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.