Saturday, January 02, 2016

The significance and relevance of Kouhaku in this era

With the ending of each year, the signature TV event in Japan would be the "NHK Kouhaku Utagassen" shown on New Year's Eve. Despite the fact that this programme has been going on for the past 66 years, it has been plagued by many controversies over its selection criteria, choice of hosts and low ratings in recent years.

Looking at the ratings this year, it seems like the media is going to have another field day speculating on what went wrong again. The figures released by Video Research today show that Part 1 of the programme got 34.8% while Part 2 scored the lowest number since 1989 i.e. 39.2%. Given that there are more options on TV and the Internet on New Year's Eve and people may be out of the country or back in their hometowns for the holiday, the viewership pool would no doubt shrink compared to a decade or two ago so lower viewership numbers don't surprise me that much. As for the results, the Red team won after losing for four consecutive years with a difference of 9,903 votes. I didn't get to vote though since I wasn't watching this real-time.

Rather than harp on the viewership numbers, I think the quality of the programme is a bigger issue. I didn't catch the latest Kouhaku "live" while it was screening and recorded it for viewing on another day. However, I found myself pressing the "fast-forward" button throughout most of the programme. Personally, I think that the biggest problem was the selection of artistes who performed followed by the content of the performances.

In the past, the Kouhaku used to be the go-to reference for the biggest and hottest names for that year. It was a glamourous thing to be selected for the Kouhaku performance because it was an indicator of your fame and popularity as a music artiste. I still remember that the very first time I watched the Kouhaku, it was shown as a delayed broadcast during the Chinese New Year here and one of the hosts that year (1996) was Matsu Takako. It was from then onwards that I first got to know of many big names and hits of the year. Then again, there were also some names which I thought should have been in the list but didn't because of one reason or another.

I found myself wondering about the selection of some artistes especially in the last few years. Just why and how did they manage to be selected especially they were not particularly successful nor popular this year? Usually, when the selection list is revealed about a month or two before the Kouhaku, the media would throw up various conspiracy theories on why so-and-so is included or dropped. For example, there have been rumours about the less-than-transparent selection process such as some artistes said to be included on barter so as to pull in some big names or some artistes being roped in because of their agencies' or influential backers. Coupled with the fact that a lot of the big names tend to hold their own countdown concerts or events on New Year's Eve, it is definitely more profitable for them to do that rather than spend a lot of time on the Kouhaku rehearsals and the actual performance. Last but not least, the proportion of enka has dropped quite a lot compared to past years thus it was said that this also alienated some older viewers or enka lovers and led to a smaller viewership base. Whatever it is, I honestly don't think that the selection list can please everyone. However, to have some choices who are obviously not so "qualified" in terms of fame or popularity will definitely hurt the Kouhaku as it becomes less of an indicator of who's who in that year's music scene.

As for the content, I thought the songs performed were kind of boring especially the fact that there were many "old" hits. In the past, the songs tend to be hits within that year but of late, the music scene has not really seen a major hit as often as in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. I can understand if it is felt that the newer songs may not resonate so well with the viewers so the older hits are performed but if you do this all the time, it becomes really boring. In addition, as each artiste only has a short time to perform, there were many who performed medleys. The good side to this is that you can hear a few songs at one go but the bad side is, just when you are getting hyped up by the song, it suddenly ends thus becoming a real dampener. Guess that it's very difficult to have the best of both worlds.

Some of the so-called special projects were all hype by promising a lot in advance without a corresponding match in substance. Much as I like Arashi, I thought that the so-called collaboration with Star Wars was quite boring. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I'm not a Star Wars fan. Ayase and Inohara had to talk to the robots who appeared on stage before introducing Arashi's segment but you can tell easily from the content that it's all scripted and very awkward so it doesn't tie in very well with the theme of the songs which Arashi was about to sing. And when I saw them donning those costumes and wielding the light sabers, I just wanted them to get over with that and start singing. I have to say that in the past five years when Arashi was the host for the White team, I enjoyed most of their performances where had new stage and visual effects as a selling point. This time round, I didn't feel the same way. Maybe the treatment is different if you are the hosts. Then again, V6 didn't get anything that special in their performance this time so the theory doesn't seem to hold true. Another example would be the anime songs segment which only allowed a few lines to be sung by each group of artistes. Again, it's a case of the fun ending even before you get into the groove. That's really a shame because some of these segments could potentially be quite good after all.

Long ago when it was not easy to watch Japanese music programmes on TV and the Internet wasn't that developed yet, Kouhaku was something to look forward to every year because it would be really nice to see all the big stars belt out their hits. Even though I grumble about this annually, I still record the show to watch as a habit. However, if a day comes when I can no longer find any of my favourite stars in the lineup or the list contains too many people who I don't even know or may have heard of, I might just kick the habit then.


nusara said...

Kohaku this year is boring. MC is too scripted and uptight... may be because Ayase dont want to fail and Inocchi is doing this for the first time but they are so stiff. The performances are bland. The artist list isnt that bad but the performances are just too plain. And I agree on the Star War collaboration.

Raditya Nugraheni said...

Yeah, I agree. too much johnny's artists on screen, I think. It's not that I hate johnny's, I love Arashi. But, I've got to admit that they have almost the same colors and performance style. I love j-pop and I watched kouhaku to watch various kind of musics, artists, and performances.