Music | Sound Off

An idol's fans have the power to make change in Japan

by Patrick St. Michel

Patrick St. Michel

Being a fan of any entertainer in 2019 can be a challenge, as scandals both old and new make blindly supporting artists an impossible task. That might be doubly true for Japanese idol-pop acts, who inhabit a corner of the country’s entertainment industry made up predominantly of young women, which has always come under scrutiny for the way it treats those involved.

But recent goings-on have shown new ways to spur positive change for the performers involved in the idol industry — and fans are leading the charge in Japan.

The catalyst has been the scandal surrounding Maho Yamaguchi, part of AKB48 sister group NGT48, which is based in Niigata. In December, the performer was allegedly assaulted by two men inside her apartment complex. Yamaguchi revealed the incident to followers on Twitter and the streaming site Showroom, claiming her management failed to do anything for her in the wake of the attack, which was allegedly orchestrated by another member of the pop outfit.

Fans of the group were outraged at the mistreatment and apparent lack of assistance offered by the folks in charge. Supporters in Japan and abroad quickly did all they could to share the story on social media, particularly by turning to the Twitter hashtag #JusticeForMahohon. Social media wasn’t such a factor when past scandals broke — like when the AKB48 head-shaving incident took place a few years back — but today can be used to spread news that otherwise might be overlooked to media outlets around the world. Making sure the incident isn’t lost in the digital shuffle is vital, and Yamaguchi’s supporters successfully turned it into an international matter.

And that had ripples. Sponsors abandoned NGT48 as the story gained traction, and eventually the managers involved were shuffled out of their positions. Now, an internal investigation is underway. Fans applying pressure helped make that happen.

Just as important, though, was the fact that fans were able to show restraint and not push every single rumor that emerged in the scandal’s wake. Plenty of people are willing to go to bat for performers who have been wronged, but that passion can sometime lead to unconfirmed facts getting too much attention and mucking up the bigger picture. When discussing the Yamaguchi case, many netizens stressed the importance of not reacting to every little thing and only seeking out verified sources (a strategy that should really just be applied to every corner of news today).

Restraint is important, but the ultimate lesson to take from the NGT48 situation is that idol fans need to keep pushing issues that unfairly impact the performers they like, even when media attention starts to wane. It used to be that management and major music companies held the power. But now supporters have the means to flip everything around.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5