The Melancholy of Idols

By bluemist on May 9th, 2012


I give idols a hard time, figuratively speaking, before they can shut up and take my money. It’s not because I’m exclusively 2D-biased, but it’s because I don’t consider “idols” as a recommended entertainment source in my diet. Technically, I don’t follow real-life celebrities that closely. If you see me talk about AKB48, Mizuki Nana, or other specific examples of who you may call “idols”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I follow their every move. I am not a Wota (idol otaku). In fact, I have a specific sense of hatred towards the idol business, especially the —48 kind. Their songs are garbage. Their promotion is overkill. They’re killing the JPOP industry. They’re focusing too much on otakus who are the only ones who probably have buying power in this absolutely dreadful world economy. If you consider moe~ness as the current cancer of anime, you could agree that idols are the current cancer of the entertainment culture. These are packaged entertainment properties suited to fit mainstream needs.

Yes, idol entertainment, I do hate them with a passion because of their packaged-ness. Their focus on pandering and not being creative. Their generic, seldom-unique stereotypes. Their fan-relationship lies that could never cater to my real desires of having deep relationships with a girl. I hate the fakeness, I hate it all. That said, we are horribly forgetting something quite important, or maybe it’s just me. Of all the flak I give idols, of all the rants and critiques I give them, sometimes I forget the realization that idols…

Idols… they are human beings too.

Background

She started with a dream. A dream that she saw on TV, radio and magazines. A girl, just like her, but looking more beautiful. Singing, dancing, acting girls. Girls who will always smile, always stay positive. At some point, she will want to be like that girl. Her dream was established… to be an idol.

Idol entertainment became her world, it is now her battlefield. It is her battle for popularity. Little did she know, it is her battle for life in general. This is what she chose to be, or rather, she (wittingly or otherwise) chose not to be herself. If she would be herself too much, she would never be popular. The point of “idol” is an “idea”. It is a perfection of humanity. The entertainment-hungry beings want to see, hear and experience perfection. But the danger of not being herself is… that exactly. At some point, she might lose herself. She is not perfect… no one can, yet she is cast into a world where it is the main goal. She does not realize this until she enters the fray, and chances are, there may not be a life-reset button to push when she wants out.

She cannot enter this world half-heartedly. While she can enjoy herself with the work that she wants to do, she will encounter jobs she may never desire. She wants to dance, they let them dance. But did you ask if she wants to dance, with that kind of sexually-driven outfit, in front of a sexually-hungry crowd? She wants to sing, they let them sing. But did you ask if she wanted to sing candy-pop songs with lyrics that make no sense? Or lyrics that give a plastic guise of happiness, positivity, and love? She didn’t write these lyrics, but she has to remember them. All of them. Over and over again. She didn’t create those dance moves, but she has to perform them. All of them. Over and over again. What’s worse? Singing and dancing at the same time. Over and over again.


She convinces herself: “I am a professional. I can do this.” She can master the craft. Memorizing lyrics, dance and dialogue, she is able to be the character that she is expected to be. But who determines this? Who gives her her “character”? Whether by agency or by accident, she is being controlled by numerous people. Composers give her lyrics to sing. Producers give her jobs to accomplish. Stylists give her makeup and clothing. Fans give her their distant support and love. Everything seems to be laid out for her. To her, it seems like gifts. She would say “thank you” to her staff, she would say “thank you” to her fans. But depending on your viewpoint, these are not actually gifts. They are control mechanisms. People “control” her. Composers, producers, stylists, fans, all of them. They determine her way through the busy world of entertainment. They order her to sing, to dance, to act, to show off her skills. She is a robot, a puppet. Nothing more than a blank slate who is given the blueprint to her success, and she has to adhere to that blueprint. Whatever freedoms the controllers give her would be an illusion. Essentially, she has no freedom at all.

At some point, she might lose control. She might to be too stressed off of too much work. Tired of meet-and-greets and handshakes with sometimes-creepy people. Tired of competition between fellow idols. She might lose control. She starts to smoke. Start to get drunk. Start to find herself in unusual situations. She might get caught in camera. She might say weird things. Start to forget the lyrics. Start to stumble during dances. She might lose control. She runs away. She quits. She goes AV. She goes hikikomori. She jumps in a bridge. She forgets who she really is, and why she came into that world in the first place.

Interlude
Some might say that my viewpoints are too negative so far, I agree. In as much as I want to describe an idol, the tendency is to give my negative bias towards the entertainment genre itself and its evil inner workings. But in order to give the proper perspective, I had to establish the reality that they’re living in. Yes, life is hard. But we don’t necessarily have to view life that way. Life can be easy, good. What ultimately matters is perspective. What ultimately matters… is her viewpoint. I will now attempt to give light at the end of the tunnel.

What is an idol to her? (Forward)

There will be as many answers to this question as the number of idols in the entire world. Each one has their own reasons. Each one has their own background. But one answer can rise above all… each one has a story. We are able to empathize to her story, once told, because it would, and sometimes will, reflect on our own stories. She is a human being, like all of us, so some of her stories will be similar. Some of her stories will affect us emotionally. And because she has given us entertainment value whenever we see or listen to her, she would seem like part of our social network. Albeit predominantly one-sided, she would express her emotions to us. Sure, most of these are packaged emotions, but who cares? It’s effective. It affects us. The more you like her brand of entertainment, the more you are affected. As I said, this is not my cup of tea, but non-frequent servings of Mizuki Nana, AKB48 and others have affected me. Idol-related things help too. Hatsune Miku and other Vocaloid, granted they are virtual idols, give me great and effective musical entertainment. Anime affects me as well, having watched The Idolm@ster and White Album. The former is a more positive view on idol life, while still mindful of the real underpinnings of how it all works. The latter has a more darker approach, focusing more on the negative underpinnings, while still mindful of the main point of what an idol is – to entertain.

This is the first direction. Forward.


So to her, to be an idol is to entertain. She has a story to tell, and she has emotions to express. She does this for the benefit of all who see and hear her. She will want more people to be entertained, because she knows, willingly or subliminally, that everything she does has an effect on all the people who see and hear her. She has a reason to be here. Even if her story is sad (maybe she has to do this because she needs money and she failed her studies), it ultimately won’t matter. What matters is that she is there, in that stage, in that performance, and she is doing something. She is continuing her story. She is expressing her emotions.

So what ultimately drives an idol? (Backward)

There will be as many answers to this question as the number of idols in the entire world. Each one has their own desires. Each one has their own convictions. But one answer can rise above all… each one wants to exist among others. This means that one wants a reply. I want to be seen, be heard, and be felt by others, and we want their reactions to what they see, hear and feel from me. And this is no different from what she wants. She is a human being, like all of us, in that no man is an island. She wants feedback on how she does her job. She deserves her “good work” commendations from the very people who control her.

Actually, I want to sidetrack a bit and eat my own words. I want to change the “controllers” into “team-players”. They are also humans, and they have their own desires. In the idol context, composers want her to sing the song. Producers want to give her jobs. Stylists want her to look her best. They are team-players, and they want the idol to do all this because they benefit from it as well. They benefit from it the same way she benefits. They also want a reply. It so happens that in this context, an idol is their channel to their own desires. No matter how dark the idol industry may seem to onlookers, there are basic human constructs like this that work on and behind the scenes. Again, what ultimately matters is perspective.

This is now the second direction. Backward.


So to her, being an idol is being seen, heard, and felt. She poured her emotions to you, and now the ball is on you. If it affects you, either you keep it to yourself, or you express it in many ways. Having limited space and time to be mindful of everything that’s ever existed in our world, your expression towards her may not reach her. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t reach her at all. She can receive it collectively. Even if she doesn’t read every bit of news about her, or every social network post about her, it would reach her in some sort of collective way. She can look into her album sales, TV ratings, and even just commendations from people around her. She can also be at some place, and people would start to gather around her, showing their support. Fandom is also a reaction, and while sometimes it may be rabid (stalking and whatnot), these are exceptions rather than rules. In any case, she is most definitely served. She gives, and she receives.

Conclusion
And so yes, I am enlightened. Even if I sometimes hate idols, I would now remember to honor them, because to be an idol is to celebrate life. Forward and backward, this is human communication. Even if I consider them packaged and controlled, there will always be real emotions and real ambitions within. No matter what my criticisms may be towards the business, there will always be aspects that I can accept from it, and in fact, some of these aspects are ones that I can learn from as well. I am merely an entertainment consumer in their context, but decidedly, I am here to give my output towards the very entertainment I tune in to (and sometimes despise). You could say that this is the very reason behind this article as well. This is my reply to her, the idol, whomever she may represent. And this being a reply, I think I am proud to say that I have expressed myself to them in a positive way towards the end. So all I can say to her is… “all the best!”

P.S.

I am also an idol, if taken in the blogging context. This article is my expression of emotions, and somehow I want to be seen, heard and felt. In this case, I’m being “read”. Comments are good too, but to me being read is good enough. Funny how the idol thing works out eh?

6 Comments

Posted By: Ronin AnimeLover On: May 09, 2012 At: 7:10 pm

Idols, for all their “templates”, their “trinklets”, their “packages”, are also human beings who deserve recognition for their achievements. The sad reality is that all this is “manufactured”, from the hand-shaking to the songs they sing, and even to the “image” the “controllers” are struggling to maintain regarding the idols themselves. Still, there is a glimmer of humanity within that industry, since there is an action-and-benefit pathway, a noble intention, and some imperfections that make us realize who we are idolizing.

You, sir, are effective at bringing the points across. For that, I commend you.

*listening to Iron Blue Intention from Castlevania while typing this down*

Posted By: Kuro On: May 09, 2012 At: 8:22 pm

This was a great read. I remembered long ago writing a post about how the fandom controls the idol industry. I really like this look at the idol industry from a new perspective.

Posted By: soulassassin547 On: May 09, 2012 At: 11:02 pm

At first, I look at this thing with complete indifference, thinking it’s worse than current-gen pop music (be it Western or, God forbid, K-pop). But then it took me considerable time of research, delving into what motivates a girl to become an idol, despite the negative perceptions associated with it, as well as seeing a unique symbiosis between her and the audience (guess I’ll read more about Drucker and the utility of an employee or a corporation towards society).

In peeling away the artifice and the manufactured image, I find her imperfections, vulnerabilities, as well as character strengths and possibilities that she thought to be dormant and untapped

Even the producer/creator/songwriter himself, the man in charge of the idols under his care, also has his imperfections and rarely do they admit to anything or take the risk of being transparent and frank about the creation he engendered; in the chain of command, he takes the most blows and criticism, and should the situation demands it (in case of grave scandal or misconduct or total disaster) he offers himself to resign.

Eventually I find in her things that I could relate with, things that make her human more than just a commodity or a product.

Finally, what diligence she made from her audition into what she is now, has struck me as I discover parallels between her development and that of the classic geisha; a geisha serves a magnate or a politician in privacy, while an idol performs in service to hundreds, thousands or even millions. Both have made personal sacrifices in an attempt to attain perfection and an ideal image of themselves and to society, as though they share a common link with nuns, priestesses or monks.

Like the geisha, an idol is a servant, but emotionally in control and her resolve and diplomacy strengthened by experience and expertise, a potentially powerful individual who could convince more than any geezer of a Japanese politician could ever hope to get in their lifetimes… So, even if the chances could be remote, I will not be surprised should, say, someone resolute like Takahashi Minami becomes the first female Prime Minister of Japan.

That said, “hate” is too much of a harsh word.

Posted By: More than Just a Pretty Face « 光と水 / Light and Water On: May 09, 2012 At: 11:14 pm

[…] Reproduced from my reaction to Bluemist’s blog entry entitled The Melancholy of Idols. […]

Posted By: bluemist On: May 10, 2012 At: 12:06 am

@Ronin
You summed it all up way better in your single paragraph than my tl;dr actually lol. I almost lost words halfway through when formulating the idea.

@kuro
Sometimes within corporations it’s very insightful to look at a foot-soldier’s perspective. I do experience it myself, being a small worker in a big company.

@soulassassin547
Following up on your Takahashi Minami mentions here and on twitter, there also seems to be a threshold line where an idol gets so popular and respected, she already has enough power to call the shots and be freed from control. Interesting idea you have.

Posted By: Flocke On: August 11, 2012 At: 10:00 pm

Cute!

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