Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Other Western Artists are Minor in Japan

This column is about Japanese Rock stars versus Western Rock Stars in Japan. It was inspired by my friends Allison Sane and JP Valentine. The premise is that, in spite of the hype and hoopla in the western press, USA and UK artists have seriously fallen out of their position of "Most Favored" in Japan (and China and elsewhere in Asia). That's what this post is about.

Allison had asked me if Eric Burdon was "big" in Japan. I replied that he was in the sixties, but not now. That's not to say that Eric Burdon doesn't have fans in Japan, he does. But, over these last fifteen years, whether it's Eric Burdon or not, (or any other modern western pop star) sales of albums from US and UK artists, and in turn their popularity, have dropped off a cliff. Western artists are just not the draw or as popular as they were a few decades ago. 

Eric Burdon today might be able to do some shows in Tokyo but drawing more than a few hundred people is highly questionable. Expensive dinner show is more practical and profitable for this type of artist in Japan.

The biggest (and worse sounding) venue in Japan is the Tokyo Dome. Performing there is considered the pinnacle of success for an artist. I hate concerts at the Tokyo Dome. The sound is terrible (like all large venues). The dome roof is kept up like a big balloon so the sound reverberates around the dome and it sounds like you are listening to a concert inside of a canyon. Heck, you are. The place holds 55,000 people.

The last big western artist who could come to Japan and quickly sell out a few nights at Tokyo Dome was Michael Jackson at the height of his popularity in the early nineties. Madonna has played there. The Backstreet Boys have. I saw David Bowie with Adrian Belew in 1990 at the Tokyo Dome. David Bowie was the last time I went there to see a concert that I actually wanted to go to. I had tickets in the eighth row right in front of the stage and Bowie was 20 yards in front of me. He could have been a mile away. The echo was so bad it sounded like he was singing inside of an airplane hanger.

But that was a long time ago. Very few western artists can come to Japan anymore and sell out the dome even for one night. Most today don't even try. Coldplay certainly couldn't do it. They played at Saitama arena last time which holds 37,000 maximum. The Tokyo Dome is just out of reach for western artists today. 

In fact, I don't think there are any bands in the entire world (excepting, perhaps a Rolling Stones reunion) that could sell out a few days at Tokyo Dome these days. Aerosmith is playing there next week, for one night, but they are having a hard time selling tickets and will be lucky to sell out the arena seats on the first floor.

Their popularity isn't what it used to be so I imagine they don't ask for green M&M's anymore. But, I also imagine that Aerosmith insists upon playing there because Steven Tyler is so insecure that he needs to say "We're playing the dome" because perhaps he's afraid of meeting Nigel Tufnel in the lobby.

Really good Japanese rock bands don't become famous in this country. 
(Pictured, The Neatbeats - Japan's Beatles) 

As an aside, I once interviewed Aerosmith and I said to Steven Tyler, "I go back with you guys since high school. I have all your records. My question is which one of you guys was wearing the makeup as the cat? Which one of you had the star on your eye and which one had the long tongue?"

Tyler got pissed off for a second but Joe Perry and the other guys laughed. It think it was the first time in history that a TV interviewer got Aerosmith to sing the Kiss song, "Rock and Roll all Night" on national TV. 

Later I overheard Perry tell his manager, "Now THAT'S the kind of interview we want to do in Japan!" I'm sure he said that because Japanese interviewers always ask dumb questions about what is their favorite food or color.

But I digress....

I'm sure they'll be giving away lots of Aerosmith tickets to industry related people just to try to fill the place. (Edit: As suspected. The Aerosmith was sold only the arena seats. The other half of the seats were empty. That's a disaster!})

Big Bang at Tokyo Dome.  This band sold out three days straight at the Dome in under thirty minutes.

But when it comes to Japanese (or Korean) artists, playing in Japan, it's a completely different story. You might think that major Japanese and Korean pop artists all suck and I might well agree. But I will add that they suck no more or less than most big western (especially Top 40) artists! But no one can sneeze at these bands that can sell out an entire week at the Tokyo Dome. And the list of bands that do is long.

Just a few weeks ago, I went to see Complex who sold out two nights in a row at Tokyo Dome. Complex is Hotei Tomoyasu and Koji Kikkawa. They sold out two nights a short while back and donated all the money to charity! So laugh all you want. These guys are not a joke.

Do the math. Let's see: ¥9,800 a ticket times 54,000 people equals: ¥529,200,000. This amount of yen at today dollar rate (¥76.91 yen to $1 USD) equals: $6,880,769.00. Now take that times two and you have over $13 million dollars for two nights performance. (Please someone double check this math. I've done it over and over and still come up the same. It's astounding to me this number... But Muhammed Ali got $5 million dollars for a 45 minute fight with Joe Frazier in 1975, so I guess this is correct. If I am wrong, please comment!)

Complex at Tokyo Dome - Total David Bowie ripoff? yes. But the fans don't care. And David Bowie doesn't sing in Japanese.

Now imagine a bunch of other Japanese artists who can do this for an entire week straight! The top bands in the west? Nope. One night, maybe. Like I said, there's not a western artist in the world today who could do that excepting a Rolling Stones reunion, maybe. They might be able to pull off two nights, but not three.

For many years, Japan and Japanese rock stars have had an inferiority complex towards western artists as they deservably should have. But nowadays, things have changed in Japan. And, when they can make this kind of money playing in Japan - and never make near that amount in the west - all the while western artists come here to make big money - why bother going to play in the USA?

Sure, the big name artists still dream of becoming big in the west too, but the west doesn't hold the allure it once did for people. And that's not just people in Japan, but, I think for people all over the world.

Sure, some dream of Hollywood and New York, but when it comes to the big name Japanese artists (who don't sing in English anyway) it's no longer practical to even consider trying to break into the USA market... Most certainly isn't profitable.

These big name Japanese artists can stay at home, in their comfy chairs, and copy the western artists that they are inspired by and make those musicians' music their own. 

The domestic audience doesn't know the difference.

Glay at Tokyo Dome 2005. Massive in Japan. They suck, but were fans of my radio show, so that's OK.... But they still suck.

NOTE: It might sound like I am dissing these Japanese artists or even Aerosmith, but I am not. When anyone can sell their music and become professionals, regardless of how crappy I might think their music is, that is to be respected. After all, who cares what I think and isn't everyone a music critic?

Playing music and actually getting paid to do so is great. Getting paid very well to do so is the dream of a lifetime.


Anonymous said...

Hello Mike!

Since the internet now is taking so much of people's attention and time, it seems that less and less is taken up for TV, radio, music, cinema, reading, etc. Even the whole "culture" of pop/rock music is dying in the USA.

Look at all the coverage the music industry used to get in the USA. MTV, VH1, local music TV shows, various music magazines, local news, radio, fan clubs, etc. In particular look at the number of music magazines that used to exist. Look at them now. Another example: it used to be a great thing if a pop/rock star would come to town, even if it was just to sign autographs at a music store or a shopping mall. Now look at the small crowds, that even the big acts manages to get. Also, it appears the record compananies only want to generally cater to the young at the expense of the old.

My hunch is since the music industry seems to be dying, how many rock/pop acts in the USA have made it big A.N.? (After Napster ca. 2000)
Like at a Michael Jackson, or David Bowie level.

I know someone who has worked in radio locally for the past 15 years. I haven't talked to them in awhile, but the impression I got was that it was definitely dying in the USA. It was even dying before the internet/Napster/iPod craze. In particular, I've heard that things have been looking very bad in the last 2-3 years.

Finally, I think this touches on another aspect: that Western rock/pop musicans in general, or American pop musicans, or hey, even frankly even the USA in whole, as a "brand", no longer have the allure they once did. My hunch is that it's true atleast in the US and Japan, if not the world as a whole. Where do you think this is going Mike?

As an aside, are Western rock/pop music CDs still priced at a discount compared to their Japanese counterparts?

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Thanks Anonymous!
Where is this all going? I think you see it: the death of Rock music culture. Maybe it's a good thing. Heck, I don't know. I think, in our modern society, the last real Rock star was Michael Jackson... The Digital Age Rock Star was Steve Jobs, but he's gone now too...

With the world in turmoil, will the next "Rock Star" be a revolutionary like a Hitler or Che? Interesting thought, no?

Yes, CDs from western artists are all priced lower than domestic CDs excepting domestic CDs of Japanese alternative groups. Japan's Best and Sexist Girl's Rock Band's (Nov. 2011).

Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

The music industry should hurry up and die. It is not the reason music exists. Music exists in its own right. Hurry up and die already and stop pumping out so much inordinate crap that scammers known as "industry managers/folk" make their livings out of.

Anonymous said...

Hello again Mike!

The green M&Ms is a sort of misnomer. I've heard it about Aerosmith, Van Halen, Ozzy Osborne, etc. Hearing it from the horse's mouth, I actually think that it was a rather smart thing to do.

As I heard in an interview w/ Sammy Hagar and Adam Carolla, the reason they put the M&Ms into their contract, wasn't because of narcissism or vanity.

They put a large number of items into their contract, in particular of a technical nature, about safety, rigging, and sound. Sandwiched in the technical part of the contract, was the M&M stipulation.

They knew that if there weren't the right M&Ms in the dressing room, it was a MAJOR WARNING SIGN that the venue hadn't read the contract, and that there were plenty of issues that would have to be fixed before showtime.

In a vein, Sammy Hagar in regards to fiat currency: Paper Money

I play the game of a rich boy,
I buy everything I can.
My bankroll is a foot thick,
I'm a wealthy man.
A million dollar reserve note is right there in my hand
And I can't stand to's all that I've got.
Take away all my silver
Take away all my gold
Well, you act as though you don't remember
The way it all used to be.
Now one man, he locks up the money
Another man holds the key.
My car cost me fifteen grand,
Some say I got a deal.
Melt it down, I've got a thousand pounds of junk
And ten dollars worth of steel.

Anonymous said...

So Complex is Boowy 20 years later? Same guitar!

A Japanese professor of English was lamenting to me that Japanese young people these days are not interested in going abroad to study English. (He thinks this presages the end of Japanese civilization.) Your post goes some way to explaining this phenomenon, I think: the days of "admiration" for the West (akogare) are over. For better or worse.

Japanese interviewers always ask dumb questions about what is their favorite food or color.LOL! So true (and it's not just interviewers)!

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