Jpop Group Momoiro Clover Z Continues Japan’s Trend of Blackface

Last week, popular Japanese idol group Momoiro Clover Z tweeted out the picture above to promote their upcoming collaboration performance on Music Fair with the doo-wop group Rats & Star. You can guess what happened next, right? The photo was deleted from twitter, Momoiro Clover Z’s management released an “I’m sorry you were offended” apology and Music Fair cancelled the blackface performance.

Unfortunately, none of these things happened.

The tweet is still up, no apology has been released as of this date and the blackface performance is still set to air on Music Fair on March 7th. Instead, the backlash Momoiro Clover Z has been facing has mostly been coming from the online, non-Japanese media. After the image was first posted, tweets from New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi and Wired writer Daniel Feit caught the attention of 2ch, a popular Japanese online messaging forum not known for it’s cultural sensitivity and tact. While the 2ch reactions were a mixed bag as usual, lots of commenters could see how this was unacceptable. “Even in the 21st century, it looks there’s a backwards group of people doing a minstrel show,” wrote one 2ch commenter.

Therefore, it’s not such a surprise that Momoiro Clover Z cancelled a screening and press conference of their movie The Curtain Rises with the  Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) scheduled for February 23rd. No mention of the blackface incident was made in the email, which raises suspicions. While it’s clear here that someone in Momoiro Clover Z’s management realizes that the blackface incident is not a good thing, we can’t help but be suspicious that this cancellation was a tactical move from their management to try to wait out the blacklash storm in hopes that it will go away. After all, Japanese entertainment has had a long history of blackface without any ruckus. Why should things be different this time?

Blackface has been a recurring thing in modern Japanese entertainment, particularly for comedic variety shows. And not once has there ever been any acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Essentially, Japanese entertainers have always been able to get away with blackface without any damage to their careers whatsoever. Let’s look back at some of these incidents, starting with Momoiro Clover Z’s blackface partner-in-crime, Rats & Stars.

Rats & Star is a Japanese doo-wop group that has been parading around as a blackface minstrel show since 1980. Their group name is a palindrome, reading the same forwards and backwards, and symbolizes “rats” raised in the less affluent parts of town that could, by singing doo-wop music, reverse their fortunes and collectively become a “star.” Ever since 1980, Rats & Star has been releasing album covers and making television appearances where they have dressed up in blackface.

This group has doing blackface for over thirty years and getting away with it. You’d think the younger generation would have learned that blackface, just like yellowface or brownface, is a dehumanizing, degrading and racist caricature of a group of people who have suffered because of racism and is therefore unacceptable.

Except, they haven’t. Here are five recent incidents of blackface in Japanese entertainment.

 


 

1. Popular boyband group ARASHI did this blackface impersonation on a variety show. Despite this blackface incident, they still remain one of the top Japanese boyband groups today.

 


 

2. Here’s Sayaka Akimoto, a former member of AKB48, doing a Michael Jackson impersonation. Akimoto “graduated” from AKB48 years later, out of her own volition and not because of this incident.

 


 

3. Japanese “urban” singer Jasmine made her debut with “Sad to Say” in 2009. On the back of the single cover was blackface. Her second album was released in 2013.

 


 

4. Chara, a popular 90’s singer who still releases music to this day, had this image on the back of her fourth album Happy Toy.

 


 

5. This variety show performance in 2010 had half black/half Japanese enka singer JERO performing with a comedian in blackface. Yes, some entertainers in Japan have the nerve to do blackface in front of a black person’s face.

 


 

So yes, there is a serious problem about blackface in Japan that is worth discussing. It’s 2015. Blackface with no repercussion is unacceptable.

While the Momoiro Clover Z and Rats & Star blackface performance is a terrible thing overall, we feel the slightest sliver of hope at the steadily growing blacklash. This is the first time that blackface has caused any sort of response from the perpetrator. We can only hope that the backlash will grow louder. After all, Momoiro Clover Z’s and Rats & Star’s blackface performance is still scheduled to air on March 7th in Music Fair. Isn’t it time to put a stop to this?

 

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Can’t Wait For Utada Hikaru’s New Music? Reminisce With These Top 5 Songs

Who remembers J-Pop singer Utada Hikaru? Unlike most J-Pop idols, Utada Hikaru is well-known for writing and producing all her music, a feat that has paid off with the 52 million albums she’s sold. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jpop, you may recognize Utada Hikaru for her Kingdom Hearts songs “Simple and Clean” and “Sanctuary.”

Although she was considered one of the most influential Japanese artists of the 2000s, Utada Hikaru announced she was going on hiatus in 2010 for personal reasons. She added that the hiatus shouldn’t last more than five years.

Now it’s 2015. Although she stepped out of the limelight, rumblings from her personal life have made it’s way to the public. Some of the news, such as her marriage, were good. Other news, such as her mother’s death, were tragic. All the while, fans made it clear that they missed her. A tribute album was released in Japan featuring artists such as Sheena Ringo and Ayumi Hamasaki.

But recent news has hinted that the wait may finally be over. Utada Hikaru has announced via twitter that she is working on a new song with the working title “Sasshire Cappucino.” Is it the end of her hiatus? No one is sure yet. But new music from Utada Hikaru is welcome and we here at Audrey thought it would be great to reminisce on five of her greatest songs while waiting for “Sasshire Cappucino.” Ranked in no particular order, here they are:

 


 

1. First Love

Released as her third single in 1999, “First Love” was written and composed by Utada Hikaru at the tender age of sixteen. This is especially surprising considering the first lines of the song translate to “our last kiss, taste like a cigarette.” Despite this edgy opener, “First Love” is primarily a song of heartbreak, with a chorus that is both wistful and devastated. Who wouldn’t cry when she sings “I’ll remember to love, you taught me how.”

 


 

2. Passion

Primarily known as the Japanese version to the second Kingdom Hearts opening theme, “Passion” is a beast on it’s own. The closest English equivalent would be an Enya song, but that doesn’t even fully capture this ethereal rock-ballad with the soaring background vocals. There’s also quite a few english lyrics sung backwards in the chorus. Can you find them?

 


 

3. FINAL DISTANCE

A ballad re-arrangement of her song “Distance,” Utada Hikaru reworked the song after she heard that the 6-year-old victim of a school stabbing, Rena Yamashita, was a fan of hers. It’s hard to do a slow, mostly-piano driven ballad without boring the listener, but “FINAL DISTANCE” always seems to evoke tears.

 


 

4. Kiss & Cry

Speaking of working song titles, Utada Hikaru once revealed the working title of “Kiss & Cry” was called “Dancing Leah” after the Filipina American model Leah Dizon. While “Kiss & Cry” certainly has a danceable beat, it’s not exactly club material. But then again, as long as “Kiss & Cry” is playing, we are down for anything.

 


 

5. Flavor of Life (Ballad Version)

Lastly there is “Flavor of Life (Ballad Version),” which many know as the theme song to Hana Yori Dango 2 (Boys over Flowers 2). Equally heartbreaking and catchy, “Flavor of Life” is undeniably one of Utada Hikaru’s biggest hits. In Japan alone, it sold 700,000 physical copies and 7.7 digital downloads in the year of 2007. Yeah, it’s huge and we can understand why.

 


 

BONUS: Sakura Nagashi

We’re cheating with this one, but this song, which was released in 2011 (after the the hiatus) for the Neon Genesis Evangelion movie, is simply exquisite. Bring on your new material when you are ready, Hikki-chan!

 

Can Jpop Queen Namie Amuro Make It In America?

Last week, Business Journal reported that Namie Amuro has purchased a house in Los Angeles in anticipation of her American debut. While no official statements have been made, Amuro’s last two studio albums, FEEL and Uncontrolled, heavily featured many all-English tracks. If she were to debut in America, Amuro would join a long line of Jpop stars including Utada Hikaru, BoA (who is also a Kpop star), Jin Akanishi (of KAT-TUN) and Crystal Kay. All of these artists attempted to establish American careers, but unfortunately, they have not yet emerged as household names among the general American population. According to an anonymous music industry official, Amuro is trying a different approach.

“Namie is well aware of Utada’s experiences [in the US]. She has begun intense English-language lessons,” the source said. “Concerning her music, she is fully satisfied with the type of music she releases being on par with the status quo. She’s not in a ‘I want to break America and be successful at all costs’ mindset, but rather ‘I want to step up my game.’”

Before determining whether or not Amuro can make it in America, let’s look at what her “game” in Japan has been.

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Image courtesy to wesina

Amuro debuted in 1992 under the group Super Monkey’s, but went solo in 1995 with the single “TRY ME~Watashi wo Shinjite~.” She quickly became known as an “it girl” who inspired the ganguro trend.

Of course, all trends fade and this is especially the case in Japan. The early 2000’s was a period of decline for Amuro. Between her shotgun marriage, the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her uncle, and her divorce after three years of marriage, Amuro’s popularity took a major hit in Japan and it was reflected in her sales numbers.

But just as the 90’s trend came back, so did Amuro. First, she adopted a more mature, hip-hop inspired image. She even titled her sixth album The Queen of Hip-Pop. Finally in 2008, her seventh album Play hit number one for the first time in over seven years. Since then, all of Amuro’s albums have hit number one and have landed somewhere comfortably in the Top 10 Best-Selling Album Charts of whatever year it was released in.

While Amuro has stopped making television show appearances since 2009, her face is everywhere on fashion magazines across Japan. Although she is 37-years-old (don’t let the pictures fool you), she is a fashion icon for Japanese women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. In a climate where idol groups reign and Japanese solo artists have declined, Namie Amuro is back on top.

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Image courtesy of avex

After successfully emerging from a 22-year-old career full of ups and downs, it makes sense why a move to America would step up Amuro’s game. But will she be able to succeed? We think so.

It’s true that Amuro is significantly older than other Jpop and even Kpop artists trying to break into the American market. However, her age and experience might actually give her an upper hand. Unlike Kpop girl groups such as the Wonder Girls, Amuro won’t be mistaken as an Asian Disney Channel-esque teenybopper. Amuro’s mature, confident image breaks the stereotypical image of Jpop as sugary, high-pitched, novelty act girl groups such as AKB48.

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As important as image is in the music industry, Amuro’s success will mainly rely on her music. Luckily, Amuro’s distinctive, low pitched voice will definitely help her there. It isn’t hard to imagine songs like “ALIVE” being played in any sort of club in America. Or even songs such as “BRIGHTER DAY,” which doesn’t sound like anything currently heard on Top 40 radio, shows potential to bring new sound to American ears.

If Amuro keeps to her image and music, it is more than possible that she will “make it” in America. After all, Amuro’s 22-year-comeback is unprecedented both in the Japanese and American music market. Who’s to say that America is an insurmountable obstacle for her?

I’d say it’s wise to not underestimate Namie Amuro.

 

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