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Japanese hip-hop has pursued the national spotlight for years, always seemingly on the cusp of a major breakthrough. On Aug. 29, the genre got the attention it craved, but in the worst possible way.

The Namimonogatari2021 music festival was held in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture, with such major rappers as Awich, Bad Hop and Zeebra performing. Videos of the event uploaded to social media appeared to show maskless concertgoers crowding and cheering in front of the stage, with some drinking alcohol (currently discouraged as part of antivirus measures). On Tuesday it was announced that at least 14 cases of COVID-19 have been traced to the event, meaning an infection cluster occurred.

Twitter users soon spread the footage, igniting anger and accusations that festival organizers were ignoring COVID-19 precautions at a time when the number of new coronavirus cases in the region were spiking.

Online outrage isn’t noteworthy at this point, but instead of blowing over the anger directed at Namimonogatari spread to news websites, tabloids and TV shows, with outlets such as Flash and Nikkan Sports reporting on every development and apology as if they were covering a war zone.

With the media spotlight now firmly on hip-hop, rappers caught in the glare found themselves being investigated for other transgressions. When 53-year-old rapper K Dub Shine, who did not perform, tried to defend the festival — quoted in Nikkan Sports as saying, “You’re only young once”Twitter users brought up his past support of QAnon conspiracy theories, highlighted in a piece by Harbor Business Online.

Elsewhere, Shukan Bunshan published a large feature on 32-year-old producer Murvsaki, who was sentenced to two years in prison in June after being found guilty of sexually abusing his stepdaughter. The piece highlighted his prominent production work and implied that many in his sphere largely ignored his transgressions. After its publication, some of his collaborators in the music world took to Twitter to explain themselves.

And Kenny G didn’t help. No, not the one you’re thinking of, this Kenny G is a 31-year-old rapper who was arrested on possession of stimulants in July and accused of performing at a show after testing positive for COVID-19.

In all of this coverage, a narrative has begun to develop that Japanese hip-hop itself is part of some larger societal problem. That’s not to dismiss the conspiracy theories, abuse or drugs mentioned in the above stories, but their actions and those of festival organizers seemed to have left a negative impression of the entire genre on many, including Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura and town councilor Keisuke Ota, who said the Namimonogatari incident has probably damaged the reputation of all live events.

Not all Japanese rappers are serving as bad examples, however. While performing at Namimonogatari, Claude Maki was filmed admonishing the crowd for not wearing masks, and rapper Hannya wrote some verses about what happened, which earned praise and promises of support from Twitter users.

The scapegoating of the young and youth culture is a common practice in mainstream media, which is geared toward older viewers glued to their televisions — remember the pearl-clutching that followed the 2018 Shibuya Halloween gathering? This time, though, pandemic anxiety is in the mix and the anger toward Namimonogatari isn’t limited to the baby boomers.

Plenty of events over the past 18 months have come under fire for lax COVID-19 protocols, but the focus on Namimonogatari has been particularly intense, perhaps due to a broader misinformed narrative that young people are refusing to get vaccinated. Coverage of last month’s Fuji Rock Festival in Niigata Prefecture had a similar tone, with many news outlets anticipating a coronavirus catastrophe. Two weeks on there have been no indications that a well-organized outdoor rock concert was a superspreader event, but the media can simply transfer that rage onto Namimonogatari, complete with “from the scene” reports.

The scapegoating of the young is a common practice in mainstream media geared toward older viewers glued to their televisions — remember the pearl-clutching that followed the 2018 Shibuya Halloween gathering? This time, though, pandemic anxiety is in the mix and the anger toward Namimonogatari isn’t limited to the baby boomers.

However, as the old saying goes: All publicity is good publicity. Don’t count Kenny G out of the game just yet.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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