Monday, December 27, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole We Go - Part 1

"In the enfranchised mind of the scientific naturalist, the usual feelings of repugnance simply do not exist. Curiosity conquers prejudice."
- Bruce F. Cummings, Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919)
Let's face it, with the holidays in full swing, it's doggone impossible to sit down and write a decent blog entry, so I'll just throw in the towel and run with this little piece that came to mind after having another go at watching the Arashi 5x10 Concert with my sisters last night. I've had the opportunity to catch random clips of performances by idol groups in the past few years enough to know that I don't have the constitution of a fangirl to overlook pitch problems, disturbingly suggestive dance moves and atrocious clothing. But lest you say I judge too quickly, I'm all for giving these boys a fair shake.

It was in August of this year that mikautada generously supplied me with a selection of JE concerts  by SMAP, Tackey and Tsubasa, Arashi, KAT-TUN and NEWS, and so I attempted to go through them objectively, mindful of Ender's Girl's warning that I'm venturing on slippery slope; ever grateful to have my sister's commentary present in the background like an errant, unstable guide to a potentially dangerous  [could suck you into la~la~land and turn you into a mindless, spendthrift drone] excursion.

After eight or so grueling hours of [pressing the fastforward button on the remote,] watching my JE stash, scratching my head in disbelief and finding myself bursting in laughter at inopportune moments, I started jotting down notes,  making a list of things I've observed about this breed of "artists", in hopes of making my venture slightly legit.

The idea for this post was to provide a basic account of my 3-day adventure into JE territory, deriving inspiration from Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary and Marco Polo's travel diary. Problem is, I couldn't manage to watch any of the foregoing concerts/performances from start to finish, so this hardly counts as an in-depth review or study. It's actually turned out to be more of a compilation of the disgruntled ramblings of a person who couldn't wrap her head around what was going on half of the time and whose jaw kept hitting the floor after witnessing one weird spectacle after another; so what started out as a one-time "academic" quest, turned out to be more of a crazy adventure, or rather more like me, tumbling down a rabbit hole, (stumbling around in shock) discovering this strange new world of exotic (for lack of a better word), male creatures---the kind that hail from the land of Johnny's Jimusho.

After briefly going over the '92-'95 SMAP Concert disc compilation, it suddenly occurred to me that if Hikaru Genji was the Japanese equivalent of the band Menudo on roller skates in the 1980s, then SMAP would surely have to be  Japan's dorky, rainbow-clad answer to the NKOTB in the early 90s. Obviously, the idea to create multimedia stars was nothing new, in fact, it didn't stop there, because Johnny's Entertainment, as most people already know, would later come to manage six other bands that would take a bite on the country's music industry.

The music maker, the dreamer of dreams, the Pied Piper of little boys from that weird island country, Johnny's Entertainment is essentially a boy band factory---one that churns out sensational [bubblegum] talent this side of the world and for the most part, has been surprisingly successful at it. Off the bat I noticed how one need not be a good looking chap to become an idol; one need only have a distinct look and flavor, even normal would do, since they would eventually get made over anyway, once they debut.

Wearing anything from matching square suits, parachute pants, metallic vests, to psychedelic sweaters, fresh-faced youngsters would sing, dance and tumble on stage while hordes of screaming fans go ga-ga in a dark theater. Over time, they'll change hairstyles, wear [slightly] better clothes, support a distinctive image and get trimmed down to a more manageable number, but rest assured that (aside from the signature moves that recur in slight variations and the dodgy use of English words in concert promos) fans will continue to flock to stadiums and help sell out concerts.

Inside my head I'm breaking down,
Where am I now and why?
- Lyric Translation 1582 - 亀梨和也

It seems that things have not changed much in the last two decades, considering that the new crop of JE boys continue the age-old tradition of making girls squeal and making [most] boys uncomfortable enough to run towards the nearest exit. The only difference is now, they  not only entertain crowds through song and dance in colorful outfits, feathered boas, and sequined tops but they do it all  while staging a mind-boggling extravaganza that can only be compared to a three-ring circus. To date, I've seen artists from the Johnny's stable get hoisted up in the air like rag dolls swinging in the breeze; I've seen shirtless, young boys prance around on stage with nervous energy---a sight which could have been directly culled from a fujoshi's overactive imagination [or a pedo's technicolor dream]; I've seen androgynous young men swivel their hips and tease the crowd with their  [string bean] bodies and [criminal] sex appeal; but nothing could have prepared me for the grandiose and insane spectacle that was KAT-TUN's 2009 Break the Records concert.

Out of the recent batch of artists to come out of JE, KAT-TUN always struck me as the most flamboyant and stylized of the bunch. They don't break the mold so much as try to redefine it and therein lies a contradiction. I don't know if it's due to a conscious effort to distinguish themselves from the others or simply a marketing decision, but KAT-TUN for some reason, simultaneously appears to be the more experimental and edgier counterpoint to  the other boy bands of JE in terms of music and yet they're also the most theatrical, most  hyped up and idol-like come performance time. Oh, and they always come dressed with a costume-party in mind.

The actual singing or the live vocal performance is inconsequential---whether they hit the right note is no longer important---there's a thousand other attractions out there that will prevent you from getting hung up on auto-tune enhanced vocals. They're like rockstar wannabes, bubblegum pop advocates and ultimate stage entertainers all rolled in one. A KAT-TUN concert would not be complete without any fancy gimmicks,  showstopping performances and fanservice. This  one in particular had  its members zipping through the air and shamelessly flirting with their audience. In addition thereto, one member jumps off a hanging cage, plays an onnagata and believe it or not, gets drenched in public. Still, one member rides a motorcycle in a cage sphere while another flips the bird on an unsuspecting audience... all of these and more in Feles's 2-part Monster Review.

Observational Report #1: The Kamenashi Kazuya Solo 1582 a.k.a. Why Go to a Sentou?

Up, up and away
My sister, the KAT-TUN fan, was extra excited to watch this concert. Considering that I just spent an hour trying to appreciate Takizawa Enbujo, I wasn't really that keen on following it up with  KAT-TUN's  brand of pop [which, based on my limited exposure, has a punk-rock-hiphop flavor with a little sleaze thrown in for good measure],  so I only dropped in once in a while to verify if what was going on coincided with my shortlist of what to expect from a KAT-TUN concert and this is what I ended up with:

Moving stage, strobe lights and fountains  ✔
Flame throwers and fireballs ✔
Members sticking out tongue/licking lips ✔
Tanaka Koki scaring kids ✔
Kamenashi Kazuya exercising creative restraint x

By all accounts, it was a typical JE least until Kame turned up and performed his solo, playing the dual role of ill-fated lovers. I tell you, this  thing stopped me dead in my tracks. He just had to put all that theatrical experience from working on Dream Boy to good use, had to prove once again that he was under the tutelage of another JE boy who gyrates and thrusts his hips like there's no tomorrow....had to smear lipstick on his lips, had to brandish a sword like a frenzied fighter, had to take his audience on a magic wagasa ride; take flight and spin with sparklers. You see, he just had to. Without going into vocal stylings and strictly judging it by way of  production value, Kame's 1582 was nothing short of Fabulous. Outrageous. Stupendous. It was out of this world and sadly, simply insane.

There's an undeniable conceit to it that can only be attributed to crazy artistry but you got to hand it to the guy for performing it with such conviction. But what does it all mean? Having seen this concert a year later than most people made me privy to a host of conflicting opinions. Given the sheer extravagance of it all, it's no surprise that it's prone to be ridiculed but what's interesting is the number of interpretations and conjectures that came to light because of this solo. Some placed particular significance on the song title (see spaarklingwine & overduemuse), while others defended the performance out of love for Kame and came up with their own interpretation (see kvothe232).  As for me, I simply chalked it up to misguided and gratuitous showmanship.

The first section of this performance was rather easy to piece together---two lovers are separated at a time of war, the woman dies/is defiled and/or murdered;  man gets news of his lover's demise in the heat of battle and gets all fired up, enraged, and entangled up in scrolls (???)...okay, so I admit that I have not given it that much thought, but who would, after watching Kame get all wet and wild, eager to replicate Jennifer Beals's water dance on a live stage? Bet you didn't know that those water fountains could be used that way, huh. Bet you didn't expect Juniors to throw buckets and buckets of water (enough to drown a big rat) at their senpai either.

So what to make of this unique and exciting piece of performance art? Well, based on the video under examination, I think we can safely infer any or all of the following:

(a) The final act to the 1582 solo depicts man against the elements;
(b) The man called Kame is just way too hot to handle [which is why he was doused];
(c) Kame is possessed  by an exhibitionist demon and is undergoing a cleansing ritual;
(d) Kame is a very, very dirty boy, hence should bathe in public; 
(e) Juniors are dispensing payback against him for setting a weird precedent (the gold standard in staging an over the top JE concert piece).

*End of report on first and last attempt at watching KAT-TUN's BTR Concert dated 8/22/2010*

Experiment concluded.
Results inconclusive.
Further viewing is suspended indefinitely.

Photos courtesy of kattun_kame -- KAT-TUN concert コンサート live kamenashi 亀梨和也
Additional photos taken from Dazed and Confused feat. Kame
Lyric translation to 1582 courtesy of JPopAsia and


  1. LMAO, funny. I admit to only ever watching Johnny's New Years countdown in which you can hear some horribly out of tune singing and see stunning pyrotechnics. It is, indeed, a three ring circus and despite all those flaws, girls all over Japan squee and gush.

    I admit to liking some of the music of Johnny's boys, but find it usually not the best and if you ever watch KAT-TUN PVs, slightly disturbing.

  2. How did I not see this post before??? I don't remember seeing this entry between your New Year's and "Holiday Buzz" posts???

    That said, this so RAWKS!!! Too painfully funny, ahahaha!!!! I'd post this in the KAT-TUN Love comm at LJ RIGHT NOW if only the mods allowed fake cuts (rats!)... ^^;;

    Heehee I appreciate your admirable commitment to objectivity, even in the face of the JE Furreakshow. Enjoyed your dry and witty analysis of the Jimusho Effect and the boyband/fangirl culture (see the sick symbiosis there? lol) of Japan. (And the NKOTB and Menudo analogies = totally! I suppose Arashi would be BSB and News would be N'Sync? Whereas KAT-TUN sadly has no counterpart -- in the West, or any part of the world.)

    I LOLd at your KT concert checklist! And everything you said about Queen Kame, esp. "misguided and gratuitous showmanship" => GOLD. I remember reading initial fan reports of the infamous 1582/Water Dance solo and the description was enough to make me want to vomit in my mouth. Therefore, I just HAD to watch and see for myself, lol.

    As for your conclusion... my answer would be (d)!!!!

    Btw, if your found the BTR solo "fabulous, outrageous and stupendous," I'd love to hear your thoughts on his 2010 World Big solo, assuming you're even going near it with a giant koumorigasa. =D Less specatacle, but 8374x more fanservice. X__O

  3. @ wolforion - You know I'm quite sure I have a copy of a JE countdown lying around somewhere but I never had the courage to watch it... the costumes kinda scared me away. (Lol) I do have to concede that some of the stuff they do is pretty entertaining in an I-can't-believe-I-just-witnessed-that way but most of them just suck at singing. I think part of the reason they put on a show is to cover the fact that they sing off-key or are just plain lousy when singing in public. :D

    Some of the music's catchy but then again, most of the stuff I know or are familiar with, are the ones featured in dramas---they catch on more because of repetitive listening.

    Videos---haven't tried watching a full KT video but one of these days, I'll try see one in full. I think I saw part of the video for Rescue and the latest one where there's just five of them and all I can say for now is that they have a lot of foreign extras in them.

    @ E.G. - You didn't see it because it was an antedated post. I think I finished writing the darned thing a week ago along with Sherlock. I'm still trying to finish up last year's posts. I'm hoping to wrap up part 2 and 3 of this JE expedition but I don't think I've recovered long enough to take another dive at the boy band pool.

    Furreakshow is quite an understatement. I'd have to agree that Arashi would be BSB... haven't seen enough of NEWS though to see if they could pass as N'Sync. Lol. But you're right about one thing---there is nothing out there that's remotely close to KT. I don't think Westlife or any of the other boy bands that came out and hit it big would dress up as pirates or would be as gungho about dispensing fanservice.

    As for Kame's solo, well, you probably already know how shocked I was since I texted you minutes after seeing it. I swear, my sister was laughing out loud and my brother's yaya literally did a double take--you know like a cartoon character whose eyes almost popped out and whose mouth was wide open. I bet I looked just as ridiculous.

    (d)!!! Hahaha, me too! I kept wondering how the Juniors felt.

    I'll get back to you about the World Big solo- wth, they inverted the words again on this concert promo. Well, at least they're pretty consistent, gotta follow up "Break the Records" with " World Big Tour"...

  4. lollol Scrolling down your post, I was in total hysterics of two different kinds: [1]from laughing at your breakdowns & checklists describing the crazy world of being a JE boy; AND [2] sheer fear of the pics (Oh it's Dracula Kame, yikes!)

    lmao Koki scaring kids comment. So true. But agree with your comment that it's not crucial to be super good-looking (at least not in the classic, conventional sense,) you just need to have the X-factor (Johnny K can pay to have everything else "fixed" lol j/ks ^^; Ahem.)

    Well, I have to say I've never sat through an entire KAT-TUN concert in full (I usually FF through to the parts when *a certain someone* is doing something interesting) & after your report, zooey... I'm not sure if I ever want to- sounds more boundary-pushing than their PVs. I'm thinking it's much better to stick to my PG-13 Arashi rainbow happy pills concerts xD

    Btw, it sounds creepy but I love it everytime I hear them use "dodgy English words." For some sick reason, it always puts a smile on my dial LOL

  5. @ zooey

    Yeah I remember that horrified text from you, I kept it in my cell phone for weeks and would pull it up to read whenever I needed a quick giggle, hahaha. =D

    @ jicks

    Speaking of "dodgy English words" (bwahahaha), I remember the first time I saw a KT performance of "She Said" -- and the English chorus (see linky below, at 0:42 mark) just sounded like babbling 'coz Kame & Co. were getting the stress and inflection all wrong. So the whole time I was hearing "shize-bada-bada-bada-bada... shize-bada-bada-bada-bada" and it made me go "eehhhhhWTFWTFWTF???" until I finally Googled the song and realized that the English lyrics were, in fact, "She said never look back / She said never look back / She said never look back / Whatever you face..."

    L-M-A-O *fond tear*

  6. @ jicks

    agree with your comment that it's not crucial to be super good-looking (at least not in the classic, conventional sense,) you just need to have the X-factor (Johnny K can pay to have everything else "fixed" lol j/ks ^^; Ahem

    My gosh, they really are strange creatures... and they keep on evolving, at least in terms of looks. They all looked so different 8 years ago. Lol on the "fixed" comment. Can't help but imagine a team of "beauty experts" examining each new recruit, handing out a customized a makeover program for them.

    First time I saw Koki, I couldn't believe he was an idol because they really did a number on him--super thin eyebrows, bulging eyes and shaved head-- and I thought to myself how this guy was forever doomed to play the comic relief or the weird sidekick. Tsk tsk poor boy. I bet he looked normal before he signed up for this gig, for one, I don't recall him looking as scary dancing behind Tackey.

    Arashi rainbow happy pills

    Would you believe that I used the same words on my draft post for the Arashi 5x10 concert? Haha! Glad to know that my impression of the said group isn't far off from a true fan's perception. Have to admit that after surveying a number of JE concerts, I have a newfound respect for the said group. Their anniversary concert wasn't as gimmicky; yes, I reckon it was expensive, but it turned out to be very clean compared to the others I've seen.

    Oh and I'm with you on the joys of hearing weird syntax, it's kinda funny how things are directly translated to English.

    @ E.G. - Oooh, thanks for the link. I remember watching this part of the concert and asking my sister for the lyrics of this song. For my part I heard, "" and I kept thinking, "hmmm, interesting vocals, they look so fired up...but wth are they singing?"

    Crazy times. Lol.

  7. @zooey
    (Hold your horses) I, er, really enjoyed the 5X10 concert so to hear a "non-fan" send out some props about those boys is kinda validating ;) I think there was one or two moments when Nino actioned some grappling activity but, hey, it wouldn't have felt "right" otherwise. All in all, I think it was kinda a classy anniversary act *chokes on Arashi uchiwa*

    I have a strong inclination that Koki's alienesque features had probably been designed by Johnny K to make one or two other band members appear more good-looking^^; lol j/ks.

    Deary me, that PV is golden! Thanks so much sharing! (lmao at Ueda's hair^^; And omg, it looked like Dracula Kame was spitting out blood at 1:09 O_o) To tell you the truth, I could barely even tell when the Japanese stopped and the Engrish started, had you not kindly pointed out the timemark I would've been WTFing all night long.

  8. (Whoa...whoa boy...) LOL x)
    I kinda have an idea how much you enjoyed that anniversary concert---I don't think you would sit through it 3x if it wasn't packed with the Arashi-goodness that made you love them in the first place (*jumps off horse and performs heimlech maneuver on jicks)

    Speaking of Tanaka Koki's features, I think you might be on to something. Now I wonder which band members hugely benefited from it...

    Finally got around to watching Kame's World Big Solo... wtf, I guess vampires really are in vogue. Funny how they started it off like the Thriller video with Kame in a sweater being accosted by vampires. Rofl, so he gets himself some fangs, feeds on Juniors and gets in a coffin and performs a magic trick. Wow, will wonders never cease? Now if only he could sing underwater, I bet he'd also pull an old Houdini trick.