Masculinity in Popular Japanese Music

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Westerners, upon viewing popular male Japanese musical artists such as Gackt, T.M.Revolution, and Psycho le Cemu, are often struck most by one aspect of these artists' appearance -- Their apparent femininity. Yet Gackt and T.M.Revolution are unquestionably heartthrobs in Japan, attracting mostly female audiences. These men are considered "dream guys" to these women, a model of the ultimate man. However, these men are often perceived to have feminine characteristics by Western audiences, in some cases causing laughter or disgust. Why then are these seemingly feminine men worshipped by teenage girls in Japan? Clearly Japan's music industry, and indeed their very culture, has different standards of masculinity or what makes a man a man, than these Western countries. Bands like Psycho le Cemu and Shazna are allowed to experiment with the boundaries of masculinity while still selling records.

Malice Mizer. Mana is second from left.
Easily one of the most popular male idols in Japan, Camui Gackt, or just plain "Gackt", as he is usually called, does many things that would be considered practically unheard of in Western markets. Though you may be able to find a much more eccentric star in the West, chances are it won't be someone with nearly the mass market appeal and exposure of Gackt. Telling his fans that he was born in 16th Century Norway, Gackt frequently makes his rounds to most of the popular music shows in Japan, confronting hosts with a soft-spoken demeanor and an awkward, intriguing sense of humor. He makes himself lovable on camera by acting as an innocent bystander who never gets involved in the hijinks that can often ensue on Japanese variety shows. His build is extremely skinny, almost frail. The introductions to his concerts regularly boast dramatic stories in which Gackt collapsed and had to be hospitalized because of how hard he worked on his music. The reliability of these accounts is uncertain. Gackt had operatic vocal training, rendering his current music excessively dramatic and highly emotional. He is not afraid to sing with a high, beautiful, and perhaps even effeminate voice. He wears jewelry and seems to make every effort to give himself a beautiful appearance. I have had American friends catch a glimpse of Gackt on my computer screen or in magazines and mistake him for a woman on a number of occasions. Since I am accustomed to Gackt's appearance, he seems not only certainly a man, but quite reasonably masculine to my eyes, so it is difficult for me personally to immediately understand how my friends could mistake Gackt for a woman.

Before Gackt was a solo artists, he was the vocalist of the band, Malice Mizer. Malice Mizer could be considered the "poster child" visual-kei band. "Called 'visual' because of a heavy emphasis put on flashy appearance and style, visual[-kei] bands are made up of all men who dress up in fashionable clothes, sport wild and colourful hair and often wear makeup. All of this results in an androgynous look that takes some getting used to..."1 Though Malice Mizer was never widely known in Japan, because they consistently pushed visual-kei to its limits, they came to epitomize what visual-kei is, gaining much attention from Japanese rock fans outside of Japan. Most notable is the band's guitarist, Mana. Mana always wore a woman's dress, white makeup, and long hair in all of the band's videos, making him quite indiscernible from a genuine female. In fact, to this day the band's fans don't really know what Mana looks like without his dress and makeup. The look can be quite disconcerting for Westerners who have never been exposed to visual-kei.

Takanori Nishikawa, better known in the music world as "T.M.Revolution", is a pop artist who isn't afraid to show his feminine side. Often performing extraordinarily dramatic techno music, he wears makeup, long hair, and jewelry. Yet, the majority of his fans are female. He fits into a category of famous Japanese males who are not afraid...
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