White American pop singers marketed in Japan

Update: They are apparently not managed by Johnny’s.

Every girl’s fantasy English teachers?

Meet the EastWest Boys. Assembled by Johnny’s Entertainment Sony Music Japan through an audition process, the group, dubbed a “5 in 300 million miracle,” is being solely marketed and promoted within Japan, where they are competing for the hearts of teenage girls.

For their latest single “Take Me There,” they have entered a promotional tie-up with fashion brand Peach John (whose president was mired in scandal last year over a dead woman in her apartment). They are on the cover of the latest catalog and lucky viewers will be able to catch their song on TV ads.

Here’s a YouTube video of a single that recently got some play on Japanese TV, “This Time”:

Sure, I have seen dozens of cheap, poorly produced Japanese pop acts, and some pretty bad American pop groups as well. But watching Americans run through the exact same half-baked dance routines as SMAP produces a special kind of cognitive dissonance.

Johnny’s has made sure to add a few bells and whistles to maximize appeal – the songs are in simple English, and the melody has enough of a pop-punk/emo feel to seem kind of foreign. This was the tune I saw on a few morning shows promoting the group as a new kind of pop act. Girls attending promotional appearances looked overjoyed to hug their new idols.

The music gets much worse when you watch the videos for songs that people didn’t pay enough attention to. “Yesterday’s Hero” was obviously filmed in the exact same warehouse, and the song is 100% cookie-cutter J-POP – no halfway-redeeming nods to American emo to be found. Are they wearing primary colors to make them look like Power Rangers?

While there’s not much to compare, a much, much more listenable American entrant into the Japanese pop world is Jero, the African American enka singer.

The group’s videos are hosted on an official channel, which is kind of a departure for Johnny’s who until recently had a strictly Internet-phobic PR stance. By offering some of their content for free on the web, they are clearly trying to save some PR money by generating buzz online. The upside of that strategy is it gives us a lot of information on these guys that is usually not available on your typical J-pop group.

Who are these young talents?

The website says all five are from Los Angeles but offers remarkably little other information. There are YouTube biographies of each member, but they are all fictional fantasies about life in America – For example, Ben tries out for the “East West High School” basketball team (watch to see the coach use the word “mother-scratchin” to great effect). But all they really want is to become musicians. Helpfully, a portal with the words “head east” leads them off into another dimension.

Some members also have MySpace pages. AJ Holyfield has the most prolific blog, which starts in March 2009: “Music is going amazing right now!  Working with amazing people and I can’t wait to share.” Later he talks about how excited he is about the group, how great it is to be away from “all the liars, all the cheats, all the scammers,” how “Oy Shi!” it is to eat omelette over rice at the Sony Music office in Nogizaka, his creative juices flowing. You can feel the energy:

I want to inspire. I want to give you reason for loving life, and deciding to leave reality behind. Follow me, and I’ll try to show you things most people forget when they grow up.

Here he is feeling a little frustrated that people won’t accommodate his every creative whim:

I get so many cravings to do great things but run out of time to do them. That’s what happens when you enter the music industry. After a while, you realize you never have enough time. You never have enough time to explain the ideas you want to express, or vision you had for a video, or how recording a song should be. No one takes time to listen. No one wants to take time to write a song based on an ideas anymore, but hurry through things because it “rhymes.” No one sees you thinking and tries to help you express your thoughts correctly. And soon, you realize all this work you put in is for others. … With so much passion comes disappointment. But, luckily, I have patience.

The blog cuts off after that post. A coincidence? His mom was apparently a recent contestant in the Mrs. California beauty pageant, and she’s kind of a MILF.

Ben has a MySpace page (“Choir Boy Ben”) and a live Twitter feed but there’s nothing interesting on it. Todd’s page is similarly useless.

So there you have it! Some hopeful child actors got scooped up by a Japanese label to be formed into what we now know as the EastWest Boys!

To close out, here’s their live tribute to Michael Jackson:

27 thoughts on “White American pop singers marketed in Japan”

  1. The first thing that popped into my mind after viewing the vid for a few seconds is that the dance routine looked rather old school. They reminded me of those Take That or Boyzone MVs that I’ve seen on YouTube that were made more than 15 years ago.

  2. Crap. Now we have to put up with years of commercials where these guys wear wet t-shirts and eat Pocky.

  3. Japanese TV is an endurance test. Just watch NHK (until EWB get their own show, of course)

    I do think the dancing looks antiquated compared to what’s in style back home now, but it’s also nearly identical to the moves J-boy bands use to this day.

  4. Wow! These boys are atrocious, but I am again convinced that Mr Johnny is one of the smartest men in Japan. Do you think this thoroughly Japanese “foreign” band will win the hearts of fangirls? Will there be other “imported” boy bands following EastWest? I am at once disgusted and fascinated!

  5. I like NHK. Better news than most other places. Like the beeb in days gone by.

    Say what you want about these wankers, somebody is obviously going to get very, very rich. Especially if they learn to speak Japanese and get their own variety show.

    No, scratch that. It’ll be cuter if they speak broken Japanese and end every sentence with “yeah, baby!”

    I wonder if they will rotate the members when they get too old.

  6. That’s an interesting point, FT. I had originally assumed this was a relatively short-term venture. Basically, milk these kids while they still look young and toss them aside at the first sign people are losing interest. There are a number of clues – the kids are very young, the production values are bare-bones, there seems to be none of the overwhelming marketing push that you’d expect for a major group (you couldn’t swing a cat without hearing about Hey Say Jump! for a while, for example). Also, there are some conflicting signs as to where they are living. Their websites seem to imply they are still living in California in between promotional gigs in Japan. But on Japanese TV it said they were living together in a dorm. If they are living in the US, it’s possible they are not considered an official part of the jimusho stable (i.e., not full-time employees) and hence more dispensible.

    But there are a couple signs pointing in the other direction as well. For one, according to the TV report I watched they’ve been assigned a veteran Japanese producer. The kids’ blogs show signs that they’ve been rehearsing incessantly, though I have no way of knowing whether they’re getting more or less attention than normal.

    As their many meet-and-greet events suggest, they are going for the typical plan for a J-pop group – create a stable fanbase that will shell out big bucks for whatever you release, regardless of quality. But they seem to be spending so little money and effort on them that it could be a sort of diluted version with a lower breakeven point, so they only have to be moderately successful over a shorter period of time to turn a profit.

  7. If they achieve any degree of success in Japan whatsoever, no doubt JE will try to take them to U.S. and European audiences.

  8. There are other foreign boy bands from other countries like Tohoshinki from Korea but they are not Jonny’s.

    I think this is a marketing test that Jonny’s is conducting. Long term, these kids have no tarento career future in Japan without the language. The singers will ride a little wave, get paid and laid.

    As for the marketing strategy, the group plays-on hormones but also the aspiration for American pop culture and way of life. Before young fans learn its just a fantasy and get let down, the band will disapear.

    My forecast and hope is that its a little painless boom that goes away quickly.

  9. Great post. Maybe it’s the effect of my 30th birthday approaching, but once again, I weep for the future.

  10. Words fail. Anger rises.

    I’d be interested to know how much Travis Payne is involved, if at all, with the dance moves that these kids are trying to pull. (He was in the last instance of “I know I’m in a Japanese boy band, but I heart Michael Jackson” that I witnessed.)

    To their credit, whatever schlimazl is writing the songs for these eunuchs is adding more vocal harmony than you will hear out of most other boy bands (I’m looking at you, SMAP). And yet it’s still only a little. My theory is that harmony has an upper limit in Japan, where making the ordinary person believe they can sing the song at karaoke makes the music feel more familiar.

    AJ’s “this is me in math class” video was interesting. His one friend in the class is the EWB leader with the Cobra Kai haircut, but he won’t tell AJ that facing the class and having a visible fantasy is the quickest way to get your ass kicked in any high school. He also won’t clue him in that a linear equation in two variables can’t be “solved” for shit without a second equation…

    Anyhow, it’ll be a neat social experiment to see how Japan reacts to their own little Caucasian Menudo.

  11. Thanks Peter for the insight about J-pop, in that song quality HAS to be low enough for people not to feel ashamed when butchering it at the karaoke.

    About the EWB as they are known already apparently, I thing the low production is just a test. Another similar but better marketed Johnny’s band will take over if there are signs of success.

    It would also be interesting to see the impact on the J-schmaltz loving crowds in the West.

  12. “J-schmaltz loving crowds in the West.”

    Interestingly enough, they seem to have a following from just those kinds of people on their official MySpace page (and unofficial fan page).

  13. Two other throwaway observations:

    1. East West Consulting Boys has one member with the wiffle haircut. KAT-TUN has the same. Coincidence, or making sure there’s at least one guy for the tweenies who don’t like long hair? You’d think they’d let at least one of them grow his chest hair out, or sport a beard, as an experiment…

    2. Since all white folk look alike, they are making a conscious effort to Power Ranger them into being easily distinguishable from one another.

  14. Peter, your Power Rangers reference makes me wonder how there has never been a J-pop group of 5 singers who always perform in the classic sentai costume.

  15. The singers will ride a little wave, get paid and laid.

    Knowing Johnny Kitagawa I’m a bit worried about the “laid” part…

  16. You know Johnny has his eye on the second from the left.

    Seriously – if Johnny and company keep as close an eye on these guys as they apparently do on their Japanese talent, they probably won’t be seeing much tail until they fail.

  17. There’s nothing new under the sun.

    God bless Youtube.It’s been almost 30 years last time I heard songs from “Clipper”,the
    five boys choir group from the Phillipines.Big in Japan in the late 70’s.


    Actually they sung better than Finger 5…..

  18. I’m pretty sure they are not Johnny’s….

    Who said that they are marketed by Johnny Jimusho?

    They probably just said that to garner interest….

    (roll eyes)

  19. Melanie, you are right. I thought I had heard they were Johnny’s on TV, but that was mistaken. Here are the facts as far as I could put together:

    According to one website, they are a “joint US-Japan project” by Sony, led by one of the producers of Gospellers, though it doesn’t say who.

    Wikipedia credits Shinichiro Murayama with writing most of the EWB songs, but no Johnnys songs that I can recognize.



  20. Peter, your Power Rangers reference makes me wonder how there has never been a J-pop group of 5 singers who always perform in the classic sentai costume.

    Kanjani8, one of the Johnny’s groups, usually has a sentai portion of their concerts. Granted its a 7 member group, and they don’t wear their sentai costumes the whole show.
    As I understand it though a lot of the Johnny’s groups have color coding, although none seem to be as striking as Kanjani8 (due to their blatant sentai bits).

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