Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Story Of Aither



Once upon a time in Sendai, seven young girls in the idol group B Flat graduated, soon to form a new group called Party Rockets.  After two publicity photos one of the girls, Tsujimura Airi, left the group.  She was eventually airbrushed out of one of the photos.  The official reason for Airi’s departure was she was in poor health and her membership in the group was “being delayed”.  However, as the fates would have it, she never joined Party Rockets.  Party Rockets carried on as a six member idol rock group while Airi was recovering.  Then, in October 2012, an official announcement about Sato Hiyori leaving Party Rockets to concentrate on her studies was released.  This was followed by an announcement in December 2012 about Konno Yuuka leaving Party Rockets due to a back injury.  It would seem Party Rockets was a cursed group.  

Flash forward to June 2013 when Yuuka and Airi resurfaced in the group Aither (named after a Greek god).  The third girl in this new trio was Misaki, a resident of Akita and a member of the group pramo.  Misaki stayed in both groups until September 2013 when she made the choice of concentrating on Aither.  This new idol trio, whose music ranges from dance pop to rock, released a CD titled “Future Way” in July 2013.  There are four vocal tracks on the CD, and no instrumentals, making it an E.P. or “mini album” rather than a single.  A new Aither CD was released in October as well.  Have these three girls found a permanent home for themselves in Aither?  Only time will tell, for this story has just begun…. 

Members:
Konno Yuuka, leader - Born on May 15, 1998 
Tsujimura Airi - Born on February 13, 1999
Misaki - Born on June 3, 1999 


Discography:

“Future Way” (July 3, 2013)  

“you & I” (October 19, 2013) 

Aither Official Blog  

DejaVuAither (Official YouTube) 

Aither Official Twitter


Special thanks goes to two people who provided me with information for this article / true story.  Yacchan is the name of one person.  The other is Suwano Chibineko, who has an Unofficial Aither YouTube Channel with several great live performances from the group.  





Friday, November 22, 2013

Why I Hate Tsunku

I know I am not the only person to complain about this, but every time a Hello! Project idol graduates (i.e., leaves) a group and her former group releases a new album, this idol is always absent from the photos used in the CD booklet and her name is also missing from the credits, despite that she sings on some (or all) of the songs.  It’s like Tsunku wants the fans to forget she was a part of the group.  This is one of many reasons why I won’t buy H!P CDs.

Let’s talk about S/mileage.  When S/mileage got signed to a major label all the girls got haircuts, although Maeda Yuuka only cut a bit from her hair.  Fukada Kanon and Ogawa Saki in particular looked awful with their super short haircuts.  However, it was the decision of the girls to do this. Flash forward to when they grew their hair out a bit and Tsunku wrote the forgettable and bland song “Short Cut”.  All four members were forced this time to cut their hair short for this single. Recently S/mileage member Tamura Meimi cut her super long hair short, and she has really bad teeth to boot.  This makes her look even worse than she did before.  I know Hello! Project fans will jump up and down saying, “They still look cute!”, but seriously, there are fans who will strongly disagree.

Ogawa Saki was the first member of S/mileage to quit the group, although it was later revealed that she desired to do this much earlier than she eventually did.  Tsunku actually forced her to remain with S/mileage until the time when she could be replaced - by five girls!  After the five new members joined Tsunku announced that they were not full S/mileage members until they passed a second audition!  Then poor Kosuga Fuyuka became sick and needed to take time off to heal. Instead of returning to S/mileage after recovering, Fuyuka got shafted and was shunted into the Hello! Pro Egg (now Kenshuusei) program!  Many H!P fans do not even pay attention to the Eggs, thinking they are nothing but the background dancers.  The Eggs are constantly reminded that they are mere “trainees” too.  This means that Fuyuka can now be a trainee background dancer for the group she was almost a full member of!  How nice!  

In 2012 Tsunku co-authored a book with Maeyamada Kenichi titled “Idol Chronicle Special 2002 - 2012”. Although ostensibly written to provide a guide to the 300 most popular and important idol singles released during this decade, it was actually a promotional puff piece that allowed the two authors to promote their own music.  Many idols and their singles were ignored in favor of way too many singles written and produced by the authors.  One single that got unjustly ignored by the authors is “Yume ni Mukatte” / “Hello! IVY” by Sakura Gakuin, which is not only the best idol single this writer has heard, but also the most deluxe in terms of overall packaging (including a 28 page booklet filled with song lyrics, several photos of the group and information on all ten members, plus a randomly inserted trading card for one of the members) for a three song / six track (including instrumentals) CD single.  Sakura Gakuin’s third single, “Tabidachi no Hi ni” (also three songs and six tracks), was also overlooked, along with many other worthy candidates.  Idols from two indie groups that later joined Hello! Pro Kenshuusei had their original group’s singles ignored.  If Tsunku knew about PEACEFUL and SCK Girls prior to Inaba Manaka and Sasaki Rikako joining the Kenshuusei, he does not acknowledge it by having PEACEFUL’s single “START!!” or SCK Girls’ single “Arigotou Kotoba” / “ReGenerasion” included in his book.  There are even English language spelling mistakes included in the text, despite the correct English printed on the CD covers that the authors apparently ignored.  The best thing about this book is the 16 track CD included with it containing many very good indie idol songs (and, unfortunately, one song by a Tsunku group).

All of these things and more are why I hate Tsunku!  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Are You A Sakura Gakuin Fan?

So, are you a fan of the Japanese idol group Sakura Gakuin, or just another fan of one member of the group only or perhaps one of the subunits?  Many people on the Internet are fans of one girl in the group or a certain subunit, but I seriously doubt many are fans of the whole group and all of its subunits.  I have read many comments on the Internet, most of them not friendly, that say how much they love a part of Sakura Gakuin, but not the whole group.  As someone who loves all the members of the group and all of the subunits, this disturbs me.

It’s very normal for anyone who discovers a music group that performs music they enjoy listening to to have a favorite member.  It’s normal to have a favorite song, too.  But dismissing all the members and songs they don’t like seems a bit counterproductive.  Not every song is going to please you, but why are you dismissing the other members who aren’t your favorites?  Did they really do something so horrible that you can’t find even one kind word for them?  Or is it that you just aren’t a very nice person and have no sympathy for anyone other than your absolute favorites? If you really aren’t nice then I suppose nothing I say will get you to change and you will continue your pointless hatred for the foreseeable future.

In the case of the Japanese pop music idol group Sakura Gakuin, there seems to be a division among fans of not only who is the best singer in the group, but which subunit is the best.  These subunits are a few of the members who are in a “school club” (as Sakura Gakuin is a school-themed group) that sing songs with lyrics revolving around their subunit’s theme.  Some of these subunits even release singles and make music videos.  For reasons that I can only guess are commercial, the most popular Sakura Gakuin subunit is BABYMETAL.  BABYMETAL sing a combination of pop and heavy metal, and often incorporate other styles of music as well. BABYMETAL do release singles and make music videos, although they are not the only Sakura Gakuin subunit to do so.  Twinklestars were the first Sakura Gakuin subunit to do this, and Kagaku Kyuumei Kikou LOGICA? have also released a single complete with two music videos.

BABYMETAL’s popularity seems to stem from the fact that their sound is different for Japanese idol groups and that the girls in the group are young.  Older female teens and women singing aggressive music is not new, but younger girls seem to stick with softer forms of pop and rock music.  BABYMETAL also incorporate various dance music sounds (trance, hip-hop and dubstep) in their songs which are very commercial and appeal to young audiences.  This could explain why their music is so popular, especially with young fans of pop music.  BABYMETAL are somewhat of a heavy metal group, although their metal sound is closer to modern nu-metal rather than the more classic heavy metal sounds originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Nu-metal is most popular with younger heavy metal fans (I’d say those who are under the age of 30), which again makes BABYMETAL a group mostly for young people only.

Obviously Japanese pop music idol groups are mostly for young people to begin with, not adults. However, due to the fact that adults find many Japanese girls to be attractive explains why idols have fans that are really too old to be listening to their music.  But no matter what your age is, there is one thing about supporting this type of music that needs to said.  The reason to support Japanese idols should be about liking the music and respecting the talents of the singers, and not how pretty the girls are to you.

Here is one thing about the fans of BABYMETAL that really bothers me.  Many of them, as I have already stated, like to post unfriendly comments on forums, Facebook and YouTube that basically belittle Sakura Gakuin, the members of Sakura Gakuin not in BABYMETAL and the other Sakura Gakuin subunits.  Even the fans of Sakura Gakuin, the non-BABYMETAL members and other subunits are constantly belittled by BABYMETAL fans!  This seems absurd and totally counterproductive.  Why waste time writing nasty comments about something you apparently don’t like when you could be writing nice things about what you do like?  I guess what these fans of BABYMETAL don’t realize (or don’t care about) is that the three girls in this subunit, Nakamoto Suzuka, Mizuno Yui and Kikuchi Moa, are also in Sakura Gakuin.  Yui and Moa are also members of the subunits Twinklestars and Minipati.  Suzuka was once a member of the junior idol group Karen Girl’s with Sakura Gakuin’s original leader Muto Ayami.  If you really have the respect for the girls in BABYMETAL, then you should respect the main group - Sakura Gakuin - and the other subunits and groups they are or were involved in.  If you really don’t like or respect these other groups and subunits, then you are clearly not a fan of the girls in BABYMETAL.  If Suzuka, Yui or Moa knew about all the nasty comments overseas fans have posted belittling Sakura Gakuin, the other members of Sakura Gakuin and the subunits of this wonderful idol group, they would be ashamed of you!  You are belittling them and their friends by doing this.  Why would you say you love BABYMETAL and then talk trash about Sakura Gakuin or a subunit that isn’t one of your favorites?  Suzuka, Yui and Moa would not want you as a fan if you are doing this.                            

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What Is Popularity?

In the review for the movie The Golden Child, “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” concludes with this statement: “A box-office smash - but have you ever met anyone who liked it?”  This nicely sums up my feelings on popularity, especially popular entertainment.  The Golden Child is an action-comedy film starring popular comedian Eddie Murphy.  I understand Eddie’s popularity since I think some of his films are funny.  However, just because a popular form of entertainment makes a lot of money does not necessarily mean it’s good.  It simply means a certain amount of people chose to spend their money on this entertainment.

Some fans want to show their support by buying merchandise for their favorite celebrities or films no matter what it is or what the quality may be.  In the case of Japanese idol music, fans may buy all kinds of merchandise to show support, even if they have no real use for this merchandise.  If an idol group shows an increase in sales for their singles or albums, this doesn’t necessarily mean there is an increase in their fan base.  It might mean that the same people who previously bought one copy of  the group’s singles and albums in the past have now chosen to buy more than one copy this time.  And just because an idol group shows a low sales amount, this does not necessarily mean their music isn’t any good.  It could simply mean that the group is new or still struggling to get noticed by the public.  (Idol groups, like all entertainers, are not “overnight sensations”.)   There are a lot of indie groups which only release limited, venue-only singles and merchandise, and this means their sales barely register (if at all) on sales charts.      

Some record companies give more promotion to their idol groups than others, possibly due to a larger budget for advertising.  Many less known groups may not get the respect they deserve due to overwhelming promotional campaigns from major label record companies who have signed the most popular groups.  Some indie music labels do not have the money to compete with the major labels, and therefore the indie idol groups don’t get noticed.  With limited promotion and sales, many indie idol groups break up in less than a year.  This sad but true state of affairs in the idol music scene means many talented singers and dancers in less popular groups will never get the chance to show the world how much they love to do what they do.

What many fans of popular idol groups tend to forget is that all idol groups started off unknown and unpopular.  They started off with low sales and had to work hard to get noticed.  When a group is fortunate enough to work with a popular songwriter or producer, or they get to sing the theme of a popular anime or TV drama series, this certainly helps in gaining them attention, but most new groups don’t have these luxuries.  New idol groups use the songwriters and producers at whatever record company which formed the group.  If these record companies are small labels, then they have to rely on well written songs by unknown talents to get noticed.  Fans of popular idol music must then expand their horizons and listen to these less known groups on small or indie labels to find the next big trend in idol music.  The fans may not know it when they first hear it, but these less known / indie groups are usually ahead of the game, so to speak, when it comes to performing what may be the future of pop music.

An important factor in popularity is in spreading the good word about idol groups.  The only way a less known or indie group will get noticed is if the fans talk about, write about and show support for these idol groups.  This includes letting your friends know about a group you just became interested in, writing a fan blog on the Internet, or starting a thread on a forum or message board about this group.  If you aren't the best writer, you can ask a friend to help write about the idols that you have become fond of.  You can show support for a group by buying their CDs, if they are available to purchase from an Internet store that specializes in Japanese music.  If your friends haven't heard of the groups you are interested in, it is important to share music, photos and website links for these groups.  Just listening to a select few idol groups limits your interests, and there are hundreds of idol groups in Japan that form each year just awaiting discovery.  The fans need to open up their minds, explore the world of music outside their limited scope and discover something new.

Popularity among Japanese idol groups depends on many things.  One factor is age appropriateness.  The older and more popular groups seem to have one thing in common: their sexiness.  The people at the music companies who form these older groups are clearly thinking about the prominently male fans when it comes to selecting the girls for these groups.  The more attractive the girls and the more willing they are to pose in skimpy outfits and bikinis, the more popular the group will become.  When idols pose in very little clothing for a compact disc cover and / or music video I think they are doing it to get attention, and for the wrong reason.  They seem to want people to focus on how attractive they are, and not their singing and dancing abilities.  The songs are almost secondary to making the girls and the music videos as sexy as possible.  As long as there are attractive girls who like to pose in revealing outfits, then the music is irrelevant. Fans will buy the CD whether or not the music is any good.  This explains a lot as to why CDs released by older, sexy idol groups sell many copies, as opposed to the sales of less popular groups.  The less popular groups are usually the ones with junior idol members who keep their image clean and their songs age appropriate.  The sad fact is, even if the less popular groups have really good songs, they don't get as much fan support due to many fans wanting sexiness from an idol group.

Speaking of which, many of the more popular idols sometimes get involved in things that they shouldn’t, some involving sex.  Certain popular idols, who I won’t name, have been known to pose semi-nude or fully nude, sometimes in order to impress boys or men they are smitten with.  (This might be a reaction to a certain American teen star who also posed nude to impress a boy she liked.)  Other times these idols pose semi-nude in popular idol magazines, some of which have articles and photos of idols who don’t do this sort of thing.  This makes a very awkward magazine to look at if you are mainly interested in the idols who keep a clean reputation and image.  Worse than all this are the idols who actually pursue a relationship with a much older man, including married men.  Idols in Japan are usually told that they can’t have boyfriends in order to maintain a fairly clean image.  If they break this “no boyfriends” rule then the idols are usually shown the door. The idols who pursue relationships with older and / or married men are obviously not maintaining a clean reputation, and record companies in Japan don’t want these young women to tarnish the group’s image, so they are asked to leave the group.  Record companies know that idols who are single will gain more fans than the ones who are involved in a relationship.  Once they are back to being “normal” girls again they are free to do as they please.  Some idols even go as far as to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, even while they are underage.  This isn’t good, even if they are over 18-years-old, since this also tarnishes the group’s clean image.  Meanwhile, idols in less popular groups never seem to get into this sort of trouble.  These idols seem to know that they have to maintain a clean reputation in order to continue being an idol.  At least, if idols in less popular groups are doing anything wrong the public never seems to hear about it.
 
Another possible reason as to why some groups are less popular than others is the type of songs they sing.  Many idol groups are admittedly dance pop performers that sing love songs.  All idols are pop singers to some degree, but this isn’t the only type of song idols sing.  Lately there has been in increase in rock and metal songs being performed by idol groups.  This is certainly a nice change to the typical dance pop sounds most idols sing, although some idol fans don’t like rock and metal music.  Commercial dance pop is mostly what sells, regardless of whether these dance pop songs are truly special or not.  Anything a bit unusual doesn’t sell many copies, unless a big, popular group is the group who records this “unusual” type of song.  Sadly, the less popular groups who actually do something original and exciting often get ignored by fans of the bigger idol groups, as they simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of these less popular idols and songs.

Ask fans of older music and movies if they prefer the original or remake better, and I bet most will say “the original”.  Many less popular music groups (and filmmakers) are part of a small indie company and have a low budget to work with.  Certain indie idol groups will come up with a new idea or concept and this will then get copied by other idol groups.  There are many examples where a popular mainstream music group with a large budget will perform a song that sounds suspiciously familiar to older music fans, and it’s not because the song is a remake of an older song.  Quite often, the music from an older song is sampled or reworked, sometimes without permission of the original creators.  There are also cases when a mainstream songwriter or producer will constantly write similar-sounding songs, to the point where all their songs sound exactly alike.  This speaks volumes as to where the originality in entertainment is coming from, and it’s sure not from the mainstream.
   
If the only way to become popular is by doing something wrong or immoral, then this is the wrong way to do it.  Only those girls who become popular by staying true to themselves are the idols worth supporting.  What this all boils down to is that an idol fan either loves and supports popular mainstream idols that record typical dance pop songs that sound similar and have a sexy image, or they find something more appropriate and original to listen to and look at.                    


Friday, November 15, 2013

Junior Idols

Back when I was a fan of a lot of Hello! Project groups I liked many of the Hello! Pro Egg girls.  (I'm aware they have been renamed Hello! Pro Kenshuusei.)  These girls were mostly the background dancers at various Hello! Project concerts, as well as performing their concerts covering popular H!P tunes.  Although H!P fans knew of the Eggs, they rarely knew the names of the members.  I’d constantly hear a lot of “Who is the Egg in this video at 2:44?  She’s a great dancer!”  Most H!P fans couldn’t be bothered to memorize the names of the Eggs, as they were usually young and, in the minds of these fans, not worth paying attention to.  This is the type of attitude that upsets me, as I have come across too many comments about how younger idols are not worth the time of your average idol fan.  I’m not sure if older idol fans simply don’t like children or what, but many fans I’ve come across think that idols over sixteen-years-old are the only ones worth watching and listening to.  They have little interest in what is known as “junior idols”.

Junior idols are young singers and dancers no older than fifteen-years-old.  They are also known as “childols” (a combination of “child” and “idol”).  Some children take an interest in music and dance at an early age, and start singing, dancing or even instrument lessons as young as three-years-old.  If they keep up their lessons and work hard, soon they develop a skill that can sometimes rival that of an older person.  Many people tend to forget this, or don’t care about this.  These young children can perform just as well as a teen or adult if they have the confidence to stand on stage and show the audience what they’ve learned.  I’m pretty impressed with a lot of these young kids, which is why I support many junior idol groups and groups that have both junior and older idols in them.  Children do not need to be a certain age to have talent in my opinion.

One thing about these young, less known idols I like is that they keep their image clean.  I often hear about scandals and controversies about older idols in popular groups, but I never hear about such things from young idols.  They have a family friendly image, which is refreshing in today's world filled with sexual innuendos and content.  Family friendly idols are more fun to watch in my opinion.  

It’s very sad that a lot of people I’ve come across on the Internet refuse to see what I see in these junior idols.  I may not get the respect of fans into older idol groups, but this does not stop me from supporting in every way possible the young idols I love.  I see and hear a lot of talented young girls whenever I listen to, and watch videos of, Sakura Gakuin, Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, Caramel ☆ Ribbon, Party Rockets, SpringBell feat. MIKA, Prizmmy☆ and Michinoku Sendai ORI ☆ HIMETAI, or even other young idols who haven’t been signed yet, such as the roster of kids at avex artist academy, including Nakano Yuuka and Sparcle.  I don’t understand why 16 is such a magic number.  Is an idol about to turn sixteen-years-old in two days not worth listening to until she reaches that “magic” age?  This type of thinking seems absurd to me, and I wish the people who think like this would realize it.      

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Idol Thoughts

Here’s an example of what I dislike about being an idol fan.  Every idol group has at least one member who becomes The Popular Girl, and gets the most attention.  The Popular Girl most likely got popular because she is a good singer and / or dancer, and may or may not be the most attractive member of the group.  The fans of this girl can usually fall into one of two categories: nice people who not only like The Popular Girl, but all the other members of the group, and probably other idols as well; and the fans who can’t see past The Popular Girl’s face, and only focus on her all the time.  The ones who focus on The Popular Girl are usually the type who will post not-so-nice comments on forums, message boards, YouTube, Facebook and possibly fan blogs, bad-mouthing other idols, including the other members of the same group that Popular Girl belongs to.  This seems counterproductive to me, as it would be better to write nice things about the idols we love, and do our best to promote them as much as possible, rather than to waste time writing negative comments about someone or something we don’t like.  Writing negative comments probably stems from some sort of emotional problems that the writer has, and I can tell you this from personal experience.  

The type of negative comments I am referring to are sometimes along these lines: “Popular Girl is so cute and talented that all other idols look and sound bad by comparison.  She definitely has more talent than all the other idols in The Group that she is a member of, and she is the real reason why people buy The Group’s CDs and merchandise.  Popular Girl sells the most merchandise, gets to sing the most on all the singles, and gets more close-ups than all the other girls in The Group in their videos.  Popular Girl is simply the greatest idol ever!”  If you agree with the person who says something like this, then you will have no trouble getting along with this person.  If your opinion is completely different than this, however, watch out!  You will have a difficult time convincing the person who wrote those comments that s/he might be wrong, since each person will have different opinions. The person obsessed with Popular Girl might tell you something like, “You are just jealous that you are not popular like Popular Girl.”  Arguing with someone like this will ultimately be pointless, as most of the time the person who likes Popular Girl is stubborn and single-minded.

The group that Popular Girl belongs to doesn't even have to be one of the most popular idol groups, either. No matter how popular an idol group is, there is always a Popular Girl, and there will always be some fans obsessed with her to an unhealthy degree.  (This unhealthy degree I am referring to also includes those individuals on Facebook who have created fake accounts posing as their favorite idol or other celebrity.) This is sad since all the girls in an idol group obviously got into the group because they have talent. Unfortunately, there are many girls in an idol group that get unjustly overlooked that also have a lot of singing, dancing and acting talent.  Fans need to open up their minds and look and listen to these other idols, and give them the respect they deserve. Fans also need to look at idol groups other than the few groups that they are currently interested in. There are an astounding number of idol groups in Japan, and only the most popular ones who are on major record labels seem to get any press whatsoever.  Being obsessed with one girl or one group, and not showing any interest in other girls and groups, is not healthy for the idol fan community.  

Also not healthy for the idol fan community is all the bad-mouthing.  Not just so-called “fans” bad-mouthing idols they don't like, but fans bad-mouthing each other.  A lot of “fans” might bad-mouth a certain idol or group simply because they don't like a certain fan who supports this idol or group. Are we supposed to hate each other simply because our tastes in music are a bit different?  That seems like a real dumb reason to hate someone.  Not everyone is going to like idol music when they hear it. Some people might be opposed to listening to idol songs due to the language being different from their native language.  So with certain people opposed to idol music before they even hear it, that means idol fans like us represent a small portion of the world’s music fans.  We shouldn’t hate those people who enjoy the same type of music that we do.  Your favorite group or song may be different from mine, but I shouldn’t hate you just because we have different opinions.

Another annoying thing “fans” like to do is rub in the fact that popular groups are bigger than the less known idol groups.  They let everyone know that their favorite popular idol group sells the most CDs and merchandise, has the number one song on the charts this week and is more popular than all the less known and indie groups put together.  They’ll throw charts and graphs in your face showing you sales statistics that “prove” their favorite group is better.  Of course, not all idol groups get a lot of promotion from their record companies for many different reasons.  Some idol groups are very indie and don’t have their singles sold in chain stores and Internet stores like the more popular ones on major labels do.  Some “fans”, unfortunately, are sadistically cheerful about the fact that many less known groups are never going to make it big in the idol music business.  This makes me very embarrassed to be an idol fan.          

I hope that I have given those of you reading this something to ponder.  I will certainly have to ponder my future actions when I come across music I don’t immediately like, or people who have very negative opinions of my favorite music and idols.

Note: This is the first of a series of articles that I wrote over a year ago.  Many of the topics mentioned here are mentioned again and / or expanded upon in the other articles.  I wrote each one months apart and did not check to see what I had written previously.  I feel that all the topics and comments I made in these articles are relevant and need to be shared with all Japanese idol fans, so please excuse me when I repeat myself.