The Stigma of Being an Idol

The Japanese media is similar to ours in that is can be seen as a farce. We are shown things in order for us to want them and get us to purchase them. This is no different when we are discussing idols. In Japanese media, idols are seen as products and not as people.

Galbraith describes it by saying “ they are the currency of exchange in the promotion and advertising of all manner of other products and services. For the Japanese consumer, immersed in a culture of celebrity, the idol is coterminous with consumption” (Galbraith 2).

What does the general Japanese public think about idols?

Maiyan on the cover of Ray, fashion magazine

Popular idol and model Shiraishi Mai sparked some heated discussion recently while in an interview she stated that she wanted her idol group, Nogizaka46 to be known as an artist group, instead of an idol group. Shiraishi, who was voted last year as “Girl whose features everyone wants to have the most in Japan”, is a popular model for fashion magazines Ray and LARME. Because of this she has an influx of female fans which, as she said, doesn’t really make her feel like an idol. Besides groups like Momoiro Clover Z, the general demographic for idol groups tend to be adult males. If this was to happen in Western media nothing would be thought of these comments since generally it is just one singer trying to say that she would like to grow as a performer and that she wishes for more for her group. However, she was met with harsh criticism from her male fans who felt that she was “betraying them” and her comments were like a slap to the face.

Obsession or Hobby?

This is what can be frightening about the obsession that some fans have with their idols. They form personal attachments and there are multiple terms for fans who have genuine feelings for their idols and imagine them getting married, or being a part of their family. This applies with all idols part of the AKBG, including the underage girls. Recently Sakura has been in a lot of gravure since her group has a single coming out. On Twitter there are multiple photos circulating depicting “wotas” buying multiple copies of it (the magazine which has multiple compromising and lewd photos of the underage girl.

Clip from Fashion magazine

Overall it seems that one of the factors that make these groups big is also the cause of the risqué business. Being idols you can meet can be a good or a bad thing. Within the western point of view, it is creepy for an older man to spend thousands of dollars to shake hands with an underage girl. This is what a lot of the general public thinks of when idols are mentioned. That is why there is such a stigma against them, and why Shiraishi wished to separate from that image. She wants to protray a positive image for her female fans, the ones who follow her modeling career.

However, at the same time she is correct in that her group is not like the others. Nogizaka46 has 5 contracted models within thier ranks with Shiraishi coming in at #1. They are used to promote products to young women, and it works. The marketing techniques are different, so it is understandable why it is not a good idea to continue training after the “idol” name. For example Shiraishi is now the face of popular hair dye “Palty” which holds the target audience of young women. The CM’s can be seen at think link. →

Another example of trying to break out of the idol mode is how this particular group is promoted on TV. Instead of singing with normal idol groups to pop songs Shiraishi was placed with well known Japanese artists to perform a song for a special program.

All in all, the idol mode is difficult to break and I hope that they succeed on this rough journey to win the general public’s affections over the wotas. The stigma of being an idol, no matter what is actually done is not well percieved by the general public. With her overwhelming presence in the media and fashion, will Shiraishi Mai break this stigma?

Galbraith, Patrick W., and Jason G. Karlin. Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.

Maiyan 1. N.d. Shiraishi Mai Being Cover Girl of Ray. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <>.

Maiyan 2. N.d. Tumblr:ShiraishiMai. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <>. → Website with Interview