If you were paying attention while it felt like reality was in the act of being torn apart the other night (that is, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension announcement about Gomochi and Aza), a helpful friend from inside Japan was offering corrected information over Twitter, and he agreed to a virtual conversation to go over some details.
Our source is anonymous and asked to remain so; he described himself as being part of the fan community and somewhat close to some of the people involved, and it wouldn’t do anybody any good for additional folks to get caught up in the furor, so. You can take it with a grain of salt if you like. Based on a few comments and observations that a person would have to be fairly in the know to, uh, know, I feel that there’s veracity to this and so am passing on the info to you all.
Before delving into the meat, I want to point out that I had a little commentary outlined prior to my conversation with our friend; I knew that I didn’t know everything (still don’t!), but I did feel pretty strongly about a particular point, and I’m still going to be making that point, but very differently, and I’d like your reactions.
One of my points of confirmation is what I’ll call the Megumi Factor; as some people are aware, she isn’t just in a leadership role for the group, she’s part of the Codomomental management team, and our friend laid that out in more detail — Codomomental the company started off in video production before getting into idol and other music (and there’s the answer to “why is the art always so great?”); Megumi’s background is in acting, and yes she’s a manager of Zenkimi, but there are other people involved, too.
But it’s a small company, in the sense that Megumi is also involved in managing Yukueshirezutsurezure without being the manager, if that makes sense. And no, there isn’t going to be blowback against Tsurezure unless more damning information emerges (also, cancel the fantasy booking of Shidare into Zenkimi — not going to happen).
Regardless, that puts Megumi into an interesting position, I think.
As far as the fans go, the ones in the photos are somewhat notorious in the fan community for being … possessive? jealous? too cool for school? I guess you could take it in several different directions. But their behavior at shows, acting as if the members basically belong to them and being at best a nuisance to others, that’s well-known in the community, and not appreciated. Now that they’re being banned, they will not be missed.
This drama has been discussed on the fan boards for a few weeks prior to the announcement; the photos were first posted on Oct. 28, anonymously, but tagged with people’s names — whoever did it had a reason, and they knew what they were doing by tagging people. Given the nature of everything, there may, in fact, be more photos (I’d guess: There probably are, and we may not yet know the extent of the impact). I suggested, maybe a love triangle gone wrong? And the answer was that it could be anything. They were fairly obviously taken during the summertime, so whoever did it sat on the information for a while or had a motivating factor come into play.
Two additional images that were shared; click to embiggen
The fans were giving out lots of gifts, yes, and it’s true that the members may not be paid in a wage/salary way, but there are a lot of ways to compensate idols — room and board, travel, lessons, education — in addition to chekis, and that’s typical to the industry, and everybody involved knows how the game is played. But it’s not the gifts that are the problem.
Probably the biggest thing to come out of this is that Zenkimi members hanging out with fans has been known by management for a while, and even condoned. The problem is that it got public.
Like, the infamous no-dating contract clauses and various other restrictions on behavior, those things are real, but they’re also more of poison pills than an actual big deal for idols and managers alike. Idols date; it’s sometimes well-known who they’re out with. What matters to management is that such information be kept quiet, low-key, out of sight. If idols do happen to be implicated in non-contractual behavior, it’s ultimately a question of whether it makes the company look the fool. You usually don’t get to get away with embarrassing your employer anywhere, and you definitely don’t in Japan.
In this case, the timing of it all is interesting. The show on Wednesday was sort of suddenly, randomly announced; the auditions that came out of nowhere, that was surprising to the fan community, too. Is it all connected? What did management know when? What are their intentions?
We’ll know for sure on Wednesday. Our friend was quite clear that the wording of the suspension announcement, in which it said that Aza and Gomochi would “say in their own words” what was going to happen, that was a red flag, so bet on them stepping down. Their appearance is about public shame and Japanese notions of accountability; they’ll express their regrets and say their goodbyes, and that’s not exclusive to idol, nor is it out of the ordinary.
At the same time, our friend said that the auditions were fairly well-attended (that is, aspiring idols are interested in Zenkimi), so any new members are almost certainly going to come out of that process.
So what was that commentary?
I felt pretty strongly the other day and definitely still feel now that this is a really interesting case. Our flavor of idols, with the heavier music and darker themes, are often psychologically placed into opposition with more traditional idol stuff. That a situation that’s ultimately tamer than a dating scandal (but, understandably, more damaging to the bottom line, if certain fans are getting additional benefits) could blow up and force members out, it feels really alien. It feels too idol.
The easy response is that it’s all idol, so notions that such-and-such would be different because don’t wash. Maybe BiS could get away with changing the rules (if they ever did, who knows), but the industry and culture are such that the whole idea of an idol is monetized, and challenges to the revenue are going to be a problem. Bosses don’t like problems.
But it’s also true that the culture has changed and is changing. Our friend pointed out that this is a younger scene that you’ll usually find at idol events, and much has been made at the number of women who attend alt- and anti-idol shows. Codomomental is new to the scene and in a way hasn’t known it being any other way; one could say that their entire experience in idol is itself a different kind of idol, a modern and revolutionary idol.
That’s how I look at it. I can be guilty of giving a little too much benefit of the doubt to managers — they allegedly know what they’re doing, and I’m going to take it for granted that what we see publicly is intentional, the result of plans and projections and the like, like a business. Like, I think they’re smart people.
So I think that Codomomental, at least the executive team, are smart people, and they’re aware of what things look like, and they have business objectives that are unknown to us, but we do know that they’re creative and adventurous. They know how people have reacted to this situation, and they’re aware of broader cultural forces that surround their work.
I’m not going to make a prediction (and if I did, it’d be to trust our friend and say “Get used to three-member Zenkimi!”), but I am going to offer a thought:
This is Codomomental’s chance to show that it really is a different world now, and Gomochi and Aza should be allowed to remain in the group. Prove the point that idol is different now. Be a leader in cultural change. Become notorious.
I realize that it isn’t likely, but I want it to happen. It isn’t even about the members — I like Gomochi a whole lot, and Aza’s cool — or about the particular behavior, but about the point, culturally, and about a group that I really like taking an opportunity to say that change is in the act of happening and they want to be an agent of that change.