(Looks like my new blog is going to take some more time to complete. Posting this one here, will move it to the other side once it is ready...)
It has been a long time. A REALLY long time, since I last wrote an article of any worth. Life got in the way of a lot of things and I took a long break from the blogosphere. I went from being a young bachelor building his career and being an avid wota in the idol world, to now a married man preparing to purchase my very own apartment. Sure I miss blogging, but in a way (the break) was a good thing, because I was able to sit back and look at things from a different perspective. And gave me a chance to get back to my original music influences (you will know in due time, and I think you will be surprised) and take the simple joy of appreciating my usual preferences of music.
Have begun starting back my blog from scratch but in the meanwhile, have also been helping the guys in PureIdolHeart on the technical and coding side of things (Blogger can be a pain to customize). In that time, I began to look into some of the indie idols that PIH recommended on their site and found my solace there that Morning Musume have not given me in a long time. And there is, of course, AKB48. AKB48 has certainly gotten their big break, became a cultural phenomenon and there seems to be no stopping them. Their omnipresence is apparent in the streets of Shibuya, where billboards and posters are filled with AKB48 goodness whether it was talk-buzz, posters, marketing, merchandise etc etc, all eyes and attention have turned to AKB48 for optimum marketing, advertising and PR value. And this is what I am going to talk about.
(*Takes a deep breath*)
AKB48 vs Morning Musume: Continuous battle or evolving cultural phenomenon
There is this competition where fans pit Morning Musume vs AKB48 in a battle for the top idol superiority in Japan. I think it is a nature of fans right? To pit two(or more) top acts of their division and watch to see who has the upper hand. Like "Justin Bieber vs Jesse Mccartney" or "Big Bang vs Beast".
I have even noticed some that compared Morning Musume and AKB48 track record single-by-single. A futile attempt. Because in my observation this is a one-sided affair and a notion propagated by Morning Musume fans only... and I do not think AKB48 fans have even considered it, because in their mind AKB48 have already won. And may I be so bold to say that this "competition" is only happening more outside of Japan amongst western idol fans. Because in Japan, fans and media alike, both looked at the situation with AKB48 and Morning Musume quite differently.
To illustrate my point - On the internet we have "internet memes", cultural and popular catchphrases/words popular among internet denizens, where it will become very popular until it phases out in popularity or replaced by another. Example "Nom nom", "Meh", "Rickrolling" etc. The current situation of AKB48 and Morning Musume is exactly like that. Morning Musume was THE cultural phenomenon in the early 2000's, we saw them conquering every billboard, advertising endorsements, and were a constant topic amongst TV talents in variety shows. Now AKB48 has overtaken all of the mentioned.
There was a segment in a London Hearts variety show episode couple weeks ago where Morning Musume's Michishige Sayumi was posed a question about AKB48 in which Sayu in her usual narcicistic nature notes that the AKB48 girls are cute and that she likes them, however she stated that when compared individually she will win in terms in cuteness. Guest starring the show at that time was Ariyoshi Hiroiki (who incidentally hosts a TV show "Ariyoshi AKB Kyowakoku" with AKB48), who counters in a split second by saying that Sayu is "ugly" and that she is not in the current and certainly not the popular face of entertainment right now. Though it was all said in the name of having good TV, I believe he has frankly voiced the naked truth that not many have dared to say in the open - that Morning Musume is a thing of a past and that AKB48 has overtaken Morning Musume as the current showbiz buzz. The media Japan reflects this fact. Now, whenever Morning Musume was mentioned, they are associated by the press with past-tense vocabulary - "former national idols", "... who used to be the top idol...", "In the past,..." etc etc. The media has branded Morning Musume a thing of a past, a finished product, and will be used to compare any idol act that comes next. Anything else that Morning Musume will do afterwards would be no more than an effort extend their legacy and to keep their name from being forgotten.
So therefore this is a continous evolving cultural phenomenon, whereby AKB48 has replaced Morning Musume as the current "it" thing, rather than victory via competition.
AKB48 vs Morning Musume 9th generation (?)
However, let us entertain the thought that there is a competition between them. I have been strolling around the internet and from what I observed, even loyal Morning Musume fans have half-heartedly accepted that the current Morning Musume lineup (post graduation of Kamei Eri and China girls Linlin & Junjun) is not strong enough to take on the idol powerhouse AKB48. But it seems that these same fans have found renewed hope with the intake of 9th generation members to the group. It would appear that the 4 girls of 9th generation intake are the long awaited savior to give life back to Morning Musume whose popularity is fading fast. I have a friend who would tell me that in the Morning Musume shows that she watches, she would tend to fast-forward to the segment where the 9th generation girls are featured. (I think she must not be the only fan doing this). Thus the birth of this interesting phenomenon that I would describe as..... AKB48 vs Morning Musume 9th generation.
But are these 4 girls able to take on the entire AKB army and their sister groups? An incredibly impossible mission to burden these four young idolets. In fact the it is almost improbable to compare and put them in a competition this early in their idol career. Additionally there is no big transformation, no makeover, and no rebuilding happening with Morning Musume in the addition of these 4 new members. For example, when the 4th generation members were added to Morning Musume, the group traded their mature style and costumes to a more younger, colourful and elaborate costumes, to accomodate a whole new direction to new heights in their popularity. So how do we even begin to declare Morning Musume fit for a competition? With this we arrive to my next point.
Comparing AKB48 with Morning Musume
These are two very very different groups, idols as they are called but both are different in its style and direction. It's like comparing apples and oranges.
For those who still do not realize, AKB48 has its beginnings built from the streets of Akibahara in Tokyo grassroots style. And they were indeed local idols, like Dorothy Little Happy. But they did not gain their popularity overnight and has spent a many years to climb to where they are now since their inception 2005. Their early activities were just like any other local idols, appearing in stage shows, handshake events, street lives and manga shops. Their main income comes from selling their CDs and merchandises (photos, stickers, keychains, posters, memorabilias etc) at those events back then.
Sidetracking a little bit - There was a new and hidden discovery at that same time, which developed into rising interest in local idols, that there are potentials and talents to be harvested from these girls. One of the early individuals whom who has caught on to this, is none other than Morning Musume's producer Tsunku himself. Why do you think he started his company TNX many years ago and began appearing in the streets of Harajuku and Akibahara with his newly-formed local idol groups under his company and walking around promoting them in manga/game stores? Unfortunately for him, luck was not on his side, where a much more experienced and visionary Akimoto Yasushi succeeded in pushing AKB48 to mainstream recognition better and faster than Tsunku. His secret, in Aki-P's own words, was to produce AKB48 as a collection of talented but ordinarily good looking girls groomed to be idols but yet remain to be highly approachable and/or accessible to wotas. And the keyword is "wotas". AKB48 is tailor-made to accomodate Akibahara wotas in their songs and style. Their song lyrics borders on the near-acceptable levels of sexual innuendos and flirtation to gain favors from the social-depraved wotas. A practice that stems from Akimoto's production of Onyanko Club back in the 80's (e.g. OC's "Do not strip off my sailor school uniform"). The girls are repeatedly used to project subtle but obvious lure of youthful sexuality to appeal to the audiences. While I am tempted to stereotype these "audiences" as middle-aged otakus who have no life but star-chasing their idols, we should be aware that AKB48 also have a large following of female fans especially from pre-teens, even in Japan itself. But make no mistake, AKB48 still do base their suggestive and risque styles mainly to appeal to wotas. And don't get me wrong, there is certainly nothing wrong with what they do. Anime, mangas and games constantly portray their some of their female protagonists as large breasted and always displaying their voluptious cleavages at every possible opportunity. Coming from Akiba culture themselves, AKB48 represent things like that. Finally, despite getting their major break and national recognisation, AKB48 retains their street theatres to perform shows just like they used to do before. Presumably to maintain their high accessibility and as an act to preserve their "street cred", so to speak.
Morning Musume on the other hand had a different beginning. For one, the original founding members were selected from an audition intended to find a vocalist for Tsunku's rock band. So they were a Jpop group to begin with, not a pure idol group. It was not until the addition of later generation members that they were slowly being branded as an idol group, and their songs shifted from Jpop to idolish type of songs. True that in Morning Musume first indie single was promoted grassroots style ala indie idol methods through promotions and handshake events in the streets, but everything that came after were closer to a well-funded pop group. Morning Musume memberships differs even more from AKB48. Quite the opposite, rather than trying to recruit natural talent from auditioning girls, the norm of Morning Musume was to discover raw and totally untrained girls where they proceed to groom them into idols. If you the fans of Morning Musume who have been repeatedly frustrated and left wondering why some of the more talented and highly potential girls were not selected into the group from the auditions (where a few of them are not carving a good career in AKB48), this is exactly why.
The idea was to use these young girls whom were unfettered by the ways of showbiz and showcase their growth and journey to becoming a star as a long term reality show of some degree, thereby sending a message of hope to everyone - that anyone can be a star if you put your heart and hard work into it. Just like what they did with Kusumi Koharu's Kirarin Revolution and the 9th generation girls. And this is Morning Musume's charm point.
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So given all of this information, although it is the nature of fans to put two pop acts into a "versus" mode, the situation between Morning Musume and AKB48 is not like that. I am inclined to think that the producers behind these two groups do not even want to go against each other. After all there is more than enough of the idol fans to share amongst themselves.
On a side note: Being a fan of Morning Musume for 10 years myself, naturally I hope Morning Musume will regain some of their magic sooner and be as popular as before. But I am concerned for current Morning Musume, for their laxness and complacent attitude. I do not know if the producers or the girls themselves should be blamed.
One thing to remember is that although Morning Musume is not at their prime right now, their CD sales still top all idol groups(except AKB48). But if this goes on, never mind overcoming AKB48, Morning Musume might not even beat upstart idol units in the sales charts in the future. Perhaps the producers behind Morning Musume are just content with the revenue that Musume generates(their merchandises still selling okay, and their sold-out concerts tickets still pricey) and therefore not motivated in expanding fan support outside of their current fanbase (consisted mostly of wotas, I presume).
As a fan of some of the songs by AKB48, I am also concerned for AKB48. Being in the mainstream for some time now, it seems to me that they are slowly shedding their Akiba style and becoming more and more Jpop mainstream in an attempt to appeal to audiences beyond wotas. Will AKB48 lose the support of wotas, and finding themselves struggling to compete with real artistes for the Oricon top spot? Or will they still maintain their Akiba style to maintain their charm, and perhaps bring Akiba to national acceptance? After all, no popularity lasts forever. It certainly did not last for Onyako Club, Tokyo Performance Doll nor Morning Musume. So neither will it last for AKB48. One can only guess what Aki-P has in mind to spur them on to several more years to come.
In the meantime, I must say that being introduced into the indie idol scene was a pleasantly refreshing experience. It is good to know that there are other fishes in the sea worth watching. Perhaps one of these indie groups will rise and become a new rival to AKB48 or Morning Musume.
A long post after a long absence. But thanks for reading this far. I am amazed.
Peace ( ^_^)v
I have not voiced it out yet, but for what it's worth I would like to also offer my condolences and moral support for those in trying times in Japan due to the tsunami and earthquake. I have been diligently following the news and updates of the situation there. There were many fund raising and support by various groups coming from where I am, to help in the form of shelter, food and clothing being sent to Japan for the past many weeks. Go Japan!
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