Make Believe Bonus: Ko-Hot-Take-U 2023
LDH Staring At NHK Hall Sadly
The least exciting part of Kohaku Uta Gassen tends to be the actual Kohaku Uta Gassen show. That New Year’s Eve bonanza on national broadcaster NHK has its charms, but the whole reason anyone frets over the lineup and ratings to what amounts to a biggie-sized episode of Music Station is because of what Kohaku says about the year in music. Don’t think about the program as only entertainment — it’s also a time capsule.
It’s fitting, then, that the story of the 74th edition of Kohaku is NHK going through and actually dropping all groups from the agency formerly known as Johnny & Associates from the lineup. Let’s step away the ethics and “what it all means” pondering for a second — the reckoning with Johnny Kitagawa’s unchecked sexual assault against male talent and subsequent fallout is the biggest music story of the year in Japan. The lack of anyone from that company, ironically, only makes people want to talk about said void more, but that seems fitting — I could spend paragraphs prattling on about “Idol” or Ado or virtual singers and what it all meant for J-pop in 2023 (oh and I will), but most people would just come back to Johnny & Associates. Even if you push them to the background, they are going to take up most of the space.
But really, that’s how it should be when we appreciate Kohaku as historical document. Whatever scholar has been cursed to study this show a century from now will notice the sudden disappearance of Johnny’s groups from the performance stage and hosting seat, and be like “huh, what’s that about.” That’s the story of Japanese entertainment in 2023, captured perfectly by an absence.