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Namie Amuro saves ‘Kohaku’ … for now

by

Contributing Writer

The weekly Shukan Bunshun released a survey in early November highlighting the acts its readers wanted to see perform on NHK’s yearend “Kohaku Uta Gassen” music program. They chose Namie Amuro as the artist they wanted to see the most, likely because she announced her plans to retire from the entertainment business in September next year.

When NHK first announced the lineup for the 68th edition of the New Year’s Eve show, Amuro’s name wasn’t on the list. But fans got their wish last week when NHK revealed the singer would take part in the spectacle after all.

Amuro’s inclusion has given “Kohaku” the kind of buzz it needs in the run-up to its broadcast. Ratings for the show have been slipping year after year, and other programs have proven to be entertaining alternatives to NHK’s musical tradition — this year, you can watch Bob Sapp wrestle a bear on TBS, how can Arashi top that!? Despite the apparent dip in relevance, though, people still seem to care about who ends up making the “Kohaku” cut — even if they don’t tune in.

The biggest gripe against the show is that the same people appear every year. The Shukan Bunshun poll also asked who readers would like to see axed completely from the lineup, and groups from the Johnny’s & Associates management stable (Arashi, Sexy Zone) ranked high, as did AKB48. Those acts will all grace the stage this year.

But regulars aside, this year’s lineup actually has the components of a great show, even if they aren’t obvious. Amuro’s scheduled appearance provides the big news hook that could bring in casual viewers, and the rest of the roster features newer artists geared toward younger viewers: K-pop group Twice should help bring in the teen girl demographic, while rock bands Wanima and Shishamo cater to the 20-something crowd.

Even with the right names on board, though, “Kohaku” still faces some challenges in how people watch the show. How do I watch it? With expat Twitter and a healthy heaping of snarky tweets, thank-you. And that goes to show how a genuinely viral moment could turn the show into must-see TV again. I’m not expecting Madonna and Britney to kiss, a la the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards — “Kohaku” plays it safe at the risk of offending older viewers. But that means performances can be a bit bland — we don’t even have Sachiko Kobayashi’s flamboyant costumes to look forward to anymore!

Also looming large is a TV landscape in which viewers can choose when they want to watch shows, whether its via DVR, a streaming service or even YouTube. Take Nippon TV’s “Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!,” the show that competes with “Kohaku” for ratings. This comedy special, which is heavy on punishment games, allows all previous years of the program to be seen on Hulu, while fans have uploaded memorable moments (or entire specials) to YouTube. Now that’s a show with a life beyond one night. “Kohaku” should take note, Amuro can’t retire every year.