Around The Fruit Bowl #5

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Wednesday 14th December 2016

Identifying Takahiro Nishijima as a J-Pop Idol

Takahiro Nishijima, better known by his stage name Nissy, rose to fame as lead singer of AAA. The seven member Japanese idol group debuted in 2005. Their moniker acts as acronym for Attack All Around, referencing their triple threat talents as singers, dancers and actors. Nissy was born in Hokkaido, and aged 28, after almost a decade as part of the group, in October 2014 he unexpectedly dropped the music video for Doushiyouka, which would become his first solo single.

It is common in Japan for artists to release solo projects while remaining part of their respective groups. Therefore, in order to establish his identity as a solo singer, Nissy crafted a recognisable alter ego for himself through follow up releases Never Stop and Playing With Fire. In each music video, Nissy stars as a stereotyped version of himself, attempting through various means to win the heart of his love interest, while simultaneously appearing as his own wing-man, leading a band of energetic back-up singers. Through this technique, the pop star displays two contrasting sides to his identity – himself, as dorky and innocent, juxtaposed with his alter-ego, presented in each MV as an idealised persona; the smooth wing-man egging him on to sweep the girl off her feet. The contrast between the two characters is furthered by each music video’s use of a romantic storyline, alongside scenes of choreography. In the narrative scenes, Nissy appears as an everyman, the scruffy, stereotypical awkward teenager easily relatable to his young audience. This character contrasts sharply with the slick choreographed scenes, in which Nissy appears in the same suit, tie and trilby hat for every single, even going so far with the formula to include a cartoon image of himself with the same hat as a logo, branded alongside his name at the start of every video. It’s proved to be a winning combination, with Nissy’s debut album Hocus Pocus hitting number one on iTunes Japan.

It is this representation of the J-Pop idol as not a merely a singer or artist, but as a branded, easily identifiable character that sets them apart from western pop stars. Justin Bieber may have been marketed as the musical version of sweet, vanilla innocence in the early stages of his career, but unlike Nissy, he was not given his own colour (orange) to mark his identity in idol band AAA. Nor was Harry Styles, arguably the most popular member of boy band One Direction, designated the specific role of lead singer, as Nissy has been. Neither Bieber nor 1D went so far as to produce their own mascot, as AAA have done, the panda toy, who appears available for photo ops at their concerts, and is stamped on every possible form of branded merchandise to compete for market dominance with Hello Kitty.

It is in this way that J-Pop, unlike its western counterpart, is both more regimented and tactically branded. As idols, artist are presented as perfect role models and all round entertainers – hence the name, AAA. As a member of one of Japan’s most popular idol groups, Nissy has released nine albums, taken part in concert tours and appeared in a variety of films, television dramas and even voiced anime characters in shows such as the perennially popular One Piece. This is true market convergence, matched only in the west by Disney, known for aggressively marketing its stars as singers and actors, promoted via books, dolls and lunchboxes for their fans to buy in droves.

But Japan is a nation in which girl bands can number up to hundreds of members, as does the infamous AKB48 and, sometimes pop stars don’t even have to be real – Hatsune Miku is an animated singer, voiced by various artists, whose vocals are processed by a singing synthesiser application to produce a style similar to Nightcore. The humanoid persona performs these songs as a hologram at sold out concerts for her fans.

It is in this world that Nissy, releasing his first album as a solo artist, must go one step further to appeal to his fans. By using two contrasting characters in his music videos he enables himself to appear not only as the relatable boy next door, but simultaneously as the polished idol, thereby creating the perfect paradox, both easily identifiable and impossibly idealised. In this way Nissy, like so many Japanese performers, sells himself by being more than just a recording artist. He is not only a singer but a character, who can translate across merchandise and various forms of media to appeal to the masses.

This is an idol, Japan’s answer to the western performer. In homage to their name, they must encompass every facet of appeal possible, to become chameleons, be the ultimate performers. Attack All Around, indeed.