”Idols are people too,” says one man in favor of freeing idols’ love lives.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Japanese idol singer industry has been all about keeping its performers from having love lives. If word got out that an idol was dating someone, the conventional wisdom goes, it would shatter her image as someone who’s entirely dedicated to making her fans happy, and the resulting disillusionment would adversely affect sales of the artist solo or group projects.
But would that many young men really care if Japan’s perky songstresses clad in plaid and frills were in a romantic relationship? To attempt to answer that question, Internet portal My Navi Gakusei no Madoguchi polled 202 male college students in Japan, asking them if they felt idols should be prohibited from dating. The vast majority, 74.3 percent, said they felt such restrictions are unnecessary.
“Idols are people too,” stated one respondent matter-of-factly, and several others voiced similar opinions that being allowed to date is a basic human right and that it’s silly to deny idols, whether contractually or through subtler means. “It makes them seem more human,” commented another regarding idols participating in real-life romance, while another took the practical stance of “They’re just going to date secretly anyway.”
Still, while 74.3 of the survey participants didn’t see the point in limiting idols’ romantic activity, the remaining 25.7 percent said they were in favor of such restrictions. Minority opinion though it may have been, that’s still a substantially sized group, and far larger than you’d expect if you posed a similar question to music enthusiasts in the West.
As expected, many of those who supported romance bans spoke about how the appeal of idols is that they’re representative of an idealistic dream, one that they would be disappointed or saddened to see infringed upon. “[Idols not dating] makes you feel like they’re really giving all they have to their job,” said one man, while another went so far as to say he thinks refraining from romance “is an idol’s duty.” One even asserted that “If an idol enters into a romantic relationship, she should retire from singing.”
To people with a more detached view, those sentiments sound pretty extreme. However, being off to one side of the bell curve doesn’t necessarily disqualify them in the eyes of the people calling the shots in the idol industry, which is overwhelmingly a niche market. The biggest acts don’t owe their success so much to having such a huge number of fans, but from having fans who, per person, are willing to spend so much more on CDs (including multiple copies of the same disc), posters, and other merchandise than fans of non-idol musicians.
It’s also worth noting that the survey didn’t exclusively poll fans of idol music, which, even in Japan, is a polarizing genre. It stands to reason that people who aren’t necessarily into idols would answer “No” to the question of whether or not they should have restrictions placed on their love lives. They wouldn’t be buying the performers’ CDs or concert tickets either way, though, which means the proportion of idol fans in the group (the demographic idol producers actually care about making happy) who think romance bans should stay is actually larger than the 25.7 percent calculated by measuring the group as a whole.
And since commercial music, like all commercial ventures, isn’t governed on a one-person-one-vote basis, but by how many dollar votes (or yen votes) a given course of action receives, unless there’s a major shift in the economics of the Japanese idol industry, romance bans, either hard or soft, are probably going to be sticking around for some time.