Only a few weeks into 2018, and Japan has been at the center of several internet-centric controversies. Some of them came about because of long-festering issues (the use of blackface on a popular New Year’s Eve TV special) while others found the country as just the setting (the whole Logan Paul kerfluffle). Yet one that hasn’t received much attention internationally - but which was the year’s first huge music story domestically, at least on the web - was Keyakizaka46’s appearance on Kohaku Uta Gassen.
Here’s what happened; on December 31, the biggie-sized idol group performed on Kohaku, one of Japan’s most popular music-centric programs. This year’s show registered low ratings, yet enough people watched it to catch Keyakizaka46’s performance of “Fukyouwaon.” During it, three members appeared to faint and/or looked exhausted throughout. Here’s a compilation pointing out these instances.
According to NHK, the three members of the group that seemed exhausted or fainted - Shida Manaka, Suzumoto Miyu and Hirate Yurina - suffered from hyperventilation and were treated following the performance. A tweet later in the evening showed the trio smiling with the rest of the group (below). This didn’t stop the story from becoming one of the most talked about happenings online, with news sites, blogs and message boards such as 2chan talking about the incident. The main take away from several weeks of digital buzzing was that people were worried about the work demands pushed onto Keyakizaka46, and that it might be having a negative impact on their health.
This has long been a point of conversation hovering over the world of Japanese entertainment (and, really everywhere in the entertainment industry). Fans and casual observers have long worried about idols working too many hours, or doing too many performances, and when something goes wrong, people get very concerned. See concerns over “marathons” that idols groups like BiS have undertaken to drum up attention (see also, Pour Lui and her weight-loss challenge).
The Keyakizaka46 moment marked one of the most visible moments of J-pop idols struggling. Idols typically have a lot of obligations to attend to; fan meetings, handshake events, all sorts of performances, and since many of them are guided by the idea of developing a closeness to fans, these events take on extra importance to keeping ties tight. And, sometimes, that means pushing themselves past their limit.
What happened at Kohaku this year was bad, but also a common side-effect of an industry pushing performers to constantly give it their all. Fans are reacting poorly to it, as are more mainstream music fans, all of whom raise concerns for the performers involved in Keyakizaka46.
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