BiS – WHO KiLLED IDOL?

So, farewell then, Brand-new idol Society. Fated from their 2010 inception to have a lifespan of only a few years, the subversive and entirely unprecedented idol group fronted by the “new age rock icon” Pour Lui is finally nearing its …
By Sean Mulrine

So, farewell then, Brand-new idol Society. Fated from their 2010 inception to have a lifespan of only a few years, the subversive and entirely unprecedented idol group fronted by the “new age rock icon” Pour Lui is finally nearing its ultimate goal of disbanding (or should that be DiSbanding?) at the peak of its career. Their parting message to the world comes in the form of WHO KiLLED IDOL?, their final studio album together.

And things have changed quite a bit since the release of their 2012 major-label debut album IDOL is DEAD, such as the group having gone through a surprising number of different lineups since then, with only two of its original four founding members remaining – but the most important change they’ve made is that of their artistic maturation.
Two years ago, Pour Lui gleefully announced in an interview “We’re going to kill every idol group!”, a move that led to many Western onlookers hastily and clumsily branding them an “anti-idol” unit, but the reality is that they are perhaps the most pro-idol idol unit of them all. With WHO KiLLED IDOL?, BiS take the concept of the pop idol and of celebrity itself down from its pedestal and make us take a closer look, while also looking into themselves and their career so far.

If we’re going to know who killed idol, it’s important that we first understand exactly what an “idol” is. In BiS’ native Japan, the term refers to a kind of manufactured young media personality, mostly female, who appears in TV shows, films, magazines, public events and the like, all while releasing pop songs. Commonly, an idol is forbidden to smoke, drink, pursue any kind of romance, and must maintain an air of being “pure” for their audience of mostly adult male fans, known as wota. Though idol producers such as Akimoto Yasushi (the mastermind behind the multi-million-selling idol juggernaut AKB48) are quick to deny that their groups specifically provide a surrogate lover to a number of their fans, the implied romantic availability of many idols is something that is commonly noticed and criticised due to how much it’s conveyed in media. Enter BiS, who constantly attract attention for their breaking of various idol taboos, their music videos that deconstruct the concept of “idol” and attack the voyeurism of wota fans, and of course, the high quality of their punk rock-based sound.

WHO KiLLED IDOL? begins with “primal.2”, a sequel to “primal.”, the legendary BiS song that is a constant staple of their live concerts. The original “primal.” is an emo rock number with heavily overdriven guitars and an energetic chorus, but the song on this album is subdued, softer than that and more introspective, trembling strings and a piano forming the core of the arrangement. “primal.2” is a mournful song, full of lyrical parallels to the original “primal.” and as an opener it stands in stark contrast with the in-your-face black metal-inspired sound used for the title track of IDOL is DEAD. Through the sorrowful sound, there comes a flash of hope in the form of the powerful voice of First Summer Uika and her line “I can’t stop any more / Because I can see the goal now” which appears as a rousing middle eight. It’s followed by a fantastic, surging guitar solo provided by guest musician HISASHI (of the band GLAY), who highly praised the original “primal.” on Twitter when it was released. But this is a kind of hope that is resigned to its fate, much like BiS itself, and it soon falls back into the same sadness that pervades the rest of the track. The biggest emotional moment on “primal.2”, however, comes not as Uika’s uplifting voice or HISASHI’s soaring solo, but the vaguely choir-esque ending sung in English: “I still love Mother / I still love Father / I still love Sister / I still love Brother”, they sing together. When it comes down to it, how many people actually pause to think about idols as somebody’s daughter or somebody’s sister? Certainly it’s not a thought at the forefront of the minds of people who might be buying idol bikini photobooks or, alarmingly, life-sized idol body pillow cases . It’s a reminder that even the most famous of pop stars and idols have genuine emotions, and that these are just normal women who happen to be doing a job. “primal.2” might not have the violence or the hysteria of something like “IDOL is DEAD” as an opening track, but as a more serious song it hits even harder on an emotional level.

Strangely enough, for a group whose various activities constantly play on and deconstruct the concept of idols, their lyrics rarely really focus on the idol world. However, fresh-faced BiS newcomer Koshouji Megumi changes this with her lyrics to the brilliant “no regret”. Bitter, cynical and themed around the concept of oshihen (a term that refers to the often frowned-upon act of changing one’s oshimen, or favourite member of an idol group), they’re told from the point of view of an idol and from a fan. This song starts out with a waltz-like 3/4 beat, rather slow and light. It’s lilting and melodic, and the clean guitar sound that backs it all has a vaguely American Football kind of sound to it. But without any warning whatsoever it switches to an explosive 4/4 punk chorus with noisy, hollered vocals. The sudden outburst of energy (and it’s really sudden, since there is no buildup to this chorus at all) makes “no regret” a shocking and addictive listen. “Some day, you’ll forget about me too,” laments the idol abandoned by her fan, before the chorus’ violent lyrics and sound kick in.
Meanwhile, “MURAMURA”, with lyrics penned by Ten Tenko, a fan of MGMT and Prince Rama who stands at a pint-size 142 centimetres tall, inverts stereotypical idol song lyrics to tell a story from the point of view of a stalker. The track is produced by Tsuda Noriaki (bassist from ska-punk quintet KEMURI). Where a conventional group like Happy Super Generation (yes, that’s an actual idol group name) can spit out a line like “Hey, look at me and me alone!” and nobody bats an eyelid, though a few eyes are sure to roll at the hackneyed and saccharine nature of it, Tenko’s chorus to “MURAMURA” is rather more unsettling: “I’m only ever watching you and you alone […] I wonder what you do when you’re alone at night? Tell me!” The combination of her darkly humorous lyrics and Tsuda’s upbeat skacore arrangement make a surprisingly good match for each other, and the interaction between the brass section and the vocals during the slightly off-kilter chorus make this a pop song that bursts with personality. The stalker in “MURAMURA” (a title that means something along the lines of “horny” or “turned on”) is a ridiculous character, but it raises the question as to where the boundaries for idol fans lie. How far do they have to go in their devotion before they’ve overdone it and become a stalker themselves?

The album is full of high-functioning, top-quality pop tracks and includes a number of BiS’ past singles, such as “DiE”, which combines a wistful vocal melody with drums so frantic they seem as though they’ll overtake the rest of the song at any moment, and the electrifying, dizzying “STUPiG”, at which we have previously looked . Interestingly, they also made the decision to include “GET YOU”, BiS’ collaboration single with the entirely conventional white-bread idols Dorothy Little Happy. The song is actually one of the less impressive ones on the album, taking on an arrangement and structure which wouldn’t sound out of place in the discography of some group like SKE48. But importantly, it serves to remind listeners that BiS are not outsiders to the idol world. Yes, they may be subversive enough that they can work with, for example, harsh noise giants Hijokaidan , but all their commentary on the current idol state of affairs would be meaningless were they merely looking in from outside without experiencing what it is to be an idol. This collaboration with some of the more traditional young idols of the current scene is proof that BiS are not “anti-idol” at all. Would Pour Lui, whose Twitter profile proudly proclaims her admiration for groups like Hello! Project’s main breadwinners Morning Musume, really and truly lead an “anti-idol” group? Dorothy Little Happy’s contribution to the album may be decidedly plain and vanilla, but their presence turns out to be more important than one might initially think.

Singles aside, the new tracks on the album all prove to be great additions to BiS’ repertoire, with the punkish “nasty face”‘s gorgeous chord progression and punchy vocals with attitude becoming a canvas for Pour Lui to express her feelings on the upcoming disbandment, and “Magumato” [マグマト] (produced by Schtein&Longer, whose bizarre pseudonym may be familiar to fans of the vaporwave scene) seduces listeners with its heady, sultry melody as a psychedelic slice of disco pop. The only real letdown comes in the form of “MMGK”, which is a digital rock song that relies too heavily on its plasticky synthesizer sound to be taken especially seriously. Its energy becomes rather melodramatic and the end result is something that is a little forgettable and sounds more like the theme song to some anime than a decent rock number. Thankfully, the following track “ERROR” (with lyrics written by Hirano “Nozoshan” Nozomi, the only other original BiS member to remain in the group) manages to pick up the tension again. Its dark metal arrangement, with occasional vicious stabs of electronics and enormous percussion, draws heavily from the same synth-infused sound pallette as “IDOL is DEAD”. But the vocals of “ERROR” are distinct and more melodic, crucially, in order to allow Nozoshan’s lyrics to be heard. The gloomy and brooding verses swiftly lead into a surprisingly upbeat chorus: “Hold me, hold me / I don’t need the past any more / My feelings are everything”. It’s especially interesting to note the more mature sense to her lyrics this time when compared to those for “KFC”, her last lyrics on a BiS song from 2011 where she wrote about “white cotton snow, falling in my heart”. Though various members have come and gone over the past years, the sense of BiS’ maturation as a whole is very much apparent on WHO KILLED IDOL?.

The very last song on the album is, of course, where BiS have their last laugh. It’s a faithfully arranged cover of “Primal.” [プライマル。] by the well-loved Japanese rock band THE YELLOW MONKEY. Since 2010, BiS have always conducted themselves with a sense of humor, from throwing out condoms during their live concerts to auctioning themselves off online as housekeepers. Despite being the namesake to BiS’ legendary “primal.” and the inspiration for some of its lyrics, THE YELLOW MONKEY’s “Primal.” is a bright and upbeat song with humorous lyrics, in stark contrast with the raw, emotional BiS track that shares its name. So it’s fitting that this cover be an end to their final album, and the BiS members tap into its tongue-in-cheek nature, with Tenko even putting on a perfectly ridiculous comical voice for her lines. The brass and the unusual chord progression of this song give it a kind of triumphant sound, and so it turns out to be the perfect ending to the album. It genuinely ends on the words “blah blah blah blah”, but as sung by Pour Lui, those meaningless words have never sounded so honest and so good before.

So let’s say it’s true, that BiS were right and that idol really is dead. But in that case, who killed idol? It’s a question the album doesn’t set out to give a specific answer to, instead asking its listeners.

Was it really Pour Lui, the so-called “anti-idol”, laughing in an interview back in 2012?

Or was it idol managers, who make true the dreams of young women and girls by turning them into a pop culture product?

Perhaps it was the idol wota fanbase, whose devotion turns a normal person into an imagined perfect, pure, virginal being?

If BiS’ album can change the way even one person thinks about idols and the nature of celebrity, then their disband will not be in vain.

WHO KiLLED IDOL?” was released on March 5th through Avex Trax in three different editions.