A few years ago, I used to be a huge fan of Japanese idol group Arashi. I was struck by a sudden curiosity about their recent goings-on, and while checking them out, I came across the rather surprising news that Jin Akanishi, their fellow Johnny&Associates stablemate, is set to make his major-label US debut under Warner Music Group this year.
Say what?! It’s been a while since I listened to J-pop, but last time I heard, the guy could barely speak English. He has vastly improved since then, but still far from fluent. I honestly couldn’t think of an artist with a tenuous grasp of English who made it in the mainstream — and sustained that success — in the US. I have nothing against the guy, but if even Asian artists who are fluent in English — Coco Lee, Hikaru Utada, and BoA, to name a few — failed to cross over, I doubt Jin Akanishi could. The only Asians (who were actually born and raised in Asia and not Asian-Americans) I could think of who has enjoyed significant success in the US music industry are Charice and Arnel Pineda, the lead singer of Journey. Their English isn’t native-perfect, but unlike Jin, they aren’t visibly straining to think about what to say next.
But more important than his lack of mastery of the English language is his attitude. From a review of Jin’s concert in LA:
Points to Jin for his hard work and his English skills, but this show needs a lot of work if it’s going to live up to the name “You & I.” “You & I” implies that there will be a connection between the performer and the audience. With an artist who has made his fame as much for his looks as his group performance work, you might expect that Jin would reach out to the audience through eye contact, singing to the audience, and, one might say, make love to the audience. But if that was the idea for the show, it failed miserably in its execution. From start to finish, Jin failed to connect with anyone not performing with him onstage (he surrounded himself with 2, 4, or more dancers in most every number), and often looked as if he was performing within himself. With our prime vantage point, we watched song after song for some sense that he was connecting to the audience – at one point he stood not 4 feet in front of us, on an extended portion of the stage and waited, waited for him to turn and sing out to the audience, look out to the audience, and waited in vain! At no point did he show us more than 1/4 of his profile, directing his attention to the action onstage.
See his standoffishness in action during his appearance on MTV Iggy in New York:
More videos here. It’s painful enough that his performances were obviously Auto-Tuned and lip-synched, but would it kill the guy to sincerely make some eye contact with the host? Grin and not smirk? Wave to his fans in the audience?
Same goes with his Twitter account. The guy doesn’t have the first clue on how to werq social media — no mentions, retweets, or any kind of interaction other than with people he personally knows. Dude, if you want to hit the big time, you better stop ignoring your fans and start learning how to tweet the Justin Bieber way.
Jin could get away with being aloof in Japan; there’s a whole set of unwritten Johnny&Associates rules that discourages fans from asking their idols to shake their hands, sign autographs, take pictures with them, etc. That’s the Japanese entertainment industry for you; I’ve always found this to be a big hypocrisy. But Jin has his sights on America and the world now, where the rules are different, and the last thing he needs to bring with him to the global stage is his Japanese idol sensibilities.
I’m sure Jin will sell a couple of hundred thousand copies when his US debut drops; more if Warner employs the usual Johnny&Associates trick of releasing two or three different versions, as fans of Japanese idols are notoriously rabid and will snap them all up without a second thought. But, if he doesn’t drop his too-cool-for-school schtick, I doubt he’d make any significant inroads beyond his already existing core group of fans.