|I'll bet they aren't even human.|
So in my English class right now, we're spending a lot of time talking about music. The teacher asked us who our favorite bands were. Me, being the unashamed dork I am, said my favorite artist was Perfume. She then proceeded to blast Spending all my time before the ears of all my classmates. So that happened! But that is not the point of this little anecdote. In our class discussion about music, the obvious topic came up: does how genuine a band is affect their quality and credibility? The obvious and absolutely cliched answer to that question is "YES!!! Corporations churn out sellouts that only exist to make money! The only real music is the kind that's recorded in the back of a van with a handheld video camera from 1984!!! Everything else sucks!!!" Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, but you guys know what I'm talking about, right? The ol' corporations control all music criticism? I actually do think that this is a pretty good argument, if not a tad pretentious when you hear it from twenty different people. Still, money is the anthem of success (as said by an artist criticized for selling out to a corporation), and we all want money. I want money.
This same criticism applies to idols. Even though many popular idol groups (like the ones that end in '48) have a very approachable image, it is still an image that is manufactured to make money. Then money is exchanged for goods and services, and you know, economic. The idols themselves have little input in how they're marketed. Usually, a producer writes the music, someone choreographs the dance, and a production team handles the media and promotional material. There are exceptions of course, like Electric Ribbon, who are self-produced idols. But most self-produced idols are too obscure or independent to reach this side of the earth. So my focus is major label idols. Manufactured idols aren't exclusive to Japan; here in the US, we have our own teen idols (think the kids on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon). Regardless of origin, a common trait (and criticism) of these teen idols is the blatant manufacturing and pandering to make bucketloads of money. You've probably heard this before; I've heard it more times than I can count. While I do think this is a valid criticism, I don't have the anger or passion to parrot it again. So let's talk about something else.
I feel like when people write about idols as products of a money-grabbing corporation, they tend to forget about what the idols themselves put into that final product. Idols aren't just clay models that can be bent and shaped into anything. You have living, breathing humans with their own thoughts and ideas that they will bring to a group in some way. Maybe they're not up in the studio writing their own lyrics or getting involved with the creative team. But they are bringing their own performance methods to a group, along with their own personality and work ethic. Idols are like the heart of an group, and the producers are like the brains. It doesn't matter how much work a company puts into creating an idol group; if you don't have the girls, the metaphorical body will lose blood circulation and die. I think it's just harder to review a performance; unless you manage to see an idol group, you're at a real disadvantage. Music on the other hand is a much more accessible medium to review. Whether we like to admit it or not, downloadable music has made obtaining idol music much easier than it's ever been.
In this debate about validity and manufacturing, I often find the idols themselves are cast aside. You can't really blame them for much when they're more-or-less doing what their managements tell them to do. Gaging their own personal feelings are hard enough with their images being so meticulously filtered by management. So with idols being preened and promoted to the will of their management, is there anything significant an idol contributes to her own group? Well... there's her performance. You know, the thing that differentiates someone who can sing and dance in front of people (sometimes creepy people) and someone who gets stage fright? I think performance is an important aspect of idol groups, maybe even more important than the music. And unlike the music, an idol is in charge of her own performance. My brain, being the perpetual enigma it is, connected this to my own experiences in performance. Now I have obviously never been an idol, but I have acted in plays. Several plays, and musicals to boot. As I was reflecting on performing onstage, I began formulating a hypothesis. If I was a scientist, I'd test said hypothesis, but all I can do is write about it on the Wonderland.
So my hypothesis is: Are there parallels between performing as an actor and performing as an idol?
On a scale of 1 to "Nia, did you bump your head on something?" how outlandish is that notion? For the record, I'm talking about scripted performances, not improv. As a distant observer, I can't help but draw connections between stage performance and idol performance. No, I'm not saying that actors and idols are exactly alike. But both actors and idols are selling an illusion. Idols sell the illusion their producers create for them, and actors sell the illusion created by a playwright and a director and a crew. The difference is when you're an actor, you can leave that illusion behind once the play ends. Idols do not have that luxury. Remember The Mask I wrote about so many moons ago? Read that if you haven't. I don't want to focus on The Mask here, but I do want to address performance. Of everything an idol possess, the only thing she has solid control over is her performance. Yes, she has people telling her what to do and when to sing and how to dance, but the idols themselves are the ones that have to get up on stage. Isn't that pretty much what an actor does?
Bear with me. Let's pretend you're an actor. In fact, let's say you're an actor in a musical (that ties us to music a little more closely). As an actor in a musical, you are given a script and some sheet music. You have someone to direct your performance and instructors to help you learn the music and the choreography. You yourself have limited input on the creative side. The play has already been written, the roles have been cast, and the music is prepared long before you auditioned for this play. Your job as an actor is simply to put on a believable performance. So you rehearse over a few months, putting your heart into the music and scenes. Then you perform before an audience. The audience isn't there to see you; they're there to see your character. Or sometimes they're there to see the music. Sometimes both. My point is you are selling an illusion. Obviously, the audience members know that you aren't Cinderella or Jean Valjean, but they suspend their own disbelief and allow themselves to give in to the illusion for a few hours. My character died in a play once. Obviously, I didn't die in real life, but to the audience, I was dead the minute my cast mates dragged my "lifeless" body off the stage. My point is the actors are only one aspect of an entire product, but without them, there is no product.
Performers with little creative control over what they're performing... what does that sound like?
|Subtlety has never been my strongest suit.|
When an actor performs, nobody criticizes them for not writing the play they're in. Because that's not the actor's job. So why is it that idols and furthermore, produced/manufactured music artists get this criticism so much? Is it not not just their job? I think the difference is presentation. In a play, you know the actors didn't create the work. They're just interpreting it. With idols though, this is never addressed; instead, there's this underlying assumption that everyone knows that what they've paid to see was created by a team of professionals looking to make some money. And for some people, the adherence to this illusion with no acknowledgement is simply too plastic. That's perfectly understandable. I personally am not bothered by this illusion. In fact, what always fascinates me about idols is the performance. These are girls my age, even younger than I am, getting up on stage and performing front of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people. Do you know how hard it is to perform when you feel like shit? It is especially hard trying to be happy and engaging and approachable is a pain when you wake up ready to punch someone in the face.
And that's what idols do; it's their job. And I think that's incredible. Even idol groups I am not a fan of, I have a small twinge of respect for them simply because of their ability to get up and perform. Even Super Girls. So I feel like idols should at least get some acknowledgement for taking these songs and costumes and images given to them by producers and rolling with them. Much like an actor is given a role to play. For both parties, there are some days when performing comes naturally and other days where you have to slog through it and hope the audience can't tell. You have to leave yourself behind and walk onto that stage ready to give you audience what you want. That's not an easy feat. So yes, idols don't produce their own music, yes, they're fabricated to fit a certain image, and yes, they're manufactured to pander to a certain demographic and make money off of said demographic. But to say that an idol contributes nothing is I think severely undermining her role. An idol's own performance is just as important as the producers backing her up. After all, it would be quite boring to stare at an empty stage for two hours.
So do any of you readers have performance experiences of your own? If so, do you think that performing as an idol has similarities to other mediums of performance? Any differences? You're not getting graded for these questions, so feel free to answer or pass along!