Why Didn’t Anybody Say It Was February? Happy Birthday to Us!

Well … okay, so it’s mid-February, actually. But yeah, February 1, 2016, was the day I chose to flick the lights on for this ol’ website. I’d been “building it” for several months at that point, collecting assets and planning out a content strategy and the like, and then started writing a backlog of posts in October 2015. I hadn’t quite sussed out how Idol Twitter worked, nor had I found more than a handful of other Westerners to try to connect to, but I had a mission and a fairly decent idea of how to accomplish it.

On that first day, I think I had something like 5 total page views, and they were frankly probably all bots and/or people googling “Kuromiya Rei”. Because I have a background in analytics, I’d hover over the numbers in the early going, checking in at least once per day, trying to measure what did and didn’t work, what people did and didn’t seem to respond to. Not so much because I was trying to have a Popular Idol Blog or anything, but because dammit, I’m actually kind of a professional, and if I was going to do this thing I was going to do it right. There was an objective, after all: LEVERAGE WESTERNERS’ GROWING FASCINATION WITH BABYMETAL TO GET THEM TO LIKE BIS AND STUFF TOO.

I have no idea if that was ever actually successful. Yeah, there are anecdotes from people who are like “I saw a thing on YouTube and liked it and Googled it and I found your website and now I have a Zenkimi tattoo,” but how many are there really. My personal measure of success was always going to be whether a handful of certain acts came to the Americas and/or Europe/West Asian/Africa to perform, and while we’ve been so graced to welcome NECRONOMIDOL and Yukueshirezutsurezure and Oyasumi Hologram and 2& and Yanakoto Sotto Mute and even Chiaki, bless her, to Western shores*, I am shamed to say that not a one of the groups that I originally tagged for U.S. appearances has actually done so yet despite some of them being fairly significant acts not just in Japan but elsewhere in Asia.

So has the project failed? In that regard, it really has! But with five full years under our belts, and really just an absolute ton of development in idol and the fandom and even how casuals connect to it, I think that’s worth talking about a little, no?

BUT FIRST! I need to talk about Team and how their coming together is pretty much the only reason that I keep the lights on at this point. My personal enjoyment of loudol in particular and J-assorted music hasn’t dimmed a bit, but I’m a really different person living a very different life than five years ago, and Homicidols just isn’t the deep personal priority that it used to be. After The Stress Incident of 2019, I probably could/should have walked away, but I’m a spiteful, prideful jerk sometimes and if a wee bit of stress-induced mental illness was going to take a swing at me, I was going to have to beat it to death and bury it before I could feel comfortable putting a bow on a personal project so long and intense in the making. But then, just half a year later, my needing a hiatus of several months for what in retrospect was actually several reasons? Man, I’ll tell you, there was a day when the hosting bill was due and I hadn’t written a word in months and kind of didn’t care one way or another, and I was very comfortable with just not renewing the hosting situation. Poof! would go the site, I could delete the social accounts and basically vanish. But I also knew that Team had been very hard at work the whole time I was out, and because I’d peek in from time to time I was aware of the epic You’ll Melt More! series and didn’t want to disrupt it. And so, I decided to come back for six months, and we’d do a final Best Of and that’d be it.

Well, that was two months ago, and while I don’t know if we’ll ever be back to the era when I was posting half the damn day from home and work and car on the highway, I don’t see any particularly good reason to stop now. And Team is a big part of that! I can’t remember if the first Not Maniac content contribution was Kerrie or Daemon, but they both emerged in the fall of 16, and then Papermaiden and Brian the Supreme Nothing, and then Chris and now finally Cal. Others — Trev, Scott, Terry, the Anonymous Translator, Viz, Alula, more — have chipped in in their own ways, too, sometimes for a single review and sometimes with art or language help. It was really cool to make friends with other websites, too, and collaborate with them. Homicidols was always supposed to be a community thing, a way for one particular set of weirdos to discover something because of something else and then meet other weirdos who’d already taken the journey themselves and could act as wayfinders, and in a somewhat unexpected way I think we did it. And it’s because of these people! I’m grateful for every contribution made and every link or referral or retweet. Team, though, because I’m bizarrely terrible at saying nice things to or about people I care about I feel like I can never say it well or right or just plain enough, but they really became the straw that stirs the drink. The community owes them quite a bit.

The Absolute State of Idol

Thinking about idol, specifically loudol, here five years from the beginning is a deeply surreal experience. Babymetal? Still doing Budokan shows. PassCode? On the way to doing a Budokan show! Zenbu Kimi no Sei Da? Only one OG member remains but they spawned a whole company deep in talent and intrigue. BiSH? Absolutely huge, crown jewel of a company that almost can’t fail. You’d think that the hypothesis that idol would spawn a major reckoning in popular music, and that the loud stuff would be mainstreamed, had completely borne out.

But has it really? In a way, yes, obviously, but define “mainstream” anymore. Here in the United States, we just recently had a gay rapper top the charts with a country song backed by the man responsible for one of the greatest crimes in musical, country folk and line-dancing history; a Korean boy band became one of the most popular acts in the world despite having no singular standout anything about them. Mainstream’s a weird thing. It’s simultaneously perfectly logical to expect that heavy metal idol units would at least have a puncher’s chance of getting there, and to guffaw at the very notion.

And so loudol does remain mostly a chika phenomenon, and while I very deliberately selected a handful of bigger, well-established units to set up this segment, we lost far, far more than them along the way. I’m just looking at the groups that formed the backbone of this site in the early days — Bellring Girls Heart, Ladybaby, Screaming Sixties, Guso Drop, Party Rockets, Q’ulle, BILLIE IDLE — that don’t even exist anymore, and those that still exist but are so different as to barely warrant notice — HimeKyun FruitsCan, FRUITPOCHETTE — and the ones that are either on the way out or may as well be — DESU.RABBITS, Oyasumi Hologram. They’re all by far the majority, and not just because idol is a horrific meatgrinder of talented and ~talented young people (though it is exactly that), it’s also because this is the music industry and the rate of failure, if “to fail” is to be considered “anything less than being about as popular as … I don’t know, Modern Baseball?”, is astronomical.

But it’s really interesting to see how persistent not just loudol, but specific projects within it can be. NECRONOMIDOL is a great example, because Necroma was still barely a blip on the scene’s radar when they caught on among Western fans, and despite plural international tours and frankly being better managed and marketed than the vast majority of their peers, are still ultimately a niche unit — a niche unit that in the span of a year lost the last of the original members en masse and have slogged on quite successfully with a new tentpole. Idol doesn’t say quit easily, not when things are working. Hell, the mode is so persistent that even Tokyo Rockets went through at least three major iterations:

And of course learning this meant that I was back in the friggin’ Rockets camp

For all of that, though, can we say that loud idol made a difference? Like, probably? I think it’s more appropriate to think of the scene as The Scene, because the what that the idols do within it is extremely malleable, always has been and probably always will be. BiS came along and gave chika idols a new angle and attitude to build around, but in the decade since they first landed we’ve seen trends galore come and go. A few years ago, it was screamer members and brutal music; now it’s rapper members and various levels of incorporating hip-hop. In a few more years’ time, maybe everyone will wake up and realize that sora tob sakana was way ahead of their time and try to sound like that, or Hauptharmonie will be revived to bring back jazz and its various crossovers. Who knows, really?

Some Things Never Change

Of course I come to write this on the immediate heels of one of the stupidest things that idol could have possibly done, and by sharing this I think you know exactly what I’m getting at:

It hurts to see a scene — indeed, an art form unto itself, with massive business behind it — so hideously fail to grow at all despite a decade’s worth of hellraisers changing everything from the product to the business model to fans’ expectations. Nobody expected that idol would change overnight, but, again, we’re a decade into the very public international roasting of idol culture for no shortage of very good reasons, and here the needle has barely moved, actually. I’m personally a music fan way more than I am an idol fan, so I don’t put any special value on the things that make an idol an idol (other than a general appreciation for how hard they work and how skilled the performance ultimately is), and therefore I don’t get the luxury of saying “well they knew the rules when they joined” or “that’s idol culture” or whatever people used to say to me when I’d rail against X or Y stupid-ass thing that was being done to so-and-so. (I’m being non-specific here because a lot of stupid-ass things have happened!) — for me, and I hope you can join me in this, I want these people treated with a lot more respect than they get. Idols have every right and reason to live as freely as they want, period, except that becoming “idol” somehow connotes as signing over of those rights, and that’s gotta go.

So yeah! Five years. I hope we’ve made an impact, and I hope that eventually we’re able to make enough of an impact that it matters.

This post is long and convoluted and is now over.