Asia News: Johnny Kitagawa Dies, Golden Melody Awards & More

Johnny & Associates
– Johnny & Associates

Johnny Kitagawa Dies
Johnny Kitagawa, the 87-year-old president and founder of Johnny & Associates, one of Japan’s biggest talent agencies, died on July 9 in a Tokyo hospital. Kitagawa reportedly died of a stroke after being hospitalized on June 18. 
In a statement, his office said that Kitagawa spent his last days with his charges — referred to in the statement as his “children” — in his hospital room playing their songs in the background. 
Kitagawa is credited with having “shaped Japan’s boy band landscape for more than half a century,” according to Kyodo News Service. He founded his agency in 1962, and has remained one of the most powerful impresarios in Japanese pop, guiding the careers of groups like SMAP, Arashi, KAT-TUN and Hey! Say! JUMP. He was also the subject of much controversy, keeping a tight rein on his acts and dictating their activities almost to the minute. 
He was instrumental in expanding the scope of J-pop stars into other media, mainly television, where many of his charges became TV hosts. He was also suspected of child abuse and sexual exploitation of the young men he supervised, and sued one prominent weekly magazine after it published an expose of his alleged misconduct. He initially won the case, but it was partially overturned on appeal. 
Kitagawa was born in Los Angeles and settled in Japan in the 1950s after serving in the U.S. Army. His entry in to show business was supposedly inspired by the movie “West Side Story,” and his first male vocal act, Johnnys, is thought to be the first in Japan to incorporate dancing in their live sets. 
Hideaki Takizawa, a former idol with the agency, is expected to become Kitagawa’s successor, though the day-to-day operations of the company have been carried out by family members for some years now.
Censorship On Display At Golden Melody Awards
Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards, often referred to as the “Asian Grammys,” were given out in a ceremony on June 30, with the festivities being livestreamed throughout much of the Chinese-speaking world, including mainland China.
During one presentation, Jen Chiang-da, the founder of independent label Crystal Records, started talking about the political protests taking place in Hong Kong against the Beijing-backed local authority, at which point, according to Australia’s ABC news, the broadcast was cut off by Chinese censors. 
Jen was presenting the Award for Special Contribution to the Blacklist Studio, a “group of Taiwanese musicians who released a pro-democracy album called Songs of Madness in 1989,” when the Tiananmen Square incident occurred in Beijing and Chinese soldiers reportedly killed hundreds if not thousands of demonstrators. 
Jen mentioned the Tiananmen Incident in his speech, as well as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which also occurred in 1989, and went on to explain that the Blacklist Studio’s work “subverted the conservative history of the [Taiwan] government’s decree on the music industry, and opened a new era of independence and autonomy for our pop music.” 
Given the events going on in Hong Kong and the intense interest in them in Taiwan, it might have been expected that China would at one point censor the broadcast. Last year, during Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, which are given out for the year’s best movies, an acceptance speech by documentary filmmaker Fu Yue was cut off by Chinese censors after she started talking about Taiwanese independence, a taboo subject in China. 
The founder of a Taiwanese think tank told ABC that there was a “trend of celebrities using their platform during live-stream events to evade the censors.”
“Artists speaking out in live events are more widely seen in Taiwan now,” he said, “because China seriously interferes with Taiwanese media, so they would try to use any occasion to attempt to speak out.”
Ironically, the Blacklist Studio carried out a protest of its own during the livestream, but not against China. The group exhibited a banner that objected to “American imperialism,” which isn’t really that much different than the Chinese government’s position. 
Red-Light Theater Closes 
One of Japan’s most legendary strip theaters, DX Kabukicho, closed its doors for good on June 30 after 39 years in business. 
The theater was located in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, which is considered the capital’s premier red-light district. 
As a final blowout, the theater presented a ten-day extravaganza featuring some of the biggest names in the world of stripping and also adult video.
No reason was given for the venue’s closing, though in recent years Kabukicho has become much more popular with foreign tourists and local authorities have been trying to force adult-themed businesses out of the area. In their place, hotels and mainstream bars have moved in. 
Wilkes Talks 20 Years In China
AEG Asia CEO Adam Wilkes recently gave a lengthy interview to Forbes in which he discussed his two decades working in China. 
“I went from doing little shows in nightclubs to being fortunate enough to work at a much higher capacity in the industry, and watch China’s market really open,” he said.
AEG recently announced a partnership with DJ LiveCity Corporation, which is part of CJ Group, one of the largest entertainment and media companies in South Korea. The joint venture will build an arena on the outskirts of Seoul, thus giving AEG a solid foothold in the Korean live entertainment market.
Wilkes reminisced about the early days of concert promoting in China, recalling how it was all cash-only. Bicycle couriers would deliver tickets to purchasers’ homes and bring the cash back to the office. 
Nowadays, however, cash is almost unheard of. In Shanghai, “they’ve completely adopted mobile payments,” said Wilkes. “In China they move so fast, tomorrow you wake up and they are two steps ahead.”
Wilkes started working for AEG several years after the company arrived in Asia and was seriously involved in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, particularly basketball. 
He then helped AEG become involved in the Shanghai World Expo of 2010, particularly in the construction of the venue now called the Mercedes Benz Arena. “I was part of the team that set that up,” he says. “We were very tightly focused in the beginning, and as a result, a lot of our initial business opportunities came out of that market.” After the event AEG continued to invest in new infrastructure that “removed an artificial ceiling in [the] market.”
Now, Wilkes is concentrating on South Korea, largely thanks to the rapid international rise of K-pop. “Some of the titans of global industry are based out of [Seoul],” he says. “Then you look at an artist like BTS or Big Bang…they put on these incredible shows, but the infrastructure in Seoul is yet to exist to really support them. These Olympic venues are not the right forums to support the infrastructure needed for global live entertainment.”
On the software side, Wilkes says his main task is to bring major Western artists and sporting events to Asia, including, so far, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and the Rolling Stones. As consumers accumulate more disposable income in the region, the appeal of concerts and sporting events goes up, though Wilkes admits that AEG has a lot of competition in this regard. 
“As we look at other parts of Asia,” he says, “there are a few other markets we are watching with the same kind of criteria. We’ll certainly be excited to make some additional announcements soon about other areas around the region.”