10 May 2012

Johnny’s and China

As I start off I just want to note that when I talk about China here I am only talking about the mainland. Hong Kong is very much a separate entity when it comes to culture and economics not to mention have had relatively healthy and robust music industry for decades so they would not fall so much in line with the mainland with that industry.

(The facts and some speculation.)

Johnny Kitagawa has announced that he has plans of creating a new Johnny’s group in China and will debut them at Hey! Say! JUMP’s musical , Johnny’s World in November. Of course something like this has created a stir with the Johnny’s fandom with all kinds of ideas about what this group is going to be flying around everywhere with little to no evidence to back the opinions up.

For me I cannot say I am too overly surprised and I do not think that if this new group does occur it will not be competing with the Japanese Johnny’s groups so much as I have seen some think they will. I have the feeling this group is more likely to be something like Road to Asia, the boy group that Johnny’s helped with as a joint venture with Hunan TV.

In fact considering that Johnny’s is hardly the kind of company that jumps blindly into anything I would assume that RTA probably had something to do with this new group. Such as maybe RTA doing rather well for an idol group in China and Johnny’s feeling that they could develop a more successful group.

Their decision to create their own Chinese group though could also be because the idol groups that the South Korean agencies have created for the Chinese market have done well enough. Or even simply because AKS has created SNH48 (to be based in Shanghai, China) so Johnny’s believes that if AKS is willing to enter the market perhaps they should try as well. Or it could be any combination of those things but it is certain that Johnny’s is ready to tackle the Chinese market with talent from the country itself. 

(Why bother with China?)

China has been experiencing record economic growth and progression since they adopted capitalist policies and are reaching the point where people beginning to expect that they should be able to get a job that will give them disposable income. Or at least in the cities, but that is where a good chunk of the Chinese population live or at least work. While working on my Asian Studies degree I ended up taking some courses about China, even one about modern China, and the young generation of the mainland cities look to come off as ready to be like any other young generation of developed nations. They want luxuries and not wanting to work the same kind of low income jobs their parents may have had to, or are working to support them, as they are pushed to get much higher educations.

This can be seen where factories for the cheaper products, like clothes, are moving out of China and into poorer nations and workers in factories increasingly demanding better pay.

With this change there is bound to be a natural progression towards the growth of markets like the entertainment industry. So it would be a good time to enter the Chinese entertainment market as it is still in its formative years when it comes to pop music. This is why there are South Korean groups entering that market on a consistent basis for years and why Japanese companies seem to be following suit, such as AKS starting up another international sister group for AKB48 with SNH48 in Shanghai.

Especially when with just the population size alone if any of these groups manage to hit it big in China they would be massive compared to other groups in other countries. Perhaps the best way to explain it is to say that while the U.S. is the market of global success that everyone wants to achieve, China is the market of potential success that everyone hopes will succeed.

(Why now?)

If you look at the recent years of Johnny’s activities abroad it is easy to see that this was far from a spontaneous decision they made. And that is not even taking RTA into account.

The most high profile example would be SMAP’s Shanghai concerts. The fact that the group met with one of the top leaders of China to discuss it and that several Chinese officials in high positions went to the concert shows that Johnny’s is willing to get on the good side of the Party to make sure they succeed in China. Not a bad move considering the strength of censorship by the Party in China and that China and Japan still have unresolved issues between them that can quickly turn sour. So by being on the Party’s good side it can be a way to make sure Johnny’s will not get the boot if high tensions between the two nations flare up.

It can also be seen in the recent deals with China in connection to the Tohoku region recovery. Johnny’s has been courting the Chinese government for a while and it looks like they are confident enough that they will be backed by them to an extent to make this overseas expansion.

(What does this new group mean for Johnny’s?)

Johnny’s seems to be more active internationally than before, and most of that focus does seem to be on other Asian countries with more groups doing Asian tours. With the success of SMAP’s China concerts the way is paved for other Johnny’s to start performing on the mainland and not just Hong Kong, like usual. 

Having a Johnny’s group in China can help with these concerts, and even the others in the area, as guests/back dancers at them. So that way Johnny’s does not need to spend so much to bring Juniors from Japan and can have the benefit of promoting another group that should be releasing their own music in the region.

Also by going for the age range Johnny has announced, middle school students, it shows that Johnny’s is probably hoping they can keep this group around for some time and build the same kind of fan base their Japanese groups have. That is one that can follow these boys from these early years on and gain that emotional investment of seeing them grow and improve, which is the formula for success for many Japanese idol groups.

(In conclusion)

The idea to expand to China is a pretty sound one and hardly one Johnny’s is pioneering. This group is bound to be mainly for the mainland as there is little market for a Chinese boy group in Japan, not when Johnny’s already has plenty of Japanese boy groups they can make money with. But it would not be out of the question for this group to interact with the Japanese Johnny’s if only with being supporters at Chinese/Asian concerts for them.

And in the end it is a business venture and one that could bring big money to Johnny’s if they succeed and are able to continue creating a Chinese branch of their company that can put out Chinese boy bands as successful as their Japanese counterparts. Who knows, perhaps in a couple of decades people will be coming into Johnny’s via these Chinese groups as a Mandarin Pop wave dominates the Asian music market. We just have to wait and see.

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