What’s the problem with it?
That, for those who don’t remember this particular media circus, was the infamous phrase uttered by SMAP’s Kusanagi Tsuyoshi upon being discovered drunk, disorderly and undressed in a local park by Tokyo police. It was about three in the morning when officers found the actor nude and causing a racket, demanding, “What’s wrong with being naked?” Contracts were lost, ads were pulled, and in the end, even Kusanagi himself had no recollection of how he’d ended up stripping in public at some point during that fateful night — or, for that matter, why the myriad illegalities of this had offended him so deeply.
However, that was over two years ago and bears little relevance now outside of the occasional trollish Arama They Didn’t comment. So why am I bringing it up today? Well, if you’ve been paying attention to Japanese pop news for the past week or so, you most likely have some idea already.
“My Ixxx” is the debut single of idol unit BiS, five months after they originally hit the scene as a quartet with the release of their first album Brand-new idol Society, and its PV is causing one hell of a stir across the Interwebs. Put simply, it’s one big, naked forest adventure… and I suppose it shouldn’t be a shock that this has resulted in some outrage. Still, even if we ignore the fact that BiS didn’t legitimately bare all for the shoot (their breasts are blurred out and it’s clear that they wore flesh-colored underpants), and maybe even the fact that I’m admittedly somewhat biased here due to having been a gigantic fan since day one, here’s what I don’t understand: it’s captured beautifully, there are no skeevy close-ups or pans up and down the members’ bodies, everyone was legal and consenting and it culminates in the most unsexy paint-throwing fight of all time. To me, the whole video is a look into the girls’ friendship and closeness with each other, focusing more on their faces and expressions as they all play around like kids than anything particularly ~titillating~. I think it’s also worth noting that it was co-directed by Niwa Takayuki, who was introduced to Pour Lui when he shot her solo single “I’m coming!!” in 2010 and has supported both her and BiS ever since, which definitely helps to ease my uncertainties as to whether or not the girls felt comfortable. Even the ending shot is unexpectedly off-putting, like it’s meant to jar you out of any unscrupulous thoughts you might’ve been having in the first place.
So, while I’m not going to give cookies to every man who’s whined “I can’t fap to this!” thus far, I want to pose the question of why this is angering people, why this PV has nearly as many dislikes on YouTube as it has likes, and why exactly a girl can’t run around naked in a forest if she wants to. And there are many answers to that, and trust me when I say I don’t want to invalidate them all, because there’s been some very reasoned criticism that I don’t want to discredit of how far a group will go for success. Even so, take one glance at the video’s YouTube comments and I think there’s a very simple conclusion you’ll come to:
Because, for idols, this isn’t “pure.”
Since the beginning, BiS’s place in the idol world hasn’t exactly been stable. Adamant not to let themselves be limited to one genre, they perform with who they want regardless of whether or not it makes sense, teaming up with rapping idol troupe tengal6 one night and darkwave duo Aural Vampire the next. “If the audience doesn’t want to listen to us, they can leave,” leader Pour Lui has said bluntly of the disconnect — undoubtedly the kind of statement that could make a Hello! Project idol faint. For BiS, it’s sometimes customary to throw condoms into the audience, drop genitalia-related vulgarities into their MCs with no discernible purpose (according to their manager, they weren’t interesting enough otherwise), and organize “hug parties” as opposed to the more traditional idol standard of handshake events. When they call themselves a brand-new idol society, they mean it. No other idols in the country would dream of taking on half the stigmas BiS seems to tackle with glee, and even when I don’t always agree with those practices myself, that makes them interesting to me.
In fact, shortly before ex-member Yokoyama Rina’s amicable departure, it was reported that there had been heated debates amongst the members themselves as to whether or not BiS were truly idols. “We’re divided on what direction to take,” Pour Lui admitted in an interview with Men’s Cyzo back in May. “I believe that we’re idols, but a sort of deviation from that,” Rina explained. “We’re not ‘pure’ idols, but to me, we’re idols.” Nakayama Yukiko, arguably the least idol-like idol in all of Japan with her pierced tongue and rocker chick image, loudly agreed. Soft-spoken Hirano Nozomi concurred, “The definition is vague, so it’s hard, but I think we’re idols.”
Maybe Pour Lui’s response was the most telling when she answered, “Those who say ‘BiS aren’t idols’ are too set in their ways. I thought if that could change when people looked at BiS, it’d be nice.” After all, Pour Lui’s inspiration is the most straight-up squeaky clean idol pop you can get: Morning Musume. BiS members frequently huddle up together with a few Morning Musume concert DVDs, watching closely and pointing out what they’d like to emulate, and even I’ve had a quick wota chat with Puu on the subject through Twitter once before. The idols they admire are honestly pretty standard. Being indie themselves, they like to support smaller acts along the lines of PASSPO☆, but most current idol groups hark back to the Hello! Project standard in some way and BiS doesn’t deny that. What they’re trying to do, I think, is take that essential idol base and add to it, turn it into their own style — more fun, fresh and all-around weird, blowing past the calculated vanilla for something truly and undeniably unique.
With PVs like “Paprika” (embedded above; think GAM times a hundred with an inexplicable headbanging segment involving pantyhose), you could say they bring this kind of backlash on themselves. Maybe they do. And yet, as an idol, how much can you do? If you play it safe like Morning Musume, you’re boring and it’s no surprise that you don’t sell anymore. If you shoot a cutesy PV in lingerie like AKB48, you’re sluts and you’ve taken it too far. The truth is that long before BiS ran free like the wind, long before Pour Lui and Nakayama Yukiko brought the tension they’ve always had into something bigger and more shocking than a blog entry, the issue everyone is watching them face now already existed. Moreover, I think it’s always existed for all idols.
I remember sitting in on a Pour Lui live stream one dull night when I had nothing else to do. She was relaxing in her house and chatting with fans, talking about BiS, which was still very much in its early stages at the time. Suddenly, an anonymous viewer showed up without knowing who she was and asked, “Do you do AV or something?” She smiled and looked completely unfazed, answering, “No, I’m a singer.” More people entered the room, more people asked. She always dealt with it the same way. And reading the reactions to their single now, seeing all the people telling these girls to just go into porn already for daring to be open with their not inherently eroticized bodies, reminded me of that. It made me realize that the deck has always been stacked against them to some extent and that it doesn’t matter what kind of concepts they do because there are people who will probably always be waiting for the day when they step a little too far out of line. When idols’ clothes get a little too revealing or their PVs are the slightest bit too raunchy, suddenly there’s justification for the viewer to speak what they were always thinking anyway: “My, that’s a little much. Shouldn’t you be doing AV at this rate?” In that situation where there is no right answer, maybe all an idol can do is stand up, cross that stupid, arbitrary line and keep running.
Do I resent that most people ignored this group I love until the girls finally chose to grab everyone’s attention with force? Yeah, obviously, but that reflects on those fans and this society. Are there times when I ask myself if all the members are okay with what they’re doing? Of course, because whether they mean something to me as performers or not, there’s little I trust at face value when it comes to idols. For some reason, though, I kind of believe in BiS; I believe in these girls who all shared the same dream and came together as friends through that. When Rina announced her decision to graduate due to feeling that the group wasn’t right for her, those feelings were respected and it gave me faith in BiS as something more than simple, thoughtless shock factor. No matter how they choose to present themselves, BiS is still a sisterhood just like any other idol group and they take that seriously.
As for me, I think I just respect a group who decides, “You know what? Fuck what everyone else says. Let’s go all out on this one.” I really like that BiS is full of loud, crazy girls who say what they think and do what they want without pausing to consider whether or not it’s cute or moé or whatever the keyword for “acceptably feminine” is this week. And above everything, I love that they’re doing this in the name of idols, a title that belongs to them as much as anyone else who’s poured this much of their heart and soul into becoming that.
When asked to give a message to their wota, Pour Lui once jokingly replied, “We love you, though you disgust us.” It might sound strange, but it gives me a tiny, tiny bit of hope that maybe someday idols and wota will be able to communicate on a more honest and equal level. Someday idols might have a voice, and it starts with little things like this… because, after all, well-behaved idols rarely make history.
So, what’s in store for BiS from here? I don’t think the girls themselves can even say for sure. They’ve welcomed in their newest member, Terashima Yufu, who I imagine can be considered BiS’s second generation now — time flies. College-aged Yufu has declared herself “in charge of being an honor student” with a catchphrase I can only translate as, “A serious idol, diligently idoling.” Will she talk sense into the main troublemakers Puu and UK where Rinahamu and Nonchan failed? Somehow, I don’t think so. I think BiS will probably always be the rebels of the idol world, not because it’s a gimmick, but because it’s who they are. They’re rock stars. And rock stars run through the forest in nothing but the skin on their bones.
Okay, and maybe some flesh-tone panties for privacy, but it’s still pretty badass.