Globalizing Visual Kei: Visual Kei Today and the Future of Visual Kei

file - 21.08.2011 10:01

Join us in the twelfth installment of the "Globalizing Visual Kei" web series as we wrap up the series and discuss visual kei today, and its future.

The Future of Visual Kei

Since visual kei’s popularity peak across the globe, the scene has experienced moments of both stagnation and heavy activity. Yet today, aside from a few bands such as DIR EN GREY and X JAPAN, the scene has still not reached the mainstream music market. We have seen numerous attempts at mainstream integration: DIR EN GREY won the 2006 American MTV “Headbanger’s Ball” award for best music video,1 and their presence in numerous Western band coupling tours awakened public interest in visual kei and Japanese rock which lead to new tours with other visual kei artists, such as the Taste of Chaos tour.2 However, this avenue was not heavily pursued by organizers after 2008, and visual kei was soon forgotten about as other Western musicians and styles continue to rise into the public’s eye.

While in recent years the use of venues is much higher than that of anime conventions, organizers are still not marketing to a wide enough audience, and it seems that only the same fans attend events. Many organizers have reported that reprise tours are often less successful than the initial shows, which is the opposite of what one would expect to occur if the marketing were boosting interest and popularity.3

As people grow older and change, it is likely their hobbies and taste in music will likewise be altered. It is notable that among the ages of JaME survey respondents, looking at fans in their twenties and beyond, the higher the age rose, the more the number of responders in those categories fell.4 This brings into question the possibility of fans aging out of the scene over time. If this is the case, without the Japanese and overseas industry marketing to people outside of the existing scene, visual kei may eventually cease to exist entirely overseas if the scene cannot evolve and allow new fans to be introduced as older fans leave. If there is no fan base, there is no scene.

While Western visual kei bands continue to form and make visual kei their own, there is still debate within the scene over the validity of these artists, drawing into question what being visual kei truly is, and whether or not emulated visual kei is simply Asian-inspired glam rock. It is clear however that this emulation is a hybridization of the existing scene and promoting the growth of visual kei, regardless of whether or not it is accepted by all fans.

Illegal downloading remains a major issue for the visual kei scene in 2011, yet effort is slowly being made to remedy this through increasing the availability of legal resources to buy music online. Unfortunately, this continues to limit fans who cannot buy on the internet. While some Japanese bookstores in the United States, such as Kinokuniya, and the French-owned chain FNAC in Europe carry limited amounts of visual kei merchandise, the majority of fans living outside of metropolitan areas are still limited in their accessibility to purchase goods.

Visual kei’s future depends on its ability to survive in competition not only with other music styles of Japan, but in its mainstream marketability to international rock fans. There are numerous hurdles which must be overcome for this to be a possibility. Among the fan following, proper cohesion worldwide, acceptance of all forms of the style, and promotion to outside fans is of crucial importance to visual kei’s future growth. For industry, until recently, the Japanese visual kei record labels have remained mostly in Japan, leaving almost all promotional work up to overseas organizers and record labels.5 This has left holes in marketing, resulting in visual kei being targeted only to specific audiences rather than the rock genre as a whole; this must be rectified.

Finally, in recent years, the bands themselves have received criticism from the visual kei fanbase as a whole for too many bands being generically designed or copy cats of one another;6 others have been accused of using visual kei as a plateau to gain a following and then dropping the style once they have gained a solid fanbase. With 78% of fan respondents saying that the uniqueness of the genre is what drew them to it in the first place, the issue of new yet banal visual artists threatens the future of the scene.7

Akin to other underground styles in the past, visual kei has proven that it can gain worldwide recognition and even mainstream interest. It is now time to pursue the international markets and mainstream music listeners, so that future visual kei fans can continue to enjoy a scene which has managed to prosper for over two decades.

I hope you have enjoyed the “Globalizing Visual Kei” web series over the past twelve weeks. I hope this insight into the music style will encourage other researchers to delve even deeper in the future, and for others involved in the scene to reach out and continue to push visual kei into the future.

Join us next week for our final installment of the series, where we will look at the worldwide results of the Globalizing Visual Kei survey which was conducted in March 2011.

[1] "Dir en Grey", last modified April 20, 2011.
[2] Jhouse Rock, e-mail interviews to author, March 25, 2011
[3,5] Tainted Reality, Jrock NL, Jhouserock, Kohaku Music, e-mail interviews to author, February 1 to March 31, 2011
[4, 7] "Globalizing Visual Kei Fan Survey", JaME, March 11, 2011.
[6] Japanese and overseas fans, e-mail interviews to author, February 1 to March 25, 2011
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