New idol group The Margarines sing to pay off debts


Staff Writer

Japan’s entertainment industry has become so filled with idol groups that some call this the age of the “idol war.”

Finding commercial success amid this fierce competition can be tough, but an idol group that debuted last week is making no secret about its true intentions.

The members of the group, called The Margarines, are out for money, pure and simple. The gimmick is that they’re pursuing the idol dream in order to pay off their debts.

The nine members, ranging in age from 19 to 30, owe a total of around ¥127 million.

They had different reasons for running up their debts, such as taking out student loans, buying products from fraudulent business operators or simply just spending too much on leisure activities.

Mami Nishida, 30, is the deepest in hock, owing about ¥100 million because her family business, running a factory, went under. Nishida said she’d like to think that “tough times bring opportunity.”

“When I will look back (on my life someday), I want to be able to say that this opportunity was a treasure,” she said at a news conference Wednesday in which the nine members were officially introduced.

The group also has one non-Japanese member, Marie Christine Krause, 22, of Germany who is about ¥2.2 million in the red for education expenses.

The concept for The Margarines was announced in July and auditions were held to select the members.

The idol group is overseen by Maccoi Saito, who has directed a number of popular TV programs and produced the now-disbanded idol group Ebisu Muscats, which featured porn stars.

“Many people give up their dream because of the debts, but that is such a shame! What is wrong with idols having debts?” Saito said in a statement read during a news conference in July.

The Margarines will release their first CD, “Goodbye Shakkin Tengoku” (“Goodbye Debt Heaven),” on Dec. 17. They will also stage a live event that month.

While members of some idol groups like AKB48 are not allowed to date, The Margarines don’t have to abide by any similar regulations.

  • Merchant Mmo

    I guess its a very creative way to work off that debt….

  • blondein_tokyo

    Exploitation at it’s finest. Good job, Japan.

    • Earl Kinmonth

      Japan? The article says the group is the idea of one Japanese producer. Using your logic, anything an American producer does is “America.” So Larry Flynt, founder of Hustler, is “America.” Right?

      • blondein_tokyo

        A culture is often judged by its pop culture. So inasmuch Paris Hiton,

    • Guest

      well… it kinda is but all the women are adults and it does seem like a good way to pay off their dept.

  • Bodewell

    You’d think this kind of thing was getting old now. I guess they’ve got to milk the formula for all it’s worth…

  • Ahojanen

    Good luck for them. Among them is one girl (on huge debt) who I think would better file for bankruptcy :)

    “Become an idol to pay up” is not at all innovative but old school exploitation (?) of young aspiration. This group is only the revelation of such an open secret.

  • Better than being a bank robber…

  • Peou Richard Kovit


  • Riley Lynch

    It seems kind of odd to me that people are calling this exploitation. It’s a business transaction, and it benefits both sides (assuming that the members will make enough money to pay off debts). If I were over a million dollars in debt and somebody offered me a job that would make a lot of money, I would be pretty happy. Also, they don’t have the dating restrictions that other groups have, so at least on the surface it looks like they have even more freedom than other idol groups have. Unless they’re being forced to do something they don’t want to do, it’s not exploitation.

    • blondein_tokyo

      I can give you my answer, for what it’s worth. Exploitation happens when
      one person or group has something that another person or group does not
      have but needs. There is an inherent power imbalance at work that
      allows the person or group to demand something in return for supplying
      that thing. This leaves the weaker person or group open to abuse from
      the stronger one.

      We can see
      how that works in the example you gave, where AKB48’s manager forces
      unreasonable demands (no dating; very limited personal freedom) and
      disproportionate punishment (shaving her head) onto the weak party.

      the weak party also benefits, because they get what they need (money;
      fame) but it’s still exploitation since the strong party has leverage
      and can take advantage of or use the weaker party in any way they want.
      These relationships almost always result in the weaker party giving more
      and getting less.

      this particular case, these women get their debts paid off, but at what
      cost to their personal freedom or dignity? You can’t say that being a
      pop idol is a dignified job, or that it allows personal freedom or even
      sexual autonomy. They’re being exploited for their sex appeal, and I
      don’t think it’s unreasonable to point out that women in this industry
      are often disrespected and valued only for their sex appeal. What
      happens if she gains weight, gets pregnant, or falls out of favor with
      fans? What if the producer doesn’t like her, or thinks she’s not
      projecting the right image, or if she runs afoul of him in another way?
      What usually happens is that she’s discarded. It happens all the time in
      this industry. It’s infamous for using, abusing, and then dumping women
      unceremoniously and without recourse. Since there’s no security in this
      job, there’s no actual guarantee she’ll actually get her debt paid off.

      the power imbalance can be righted, i.e., with contractual rights or
      other tangible benefits, then it’s no longer exploitation.

      an example, sex work is generally exploitative. But if a sex worker is
      doing sex work for themselves, getting paid proportionally, controls
      the conditions, and gets something out of it, i.e., sexual pleasure, job
      satisfaction, etc, then it’s no longer exploitative. This is why many
      feminists can get behind sex work and support sex workers.

      that’s obviously not the case here. Japan idol groups are known to chew
      ’em up and spit ’em out, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to
      think this one will be any different. Of course, to really know this
      you’d have to look at each of the womens’ cases individually, but I’m
      quite comfortable with my statement labeling this as exploitation.

      • Riley Lynch

        So what exactly separates your definition of exploitative business practices from non-exploitative practices? Every business hires employees under the premise that they’ll gain more profit from the employee’s work than without them. What this group’s management is doing is no different than any other industry.

        As to the company’s leverage: again, every company has the leverage to fire an employee. I’m sure we all wish we didn’t have to worry about that, but these women aren’t being threatened any more than anyone else that doesn’t want to comply with their employer’s standards.

        It’s certainly fair to say that the demands of this job are costly, not only in the sense of time or effort. But every business that cares about its image forces regulations upon its employees, because those regulations ensure greater profit.

        Let me give you an example outside of the entertainment industry: I work as a waiter for a company that supplies waiters to luxury catered events, such as fancy business dinners or weddings. In addition to having to dress very formally (I even had to buy and get the clothing tailored myself), I had to shave my beard, which was very sad for me. But you know what? I did it, because I’m getting paid well, so to me it’s worth the cost. My personal image is definitely being exploited for my job, because there are restrictions on how I can look, and the job causes me to look and act far differently from how I’d look otherwise. See the parallels here? I can go on, there’s plenty of examples of jobs where employees’ appearance and behavior, even outside of work, is regulated. So why are you just against this particular example? This is a legal, regulated industry in which the women have the ability to review and sign a contract, meaning that they can understand the circumstances of the business before they agree to work with them, an opportunity not available in most sex work. Unless the article states that they’re entering into this job without a contract, I don’t see any reason to believe that.

        Also, the job is offering money, which the women involved can get from many other sources. The reason they picked this particular job is because they’ve decided it’s the best way to get the money they need to pay their costs and debts. They could take a job like mine, which is a bit more dignified, but I’m quite sure that they’re making much more money than me too. They’re simply trading more than me, and are getting more in return. They may not like selling their dignity, but if they’ve decided that is an acceptable way to make money, then I don’t think that we should malign that choice. It certainly won’t help them, and it just demeans their intelligence to say that they’re being exploited.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I’m quite sure a lot of people would laughingly say that their employer was a slave driver and they were being exploited. :) But it’s not that simple, as I think you know. As an example, having to shave your beard is hardly abuse. Being forced to shave your head, having it taped and broadcast, while you cry and apologize, simply because you committed the “crime” of falling in love – that is abuse. I didn’t feel the need to actually get into the definition of abuse because it should be obvious.

        As for insulting their intelligence or maligning their choices- not at all. People make all kinds of hard choices when they are desperate and in debt, and that doesn’t mean they are unintelligent or lacking in self-respect. To the contrary – people do what they have to do to survive, and I for one admire people who don’t just lie down and give up. This is why I support sex worker’s rights, including the right to engage in sex work. That doesn’t mean it’s not still exploitative though. When one person who has disproportionate power uses that power to leverage something from another person who has no choice other than to acquiesce, that carries huge potential for abuse.

        Take a look at Japan’s “Intern Training Program” as a good example. Yes, they get paid. Yes, they get training. Yes, they get a visa and the chance to live in a more prosperous country. But they are also exploited for cheap labor, often live in deplorable conditions, and some women have reported sexual abuse. The program is rife with abuse.

        Of course, the pop idol industry isn’t even half as rotten, but it’s still rotten nonetheless.

  • Michieie

    I imagined the German girl would be there due to student loans.

    Oh well, I guess the only thing to do is to wish them luck.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Seems like rather a good way for them to pay off their debts, especially without all the oppressive rules the other idol groups have.

  • Abel_Wilson

    I’m just thinking how this came together.
    “Lets see, we have 10 girls here. One of them is a Gaijin, hmmm.
    How are we gonna get out money back?”

    *long dramatic pause when suddenly K-On starts playing on a television screen*


  • 谷口賢也

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring debtors as long as they don’t use it to mistreat or underpay them. They definitely will, obiouvly, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily worse than what other d-levels idols are going through.
    My problem with this is the appeal to sentiment; are we really okay with singers being marketed on pity sales? This is the musical equivalent of one of those sad pictures on Facebook trying to guilt you into hitting ‘Like!’