The Popularity of the Poison Tongue: Idols Who Aren’t Afraid to Be Blunt
You might have an image of idols with their soft-spoken charisma and doe-eyed gazes. Some idols, however, make it a point to prove that stereotype wrong. While there are few and far between in the industry, these girls are not afraid to be something different: the poison-tongued idol. “Dokuzetsu” (毒舌), literally “poison tongue” is a term that is used to describe the snarky mouth of those who don’t mince words. Considering that an idol’s popularity relies on how well-liked she makes herself to be, it’s a daring feat to even simply say something remotely spiteful.
NGT48 member Rika Nakai recently stirred up the Internet when she appeared on the show “Gyoretsuno Dekiru Horitsu Sodanjo” and unleashed a wave of controversial remarks. Speaking brazenly before the panel and the entire viewership, she gleefully described the kind of insults that she often slapped on haters. She’s gained attention for her deliberately bad attitude, a characteristic unusual of idols. Funnily though, it hasn’t exactly hurt her popularity. If anything it’s shot up—people began taking interest in her and even found her blunt personality refreshing. Nakai is a little more extreme in the sense that she shows no remorse for her words and actions. She plainly states that she has a terrible personality and even confesses that she acts friendly with members only when it’s of advantage to her.
Since then even more people have flocked to her live broadcasts on the broadcasting app SHOWROOM, where Nakai quickly singles out spiteful comments and publicly calls out her haters all while maintaining a smile. Needless to say she gets her fair share of criticism, but at the same time she gets commended for her candid character.
Nakai is not the first idol to have come forward with her ‘poison tongue’. One famous example is Sayumi Michishige, the former leader of Morning Musume. Once a greenhorn with a self-aware lack of singing and dancing skills, Michishige was quick to carve her own niche in the area of variety with her own distinct personality. Some might even say she’s one of the original poison-tongued idols. There are two main differences between her and the younger Nakai, though. The first is that Michishige took her poison tongue in a slightly different direction, basing it on narcissism. The second is that she had purposely created this character for herself, exaggerating it on television. She took the spotlight on variety television for the caustic comments she made, all while singing praises about her own cuteness. It was almost a running gag of how Michishige proclaimed herself as the cutest person while smoothly offending the people around her. It raised both eyebrows and her popularity. That was a risky move which paid off well, making her the legendary idol she eventually became.
Nogizaka46’s Asuka Saito is also another skilled user of the poison tongue. One might not think it with her doe-eyed look and small doll-like face, but Saito has an expectedly feisty side. As the resident poison-tongued member of the group, she’s known for the brutal lines she delivers on variety television. “Don’t ask idols to help with your personal troubles!” “I bet you guys have no one to spend Christmas Eve with.” “I’ll punch you if you don’t watch till the end!” While these all sound fairly cruel, the blow seems to be softened when they come out of such a cute idol. If anything some fans even enjoy being torn apart by their sadistic idol, going to handshake events just to get a scolding from her. The gap between Saito’s sweet idol appearance and her sharp tongue seems to have a mysterious attractiveness to it. In a Snickers commercial aired in 2017, Saito is seen playing games with a group of otaku before laying it on them: “You guys probably have never had a girlfriend.”
While each of these idols have their own ways of showing their attitude, there’s no doubt that their unconventional personalities help them to stand out from the crowd of smiling, mild-mannered idols. It brings up the “tsundere” character trope known in Japanese pop culture that describes a person who appears cold but has an elusive warmer side, often seen as an endearing attribute. This might be one of the reasons why such a brusque character can be well-received even in the typically fluffy idol industry. Certainly there’s a fine line between creating a character and showing your true feelings, but in the end it’s part of the entertainment that these idols knowingly stir up.
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