded. It was an open assignment for anyone to try to  and luckily it was accepted on the site. It is presently available for viewing there but for the benefit of those who read Selective Hearing most of the time I decided to post it here as well.

As always the opinions stated are my own and do not represent those of the other Selective Hearing staff.

What our outside interests can teach us about idol fandom.

We as a community of idol fans are well-rounded individuals with many other interests in life. What most of us have in common is sports. I say most of us because not everyone watches sports & maybe only some tune into them when the Olympics come around out of national pride and/or obligation.

Team Loyalty

I’m sure you have your favorite sports teams & much like any idol group you obediently scoop up any merchandise they whore out to you. Gotta represent those team colors & let the world know who’s the best right? In the idol world we all know that the majority of groups have some sort of color coding system that every wota adheres to when choosing their favorite members. When you go to concerts, fan events you rep the color of your girl as a way of showing support.

Just like your favorite sports team how one goes about representing and the degree of this expression of fandom can vary greatly. You can be subtle and just wear a jersey and hat or you can go all out and be one of those painted shirtless guys with writing all over your face. For example, there is a football team in the Canadian Football League (the CFL for short) called the Saskatchewan Roughriders who have an insanely loyal following in their home province and all over Canada.

These fans are easily recognizable by their green and white colors which they proudly display along with wearing watermelons on their heads. Yes, these people wear hollowed out watermelons on their heads as part of the expression of their fandom. I shit you not. Of course an idol fan would also go as far as to drape themselves in their favorite member’s color as a show of love. Would body paint be involved? I’m not sure shirtless guys with kanji on their guts would get past security at an idol event.

Still, if you’ve been fortunate enough to attend an idol concert you can see many adornments such as glow sticks and the like that are easily visible to those on the stage. Not exactly a watermelon hat but it works. How to represent is not the lesson I would like you all to take away from organized sport. I believe that what all idol fans should take away from sports is this one harsh bit of a reality check:

Your team will eventually lose all its stars and will suck for an undetermined amount of time but will eventually get better. Or at least one would hope they will.

The statement above is something many sports & idol fans cannot accept. When you become accustomed to a certain level of excellence the eventual decline into mediocrity is a bitter pill to swallow. I will use my own hockey fandom to illustrate this. I am a born and bred Edmonton Oilers fan & I have been fortunate to see all 5 Stanley Cup winning teams play & win the big prize. Over the years the team has fallen from being an elite squad others feared to play against and has become easy point bottom feeders among the NHL’s laughing stocks.

I know many Oiler fans who expected the current roster to break the 6 year drought of missing the playoffs after the miraculous cup run in 2006. Given that the roster consists of our most skilled playmaker spending more time in a hospital bed and a defense that has more holes in it than swiss cheese; and a goalie that is beyond his prime that just isn’t going to happen. An early golf season awaits my favorite hockey team. This brings me to Hello! Project’s flagship group Morning Musume. A once proud and unstoppable group of idols who won the public’s favor with their charms. In their prime they could do no wrong.

Now? They consist of the aging (in Idol years) remains of the 5th to 8th generations and the very young (on average) group of rookies of the 9th & 10th generations. With this comes the pressure to live up to the Musume name and its past glories. In recent times Morning Musume have slowly eliminated any and all personality and vocal talent from the group leaving only Tanaka and Sayashi to bear the vocal heavy lifting for the time being and Michishige as the only recognizable personality to the general public.

The realistic view is that both organizations are full of raw, young talent, and yet they still suck. The Oilers will take at least another two or three years to mature into a contending team and it will probably take Morning Musume even longer to get even close to being what they once were back in their glory days.

Perhaps another lesson to take from this is to be patient. Your favorite’s time will come through hard work, perseverance and hopefully good management of assets. In the Japanese idol world we all know that the life cycle of a group is very short and few manage to maintain any sort of momentum for more than a few years at best. Entities like Johnny’s, Hello! Project and AKB are a rarity but even they end up taking a few steps back before taking their place back on top of the mountain.

At the moment AKB are considered to be the queen bees of female idol groups. Surpassing the former rulers from Hello! Project, in particular the flagship group Morning  Musume. Those who have endured the so called “idol wars” probably have accepted or conceded that H!P has kind of lost it.

There are a myriad of reasons that the tables have turned (which will not be discussed here) but the point is that some long-time Hello! Project fans are growing disgruntled with the current product citing lack of innovation or in more crude terms, the same old shit. With the many changes made to Morning Musume and S/Mileage and the maturation of the “kids” groups and improved use of existing, underused talent it appears that H!P is starting to be competitive again.

The level-headed among the fans preach patience and the circle of life will once again bring things back into the favor of the former top dogs or maybe another up and coming group will be blessed to surpass both H!P & AKB & bring the idol genre to greater heights. Who knows?

Fact vs. Fiction

Let’s continue with another one of my personal interests, professional wrestling. Sure, it’s not categorized as a real sport per se but it sure is damn entertaining isn’t it?

Those of us who are wrestling fans know that there are many larger than life personalities in the squared circle. Each has their own appeal to the fans. I happen to like those who can work the mic like Chris Jericho or CM Punk and great ring technicians like Bret Hart and Curt Henning who speak more with their actions than their words.

In idol land there are also an abundance of personalities to choose from. There are ultra-cute girls like Watanabe Mayu and Suzuki Airi and extremely annoying, attention whore cute like Tsugunaga Momoko. Or you can go with the hot leader types such as Nakazawa Yuko or Takahashi Minami. Or maybe your thing is a spaced out kind of chick like Iida Kaori or Kojima Haruna. Maybe you’re into the more boyish types like Yoshizawa Hitomi or Miyazawa Sae. Whatever your taste is, there’s a lot to choose from. The point of all this banter is this:

It isn’t real. Don’t take everything so damn seriously.

Look wrestlers and idols play up character types to entice the fans. It’s a part of their job to keep you interested and hopefully that translates to sales and increased loyalty to the overall brand. I know a few people who are probably a few cents short of a dollar who think that how these people portray themselves on TV is how they are in real life.

Most of us have the common sense to realize that everything is an act but for the unfortunate few who buy wholeheartedly into these personas please chill out.  It’s probably easy pickings to harp on wrestling fans about the blurring the line of fantasy and reality. And to be honest, other than little kids, most adult wrestling fans know that the entire show is like watching a bunch of actors living out their childhood hero/villan stories from comic books and cartoons.

Still there are those who totally believe that John Cena is superman and you can’t see him. Or that Kane actually is a guy who was badly burnt in a fire started by his “brother” the Undertaker or that Kofi Kingston is Jamaican. With a bit of persuasion these people usually come around to a more sensible way of thinking that doesn’t shatter their fantasy completely.

Idol fans on the other hand don’t seem to grasp that concept as easily. Those who “buy in” are so completely blinded by their devotion that they can’t even tell when someone is “on” or if they’re not. It doesn’t help that many behind the scenes videos play up the fantasy more than the reality.

I’m not saying that the behind the scenes videos aren’t great and informative but they only show one side of the coin and that’s the side that displays the talent in the most positive and appealing light. That is subjective as well, since in wrestling some fans like the heels more than the faces. Some idol fans also play against the accepted types and enjoy those who may not have a popular character at all.

And if you don’t like a certain idol’s character type it’s okay to complain about it but don’t think that is what the real person is actually like in their daily private lives. Take some time to take your wota blinders off for a few minutes so you can see that many are not like the character types they portray in public.

The best recent example of this has been the AKB48 To Be Continued documentary. If you have watched it you can tell that there is a distinct difference between the characters that these girls play on stage and who they really are when they’re not working.

It’s a rarity to see in backstage footage like this to be honest. Especially for H!P fans who get fed a daily overdose of forced genki instead of anything close to who these girls may really be behind all the glitz and glamour of idol life.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t devote yourself to your idol(s) completely and with all your heart. I encourage it, if that is your intention. What I would like you to take away from this is that if you are going to be “all in” keep a small grip on reality and realize that not everything that gets pushed to you is the real deal. Simply enjoy them as they were intended to be and that is mindless entertainment from the doldrums of your daily existence or a distraction from the grind of life.

Taking everything they do as seriously as if YOUR LIFE depended on it isn’t exactly the healthiest of attitudes. In fact it will probably do you more harm than good in the end.

About Greg 994 Articles
Greg is the creator, administrator, editor, code monkey, overlord and general jack of all trades at Selective Hearing. He can be found lurking among the overseas Asian pop fandom and bumming around Japan every year for some reason or another.