On the audio leak of ZOC's Seiko Oomori and Kannagi Maro
A personal response to abusive behavior committed by the singer-songwriter to her fellow group member
This is part of a feature of This Side of Japan issue #39. You can return to the main newsletter here.
Earlier this month, an audio recording leaked of singer-songwriter Seiko Oomori in an aggressive verbal confrontation with Kannagi Maro, a member of the idol group ZOC. Oomori writes and produces ZOC’s songs while also being active as a member of the group. (Please be advised that the recording can be disturbing for some.)
From what can be made out, Oomori brought up to Maro how some of the contents of her social media posts can negatively affect the group as well as Oomori. She then raised her voice in a threatening level in reaction to how careless her fellow member’s posts seemed while Maro can be heard crying in response. Even without accounting for the sound of something being hit—Oomori said no one was hit—the recording is very sensitive, discomforting material.
It has been about a week since the incident at the time of this writing. There has yet to be an official statement from ZOC regarding the audio recording despite more than a few publications mentioning its circulation on social media. The group did clear some of it up to the audience of their Aug. 14 show.
“To explain how it got to the way it did, I made myself busy last year to protect myself mentally after so many things happening,” Oomori said, according to a live report by Storywriter. “But last month, I got some time off from work, and it messed up the rhythm I had and I started to lose a handle on myself.
“Maro wanted to help, and she tried to have a conversation with me about it. But I couldn’t keep good communication in response. I never bossed people around taking advantage of my position, but I raised my voice, and it spread around as this.”
“All of this might overlap with what Seiko said, but our conversation wasn’t just about one thing about tweets or messages on LINE, but it was to have better communication with Seiko and how to do more for ZOC,” Maro said. “I recorded that conversation for my own personal document. Seiko never raises her voice, so it took me by surprise, and I ended up sending it to members and former members.”
But a clarification given during a live show doesn’t amount to much as far as official PR statements go. The fans and listeners only know about the information because of writers like the one from Storywriter reporting from the venue. The rest of the crowd have to make due so far with a duet between Maro and Oomori uploaded on YouTube as their currently only gesture that tries to make amends, however vaguely. Without much public word from anybody in regards to the situation, though, the video continues to sit around awkwardly at a loss of its own purpose.
The incident threatens the respect of Oomori in her multiple roles in ZOC. The lack of etiquette in proper communication as witnessed in the recording puts to question her ability to lead a group. If this turns out to not be an isolated incident contrary to their statements, it’s clearly a hostile workplace. Her lack of care for how others feels from her actions as heard in the audio also distorts the credibility behind the lyrics of ZOC songs. Many of the group’s songs hinge on the empathy for mental and sometimes physical damage inflicted upon us by others while aspiring to forge a space together in escape of it. How can listeners place trust in the songwriter and her ambitions if she perpetrates the very actions she supposedly remains against?
ZOC’s music can feel empathic through its openness with personal trauma and depressive thoughts, extending a mutual understanding that everyone carries their own scars. But the blunt way in which Oomori shapes these sensitive themes as parts of a pop song can also raise suspicions about their integrity. It’s less the format, the idol song, than the lyrical voice: once explained as “inspired by SNS,” a snippy line like “I’m so bored looking at suicide sites” that opens “CUTTING EDGE” can be off-putting in its banal specifics as much as it can suggest a shared experience. In a less skilled hand, lyrics like these can be exploited to flatten depression into an aesthetic or fuel for shock tactics. ZOC thankfully has earnest moments that assure these details aren’t simply shorthand but instead genuine slices of life that humanize larger ambitions.
A lot of this faith that ZOC’s creative decisions are genuine come from Oomori’s authority as a songwriter who has also made her own defining art exploring similar emotional avenues. For her own music, she inspires an almost cult-like devotion from others as listeners perceive her as an artist who not only understands their private issues but also can be entrusted with it for safekeeping. She’d keep her Twitter DMs open for anyone, many messaging about their problems to the singer-songwriter.
Oomori’s reputation has also drawn people into ZOC, including Kannagi Maro who has been a longtime fan before joining the group as a member. Like Oomori’s, ZOC’s fan base has grown into a community that welcomes folks who share past trauma explored in their music. How the singer-songwriter assembled the group seems as though she wanted the group to be a kind of home for misfits, too, with her inviting former idols and idol aspirants from vulnerable backgrounds.
For Oomori to respond to Maro in the way she did in the recording, she betrayed her relationship with her member in more ways than one. Beyond failing to participate in a mannered member-to-member communication, she breached her position as a community leader as well as an artist Maro admired and respected. Oomori has experienced public breakdowns concerning her own issues, albeit not recorded on audio like this and more expressed through outputs of text or deletion of media accounts. She has said throughout her time as an artist to don’t believe in idols. But it’s also not false that she has put herself in a position where her listeners place trust in her as a person who wouldn’t cause them harm as they let themselves be emotionally vulnerable if not in front of her in person than in the presence of her music.
It’s now hard to trust Oomori but also the sentiments expressed in the music, both her own and the one she has written for ZOC. I’m not really a believer in separating the art and the artist. The latter’s actions outside of the art will influence the interpretation of their art at the very least. I can only hope what both Oomori and Maro say is true and that this aggression was out of her usual behavior. With their silence on the matter, it’s becoming harder to rebuild that trust with them. If they don’t treat this misbehavior with serious attention, what will be the outcome if it happens again?
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