Scandals in Japanese music are nothing but pathetic marketing moves

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Since I started writing about Japanese music, I always avoided to talk about the scandals that pop up from time to time in the world’s second biggest music industry. The reason is simple: I don’t care about celebrities’ personal matters, nor it’s any of my business.

I could start covering news, scandals, gossips, and act like a lonely housewife in her mid 30’s, trying to get more views as possible with a clickbait website. And in all honesty, it would probably bring me farther than what I’m achieving now by exclusively writing about music. Most importantly, though, I’d totally benefit from the comfortable purpose these news are created for: popularity. To me, scandals are indeed nothing but planned and organized news, created by labels and management agencies to increase the popularity (and, potentially, sales) of artists going through particular stages of their careers.

The most infamous example right now is obviously the “scandal” between Enon Kawatani, the mastermind behind J-rock outfits indigo le End and Gesu no Kiwami Otome. , and Becky, “tarento” and now part-time lonely girl tasting food on TV. You all know the story, so I’ll just briefly recap it as: Dude was secretly married and used to flirt with Becky, shit hit the fan, she made one of those pathetic public flagellations, dude’s album Ryouseibai peaked the Oricon chart, she disappeared, and people started to worry about her health, with a few “you sexist assholes!” outbursts in the middle. Now, a few days ago, these two announced that Enon divorced and that Becky’s public flagellation was totally fake: Kindergarten level of behavior. Not even Haruki Murakami would care about such a weak cheating story.

Now, if you’ve noticed, in all the maze of this pathetic “scandal”, Gesu no Kiwami Otome.’s album Ryouseibai peaked the Oricon Chart, despite all the fuss for the love affair involving the band’s frontman.

I swear, I don’t wanna sound like those stupid conspiracy theorists polluting social networks, but I really see all of this just as a pathetic promotional move. Think about it: what’s the thing that, no matter what, causes more stir and makes everyone talk? Scandals. People will always point the finger and talk about someone else’s shameful actions, just for the sake of chatting about something and to feel better with themselves. It’s just natural, it happens everywhere: More talk means more popularity, leading to people getting to know about who’s involved, and, consequentially, to discover the group(s) the “culprits” are part of, that ultimately translates into more sales.

Don’t get me wrong: Gesu no Kiwami Otome. is actually one of the most valid J-rock bands out there, and Kawatani is undoubtedly a talented songwriter. Maybe the album would have topped the Oricon chart anyway. But at the same time, we’re not talking about a group you can find promoted on billboards in Shinjuku, in trains, or in any other crowded place: Gesu is in that transition phase between well known niche act and mainstream celebrity, where a trending topic (a scandal, in this case) right before the release of a record can do nothing but boost popularity. And who better than a celebrity like Becky to trigger all the mess? The ridiculous behavior of these two (apparently) adult people is just hard to take seriously, especially after the recent unveiling of Becky’s fake behavior in public. And there’s no doubt that, at the end of the story, there’s a heavy sense of falsity in the air, and that all of this was just used (or planned) to boost the sales of Kawatani’s band new record, and to make Becky relevant again in the business, after her fake retirement.

Enon and Becky’s “scandal” is not the only one to take in consideration, obviously. Another clear example is the infamous case of AKB48’s Minami Minegishi, who shaved her hair right after she was apparently caught sleeping at a guy’s apartment. Oh Lord… a twenty years old girl spending the night with a man! What has this world come to! And don’t get me started on the famous “no dating” rule, cause that’s pure falseness and an excuse for hardcore fans to keep supporting the girls.

Anyway, the terrible video of Minami apologizing in tears with her head shaved grabbed the attention of the world, and it’s honestly sad considering its visual brutality: It was beyond atrocious, and had a disturbing psychological violence behind it that made me sick. Right after the case, her fellow group members and supposedly friends, said that “they tried to stop her, but with no success”. Give me a break. Anyone could stop a girl from grabbing a hair clipper and shave her head bald. The thing was another excuse to make marketing by taking advantage of something the girl did in total innocence, and to “fix” the sales drop AKB48 had at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013, later followed by an impressive boost in copies sold for the singles following the incident.

Differently from the Enon and Becky “scandal”, though, that was nothing to laugh at: that girl was visibly traumatized, and that for me is enough to call it the cruelest and most inhuman commercial move ever. Cause no matter what, I will never be able to picture a young Japanese girl voluntarily shaving her head, no matter what she did or what her culture is. And even if she truly did it intentionally, there was no need to make a video and upload it on the web. That’s just plain senseless and cruel.

That said, I could go on and make several other examples, like the “scandal” that involved Techno-pop trio Perfume, where members Nocchi and Kashiyuka were spotted dating and spending the night with what probably were their boyfriends… right before the release of their successful Triangle album. But that’s enough.

The perfect timing these scandals always pop up, and the doubtful way they are exposed to the public, makes me think that this is nothing but a childish and honestly annoying way of gaining more popularity and increase sales. It’s a behavior based on the total disrespect for the artist’s private life, when the artist itself isn’t consciously involved in the move. Either way, the best thing I can do as a fan, is to judge these people for their artistic value, and not for their personal matters.

– Alex

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11 thoughts on “Scandals in Japanese music are nothing but pathetic marketing moves

  1. Re: “I don’t care about celebrities’ personal matters, nor it’s any of my business.”
    That should be true for just regular singers. It is different for Japanese Idols however. It is one of the more difficult concepts for non-fans to understand. Often misunderstood, similar to the Japanese Idol genre in general.

    My thoughts given here:

    https://dennysinnoh.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/deli-wisdom-article-27-why-the-akb48-no-dating-rule-is-not-such-a-bad-thing/

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  2. From what I read Gesu’s album sold worse than expected due to the scandal. It still got #1, but the label expected better sales than it got. He definitely didn’t come out of the scandal unscathed.

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  3. Interesting…rant, I guess is what I could call this, yeah? I love your perspective on all things Japanese.
    So, I wanted to comment on a few things you wrote. First, the Becky scandal was horrible. I actually was a huge fan of Becky, and I suppose still am, only in the past few years I’ve kind of grown away from her since I haven’t seen much of her lately. I’m talking pre-scandal. I know she was on a bunch of shows but I just got really busy and couldn’t keep up with her appearances. I love that she’s a haifu who made it big in Japan. My daughter is a haifu, so I of course have similar big dreams for her.
    What I don’t want for my daughter is what happened to Becky with this whole scandal. She didn’t deserve to have all that public humiliation, though in fairness to the discussion, I can’t imagine that Becky didn’t “know” the dude was married, no matter how much he claimed to have kept it secret at the time they started dating. That sounds extremely unlikely, given the social media climate we have today and the lack of privacy at all from what’s posted online about us. But even if that were true, I agree that it seemed like a crazy promotional move to help with sales. If that’s the case, that’s just sad on so many levels. What people do for money and fame is really crappy sometimes, you know?
    Next, Perfume spending the night with their boyfriends even during the Triangle era, I don’t see why that would be a scandal at all. They aren’t idols. They are musicians. They don’t follow any kind of a loveban rule. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking this, but I think they were only very briefly considered idols when their career first started, but that quickly ended after Game came out, or rather, right before it, when they decided to get all techno of the future on us. So whatever on that one, as far as calling it a scandal. You can see it obviously never stuck or hurt them in any way. Interesting though that it happened right before the Triangle release. I hadn’t heard about that.
    Now, here is where me and you are going to respectfully disagree my friend. I am a huge fan of AKB48, and I write about them often and have seen as much stuff as I possibly can about them. I’ve went and seen them too. I think there is a lot of good with AKB, far more than the bad, and the loveban rule is always going to be one of those controversial points about them. I get that and won’t argue that point at all with you because I think everybody I talk to has an opinion on it and nobody really agrees on it. And that’s fine. However, Miichan would most definitely have shaved her head if caught in a scandal, and I believe that nobody would’ve put her up to that, being that it actually has had a drastic and negative effect on AKB and you could argue it might have helped with sales records after it happened, but AKB has never needed that kind of help. They have their handshake tickets to get them their million mark every single that is released, and they always do, almost without exception. The reason I think Miichan 100% did this on her own is because that’s her personality. She’s WAY over the top in AKB. She’s a constant attention getter, and her attention getting antics got so bad on some variety shows that it became this huge running joke about her, prior to the scandal. Like she wanted to do anything to have the camera on her. Heck, SHE even made fun of herself for being this way! And she also is very emotional and just kind of a drama queen. I don’t say that to be mean to her because I actually love the girl to death in AKB, but I also wasn’t surprised in the least that she reacted the way that she did because of her scandal. I’m actually surprised she didn’t try to kill herself, because that would’ve been kind of in tune with her personality up to that point. Miichan has grown massively since then, has really matured and become a leader for AKB, and she’s one of two remaining first generations members left in AKB. I honestly can say she wasn’t helped even a little by that scandal, as she nearly got booted from AKB and instead, spent a good deal of time being demoted before picking back up her normal, crazy self again within AKB. So I think in her case, yes, her scandal might be the most famous scandal ever in J-music due to the insane media coverage it got, but I also think in some respects that if she could go back in time and change what happened or how she reacted, now that she’s matured a great deal, I honestly believe she would’ve changed what she did entirely. And I’m sure AKS would’ve been happy too if they could turn back time on that one. It actually hurt them a LOT.
    Anyway, great, great post, as usual, and thanks for discussing this interesting idea about scandals being part of something larger like an album boost! It certainly is possible!

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    • Hey man 😉

      You can definitely call this a rant, rather than “post” or “article”, haha.

      About Perfume, I agree they have no rule to follow regarding their sentimental lives, but at the same time it seems like that everything related to “a girl sleeping or hanging out with a man” is a scandal in Japan. When, of course, it’s something absolutely normal to do at that age (Nocchi and Kashiyuka were 21 when the Friday “scandal” happened). But we’re talking about celebrities, and of course that is something gossip magazines live on. As you pointed out, Perfume being kind of an hybrid between Idol/Performers/Artists made the whole thing less damaging to the eye of the public, I guess (even though some hardcore fans started smashing P.T.A. DVDs, apparently).

      Now, AKB48. I know you’re aware of this, but I never tried to diss the group or anything, and I took the case of Minami as mere example for the purpose of the article. I actually think the 48 family, as a project, is something interesting to follow. I’m not a fan of their music personally, but I’ve always been curious about this big “machine” AKS built up, which is also why I watched a few of their documentaries suggested by a friend of mine, who’s a big fan like you.

      But again, I’m not a fan, so I don’t know the real personality of this girl, like you normally do as fan. I don’t quite exclude the fact she voluntarily shaved her head, the thing that hit me the most was the fact that such a brutal video was shared online. That’s the thing that, as an outsider, makes me most skeptical, no matter how much Minami is an attention seeker. But again, I don’t exclude the fact that all of this was genuinely made by her, and I trust your opinion as a much more informed person than me on the personality of this girl. You’re also right about the fact AKB doesn’t quite need this to sell, but the clear increase in single sales following the scandal (more than 700,000 copies between “So Long!” and “Sayonara Crawl”) definitely grabbed my attention.

      In any case, I’m not pretending to be the keeper of the absolute truth of all this, cause we’ll never know how things really work behind the scenes of the Japanese music industry. This is just a rant, and my personal thoughts on what could be behind these “scandals”, something that I wanted to talk about for a while.

      As always, thanks for reading! 🙂

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      • Ehhhh? People actually smashed PTA dvds after that happened? I didn’t know that! All these years as a Perfume fan, I guess I’ve stayed away from their personal lives. I think the exception was when there was some controversy a few years back when A-chan said something inadvertently offensive to homosexuals or something in a concert? I don’t even remember what it was exactly because to me it was such a non-issue, but apparently she offended a bunch of people and didn’t mean to do it. Other than this, I have always been under the impression that Perfume was scandal free up to this point. That’s interesting to know what you wrote for sure!
        Also, I agree with you that it seems anytime a woman of celebrity status does anything with a man, it’s a “scandal.” I mean, there have been some horrible things that have happened to women in Japan’s J-entertainment industry, and you have to wonder if it does play into the somewhat still misogynistic atmosphere that exists there. I could be wrong though about this.
        As for AKB, no worries my man. I know you are just sharing personal thoughts here. As am I. I love everything you write and you are always completely spot on with everything you say. I think in the case of scandals with AKB, just based on the documentaries I’ve seen and from everything else I know about them, it would seem really counter-productive to what they do. I mean, if a girl in AKB who is a very popular member has a scandal and graduates or gets demoted, then that means the team that girl is on in AKB needs to find a replacement for her, that girl won’t be available for handshake sessions which in turn will drive down sales because of her fans not wanting to buy cds since they won’t get a chance to meet their oshimen, and worse, it just puts a negative image to AKB’s overall positive influence they’ve had in Japan. I think it’s safe to say the only exception to this really has been Sashihara Rino’s scandal that got her transferred to HKT. That ended up being the best move ever for her, since she has gone on to win the center spot twice in the Sousenkyos. Clearly, the scandal didn’t hurt her at all, but for other girls, it has been devastating.
        Miichan’s head shaving video was brutal. I wasn’t surprised by it, but at the same time, my heart broke for her. It was such a violent reaction to something that is totally and completely normal for a girl to do at her age, and she shouldn’t have felt the need to do something that extreme, even if it was her personality. I agree. All I can say is, welcome to the world of Japanese idols, you know? Kawai so.
        Good stuff Alex! Always great discussion with you.

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  4. Your theory rests on the false premise that a genuine scandal would affect the male and female parties equally. I think a far more likely explanation is that is no conspiracy at work, just a universally acknowledged and sexist double standard. Nevermind that it takes two to tango: It’s always the woman’s reputation that suffers. “Boys,” after all, “will be boys.” Of course the scandal wasn’t going to hurt the sales of a major record release.

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    • If that were true Bob, then how on earth did Sashihara Rino win the AKB sousenkyo not once but TWICE, and she is poised to take it for the third time next month and also be the first girl EVER in AKB to repeat two years in a row? That girl had a scandal to end all scandals in AKB, was taken out of AKB and put into a just forming sister group HKT, and now she’s the queen of the idol universe.
      There is no double standard. I think Alex is right to some degree with his statements. I also think you should look at history a little bit more. Guess who is the highest grossing musical artist of all time in Japan? I’ll give you a hint: IT’S NOT A MAN.

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    • Hey Bob,

      I’m not indeed supposing that one of the parts should be affected more than the other. Is there sexism in the Japanese industry? Yes, sometimes there is. Like anywhere in the world. But not in the case of most of these scandals, in my opinion. Especially in this one, were both parts shown inconsistence and even ate their words back at the end, showing a hard-to-believe behavior.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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