***This article was first published in 2006 – I wrote it for an Anglo magazine while I was living in Japan… I thought I’d re-post it tonight in honor of Bon Jovi’s back-to-back sold out shows in Montreal (Also I had sushi for diner…)
Bon Jovi’s popularity – will – never – die.
Half Way There: Why I Will Never Be Cool in Japan
Why is Bon Jovi such a hit in Japan? This is a question that has haunted me since my arrival here. I have always known that Bon Jovi was popular in places other than North America. But upon seeing his face on the cover of a hard core metal magazine entitled BURN I realized that in Japan, Mr. Jovi has taken it to another level and I am officially out of my element. I mean if Bon Jovi is the face of ‘cool’ in Japan I am so not cool it is embarrassing.
The fact is, certain English speaking celebrities seem to become more popular in non-English speaking countries than they are in English speaking countries. For example David Hasselhoff is huge in Germany and is a joke in North American. Kevin Costner was so loved oversees that even Water World made money outside of North America.
These are just a few minor examples. However, Mr. Jovi takes the cake. It is mind boggling that even well over a decade after he was even remotely cool in North America he can still be going strong and influencing fashion in Japan.
I had always assumed that Japan was the place where celebrities who were falling out of fashion in the ‘real world of cool’ went to die. They could come to the land of the rising sun and for a few years at least they could prolong their careers.
Like the last scene in the movie Spinal Tap where head banging Japanese rockers are just catching on to a trend that was long dead. I naturally assumed that Bon Jovi was making one last comeback in Japan, and then he would gracefully fade away into the archives of the karaoke machine.
How wrong I was.
It turns out that in Bon Jovi’s case he actually got his start here in Japan. He was big here before he was big in the North America. So that can explain and justify, to a certain degree, his popularity and quasi love affair with this country.
However, his longevity is what is most outstanding. If he was big in Japan before he was even heard of in North America it means that this guy has been trend setting in Japan for something like 20 years.
His image has become synonymous with the image of young Japanese. Somehow it is still cool in Japan to sport his tight ripped jeans and his rocker hair doo combination. New fashions may come and go, but if you’re Japanese and stuck for an outfit to wear out you can always fall back on the Bon Jovi classic look. In Japan this is the fashion formula that works 100% of the time.
Despite this un-questionable truth, I simply cannot with any shred of self respect or dignity, pull off the Bon Jovi style. Therefore I lack the primary building block on which to become cool in this country.
When I see people wearing the Bon Jovi throw backs I can’t help but think “man that is just not cool,” but after seeing person after person wearing this style it began to dawn on me n Japan I am just straight up not cool.
By moving here I have become the parallel to the awkward Asian exchange student that we all most undoubtedly had some experience with during our high school or university days. I am now that guy that the cool people took out because it was funny to see what things they would say and do because he simply didn’t know any better.
In an attempt to tune myself into what it means to be cool in Japan I have reached out to the most obvious available resource; the youth. I’m constantly asking my students for the most popular music and carefully looking for new trends. The only re-occurring theme is…yes you guessed it… Bon Jovi.
Even Jr. High and High School students like him. They like him so much that students even write in their journals that he is their favorite musician. Young kids seem to have equally as strong as passion for Bon Jovi, his music and his style, as do those who spurred his blossoming popularity over 20 years ago.
Bon Jovi, like a tobacco company, somehow gets people hooked when they are very young and turns this demographic into his fans for life. Based on my sample polling of the youth in Japan his ballads will be sung in karaoke bars for decades to come. As with each new generation is born another generation of Japanese who are loyal to living the Bon Jovi dream.
Unfortunately this condemns me to never being able to achieve cool status in Japan. I simply can’t accept that Bon Jovi and all things Bon Jovi are cool. Maybe it’s because the prettiest girl in school refused to dance with me during a playing of Always at a grade 4 sock hop. Or maybe it’s because in his style of clothing I look like I belong in a Twisted Sister video. This is a part of Japanese life that I will never come to terms with personally. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll belt out a course or Living on a Prayer just as loud as the next guy at karaoke. But it will never make me cool in Japan.
Douglas Gelevan July 2006