Here’s another one for you fine people to chew on.
Brian turned me on to this translated blog post at Babymetal Newswire, originally by anime director Yamamoto Yukata, that’s interesting in a lot of ways for its ruminations on the Tokyo Dome performances from an artistic perspective (if you missed Daemon’s Red Night and Black Night dispatches, there’s another chance).
The money quote is Babymetal being at “the forefront of contemporary art,” as the title suggests, but it’s the reason that gets me: While Babymetal may not quite hit all the right notes all the time or be quite as perfect in their stage performance as often seems to be the case, its in the commitment to this thing they’re doing, this creation of personae and acting within them, that makes them perfect idols, and attaining that level of idol is an art in and of itself.
Fascinating, and also true.
I could couch this in a bunch of “IMHO” stuff, but I won’t because I don’t think I need to; I love Babymetal, my whole thing with idols stems from Babymetal, and I still spin the crap out of their music, but I’ve done two things previously: I’ve said that they’re basically perfect idols for largely the same reason, and I’ve pointed out the flaws in their performance when I’ve seen them (in some corners of the Internet, that apparently means that I hate them, but whatever).
It’s not the Babymetal point that I’m riffing on now, though. Yes, Babymetal does those things and is that, but look at the other really big names among our section of the Idolverse, or the different styles (like yami-kawaii) that bubble out from within it. There’s BiS, who took a George R.R. Martin approach to idol (inverting tropes while keeping the narrative structure intact); there’s Zenbu Kimi no Sei Da, the living embodiment of fractured emotions; Guso Drop, down-and-dirty hardcore scenesters; NECRONOMIDOL, mortuary-chic; and so on. Hell, Bellring Girls Heart may as well be an art project brought to life.
Now, we like the music, and we connect with the aesthetic, but think about all of the angles at play in there — the performance isn’t (or isn’t just) what’s happening on stage in the song and dance, but in the way the performers are playing a part. Do I think that Zenkimi’s Mashiro is dealing with complicated feelings of rejection, betrayal and exploitation while possibly nursing a heroin problem? I don’t, but she sure as hell is conveying that, on and off the stage, in and out of her music. There’s basically no difference between that and Hanako-san being an undead schoolgirl or Pikarin an ancient demon; personae are created, roles are established, and the show goes on.
It’s fascinating. Even Pour Lui, who meant every assault on the form of idol (which, as we’ve seen, was a form of expression separate from her actual personal feelings in its own right), nonetheless kept the underlying structure intact* (political economy folks in the room might understand it as a base and superstructure thing).
It’s in this that our darling alt-idols (set your teeth on edge!) are, in fact, the most perfect idols of all, because they’re committing to the kind of all-out personality creation of a typical idol but with wildly different rules and expectations — they’re reinventing form and function at the same time, all the time.
And yeah, I get it that it’s not always the case. There are plenty of idols who are true, genuine amateurs and enjoy putting on a little bit of an act while on stage and then drop at least some of the facade for fan interaction, and then drop all of it once the uniform comes off. That’s not a problem; I don’t even think it’s an issue, because performance art (like acting) can run a gamut from Daniel Day-Lewis to Keanu Reeves without losing the fact that it’s all still performance art.
But all of that together — and a whole bunch of stuff that I’m deliberately leaving out because I’d like for us to be able to talk about it rather than me say it at you — is a big part of what makes idol so blessed fascinating. I’m not in a position to say whether any particular idol or group’s performance is or is not “perfect idol,” but I do know that there was always a right way to do things, and that right way is being pushed and pulled and pinched and slashed by people willing to see how far the very idea of idol as a performance art can be taken. We probably haven’t even come close to the outer extremes yet, at least not in a popular way, and that’s extremely exciting.**
*We could probably spend days going over how that all worked, but that’s not the point of this piece
**It’s also a challenge to this whole thing, because Westerners care (or pretend to care) a lot more about “authenticity” in their musicians, especially so among punk+ and metal people. It’s always been one of the biggest criticisms of Babymetal, that the girls write none of the music (mostly) and don’t play instruments; for people for whom those are actually things that matter, no amount of the Kami Band selling the live experience can make up for how manufactured it all is.
I think that’s dumb, and I think we probably all do in our own way. It’s also bullshit, because what the hell does “authentic” mean anyway? More on that in a follow-up piece, I guess.