Homicidols Archives: The Idol Suicides #02

Welcome to Homicidols Archives, an attempt to capture and document the ephemeral and ever-changing entity that is Idol.

Here is the reprint of the second instalment of The Idol Suicides, a column originally written for now-defunct 20hz magazine by Sokichi Osada, the producer of legend-worthy disbanded group Girls Excellency International and currently the producer of Cinema and Boy CQ (Den’ei to Shounen CQ), movie soundtrackers duo extraordinaire.
The Idol Suicides #02 was originally published in May 2016, in the third issue of 20hz.
For an introduction to the series, click here. For the other installments, it’s this way.

The text of the article is untouched and as Osada-san sent it to me. However, considering the original layout of the article had images and video content to supplement documentary appartés. I was linked to all idols videos, they are presented as they were. All other hyperlinks have been added by the contributor posting this.

The Idol Suicides

Sokichi Osada

#02 The Way of Idol Financing

I think my luck has left me.

Fed up with my unstable and uncertain life, my partner for the past nine years seems to be on the verge of a breakup talk, and my idol group ‘Shojo Kakka no International’ has declared to take a break due to its disbandment crisis. I can hear my beloved possessions falling apart into pieces right in my hand.

Just two months ago I was thinking ways to inspirit Sho-Nasho, but now I have a heart-wrenching task to finish them in the best possible way.

The breakup crisis came about for many reasons which I can’t summarize in a single sentence, however I can say that the economic difficulties had its part.

This article is about the relationship between underground idols and the inevitable ― money.

Sometimes I bump into a misled person who thinks idol industry creates big cash, but the business will rarely make profit, and if anything suppresses our everyday life. I also had a similar silly thought before I began that, though being in the indies, maybe I could make a living from this business.

Yes, I can proudly say that the reason to my being in the idol industry is because it’s “fun,” but we can’t go on just with the joy. I have a side job that I’d love to quit, and I’d be happy to profit from this business ― needless to say with my joy and fun secured. Probably any businessman of ability or high-aiming artist holds thoughts alike.

‘Shojo Kakka no International’ started out without any fund, our pockets completely empty. In this era of Internet and smartphones, anyone can become an underground idol. It’s surprising how low the expenses are in the beginning. We beat around the bush and performed cover songs until we were able to finance our own songs.

Our main revenue was sourced from our “Buppan” [merchandise] and from “Tokuten-Kai” [Privilege Party] or “Cheki-Kai”1 [Instax Party] held before and after shows where fans can take an instax photo with their favorite member.  An instax photo is commonly priced between 500 and 1000 yen [US$5-10], differing between the idol groups.

There is also a system called “Ticket-Back” where venues pay back percentages from the admission fee depending on the number of audiences, and this system starts to back you up once you are able to bring in more than 20 fans per show. Additional profits from goods as T-shirts and button pins, CDs, a rare case of a performance fee, was all that could be used to cover our expenses.

As our fans increased, the excitement multiplied as did the price. There was a growth in the number of people involved, and with our endless obsession to produce notable materials, once a home-recorded session turned into a well-teched studio session.

I heard of a rumor that a thriving underground idol spent ten million yen [roughly US$100,000] to create a fancy CD jacket. They too, once used to wrap their CD-Rs in skimpy paper sleeves.

The fee to rent a venue for ‘Shusai-Live’2 [Self-hosted shows] began to shoot up as well. In the beginning we were fine with renting venues that cost us a few million yen [a few hundred U.S. dollars] per day, but as we expand we started renting halls costing from several hundred thousand to million yen [several hundred to million U.S. dollars].
Even the dinner I treated to the members, once a 280 yen dinner spaghetti was now a 1000 yen ramen. But I think this reward is an important asset in keeping their motivations going.

So this is how the idol business that began with almost no expense, begins to exchange costs that’s unrealistic for a single individual to hoist. If one fails, it’s a catapult to bankrupting. To avoid that bankrupt, I guess we should take the safe way and make sellable songs with mediocre cute girls performing them reachable to the expected market, but as I’ve written in my previous installment, being safe won’t cut us a conspicuous figure in this billow of the underground idol scene. And to add more to that, the girls naturally want to outshine others, starving for recognition that drove them to become idols in the first place.

*1 Cheki
A name for a polaroid camera and the polaroids, and the photo shoots shot by the camera. Though ‘Cheki’ is a brand name by Fuji Film (the official brand name being ‘instax’ [which is commonly known as ‘Cheki’ in Japan]), other polaroids shot with other company products are also called as ‘Cheki’. Aside from idol scene, instax is used at strip joints, host clubs [where male hosts sits and drinks with customers], and at events thrown by ‘Visual-Kei’ bands [bands with heavy makeup and loud fashion]. The photo-shoots are done before and after the performance, and 1 Cheki is commonly priced between 500 and 1000 yen. After the shoot, the customer can talk with the member for a few seconds to a few minutes, and many will visit the venue not for the performances but for this communication. Cheki films are sold for about 1500 yen [roughly US$15] with 20 shots.

*2 ‘Shusai-Live’ by underground idols
When an underground idol group has a decent outlook in the incoming audience, they would organize their own shows without having a mediating booker or a promoter. This is called a ‘Shusai [self-hosted] Live’. On the contrary, a show booked by a promoter or hosted by other group is called a ‘Kyakuen [guest appearance] Live’
The task covers from contracting with the venue, inviting guest acts, creating a timetable from rehearsal to actually leaving the building, and in some cases to creating merchandise for the event, which is naturally very power-consuming. However aside from the rental fee to the venue and the performance fee to the guests, the profit is all for the organizer to take. This encourages a few idol managers to organize self-hosted shows as frequent as once every week.

On the other hand, the idol business is a sideline for most of the individuals involved. It is basically impossible to make a living just from the business unless it is on a massive scale. They have other jobs that could be in the creative field such as writing, editing films, or song-writing, and there are those who work delivering newspapers or at convenience stores. Take it for granted that the girls have their jobs too. Coincidentally, I’ve rarely heard of anyone who has a full-time corporate job and does idol business on the side.

Major idol groups contracting with big enterprises hardly breakup, because they are tethered and bound with a powerful element called money.

I don’t think the relationship would be as brittle if there were, say, a few grand provided each month to the members and the staff. The figure is a visible valuation, and it also leads to a stability in everyday life as well as in their confidence.

Well-off idol groups, if any, barely exist, and if you’re able to hand a grand each month, you’re in a pretty good shape in the underground idol industry. But the more you put in your effort and your best, the bigger the investment gets, and soon you’re too busy to work another job. All that effort only to find out how slow the profit grows. Your day-to-day life is suppressed, and your partner of nine years gives up on you.

Underground idol business isn’t rewarding.

*3 Payment to the idols
As for ‘Shojo Kakka no International’, the payment for the girls is 40% of the total sales from the Cheki shoots and their full transportation expenses. The monthly pay differs greatly between each month, but is about 3-4 million yen [US$300-400] each month, transportation fee included.
There are other management groups where the Cheki sales is returned to the girls at a high rate of 70%, but there are other groups which do not provide performance fee or transportation expenses at all, but rather requests the girls to pay expense in the name of a “lesson fee.”
With idol groups that consists of a number of girls, there are management groups that modify the payment based on the girl’s popularity (ex. the number of Cheki shoots) to keep up the girls’ motivation.

A “business crisis” was one of the official reasons for Sho-Nasho’s leave, but honestly, we just weren’t “profitable”. Just having fun didn’t make the money. We couldn’t continue without the fun, but to continue, we needed the cash. In this vicious spiral, the fresh excitement of performing and managing that was once felt had worn out, and a 1000 yen ramen could no longer hold us together.

There is, of course, freedom in the expressions not tied down by money because there isn’t (too much of) an obligation to create profit.

However, a passion that doesn’t involve money cools down eventually. Just like the secret to prolonging a romantic/marital relationship ― it’s not love or sentiment, but is the economic bond they share.

Passion, love, and the initial excitement are all so frail and momentary, it’s essentially impossible to continue on a relationship built up on those elements.

Romantic relationship is strangers hand in hand as music is a series of noise, and an idol group is likewise a bracket of unrelated wanderers.

A moment of lost focus will easily unbind them, but I do not want to negate that undeniable “brittle relationship.”

There’s a group called NECRONOMIDOL 4, which as their name points, has an underworld theme. They make an impression with their Taisho-era author Edogawa Ranpo5 inspired freakshow-ness and the Lovecraft-esque6 view towards the world.
A girl ― normally full of effervescence ― expressing “death” brings forth a sensuality that is exquisite, eerie, and charming all at the same time.

Their acts show a tenacious desire towards expressing and the high-spirit that only exists in the early stage of performance, and nothing points of their economical need to “profit and make a living.”

Another rapacious group was BiS7 who, with their cynical performances and suggestive music videos satirically pointing to the similarity between the idol industry and the sex industry, had vigorously disassembled and reconstructed the idol culture. Their performance was also loaded with vivid willful expressions that surpassed far above their economical needs.

I still believe in the magic of ‘Shojo Kakka no International’ — basically a mishmash of amateurs, relying on a meager funding and on an uncanny dedication surging from who-knows-where, performing acts jammed with fireworks of noise. I felt that we could produce a new type of beauty, and I still have faith in us.

We may be odds and ends without an economical bind, barely glued together. But that is the very element that produces negligent and purposeless beauty, realized by the nonsensical youth.

An indies idol group formed in 2014. ‘Necro-Ma’ in short. Clad in jet black school uniform with a cloak, mini-skirt, and a school-cap, their songs are about love and death sang over shoegazer and black metal. One member named Sari leaves an intense shock with her bright green hair and her face painted completely white with make-up.

*5 Edogawa Rampo
A fiction writer and a critic born in 1894. He wrote many mystery novels that were horrific, freaky, grotesque, perverted, and bizarre until mid-career. Post war, he wrote mystery novels that were appropriate for juveniles that still had a hint of his early writings. His fans, dilettantes, and followers are still newly born after 60 years past his death. He is the writer who created the basis for detective novels in Japan.
His classic novels include “The Case of the Murder on D. Hill”, “Strange Tale of Panorama Island”, “The Human Chair”, and “The Catapillar.”

*6 Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft. An American fiction writer and a poet born in 1850, deceased in 1937.
‘Cosmic-horror’, or horror novels with sci-fi elements, was his speciality. Along with other authors, he had created an original mythology consisting of strange gods prevailing on earth known as ‘Cthulhu Mythos’.
Stephen King, Hideyuki Kikuchi and myriads of other writers have been influenced by works of Lovecraft.
His classic novels include “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Call of Cthulhu.”

*7 BiS
An abbreviation term for ‘Brand-new idol Society’, an idol group that operated from 2010 through 2014.
Music videos that showed the members as if having sex, merchandise corner that did not hold “Akushu-Kai” [Handshake Party] but “Hug-Kai” [Hug Party], a riot-like cheerings by their fans who were affectionally called as “Kenkyu-In” [Researchers], and a collaboration with long-established noise band Hijokaidan, had dismantled the accustomed cuteness and innocence that were demanded to the heretofore idols and boosted the ‘anything-goes’ spirit within the underground idol industry.