Stand and Bow ! ! ! Lessons are about to start ! ! !
In the last class we looked at the history and development of the Japanese Schoolgirl Uniform and the also some characteristics of Japanese schoolgirls. This week are going to concentrate on school girls in Japanese pop and rock. So no talking in class and pay attention to the teacher. There will be a test at the end and if you do not pass there will catch up classes during the winter break ! ! !
First Period – History ! ! !
During the occupation of Japan by the US Forces following the second world war popular music in Japan changed completely. Musicians started playing western styles and cover versions of US hits In parallel to this was also the development of Enka which is pop music based on Japanese folk music which Mr P and I wrote about in our series He Said – She Said.
From the end of the war until the 1980, girl singers who were often the same age as schoolgirls, adopted an adult, sophisticated and sexy image. Katsuko Kanai for example was 17 when she debuted and became a recording and TV star and in the photo to the right you can see the sexy image she had.
But in 1980 things changed completely. Seiko Matsudo was about to conquer Japan ! ! !
In contrast to the sophisticated and sexy image of the girl singers in the 1960 and 1970 Seiko Matsudo had a young and innocent image and childish mannerisms. Also in contrast to the smooth and classy and technically accomplished singers like Katsuko Kanai, Seiko Matsudo had a very naive delivery which gave her songs a very innocent quality. For some reason, she captured the feeling of the moment and became one of the most successful singers in Japanese music history. She had a record 24 consecutive number one singles and changed main image of girls in the Japanese music industry from sexy to cute and Japanese pop was never going to be the same again ! ! !
So here she is ! ! !
Seiko Matsud0 – Cherry Blossoms
History Part 2 – Kawaii ! ! !
The 1980 decade was when Kawaii began to take over young Japanese girls style, fashion and music. This is a difficult concept for westerns to understand as it does not really exist in the west, but basically Kawaii means cute ( sort of ). But the concept is quite subtle. Kawaii is not cute in a sexy way, actually the reverse is true. Also Kawaii does not mean perfect. Imperfections can be cute, like buck teeth or sticky out ears, and above all it is achievable ! ! ! Very few girls will ever be stunningly beautiful like the perfect models on a cat walk, but every girl can be Kawaii ! ! ! Maybe it is not a bad thing that the predominate image young girls see in Japan is not just the perfect models, but looking back at then from the covers of magazines, bill board posters, and TV adds are girls who are actually normal girls and not so different from them.
So the first kawaii school girl group was Onyanko Club. They were hugely popular and had their own TV series. They took the concept of kawaii and stretched almost till it broke ! ! ! They really were not that good. They could not dance very well, they were not better singers than most schoolgirls in an after school music club and they were not beautiful or sexy. So how come they became so popular ? ? ?
Check them out and see if you can guess why ! ! !
So did you get it ? ? ?
What happens is that people form an affection for their favourite and root for them. You can not root for a perfect singer, dancer or the finished or polished article. Fans develop a “personal” relationship with the fans and actually of course the bigger the group the more fans will be able to pick the girl they want to root for. So if you want to have this personal (but of course totally fantasy) relationship and root for the girl you like then of course she must be a “nice” girl. So, no boyfriends, no smoking, no dropping out of school, no divorced parents or family scandals. The person who discovered this and was the manager of Onyanko Club was Yasushi Akimoto. Later he took this concept to the logical conclusion as founder and manager of AKB48.
Fortunately some degree of musical ability was added into the kawaii school girl idol concept the girls became better singers and dancers, but imperfection remained one of the key factors. One of the most successful smaller idol groups is C-ute and in the early 2000 decade they were a huge act as middle school girls.
Lets check them out ! ! !
C-ute – Meguru Koi no Kisetsu
Now I have some problems with C-ute and will discuss them when we look at what happens when the girl get older, but I am sure you all noticed how much more professional the girls were ! ! !
Second Period - Rock School ! ! !
The Schoolgirl image is not common in rock. But pop – rockers Scandal did have a schoolgirl image and it was Scandal that actually made me want to write this post so lets go to Rock School, or as we say in Japan – Lock School ! ! !
Scandal formed while the girls were all at school as group of friends who had a dream of being a rock group. They practised
after school in thier school uniforms and they liked the idea of all haivng a uniform to give the group a unified image.
Scandal obviously could not perform in their real school uniforms so they bought fake ones and launched band. The oldest member was the Haruna Ono the singer who was 17 when the band released their first single and the Youngest was the drummer Rina Suzuki who just 14.
But Scandal were a rock band and not a an idol group and so in typical rock rebel fashion they refused to sign the no boyfriends, no smoking clauses to their contract and also had full control over their music.
Their first single was doll which was a complaint about having to be girly and Kawaii when they wanted to be rock chicks ! ! !
Scandal – Doll
The school girl image was only ever intended to last until Rina graduated high school and true to their intention when Rina graduated they adopted an adult glam rock image.
Here they are today, taking a nostalgic look at their schooldays ! ! !
Scandal – Harukaze
Third Period – You can not be a schoolgirl forever ! ! !
This is the most important lesson to learn.
When I was researching this post I found a quote from a marketing professor about the school girl image, but of course now I can not find it ! ! ! But what he said (more or less) was this.
A school girl in a plaid skirt or sailor suite is healthy, happy, positive and has a future of endless possibilities in front of her. Schoolgirls are branded perfect and so they are, of course the perfect brand.
The whole point of brand is that you know what it stands for and somehow it has values with it. The most obvious value of the school girl brand is Kawaii. You can not maintain the brand if you confuse kawaii with sex and so the Japanese music business stays away from images of schoolgirls in their trade mark uniform in sexy situations. They want to protect their brand.
School does not last forever and so as you get older and at the end of your teens you cannot be a school girl or use the image. If you do you devalue the brand.
This is actually why I had my issues with C-ute. As some of the girls got older they adopted a more adult and sexy image, which resulted in an age inappropriate image for the girls. But interestingly their sales fell during this period.
When the time comes and the girls reach 19 or 20 at most, they “graduate” and become either solo artists or actors or presenters or they retire form the entertainment industry and marry a comedian.
If a group or idol can continue after this age it must be as an adult and C-ute now do not use the school girl image
C-ute – Shock
The graduations are like ceremonies and usually tearful occasions where the girls say how they will be friends for ever with the rest of the band and how much they will miss them.
When Maeda Atsuko from AKB48 graduated it caused a national turmoil and probably caused the current recession. It was the biggest news story of the year, even bigger than the current election we are having.
Class Dismissed ! ! !
I hope you have enjoyed the post and I will leave you with a video of Maeda Atsuko ritually passing from perfect schoolgirl into the complex world of adult hood.
Maeda Atsuko – Graduation