It’s widely known in Japan that idol singers are often contractually prohibited from engaging in romantic relationships. The reasoning goes that if word gets out that an idol singer has a boyfriend, her fans will feel betrayed that she isn’t solely devoted to her role as a musician and entertainer, and thus stop buying her CDs (there’s also the unspoken implication that openly dating someone will destroy the fantasies of individual fans that would like to date the singer themselves).
A signed contract isn’t always enough to keep young love and hormones in check, though. And when you consider that idols are almost always attractive, outgoing young women, it seems like it should be only a matter of time until they find a guy they fancy out of their swarms of would-be suitors. That’s why in addition to legal pledges not to date, the Japanese entertainment industry has a number of sneaky tactics up its sleeve to prevent its idols from falling in love or going on a single date.
A handful of entertainment industry executives, under the condition of anonymity, recently shared some of their methods, which involve psychological and time-management tricks as complicated as some idols’ stage routines.
One common practice is to keep the idols themselves in the dark about their own work schedules, sometime waiting until the end of the day to announce tomorrow’s timetable. Being an idol isn’t like working a nine-to-five shift at the office. On any given day, you could be recording songs, practicing choreography, appearing on TV variety programs, or meeting fans face-to-face at handshake events and other local promotions. All of those involve varying amounts of time and being in different locations, and it’s incredibly difficult to plan a romantic rendezvous if you don’t know when you’ll finish work or even where you’ll be when you do.
▼ May as well write “Work…?” in each and every one of those boxes.
This method is so effective that one talent manager says he can tell when an idol has secretly found a boyfriend, because she’ll suddenly start wanting to know the details of her work schedule farther in advance. But in many cases, it’s not like that would make much of a difference, because another method to keep idols from dating is to pack their schedule so tight that they don’t have any unsupervised free time. As mentioned above, idols have a huge variety of responsibilities, and talent managers ideally want them to be so busy with those that when their workday is done, the singers are too worn out to do anything other than head straight home and go right to sleep (alone, naturally).
▼ The exciting after-hours lifestyle of an idol
However, there’s a complication that managers have to bear in mind regarding this practice. Idols’ owe their success as much to their looks as their voices, and by running their performers ragged, they also run the risk of ending up with a group of haggard-looking, exhausted vocalists. But since the talent agencies want to minimize the idols’ private time, managers will add on-site breaks and rest periods in the middle of the work schedule. This is also why some idol appearance agreements include riders about keeping the break room stocked with specific snacks or other items the idols are fond of. The conditions are often demanded by the talent agencies in order to keep the idols from wanting to venture off-site on their own to pick up their favorite brand of tea or candy.
Finally, while producers don’t want their idols to actually be in a romantic relationship, some worry that they’ll lose a certain special radiance if they never have any contact with attractive guys. So when hiring hairstylists and makeup artists, certain talent agencies choose handsome young men for the job, which they feel gets their idols’ hearts ever so slightly aflutter before they go on stage. But wait, isn’t there a chance that the hairstylists will fall in love with the idols? Not if the men are gay, which is another characteristic some agencies look for when choosing who to handle their idols’ appearance.
Whether a little eye candy in the makeup mirror makes up for the lack of personal freedom, though, is something each idol has to answer for herself.