Let’s Talk About Japanese/Korean Idols and that No Dating Rule (Let’s Throw in Western Idols Too)

This blog somehow turned into a novel. I don’t know. I got carried away. Whatever. Just read it.
Also, for the record, I am completely opposed to the "no dating" rule for idols. Probably didn't seem that way in the blog though.

I think that a lot of us who are reading this remember the ‘sex scandal’ that Minami Minegishi went through a few months back in early 2013. Just by seeing her name, I guess people wouldn’t remember it. But if I say it had something to do with AKB48, I’m sure everyone will have some sort of memory of it. We all heard about it. One of AKB48’s original members Minami Minegishi was caught with a boyfriend. In response, AKB48’s management demoted her to trainee. For her own response, Minami shaved her head and gave a tearful apology to her fans for her “thoughtless act”. When it happened, it caused a firestorm of controversy, particularly amongst foreigners who don’t understand the Japanese music industry. Even among us fans, it caused controversy. There were a lot of fights. Some wanted to berate Minami and support the no dating rule and others like me were supporting Minami and speaking out against the no dating rule.

It brought attention to the infamous, and often forgotten, “no dating” rule for many young idols in Asian countries.

Now, I don’t know the status of idols in Asian countries outside of Japan and South Korea admittedly, so I’m going to only be focusing on Japan and South Korea as examples. Japan will be under heavy focus since I know the Japanese music industry the best. When it comes to how the countries (and foreigners of course) perceive their idols, fan of Japanese music and fans of Korean music see them in very similar ways. J-idols and K-idols are treated very similarly.

In Japan and South Korea, there is a clause in the idol’s contract that says they are not allowed to date.

Well no, that’s not accurate. The clause does not say they’re not allowed to date at all, that’s not accurate. What the clause says actually is that idols cannot be caught dating. A J-idol and a K-idol can both date, but they must keep it a secret. If they are found out, that is when they have violated their contract. That is when they have done "wrong" No one can know. Not their fans. Not the media. Not their families. Not their friends. No one. It has to be a secret from everyone who would tell. Now, I am aware that many K-pop fans don’t know about this “no dating” clause in their idol contracts. But I assure you, it is just as real for you K-pop fans as it is for us J-pop/J-rock fans.

For most idols, this rule only applies to younger idols. I don’t know how it is in Korea but usually in Japan, when an idol is between 23-25 years of age, the no dating rule no longer applies to them. The reason for this is that they are no longer the “perfect picture” of youth and innocence. In Japan, most young idols are meant to be the perfect picture of youth and innocent. They are supposed to be pure. Most idols become idols once they’re 18, AKB48 is one of the only groups that signs people so young (their members can be as young as 13). The idols will have to renew their contract year after year because of the no dating clause. They cannot keep an idol tied to this contract for years because as an idol ages and matures, they may no longer want the idol lifestyle. By the time an idol is 25 (sometimes as young as 23), they are no longer considered young idols. They are now seen as mature adults. They're not seen as teenagers or young adults, so they have less restrictions than a young idol has.

They’re given three choices. Choice one, they can give up entertainment and go back to a “normal life”. Choice two, they can continue their entertainment career without being an idol. Choice three, they can continue their career as an “old” idol. Once an idol graduates (a.k.a they become too old), these are the choices they make. Many idols choose to continue as idols like Reina Tanaka (former Morning Musume member and now leader of LoVendoЯ), but there are also many former idols such as Namie Amuro that choose to continue their career without the idol label. And there are some who disappear from the public eye completely.

Now, I’m sure someone is thinking of me as a hypocrite by this point. If you know me, it comes as no surprise I like idols. Everyone who knows me knows how much of a love I have for Japan. I do like idols. Funnily enough, as I type this, I am listening to LoVendoЯ, a newer rock idol group. I listen to them casually. The only idol group I am a dedicated fan of is Silent Siren. I watch them closely and I'm a big fan of theirs. Every other idol group I listen to is just casual listening, I don’t care to keep up with all the news surrounding them. But I will not deny my part in this problem. I am part of the problem. I spend the money to support idols. I give them emotional encouragement. I buy into this whole idol culture in the Japanese music industry. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m any better than any other idol fan, because I’m not. I’m part of the problem, just as we all are. Every single fan of an idol is part of the problem.

I am a rationale fan though. If the girls of Silent Siren decided to date, I wouldn’t mind. Celebrities are normal human beings. They have normal needs and dating is one of those needs. Granted, two of SaiSai’s members are already too old to have the no dating rule pinned to them but still. If Suu chose to date (she’s 21 so she probably has the rule pinned to her), I wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t bother me. As long as her boyfriend treats her right, then I don't care. Celebrities personal lives shouldn’t matter to us.

But unfortunately, they do.
Including to Westerners.

We Westerners are just as bad as Asian countries. We do not call our idols “idols” and we don’t make them sign a no dating contract. However, we treat them just the same. Take Justin Bieber for example (this will hopefully be the first and last time I use him as an example). For the first two years of Justin’s career when he was big, he didn’t date. It wasn’t until his fame declined did her date and even then, he had crazy fans insulting his girlfriends.

It is a coincidence that Justin didn’t date at the height of his career? No. It’s not. You can try to say it is, but you're only lying to yourself.

When Justin’s career started, much like other Western idols, he was probably heavily encouraged by his management to not date. If Justin had had a girlfriend when he first started, he wouldn’t be as sellable to the public. He wouldn’t be available, he would not be able to live out his fans’ fantasies. That is what Western and Asian idols do: they live out their fans’ fantasy. By keeping our idols available and marketing them as such, it gives their fans the fantasy that they may have a shot with them. Once an idol is taken, it ruins the fans’ fantasy. One of Justin’s biggest selling points was his looks. If he wasn’t such an attractive guy, he would not have been so popular.

This is the way it is for Western boybands. Most Western boybands like One Direction are idols, though Westerners would never address them as such. It’s not in our cultures to address our idols with the actual word. When One Direction first started, I can guarantee you that their management encouraged them to refrain from dating for a few years. Whether they chose to listen or not... I don't know. Why were they encouraged not to date? Well, it would hurt their selling points. Their looks are a major selling point for them, as they are for any boyband and any idol. One Direction was encouraged to do what any idol is encouraged: live out your fans’ fantasy. Don’t crush their hope and their fantasies. It’ll ruin your fame and your career.

Take when Zayne (Harry? Whoever was) got engaged to that girl, whatever her name was. When they got engaged, many of the fans went insane (that’s putting it nicely). I’m not even a fan of One Direction but even I saw it. Fans were upset, crying and bashing the girl. Some of his fans even hurt themselves over it. Why did they do it? She took their precious idol away from them. She ruined their fantasy. When they were just dating, fans still had hope they would break up. But when they got engaged, that hope was crushed. I don’t know what you would call those people. I only know that K-pop fans have a special name for the insane ones, though I can’t remember what it is. Japanese music fans don’t have a special name either, although I have a name I like to call these people but I won’t tell you. I’m fairly sure it’d cross the line into bashing so let’s just move on.

Why don’t we pay more attention to this sort of thing? People just don’t care. Until it becomes a problem, no one cares to mention it. Even when it becomes a problem, we’ll throw a hissy fit about it and then go back to ignoring it. Nothing will ever change because we don’t want to address it. The thing is, in Asian countries, this no dating rule has a horrible toll on the idols. In Japan, many idols will eventually break under the pressure. Even in Western countries, our idols will break under pressure. Take Justin for example (again). During the height of his career, he was a good boy. Did everything right and perfectly. But he broke. Look at the things he does now. He’s completely disrespectful and rude. He broke. He spent years trying to be perfect and when the reins were finally loosened, he broke and went crazy.

Minami broke as well. After five years with AKB48 (and probably more hidden relationships in those 5 years), she finally broke. She finally slipped up. She broke under the pressure to be perfect. This is what we do to our idols. This is what we do to our celebrities in general. We push these standards on them. We expect them to be perfect and when they mess up, we berate them for it. We force so much pressure onto them and we forget that they are just average human beings.

We expect so much of our idols, of our celebrities. We expect them to be perfect for us. We forget that they aren't perfect. We forget that they're normal human beings like you and I. We forget that they have basic human needs.

I really don't know what the point to this blog was anymore. I had a point, but I think I lost it halfway through this.
October 9th, 2013 at 09:55pm