Idol worship in Japan

I always knew that American music agencies were rank amateurs at creating pop idols compared to the Japanese (c.f. Tiffany vs Hello! Project), but I hadn’t realized how much the fanbase contributes to this.

Case in point: last month, some paparazzi pictures were published of 18-year-old Kago Ai, an extremely popular idol singer, and they may have ended her career.

Now, if you’re used to Hollywood scandals and the all-too-common meltdown of former child stars, you’re probably thinking in terms of cocaine, public sex, car wrecks, shoplifting, armed robbery, drunken partying, and incredibly poor taste in boyfriends.

She was caught smoking a cigarette. This is illegal before age 20.

As a result, the Hello! Project agency issued a formal apology for failing to give her proper guidance, her March album release was canceled, all Kago-related merchandise was pulled from H!P’s retail stores, all her scenes were cut from H!P’s weekly TV show, and all of her public appearances and concerts were canceled through at least the end of August. Worse, most of her appearances were with her W partner Tsuji Nozomi, who is still on the bill at some events, but will be hit hard by the cancellations.

If it sounds like the agency’s going a bit overboard trying to protect their image, here’s where the fans come in. Many of them felt so betrayed by the scandal that they posted pictures of themselves burning photographs of her. Six months in limbo, massive financial losses, and groveling apologies simply might not be enough to win them back. Their worship was based entirely on the public image she’s built up over the past six years, and now that image has been soiled.