If you had told me, a year ago, that within the next 12 months I would get to see Morning Musume and AKB48 live in concert without setting foot in Japan, I would have laughed in your face.
Then the Summer of Idols happened, and like a certain basketball player on the Boston Celtics, I now believe that “anything’s possibllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeee.”
There was a time, maybe, when Japan was this wondrous alternate universe with their own made-up entertainment industry that did strange and amazing things that you’d only get snippets of IN AMERICA. Like you’d see what crazy-ass cartoons they made up. And their music sounded a lot like Western popular music ONLY DIFFERENT. And they would have books and TV shows and movies and everything except it was in this crazy moon language and we’d all be on the outside looking in, marveling at the sheer alternate-ness of this universe.
But one by one, the barriers have come down, and beings from the alternate universe keep sneaking over IN AMERICA to reveal that they, in fact, exist in the same dimension as other human beings.
And that’s where things get mysterious. It’s easy to predict where J-pop is headed in the context of J-pop itself, because it’s such a highly regimented industry controlled by an oligarchy of record labels (and INBOU). But in assessing Japanese-American relations as far as popular music goes, there’s always a bit of a wild card factor, because the whole “Which famous J-pop artist will visit America this year” business tends to happen on the whim of record labels, managers, promoters, convention staff, and how many teenage and twentysomething girls you can fit on a plane. So, what can American fans look forward to in J-music in 2010?
Are Momusu/H!P or AKB coming back this year?
Probably NO. Flying a solo artist or a normal-sized rock band across the Pacific is one thing, but you try moving groups of this size and people are gonna be like, I’ve had it with these motherfucking idols on this motherfucking plane. You have to pay for all their plane tickets, all their meals, all their hotel rooms, and that’s gonna add up. But it’s not solely just a logistics and money thing. You also have to think of what each group hopes to accomplish IN AMERICA. For one, it was sort of a last blaze of glory before finally dying out on the pop-culture radar, and for the other, it was a promotional boost as they made their way up to the entertainment-world stratosphere.
In Morning Musume’s case, UFA probably blew whatever resources they had left on sending the group to Anime Expo and now they’re going to have to lay low and regroup and pray that S/mileage truly is Hello! Project’s last hope. (Berryz and °C-ute had their chance—if they haven’t exploded in popularity by now, they never will.) Ironically, however, there may be a fighting chance for Buono! (LOL SWEDEN); as an “anime theme song group” they actually have the best chance of being relevant at an American convention. If it’s any indication, Shugo Chara! is the second most popular anime series on Crunchyroll. No joke.
In AKB48′s case, the true motive for their international activities was eventually revealed at Mipcom in Cannes, where Yasushi Akimoto was trying to sell his whole ____48 concept to the world—which apparently didn’t go over too well. So they might stay grounded in Akihabara until they have another good reason to go globe-trotting. Like COMING TO CALIFORNIA. PLZZZZZ.
Will there ever be another Summer of Idols? Maybe, but it will never be like the one in 2009, and it most likely won’t happen in 2010.
What about Idoling!!! or Momoiro Clover or 9nine or whoever?
Are you freaking joking? J-pop idols are already a niche within a niche; surely you saw how asshatically the anime wotas reacted when they heard about the famous flagship J-idol groups crashing their precious sacred anime conventions. They come to see cartoon warriors yelling and fighting each other, and to dress up as fashion-challenged video game characters, and yet a bunch of young girls doing a song-and-dance routine weirds them out. So, it’s hard enough drumming up an audience for the heavy hitters. You aren’t gonna see the “minor” idol groups any time soon—and their management probably couldn’t finance an overseas trip anyway.
As a group with crossover appeal and half-decent songwriting, they probably deserve to visit America as much as any other J-pop act, but they’re not “geek” enough to qualify for anime cons and they’re not “edgy” enough to qualify for the music festivals like SXSW. Kind of a tough place to be caught up in…
Who is going to be the big surprise J-artist for 2010?
The last few years of Anime Expo have yielded a number of pleasant surprises. Holy crap, they got The Voice of Haruhi! Holy crap, they got Shokotan! Holy crap, they got Momusu! If I’m a guy running an anime convention looking for the Next Big Thing, I think 2010 is going to be the NANA MIZUKI SWEEPSTAKES. Not only does Mizuki have legitimate geek cred as a veteran voice actress, but she has emerged as a major player in J-music with a #1-ranking album and a performance at Kouhaku 2009 (eat that Aya Hirano). You want to call in a big-name artist who will at the same time catch the attention of the cartoon/comic/game crowd? You call in Nana Mizuki.
I don’t know which con, or where, or how, but I have a feeling it’s her year.
What does the year hold in store for J-rock?
……..How the fuck am I supposed to know? I can’t tell J-rock from a hole in the ground. I probably know more about country and bluegrass music than J-rock. I heard a thing about an epic X-Japan performance, so y’all go and enjoy that, but this reminds me I want to address a point about HANGRY AND ANGRY. If you want to look at your best chance for idols in 2010, Hitomi Yoshizawa and Rika Ishikawa may actually be it, because H&A’s management seem to be the ones with their heads on straight as far as worldwide expansion (and handling 2 performers is pretty easy). Heck, some
lucky hard-working bastards even got to see them twice last year, in Seattle and then in Paris. So I would not put it past H&A to do a few more international concerts this coming year.
What about the Korean Wave?
First, let’s get one thing straight. There is only one Korean Wave, and it was the time Winter Sonata originally came out, and everything else is just aftercurrents. So all this DBSK, SNSD, C3PO business, you give thanks to Bae Yong Joon first because he opened the doors. Anyway. I do believe some kudos is in order for Wonder Girls because they accomplished things in one year that no Japanese artist has ever done IN AMERICA; in fact a few months ago at work I even heard someone humming “Nobody” which was like some crazy Twilight Zone shit right there. Naturally, K-pop’s close sonic similarity to mainstream American popular music (by which I really mean, hip-hop, R&B and dance) gives them a leg up on their Japanese counterparts, but it can also be a double-edged sword as revealed by mainstream America’s reaction to the Wonder Girls. The problem, of course, is that Americans don’t need re-packaged American music from Asia when they can get that from American artists just fine.
The other problem is, how do you promote K-artists when they don’t have Korean culture conventions IN AMERICA the way they have Japanese culture conventions (which essentially is what most “anime cons” have evolved into)? Do you tag along with the Jonas Brothers? Do you go on a reality/competition TV show? Do you put on your own tour/show from scratch?
My prediction: f(x) gets sent out as the global ambassadors for Korea’s music scene. But where, when, and how are they going to perform?
You know what would be freaking weird?
Hatsune Miku Virtual Concert.
It could happen.
I’m just saying.