Note: I originally posted this as a response to a comment I received today on an article I wrote well over a year ago, on February 10, 2006. However, it ended up being quite long and I think it has a lot of interesting data relating marketing image and sales for the top-selling Japanese female pop artists and would be well worth posting here as an editorial, regardless of the fact that it doesn’t come equipped with any freebie music files.
Note II: During the wipe-out of ’07, all comments and discussions were erased, alongside the follow-up and second-part I had written to this. I have absolutely zero desire to revisit this debate and will simply leave this as is.
First of all, I appreciate you commenting on this entry in a coherent and grammatically correct manner, which makes your argument easy to read and legitimate. I respect your opinion and the dignity and poise with which you conveyed it (unlike the dude before you, whom I’m not sure has reached Conversational English in his textbook yet).
Second of all, to repeat something I wrote earlier: It’s worth noting that I find most opinions have a six to ten month expiration date before they need to be updated. Therefore, commenting on something I wrote almost one year ago is like assuming I am still drinking from the same milk carton I bought several months ago.
In other words, you have to understand I wrote this rant at a time when Ayumi had released the “my name’s WOMEN” promotional video followed by this, the “Startin’” PV, within a year. At the time, I was speculating on where Ayumi’s career was headed. Also, no one had yet foreseen her move back to friendly and PG-rated videos like “BLUE BIRD” and “JEWEL.” I still stand by my opinion that at that time, Ayumi had begun exploiting her sexuality as female musicians like Kumi Koda and Namie Amuro began following Western trends of exploiting their femininity as if to say, “I’m a liberated female who can dress as little and as sexy as I want and not be called a slut because it’s what I choose,” which, in my opinion, can be a misguided intent that can breed negative repercussions (I’m old-school feminist like that).
While I agree that “my name’s WOMEN” was not the focus of that particular single, it was significant enough to release a PV after an album had already contained the song. And in this case, I have to disagree; in this video, Ayumi was selling herself as a sexual object. And it worked. Sales records show her previous two singles, CAROLS and INSPIRE c/w GAME sold 340,000 and 329,145 units respectively. In 2005, STEP you/is this LOVE?, which contained the “my name’s WOMEN” promotional video, sold 401,000, and was actually her best selling single since 2003’s No way to say single. Sure, internet downloading may have something to do with it. Or a PV where Ayumi struts around with a whip and dances suggestively in a male strip club could have something to do with it.
I also agree that Ayumi does have a message in her lyrics. “my name’s WOMEN” does have some female empowering lyrics throughout the entire song, including “We are not just dress-up dolls,” and my favorite, “We are not such simple creatures, remember that.” So my question is, why turn this music video into a dancing S&M romp? It is completely unnecessary and she could have gone with an entirely different route to express the words in these songs much better (“Real me,” which also contained an empowering message for females, took place on a space ship with non-suggestive dance moves and modest attire…come to think of it, did this PV have anything to do with the lyrics?). But Ayumi, as she herself has said, is a product and she understands she has to market herself to compete with sales figures of artists who are beginning to take over her almost ten year reign as Queen of Jpop. So she shows a little skin. And then in “Startin’” she added some new dance moves, none of which, as far as I can tell, had much to do with the lyrics or gave some sort of message, unless she mentioned dancing provocatively in chaps somewhere in the song that I missed. Little was I to know that Ayumi had even more to say she as swung her way around a strip pole in 2006’s “1LOVE.”
This was, for all purposes, an opinion piece; in 2005, I was speculating on the reasons Ayumi was beginning to change her image from a fresh-faced, cutesy teen idol into a woman who can do a pretty good imitation of Britney Spears. Compare her “SURREAL” PV or “SEASONS” PV or “Boys & Girls” PV or any PV before 2005 to any of her PVs after 2005, and there is a huge difference; all which has to do with sexuality and expressing that sexuality in a stereotypically modern female fashion; you have never seen Kinki Kids or SMAP have to resort to the things Ayumi has had to do, ironic considering what she is trying to say throughout songs like “my name’s WOMEN” (although you have seen Gerard Way and Bert McCracken making out, but boys, you are not fooling me).
And finally, being an opinion piece, I was obviously expressing a huge one that I personally hold; that women do not need to resort to air humping or whip cracking to be sexy, beautiful, driven, aggressive, talented and successful entertainers. Unfortunately, this being the ’00s, most of the general public will disagree with me. Why? Western media being broadcast around the world has already desensitized most viewers to react to women acting in an overt sexual manner as normal. Most people don’t see a problem with Ayumi shaking her hips in “Startin’” because they’ve seen Christina Aguilera half-naked on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and rap videos where women wear barely-there shorts and halter tops, with their breasts hanging out, grinding against any (and many) number of men. Compared to that, sure, Ayumi looks downright chaste. However, in my article, I didn’t mention any of these things because I was attempting to display and focus solely on Ayumi’s progression through music videos. As I mentioned, she had already appeared naked on the cover of 2002’s RAINBOW and barely covered in leaves that same year on I am… but there was absolutely nothing sexual about these images in the way having people rub her breasts in “Startin’” was.
The reason I wrote this article was because I was obviously disappointed in the direction I thought Ayumi was headed in 2006, especially when what initially attracted Ayumi to me, besides the music and lyrics which came first, was the fact that she was at her most popular in jeans and a T-shirt, literally, as many witnessed in her encore of the DOME TOUR 2001 concert. It’s no doubt that Ayumi’s popularity has begun to wan, and it’s interesting that this side of her should come out at this time. Do I still listen to and enjoy her music? Yes. Do I still think she is one of the most creative, driven, beautiful, talented and self-made entertainers in the Japanese music industry? Absolutely. Do I think her wearing chaps and grinding the air is artistic? No, I really don’t, and I can’t see how art can be found in that in the same way that my brain tells me that the next step is a Puff Daddy video and there is zero art involved in that. This is my opinion. But I’m sure the marketers think it’s great peple love this, that it’s wonderful that so many male fans think she looks sexy and gorgeous while just as many women feel they have to resort to moves like that to be popular and have men find them sexy and attractive. Because it’s what sells. That’s what’s wrong.
I’m not going to stop calling myself an Ayu fan just because you say I shouldn’t in the same way I wrote this rant and don’t expect anyone reading to agree (although I’m finding it ridiculous that this is the post I have the most complaints and disagreements with). The only kind of person that makes a bad fan is somebody who never stands back and questions why they like what they like and if they are truly buying a product or a CD or watching a show or a movie and enjoying it because they want to, or because it’s being cleverly marketed towards them, or worse, because everything else the artist has done has been great, so they are, therefore, incapable of putting out crap. So what if Bob Dylan was phenomenal in the 60s, nobody was going to let him get away with those crap albums he put out in the 80s, and to give them high ratings just because his previous work was so great would be absurd; he might never have learned from his mistakes and put out Love & Theft and 2006’s Modern Times, his first #1 album since ‘76. Sure, we want to support artists in their not-so-great periods, but patting them on the back for their lackluster efforts is akin to stabbing them in the back.
Your argument that I shouldn’t call myself a fan is the same half-witted argument that says people who don’t like something about America should leave the country. If you can’t critique and find fault, how can you improve and become better and fix what’s wrong? You can’t. And then you find that despite all the shimmying and juking, instead of focusing on developing the sound and cohesion of the music, your latest album Secret still only sold 804,000 units, and while sure, breast-baring Kumi’s 2006 Black Cherry sold 994,130, artists who never went the sexual route like Hikaru Utada, sold 906,202 units of 2006’s ULTRA BLUE and Ai Otsuka’s 2005 LOVE COOK sold 835,333 units. On the other hand, Namie Amuro struts her stuff in choreographed routines all the time wearing skimpy skirts, short-shorts and in her latest PV, a whip and tight leather. Her latest album, 2005’s Queen of Hip-Hop? 475,600 units. Interesting.