First I want to say I love J-Pop. Typically, it is light, optimistic, cheerful and characterised by great production and arrangements and good, dance rhythms.
The J-Pop is a huge money generator for record companies and agencies and young, teenage girls can become stars and make great money and careers. The majority of agencies are honest and look after girls that work for them.
However, behind the façade sometimes there is a high price that these girls pay. The contracts for young J-Pop idols have clauses in them which limit their personal freedom to an extent that I do not think would be tolerated in the Europe or the USA. The punishments for even trivial actions outside the expectations of the management can be extremely harsh.
There is a system, like a production line almost, and to succeed then you must follow that system. Be a good girl and do what the management says and all is well, however, if you rock the boat then watch out!
In this post I want to share the stories of three girls who have broken the rules and tell you what happened to them.
Ai Kago entered one of the most famous J-Pop idol groups, Morning Musume when she was only 12 years old in the year 2000, and in 2004 left and formed the J-Pop duo W with fellow Morning Musume veteran Nozomi Tsuji. However it all went wrong for her when she was photographed smoking a cigarette in 2006. In Japan you have to be 20 years old to smoke cigarettes, and she was only 18 at the time.
She was suspended from her agency and spent most of 2006 in what she describes as “house arrest” at her parents home, in 2007 she was allowed to return to Tokyo and worked a few months serving tea, answering the phone and performing office duties for her agency from January to March 2007 and it was expect that she would have a come back arranged soon.
However in March 2007 she was seen smoking cigarettes again and was rumoured to be dating an older guy. The agency fired her.
She went on to write a very good book about the pressures of the music business called Kago Ai Live—Miseinen Hakusho where she talks about the difficulty, not just of the music business, but of being a teenager girl today. It is actually a really good book.
Now days she is an actor and does some Jazz singing. Here she is with her version of All Of Me. It is a nice version, even if it is not the greatest. When I hear it I think of her lost dreams, but also that she has survived and is having a good, if modest career as an actor and singer.
All Of Me – Ai Kago
Kikuchi Ayaka is a singer and dancer with AKB 48 which is maybe currently the most popular J-pop act in Japan. This girl was 15 years old, when she took some photos with a boyfriend in a photo both and put them on a private website that only her and close friends had access to. However the site was hacked and the photos, of two teenagers standing next to each other, were published in a tabloid. The result was the poor girl was fired!
In the end she was allowed back a year later, first as a “trainee” and then a full member. Considering all the songs of AKB 48 are about teenage love, it does seem a little harsh that teenage love is OK for every girl except the members of the group!
Kikuchi Ayaka as part of AKB48 (after her return) – Baby! Baby! Baby!
I have saved maybe the hardest example to last.
Suzuki Ami is a singer and actress and she was a really popular act in the late 1990 decade, but at the peak of her career she got into a dispute with her agency which she felt was under reporting her record sales and money from appearances and endorsements. She and her family sued her agency in 2000 and won.
However even though it was proved her agency had been cheating her, no other agency would handle her and she became effectively blacklisted. Sony reached an out of court settlement with her for her copyright royalties on her songs 2003 and it seemed her career was effectively over.
But I am really pleased to say that Suzuki Ami was “no push over” and she started her own record label and began to release her own material. In 2005 she was signed by Avex (one of the really best agencies, who do stand by their artists) and finally returned to the mainstream.
Her and her family’s heroic actions helped clean the J-Pop industry from some very bad business practices, and actually I think she is an example to all who fight for justice in their work place. I really admire her!! Now she is a successful actress, DJ, model and singer.
Suzuki Ami – Eventful
J-Pop is certainly not all bad, but the pressures these young girls live under are sometimes unrealistic for their age. Most of girls and their families know what the business is like before they enter, but decisions you make at 12 or 13 can be unbearable at 15 or 16. I love the music, but I do wonder about the girls. As I said before most really enjoy their time in the spot light, but we need to recognise that some do not.