Last time I spoke to James Collins about his project, Guy人48, it was an enlightening chat which highlighted his efforts and motivations in creating “Japan’s first all male idol band consisting entirely of foreign students of all nationalities studying in Japan”.
I wanted to see if he’d managed to recruit any more members and to see if he was still on the hunt for more. As it turns out, the answer to both questions is “yes”. Also, I had questions I forgot to ask the first time.
James was kind enough to shed further light on the project, and what he had to say will no doubt challenge the preconceptions people may have regarding both gaijin and idol music.
So, here is our second chat…
The obvious question; have you managed to recruit any new members since last we spoke?
I actually got quite a few applicants and was even able to find some new members since the last time we spoke. Finding new people to be a part of the project has been really difficult over the past few months and I was getting a little worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find the number I was looking to debut with.
After the first article about Guyjin48 was published back in January and the concept went viral (to an extent), I probably had around 60+ applicants. Everything seemed like it was going to go super fast but after the initial buzz wore off I was only getting a few applicants here and there. I think the last article we did together really helped give the project a little credibility and allowed people to see exactly what I envision the group to be.
I imagine that a lot of kick starters similar to my project never take off due to lack of momentum and credibility the media and social networking can create. I still want to find a lot more people but I expect that once we put the song and the music video out there, things will start to move much much faster.
How important is it to you that different nationalities are represented and not say, mostly American gaijin or mostly Korean, etc?
It is a big part of the concept that we have as many countries represented in the group as possible. I definitely won’t allow GJ48 to be dominated by mostly one ethnic group. I have had people tell me to find more Caucasians because that’s what Japanese people think of when they hear the word foreigner and ultimately that’s what they want to see. I understand that there may be some truth to that and if I really just wanted to make a group to make a quick buck then I probably would do something along those lines, but I really want to stick to the concept and do something more meaningful.
A group called EXP Edition in Korea is actually doing something a little similar by making Korea’s first all foreign KPOP band, but they are getting a ton of criticism from KPOP fans. All the members are white guys from America and although they are singing in Korean, people are accusing them of being another example of how everything eventually gets Americanized or White Washed.
The purpose of the Guyjin48 project is to help create a more multicultural environment and teach Japanese people about the many different foreigners that are living among them, not just create a gimmick that would sell i.e. put a bunch of white guys on stage and call it a JPOP group. I’m sure there will be people along the way that will want the group to go in that direction, possibly a Japanese record label, but as long as this is still my group I won’t let that happen. I think it’s worth fighting for.
So often, bold and new ideas are dismissed initially as people struggle to think outside the square until they’re shown how. Have you found it difficult to sell people on the concept of Guyjin48?
I don’t think it has really been that difficult to sell anyone really. Of course there are people who think I’m strange for wanting to start a boy band, and I really don’t blame them for thinking that, but I always say the stranger the better. I have always been interested in knowing as much as I can about the world, especially the stuff that most people don’t express an interest in knowing, and the same goes for trying new things.
The reason I began learning Japanese is because most Americans learn French or Spanish, languages similar to English. Japanese is considered 3 times harder and has a completely different writing system so people tend to shy away. But once you have learned it yourself and can tell people about it and put it in terms that they can understand, “Oh wow, that makes a lot of sense now”, is usually the response you will get. I think a lot of things only appear far away and difficult to people because they have never been exposed to it properly and have been given the impression that it’s not for them and possibly something they can never truly understand. But as long as you can sit down and put it into a language people can relate to, there is no reason for anyone to think that way.
Anyone can be given the needed perspective to understand anything, I believe. It just takes a good teacher. I’ve actually always wanted to be a teacher, just not one that works for a school and is given a small room.
In terms of Guyjin48 being something that requires a great deal of vision to be understood and accepted, I really don’t think it’s that far out of a concept. There are of course some people who laugh at me or brush me for whatever reason, but most people get excited about the project very quickly. For the most part people already understand what an idol is, and creating an all foreign version as a means to promote multiculturalism isn’t too difficult to picture I think. The concept of the idol has been around for a long time. I’m just adding a little twist.
How do you think people in general have responded to the name “Guyjin48”? Has there been any negativity regarding the term “gaijin” given that it is sometimes seen as carrying a pejorative connotation?
For the most part people either like the name or have no problem with it. There have been a few people who have had problems with the name being a play on the word gaijin. Ironically I think the first person to really express their opinion about the name being inappropriate found me through the Facebook page gaijinpot. But after speaking with a number of both Japanese and foreign people, I think I am going to keep it the way it is.
A lot of people think the word is fine plus they understand it is just wordplay. In fact a lot of times when words are slightly modified in Japanese, say put into Katakana instead of how it’s usually written in either Hiragana or Kanji, the meaning can change as well. I’m hoping that one day when people hear the word gaijin, they will associate it with Guyjin48, thus taking a step toward eliminating its negative connotation.
I do, of course, plan to promote the more proper way of referring to a foreigner, which is gaikokujin, but considering the core concept of the group and what we are planning to do, I really don’t think that the name is going to become some sort of step backwards in the progress people have made towards racial equality in Japan.
What do you hope the future holds for Guyjin48?
All I really want is for everyone involved to have an incredible experience. If we can meet interesting people, see things we would normally not have the opportunity to, and make a positive impact, than I will consider the project a success. I was once asked by one of my members, what would you do if you were offered a million dollars for the group? I replied: a million dollars couldn’t buy the time I could spend with you guys doing the amazing things we will do.
I think people respond really well to things that are genuine and sincere, so all I really want us to do is have fun and stay true to ourselves as a group that wants to make the world better, if only just a little. Also playing venues like Budokan would be cool too (laughs).
What are the prerequisites for joining the band?
Well all you really need is the desire to study Japanese and be part of a group and perform on stage. I’d really like the group to be all-inclusive at some point, where everyone who wants to be a part can in some way, but right now I am just looking for younger guys who have the idol look.
How should potential stars go about applying to join?
This is game-changing stuff, folks!