xhurlyburly (xhurlyburly) wrote in ohnotheydidnt,

ONTD Original: A Brief Overview of Japanese Music Trends

Although many people think of Ayumi Hamasaki, AKB48, and JE when they think of J-Pop, the Japanese music scene and its trends actually quite different from what people remember in the past. Here is an update of what's trending in Japan, what's flopping in Japan, and the gray in-betweens.

1. Groups with Non-traditional Idol Images (E-Girls, Sandaime J Soul Brothers)

Before I go into detail, I want to clarify what I mean by "idol image". Some of these artists do not label themselves as idols nor do they want to. Some people debate whether they are idols despite denying the label. However, the bottom line is that they market themselves in a way similar to idols, but their image does not fit the traditional idol image, so "idol image" is used to capture this aspect while staying neutral in the debate.

As suggested in the disclaimer, these are acts market themselves like an idol (e.g., dipping into multiple entertainment fields and selling an image to get by in these fields, marketing strategies such as handshake events) but do not have have a visual image of a traditional idol. They tend to market towards teen and young adult women instead of men. Some even reject the "idol" label because of the connotation that idols are not trained singers/dancers. With the idol boom declining, gravitation towards these types of groups may be a reflection of this decline.

LDH (A growing entertainment agency founded by HIRO, leader of EXILE) in particular is noteworthy of this trend. Although EXILE/EXILE TRIBE itself isn't doing as well as it once did, its sister group (E-Girls) and "sub-unit" (Sandaime J Soul Brothers) are among the most popular acts right now).
[E-Girls Music Videos]

[Sandaime J Soul Brothers Music Videos]

2. Indie Bands (Gesu no Kiwami Otome, Sekai no Owari)

Another effect of the idol boom declining is the rise of indie bands. Although only a few top the charts, the presence of indie groups in the charts and media has been steadily increasing. Music/variety shows are beginning to cater towards these "new" acts through a broadcast dedicated to them and even an entire music show dedicated to rising indie acts (Both bands and otherwise).

As of right now, there are two groups that are commonly seen as the leaders of the indie band boom: Gesu no Kiwami Otome and Sekai no Owari. Both of these acts have strong consistent presence in the digital charts in particularly (Debuting at the top and staying and/or reappearing in the top 10 for many weeks). That said, there are some concerns from those that follow this scene in particular. Gesu no Kiwami Otome's guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kawatani Enon is involved in one of the largest recent scandals about two weeks prior to the band's album release. The media found out that he secretly married a non-celebrity last year and had an affair with variety talent Becky within the past year through his wife leaking LINE chats (Click here and here for the full messy details because it's amazing). Many are concerned that this scandal would not only hurt Gesu no Kiwami Otome's sales, but it would also pop the growing indie bubble. On the one hand, Gesu no Kiwami Otome's album debuted #1 on Oricon despite the scandal. On the other hand, some believe that their sale numbers (About 72,000) could have been higher if the scandal never happened. It should also be noted that Sekai no Owari's vocalist Fukase in particular tweeted out support for Kawatani's music during the scandal.

Fun Fact 1: Fukase is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's ex-boyfriend.

Fun Fact 2: Fukase tweeted that they broke up in code as seen here.

Fun Fact 3: Kyary later took a picture of herself wearing a hat containing the coded message.

Fun Fact 4: The girl in Sekai no Owari's Mr. Heartache music video wore the same dress as Kyary, possibily representing her and a response to the hat.

[Gesu no Kiwami Otome Music Videos]

[Sekai no Owari Music Videos]

3. Cover/Tribute Albums (Utada Hikaru, globe, Mika Nakashima, JUJU)

Cover albums have been trendy for several years now in Japan, so it's not exactly a new trend. Japan REALLY loves their classics such as Every Little Thing's "Time Goes By", Utada Hikaru's "First Love", and m-flo's "let go". Some even made careers around it. A noteable example is JUJU. Although JUJU already established her career prior to her cover albums, her cover album "Request" is among her best selling albums (As well as Japan during the year of its release) and released multiple decently selling cover albums from there.

Furtheremore, there is a new trend within cover albums: tribute albums. The Japanese music industry is hitting a point where many infamous and influential acts are hitting major annivesary milestones. Utada Hikaru hits her 15th anniversery as a music artist last year. globe recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. Mika Nakashima is currently celebrating her 15th year in the music industry. After the success of Utada Hikaru's tribute album, people are releasing annivesary tribute cover albums left and right. It has even benefitted those that are currently struggling despite the fact that it's not their own release. For example, Ayumi Hamasaki's contribution to Utada Hikaru and globe's tribute albums caught positive attention from the general public, and her cover even charted on the digital charts for a few weeks. Although this trend may sound boring, these tribute albums usually allow the artist to sing in their typical style and genre, so it creates a nice contrast to the original.

[Various Covers from Artists/Albums Mentioned]

** Note: Mika Nakashima's tribute album isn't released yet, so there aren't any videos for it

4. Kana Nishino

If you were following the J-Pop scene but fell out, I'm sure you're asking "But who's the top female soloist right now"? Well, we're now at that part. Kana Nishino is currently the most popular female soloist. Although it might not be so obvious if you are strictly looking at physical sales (Her singles tend to sell about 50,000 or less copies and chart around 5-7. While her album sales are impressive and consistently top the charts with six figure numbers, they still pale in comparison to past female artists at their peak), her frequent appearance in music shows, awards, and digital sales tell a different story. Her singles have consistently hit double platinum in digital sales within 6-12 months, her releases always tops the chart for several weeks, and girls LOVE downloading ringtone versions of her songs.

What makes Kana so successful though compared to other artists? If you were to ask me, it's the fact that she embraces the digital era (Something that the Japanese music industry as a whole has been resisting and falling as a result). Kana actually started as a model with a strong blog following before she ventured into music. This following allowed her to find somewhat immediate success. Furthermore, she and her team embraces digital sales and the cellphone-digital culture tied to digital sales. Her songs are consistently targetting gyarus, teenage girls, and young adult women (All of whom fall under the cellphone-digital culture demographic). Finally, she also adapts well to trends while maintaining the girl-next-door image. This can be seen by how her look changes with the current fashion trend with each album. Most recently, she's embraced country pop and her sales are even stronger than before.

[Nishino Kana Music Videos/Songs]

1. Female Soloists (Ayumi Hamasaki, Koda Kumi, Mika Nakashima, Otsuka Ai, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu)

Now for the depressing part following Kana. Unfortuantely, Kana is more or less the exception to the female soloist scene at the moment. Although there are newer female soloists that have found their place as a popular indie artist, female soloists aren't doing too well compared to the past. Those that are more familiar with J-Pop in the past would immediately recognize pretty much all the names of the people I listed in the section. The decline could be attributed to many potential reasons. It could be due to the idol boom in the mid-late 2000s creating more interest in groups than soloists. It could be due to inability to change with music trends. It could be due to their management failing to adapt to an increasingly digital market. While all of these artists have established themselves as household names that everybody recognizes, all of them have seen steady decline in sales over the years and have yet to recover from it.

2. Conventional Idol Groups (AKB48/48G)

I'm pretty sure people are cheering for this right now. Yes, AKB48 and its sister groups (With the exception of Nogizaka46) is on the decline (As well as conventional idol groups in general). AKB48 has been seeing a steady decline in sales for a while now. Their last single broke their weekly million sales streak despite the fact that it was the leader's/general manager's graduation single. Their latest album was originally anticipated to be a contender to be the top selling album last year, but it fell significantly short compared to the top two by six figure margins (Sandaime J Soul Brother's PLANET SEVEN and Arashi's Japonism). There are several factors that may be the cause of it.

One obvious explanation is the changing music scene. Bubbles don't last forever. AKB48's success alligned well with the idol boom. This can be seen by the rise of other idol groups such as Morning Musume and Momoiro Clover Z. Furthermore, AKB48's decline is happening at the same time as these two idol groups, so it's clear that there's a waning interest in idol groups. Some also attribute the decline to the graduation system. Even during AKB48's peak, people only recognized certain (aka the popular) members. As these members graduate, people recognize less members. Although management has made clear attempts to push certain girls to maintain face recognition, it doesn't appear to be as successful as they had hoped. Finally, the group is highly reliant on physical sales. Although their digital sales aren't bad, it pales in comparison to their physical sales. As digital sales become more popular in Japan, it's not surprising that the best selling artist in the physical charts is experincing pains from this shift.

3. Quirky/Weird Japan (LADYBABY, BABYMETAL)

... Or rather, they're usually never trendy to begin with in Japan. I just felt that it's necessary to address this part. Although they gain international recognition, many of these types of acts are far from popular in the domestic market. Although one may point out that Kyary falls under this category and became huge, Kyary was already popular prior to becoming a music artist. She's already a successful fashion blogger and model in the Harajuku scene. She's already recognizable to the general public (Though not as much as she was after her music debut). Although BABYMETAL is a somewhat exception, it should be noted that despite some general public recognition, their domestic sales are low (approx 30,000 range) compared to what you'd expect from their international popularity.

Grey Areas

1. Namie Amuro

Ah Namie. The long enduring prong of the  J-Pop trinity. Prior to the release of her album "_genic", Namie was a clear exception to the decline in female soloists in Japan. Her previous studio album and ballad best album each sold about 250,000 copies within its first week: the highest in physical copies sold for a female solo artist for their respective years. However, her latest album sold about half of previous album sales: a very huge drop. Some believe that she's simply on the decline. Others argue that the decline is due to a lack of promotion (Some of whom say this is due to switching management during the album's era). Either way, this drop in sales forces one to wonder if Namie's drop in sales is a sign of waning popularity or bad marketing. For Namie's sake, let's hope for the latter.

That said, she released a new single with sale numbers mirroring past singles, so maybe it's a sign that her popularity is not to blame for "_genic"'s relatively lackluster sales.

2. JE's Male Idol Monopoly and Love Dream Happiness (LDH)

Finally, we're at the part where we talk about the monopoloy known as Johnny and Associates/Johnny's Entertainment. The agency represents the vast majority of mainstream male idols. Ever watched a J-drama? At least one of the guys is a Johnny. Remember that one Japanese male idol group you liked in the past? Probably under that agency. The agency more or less controls the Japanese male idol industry for multiple decades, but cracks are starting to appear. With owner Johnny Kitagawa aging, there is increasing concern about the successor to the company. This concern created a faction war within the company with certain acts represented by a potential successor. Recently, one of the potential successors decided to leave the agency/company. This allegedly caused SMAP (One of the top two male idol groups in Japan) to consider disbanding with four of its five members leaving the agency. Although this did not happen at the end, it's clear that internal turmoil is affecting how the agency is run. The incident also forces one to consider who else on the roster can hold up the company once SMAP and Arashi eventually disband. Although JA has numerous successful acts, none of their more recent acts hold up to SMAP or Arashi's status.

Meanwhile, LDH (See non-traditional idol image) is currently enjoying the success of Sandaime J Soul Brothers. The group was in a neck-to-neck race with Arashi for the top selling album of 2015. Although Arashi won in the end, it's showing that the monopoly JA holds onto the male idol industry might not be as strong as it once was. Considering that LDH also manages other male groups such as Generations, EXILE, and THE SECOND, it is not out of the question to see a future where Johnny and Associates has to share the market with LDH. That said, it is still a gray spot for multiple reasons. While SMAP nearly disbanding forces JA to consider about the future, there is definitely time to find and/or develop their next breakout group. Furthermore, everything isn't smooth sailing for LDH either. The agency itself (The people in it already did) has been attempting to branch into other media such as manga, movies, and dramas for the past year. However, their track record has been far from stellar. Meanwhile, Johnny and Associates already established themselves in television and movies. Until LDH gets over its growing pains, this advantage may be the key to maintaining JA's male idol monopoly.

Sources: - Videos 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 / 22 / 23 / 24 / 25 / 26 / 27 / 28 / 29 / 30 / 31 / 32
              - Referenced via External Links 1 / 2 / 3

- Written by: xhurlyburly

Sorry for taking so long to post this when I said I would release it in a few days as a series. It became too Wikipedia on Part 1, so I dropped the idea for a while until I decided to just do the trends section as a standalone post.

All formating and lost text issues should be resolved now (e.g., Namie Amuro's part)

Tags: cpop / jpop / kpop, ontd original

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