Prognosticating something as unpredictable as the domestic music industry might appear to be a fool’s errand. But what’s the fun in playing it safe? Here are some predictions for 2018.
YouTubers will wield more power: TV and movie theme songs remain the best way for an artist to score a year-defining hit. Yet digital platforms — and YouTube in particular — have risen in significance in recent years. Plenty of artists have used eye-catching videos to go viral, but 2018 will see the creators fueling that site — Japanese YouTubers — wielding more influence. A small-scale success played out in 2017, when singer/songwriter Heartbeat made waves via theme songs penned for 2Bro, a channel devoted to dudes playing video games. Old platforms won’t lose power, but a new generation of online creatives will discover they have sway.
Streaming will try to make a splash: Streaming music services have made steps forward in Japan, but their influence still pales in comparison to that of traditional platforms and free-to-use sites such as YouTube. How to get buzz? By using a strategy that worked wonders in the West: exclusive album drops from marquee artists. Avex platform AWA tried this in 2016 with Ayumi Hamasaki, but diluted the impact by releasing a CD shortly after (and relying on an artist who has seen much better days). Ultimately, Spotify needs something splashy — they trail Apple Music and other domestic streaming sites in the market. Throw a Sweden-sized wheelbarrow of money Utada Hikaru’s way and see if she’ll make her forthcoming 2018 album a streaming exclusive.
Nostalgia will triumph: Namie Amuro’s September retirement looms over the music industry, and all the fanfare surrounding her final months will inevitably be central to 2018. It won’t stop with her, though. Acts from the 1990s will be more active, jockeying to beef up their legacies ahead of the 2019 end of the Heisei Era. All those TV remember-when packages are going to need a soundtrack.
Olympic positioning begins: Similarly, more artists are going to start making a case for appearing at the 2020 Olympics opening ceremony. Expect a lot of kimono and shamisen-accented music to crop up in the coming months.
What the hell is “Produce 48”?: In late November, South Korean entertainment TV channel Mnet announced a new show for 2018 called “Produce 48,” merging AKB48 with the popular singing survival show “Produce 101.” Only a few details about it have come to light, but the gist is the show will create a Seoul-based installment of the AKB franchise via a television show. Will it help bring K-pop closer to J-pop, giving the AKB franchise a massive pan-Asian win along the way? Or will it flop, wiping out the group’s remaining relevance and taking South Korean survival shows with it? Stay tuned.