Idol Thoughts: Indie Idols and Barriers to Access

One person so far has taken me up on my offer of suggesting a topic for Happy Disco after donating to Idol Matsuri’s Indiegogo campaign! (DONATE HERE). That person would be James of This is Your Wake Up Call! James’ biggest idol interest is in Indie idols, and asked me to talk about it. Once we talked briefly, we got on a subject I’ve considered talking about, and that’s the difficulty of being a foreign fan of indie idols.

I have been neglecting Pure Idol Heart unfairly lately, but I do contribute to that site, and often the owner of the site, Gaki, will suggest groups he likes (since he’s in Japan). However, it’s hard to look things up for most of these groups in English. James mentioned that he doesn’t speak Japanese, and my Japanese skills are rusty and spotty. I’m honestly terrible at remembering kanji. So there’s a clear language barrier in enjoying idol music, especially indie idols that might not have a huge English-language fanbase.

However, beyond that, there’s often not that much out there for indie groups. Back when I was covering RYUTist for my TIFriday posts (about Tokyo Idol Festival), I sung praises for the group’s website. While part of that was a bit hyperbolic and I really do like the group for other reasons, it is rare that an indie group would have just so much stuff online. There are a lot of idol groups out there that might only have an ameba blog as their website, if even, and very basic things in terms of youtube presence. I think a lot of this is due to many indie groups mainly existing as a live presence; they coast along on one or two releases and do the majority of their work in lives. This means that they aren’t always focused on keeping an up to date twitter, Facebook, website, youtube, etc. It makes sense, but it again makes things harder on foreign fans.

All these barriers make it really difficult to keep following smaller idol groups. Occasionally there are dedicated Japanese fans that make it easier; Aither has Chibineko Suwano who uploads a ton of videos and has been contributing in English to Idol Matsuri plans. MMJ (a Hiroshima-based group I like) has Kats/Grayengineer who has contributed to the Hello!Online thread about the group and generally writes in both English and Japanese about the group (mostly if you ask him, but he’s very nice!). But that’s the thing; to be a follower of an indie group where the management isn’t thinking too much towards international fans, you need someone to be the gatekeeper of information. And really, why should an indie group try and think of foreign fans, when they won’t be coming to live events and can’t purchase goods?

That said, being a fan of indie groups can be a lot of fun. I’ve written a few times on twitter to MMJ’s Kyao, and she responded to me. I’ve been able to get responses from the Rev.from DVL staff (though this was pre-Kannagate, so idk if they would now) and from a few idols. There’s just a lot more of that direct communication that isn’t allowed or possible with larger groups. In a way, even though accessing videos and information is harder for indie groups, they can be easier to reach, despite being foreign. And while this does require some Japanese skills, one of those barriers, watching indie groups grow can be really rewarding. As a Rev. from DVL fan, I was so ecstatic to see their PV for Love Arigatou, because it represents years of hard work. The growth of Rhymeberry from a smaller group to the group that did SUPERMCZTOKYO is also very rewarding. And I still can’t really believe that small upstart group Momoiro Clover is where the are right now.

Indie groups aren’t always easy, but the rewards of being a fan can be definitely worth it.

And, for a bit of fun, here are some of the indie/lesser known groups that I’ve been following lately!

Tochiotome25

This group really caught my eye at last year’s Tokyo Idol Festival, and they have really blown me away with this latest song (“Dokkaan! Ichigo Sakusen”). The girls all have ridiculous amounts of energy, and while their previous work has been cute and fun, Dokkaan! is taking things to a new level for them.

MIKA☆RIKA

This song, “Funky OL ~Shigoto Shitaku nai yo~” (Funky OL ~I don’t want to work~) has kind of been my jam since I started working full time. While Rhymeberry is my hip hop group of choice, I kind of enjoy how fun and silly MIKA☆RIKA get in this song and PV.

Kawasaki Junjou Komachi

Aside from Kawasaki Junjou Ondo being pretty much a perfect song, I like this group’s commitment to wearing yukata and being generally traditionally Japan inspired. Created to support Kawasaki, this group has a lot of talent and I enjoy every song I’ve heard from them. In a weird way they remind me of early MomoClo, which means I definitely want to hear more from them!

GALETTe

This group has been getting some hype lately, but it’s pretty well deserved. Taken from idols who have been active idols in the past, GALETTe is basically an indie idol supergroup. ‘G’ is still my favorite single by them, but Jajauma to Yobanaide has gotten people talking because it added former HKT48 member Komori Yui to the mix. This is a group who is still very new, but has the opportunity to become big.

Muto Ayami

While Mizuno Yui has always been my Sakura Gakuin favorite, there is something special about Muto Ayami. She has a really strong idol presence that was pretty captivating in the Sakura Gakuin stuff she was in before she graduated (especially Twinklestars. Never forget Twinklestars.). So when it was announced that she was making her solo debut, I was all on board. She’s just started putting out music, but she’s really a soloist to look out for.

Sunmyu

Sunmyu is a group I never thought would get as good as they are now. I mean, they were always a cute group, but it took them covering my favorite Japanese song ever “Natsu Matsuri” that got me excited. While they did a great job with a song like Natsu Matsuri, their regular focus is on mellow, pleasant songs and generally having the feel of being classic idols (though they don’t quite have the music of the greatest classic idols). I’m amazed at how far they’ve come, and I’m interested in more.

RYUTist

I’m super excited for Idol Matsuri, and all the guests who are coming. Aither is really cute, and I can’t wait to meet them. However, RYUTist is a group I was starting to grow to like before Idol Matsuri, and the prospect of meeting them has fanned the flame even more. They have a lot of fantastic music and are all solid performers. I’m planning on buying some goods to support the Idol Matsuri Indiegogo, but I’m waiting on buying an oshi towel until I can figure out who my favorite is, because I like them all.

This is just a small segment of the really strong indie idol scene going on right now. This is why I follow Tokyo Idol Festival so much every year; it’s a great resource to finding newer idol groups. While they may be harder to find, there’s a lot to like in the indie idol scene, and it’s a scene I know I need to keep digging more into.

Review: Babymetal – Babymetal

I’ve been a fan of Babymetal’s since they were just a unit for a Sakura Gakuin album. Since then, they have become something of a phenomenon, helping inspire more and more alternative idol units. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that groups like Alice Juban have been helped by Babymetal’s relative success. Babymetal is also second to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu in terms of Western reach of Japanese pop acts. I watch Comedy Central’s show @midnight regularly, and I was surprised to see Babymetal featured on the show. Even if Babymetal (and Kyary) are only really viewed in an “oh Japan” light, it’s still exposure that might increase the public perception of JPop. Babymetal DID reach #3 on the American iTunes charts, after all. I was trying to out-weird a friend in music tastes, and when I showed her Headbanger she replied “Oh I already know Babymetal.” It isn’t always helpful for the public perception to be “what weird stuff” but hey, look at how successful Kyary has been, doing a mini tour in the US.

Babymetal has finally put out their first album, which is, like I said, getting more international attention. It collects all their singles and songs through Megitsune and adds three new ones. While this means that if you’re already a Babymetal aficionado you will probably already like this album, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a successful one. So how is Babymetal’s first album?

1. Babymetal Death – this is the B-Side from Ijime, Dame, Zettai for the limited editions. For picking a pre-existing song, Babymetal Death is probably the best song to start things off. Since, you know, it is an intro song. This is nearly six minutes of metal guitar, metal vocals, and occasionally the girls repeating “Sumetal Death, Yuimetal Death, Moametal Death, Babymetal Death.”

This is the type of thing that is pretty appreciated at concerts; I can imagine getting really pumped up hearing this. As a non-metalhead, though, I don’t think I fully appreciate listening to it on its own.

It’s a good opener that has good metal elements; the choral vocals work especially well. It’s not the type of song you’d listen to on its own, but it does its job very well. It doesn’t quite have the appeal of some other idol group overtures just by virtue that this is metal and lacks the cheese that some of them rightfully have, but it’s still a good representation of Babymetal.

2. Megitsune – I considered Megitsune to be one of my favorite songs of 2013 and I stand by that. While Babymetal started the year out strong with their long-awaited major debut Ijime, Dame, Zettai, Megitsune remains a lot more compelling to me. Megitsune combines Babymetal’s standard blend of metal and pop with some more traditional Japanese sound. This blend shouldn’t work as well as it does, and Megitsune is a cohesive song that manages to be accessible, despite the varied elements that it brings together.

This song is a mixed bag; some people are much less fond of this than I am, and I honestly do not blame them. If you’re looking for the most metal experience, Megitsune is not your song. However, I think it ended up being one of Babymetal’s most successful songs for what they do in blending genres and mixing pop with metal.

3. Gimme Choco. – One of the things that Babymetal sticks with, for better or worse, is the whole pop song formula. Their arrangements, vocals, instrumentation may scream metal (literally), but the songs themselves, at their core, are often pretty standard pop songs. Ijime, Dame, Zettai for example – the instrumentation is metal, but it has a pretty standard verse –chorus structure. It’s a song that you could imagine as a standard idol pop song if it was done by a different group.

Gimme Choco is a different beast; parts of it sound pretty standard idol pop (the sung sections by Suzuka, mainly), but it doesn’t have a very similar structure. It’s mostly alternating Yui and Moa’s shouted parts and Suzuka’s shouted parts. In a weird way, Suzuka’s vocals almost sound like they should be a part of a different song, like they’re an idol pop song that Gimme Choco sampled. This isn’t the case, but it sounds that way at times.

Gimme Choco is the type of song that shouldn’t be catchy the way it is. The first listen I was unsure of what to make of Gimme Choco, with its unusual structure and how disjointed Suzuka’s vocals were with the instrumental parts. However, this is a song that will get in your head and not get out.
I don’t think this is Babymetal’s best song, but it is a good one. It’s the type of song I’m glad is an album song; I like listening to it, but I can’t see it getting marketed as a single.

4. Ii ne – Ii ne is a weird, weird song. I got hooked on it while studying abroad, so it has a level of nostalgia for me, but it’s still just odd. Rather than pop music, Ii ne veers into dance music while throwing a rap section in there, because why not?

Ii ne comes from Babymetal’s weird growth phase where they realized they could reach beyond their Sakura Gakuin fan audience (after Doki Doki Morning kind of blew up), but that they were still unsure of where to go. And it shows. There is a serious disconnect between some of the heavier parts of the song and the dance music, as well as the cuteness of the girls.
Yet, that’s kind of what I like about Babymetal; how absurd it can get. I will never not love the disconnect of Yui and Moa going “Kitsune da yo” and the background voice starting to scream. This is weird, messy, and it doesn’t particularly WORK, but this is why Babymetal is so wonderful.

Is this the best or most representative Babymetal song? Absolutely not! But Ii Ne is its own brand of fun and a song that I will continue to love, even though it is so unlike the rest of Babymetal’s discography.

5. Akatsuki – This is the B-Side of Megitsune, and while Suzuka sounds wonderful in Megitsune, this is the first track off of this album that really showcases how strong of a vocalist she has become. She’s always had a pleasant voice, but in the past year or two Suzuka has worked so that she has one of the most consistently strong and beautiful voices in the idol world. The opening of Akatsuki showcases just how fantastic Suzuka is.

The slow beginning of this song is really what you’re going to be listening to; the rest is just underwhelming after that. The song never gets much faster, but the instrumentation speeds up so that it sounds like Suzuka and the instruments are performing different songs. Suzuka is singing a ballad while the rest of arrangement wants it to be a fast paced metal song.

This is the type of dissonance that can work, but doesn’t really. If they had increased the tempo of Suzuka’s melody or if they had made it a more standard ballad it might have worked. If they were willing to go a little crazy they could alternate between these or change up tempos a la Hyadain. However, this never happens, and this means that Akatsuki falls a bit flat after the fantastic first minute.

I imagine this song will grow on me; I know I will listen to that opening minute more than once because I love it. However, this is the first real disappointment of the album.

6. Doki Doki Morning – Oh, the song that started it all. In a way, Doki Doki Morning sounds kind of outdated, because it is. This is Babymetal’s first attempt at mixing metal and idol pop and it’s a bit hamfisted. The chorus is just a straight idol pop song with no metal anywhere to be seen, and the metal influence is all in the verses and instrumentation.

Still, there is something fun about the opening of the song, which starts out like any other cute idol song before breaking out into heavy guitars.

It’s difficult to imagine this in any other context than how I encountered it. I listened to Doki Doki Morning right when the short PV hit YouTube for the first time, and it was a big surprise just how much I liked the metal and idols combination. Nearly every other Babymetal song after this is much more sophisticated with how it mixes these two genres, which makes me wonder how Doki Doki Morning sounds to someone whose first Babymetal song was stumbling across Gimme Choco. There’s none of that wonder and excitement of finding something new.

Really, this isn’t Babymetal’s best, not by a long shot. However, I still have a lot of nostalgia and fondness for Doki Doki Morning, and it’s still a very enjoyable listen.

7. Onedari Daisakusen – Onedari Daisakusen starts off a long line of what can be considered Yuimetal and Moametal songs. Suzuka dominates the vocals of the main singles (and for good reason, with that voice!) but Yui and Moa often get a B-Side to call their own.

The thing is, Yui and Moa aren’t Babymetal vocalists. They sing well enough in Sakura Gakuin, but they are considered the two “Scream and Dance” members to Suzuka’s vocalist. Which is all fine and good in a main song, but this has always lead to some interesting maneuvering for their B-Sides.

Onedari Daisakusen decides to have Yui and Moa rap with a little bit of singing for select parts. Yes, rapping idols. While Yui and Moa don’t have the rapping chops of groups like Rhymeberry and Lyrical School, they hold their own in the shouted sections. Even if the section where they chant “One for the money, two for the money, three for the money, money money money money” makes me laugh.

The arrangement of this song is a major standout; one of the noticeable Babymetal trends is that the arrangements prefer to make Yui and Moa focused songs a lot darker and a lot more, well, metal than the main single. This arrangement is a mix of metal guitar work, a real orchestral sound, and a faint sung chorus in the background. It sounds fantastic, and while it’s a bit silly with Yui and Moa’s chanted sections it still just works.

This is the type of song I’d play for someone if they were unsure of how ridiculous Babymetal could get while still being amazing.

8. 4 no Uta – This is another Yui and Moa heavy song that focuses on chanting over singing.

Unless you have a decent/basic grasp of the Japanese language, you might not appreciate just how great these lyrics are, so here’s the lyrics basically. There are two words for “four” in Japanese; there’s yon and there’s shi. Shi also means death. So Babymetal decided to both have fun with numbers and drive home the far too dramatic death themes.

So lyrics like “ichi no tsugi wa ni” (the next number after one is two) is basically counting up to shi (death) where they subvert your expectations with using the word “yon.” There are also lyrics like “SHIawase no shi” (the ‘shi’ of happiness) where they take words that use the syllable “shi.”

This is basically Babymetal being kind of silly, and in a weird way living up to their name. Combining kind of goofy counting lyrics a la Mini Moni with driving home the word “death,” in addition to the metal background vocals makes this song memorable, and takes both parts of “Baby” and “Metal” in fun ways. There’s also a reggae-light section where Yui and Moa sing over it. This is definitely what goofy is to Babymetal.

At this point the song is the most fun when you’re first hearing it and realizing what they are going for with the lyrics, but on its own it is a whole lot of fun, showing a playful side to Babymetal.

9. Uki Uki Midnight – and this is the B-Side to Headbanger. This is still very Suzuka focused, while being the B-Side. This song successfully incorporates some dubstep elements to Babymetal’s typical formula, with this affecting the instrumentation and having a full dubstep break. It works pretty well; I wasn’t very fond of dubstep before this song, but Babymetal makes this work.

The parts that stand out are Suzuka’s voice (of course), and the juxtaposition of Suzuka’s whispers to the background vocals shouting. This feels like the natural progression from Ii Ne without the rap break and without Yui and Moa; it’s a lot more electronic and feels like more of a dance song than a pop song.

Uki Uki Midnight isn’t as weird as Ii Ne and isn’t as stand out amazing as other Babymetal songs, but it works well and remains a pleasant addition to the Babymetal library.

10. Catch Me if You Can – Now we’re back to Yui and Moa focused B-Sides, and Catch Me if You Can is a particularly good one. This is one of the most ‘metal’ Babymetal songs on there, with the possible exception of the chorus in here. This is very dark and guitar/bass heavy, with a heavy drum beat. I find it a bit funny that they choose to make the Yui and Moa songs the most heavy ones, but it works well.

The only thing that is debatable is the chorus; it’s a bit of a jarring transition from the heavy metal before it and the fairly upbeat rock afterwards. And by rock I mean very poppy. It’s power pop, really. This isn’t bad, and it’s a good break for the ears from how heavy Catch Me if You Can is, especially if you came to Babymetal from the idol pop side of things (like I did). That said, the heavier parts featuring Moa and Yui are the standout bits, and the chorus feels like it’s a little forced in there.

This is the type of song I would play for someone who likes metal and isn’t sure about where Babymetal can go. This is possibly the strongest juxtaposition of cute vocals to metal instrumentals, and I love it.

11. Akumu no Rinbukyoku – Wow, do Suzuka’s vocals sound great here? Here she goes beyond standard vocal strength and sounds VERY interesting. She emotes, fits the song perfectly, and just sounds fantastic. This is the song that, to me, cements Suzuka as one of the top talents in idol pop today. This isn’t hyperbole; Suzuka is that good.

While I don’t think this is an actual rondo (the title is ‘nightmare’s rondo’), it is taking classical ideas and using piano and strings in addition to a heavy drum beat throughout most of the song. While I do like the heavy drum beat most of the time, there are a few times where it gets a bit tiring, especially with all the beauty in Suzuka’s vocals and the orchestral background.

This song is the stand out new song of the album; while Gimme Choco is fun and catchy and 4 no Uta is silly and goofy, this is a beautiful song that showcases Suzuka’s vocal strength perfectly. This is a song I wouldn’t hesitate sharing with music buffs who have no interest in idol pop.

12. Headbanger – This is one of my top five songs of 2012 and what cemented Babymetal as an act for me. Doki Doki Morning was a novelty (but a good one). Ii Ne was promising, but it was hard to know where Babymetal would go. Headbanger showcased Suzuka’s vocals and focused on the metal and rock elements over the idol pop to show that Babymetal was serious about what they aimed to do and were here to stay.

It sounds almost unimpressive now, especially in comparison to Akumu no Rinbukyoku, in terms of Suzuka’s vocals. However, it is still a very solid and listenable song. It’s not as heavy as Babymetal can get, nor is it as poppy as Babymetal can get, but it’s solid and fun to listen to. It’s not revolutionary now, but I can only remember when it came out and I was completely blown away.

Headbanger might not be as impressive after a really solid album, but it’s a tight, well-written, and ultimately very listenable song.

13 Ijime, Dame, Zettai – This is the song that just makes sense at the end of the album. It should be either at the start or the ending. And since Babymetal Death has to be the opening, the ending it is.

This is another song that was highly awaited; it had been played for a while before anyone online (not going to shows) was able to hear it. And wow, was it worth the wait. It’s Babymetal at its most epic, doing very dramatic, highly metal pop.

At its core IDZ is a pretty basic song; it’s done in a fairly standard pop structure of verses and choruses. It’s not hard to imagine this done as just a standard pop song. However, the way that Ijime, Dame, Zettai stands out is in the execution. All the arrangement is wonderful, Yui and Moa’s shouts fit very well, and Suzuka’s voice is just beautiful.

Ijime, Dame, Zettai isn’t my favorite Babymetal song. I love it, but I don’t seem to love it as much as some others do. However, it’s very well executed and is ultimately a great song.

Overall: Babymetal’s first album is a very good one. There are no bad songs, and the slight missteps it takes are very minor and easily forgettable.

If you are seeing this review and you aren’t already accustomed to idol voices, listening to the Yui and Moa heavy songs will take some getting used to. Likewise, if you listen to primarily idol pop music and you have no experience with metal, this might take some getting used to. However, if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone, Babymetal’s first album is an excellent jaunt into new territory for idol fans and metal fans alike. 9/10.

Your Thoughts + An Announcement

Hey guys!

Last week I got one comment from NyNy of Ny Ny Online who wrote:

Interesting to see what you are doing lately! I’m loving your “Your Thoughts” posts right now.

First off, thank you! I’ve gotten really good support so far for my proposal. Someone on the 33 1/3 site said they wanted to read it, I’ve gotten excellent support from my family and friends, and I feel very loved. I’m hoping that my book proposal gets chosen, but I’ve been happy to see people supportive of me. Again, my biggest hope/goal is to see more and more “serious”, well thought out idol writing, preferably in the mainstream, so I’m hoping that this will happen!

And thank you for your comment on my “Your Thoughts” posts! I’m glad that you like them. I think it’s interesting to get people involved more and more with thinking about things, especially thinking about wider implications regarding idols, so I hope more and more people get interested, or start their own similar posts! Recently I’ve gotten into reading reviews on a certain site, and the comments are almost more interesting than the actual review itself. I would like this to be something that keeps on going in the idol fandom.

ANNOUNCEMENT

I already mentioned this on Twitter, but in case you don’t have twitter. I am trying to get as many people supporting Idol Matsuri as possible. They currently have an Indiegogo up, and I’d like you to consider donating, even if you aren’t going.

The thing is, even the huge conventions of today started out small. The first San Diego Comic Con only had about 300 attendees. But the thing is, the first year is really going to be indicative of what’s to come. If this year is a big success, that opens up opportunities for more and more groups to come to the US. A successful first year is key for the future of this enterprise.

Even if you aren’t going, think about if you would want to go next year, or the year after that. You don’t have to donate much, but if the idol fan community can pitch in and make this a rousing success, it will make future events much much easier.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/idol-matsuri-usa-s-first-j-pop-idol-convention

As an incentive, I’m giving a special Happy Disco bonus. In addition to the rewards listed here, if you donate over $30, you can choose the subject of a future Happy Disco post.

Now this is with a caveat; it has to fit within my usual post structure. So you can’t demand I start doing nothing but photo posts or magically get an interview with a group. But you can either:

A. Pick the subject of a review post, by picking an album, single, PV, or anything reasonable that you want me to review. It has to be something that’s relatively accessible for me to watch and review. So if you like a specific idol group that you want me to cover, this is your time!

B. Pick the subject of an Idol Thoughts post. Want me to talk about line distribution more? Done. Want to read about how people perceive idols in America? Done. Really, as long as it’s a coherent, thought out thought, it should be fine.

C. Want me to make a list of my favorite songs relating to a specific subject? Any list idea is welcome for List Friday.

If you have any other ideas, please let me know. All I ask is that when you get the confirmation page up for your contribution to Idol Matsuri, take a screencap and send it to me. Either put it in a comment here or as a direct message to me on twitter (@writerserenyty). If you are a Facebook friend, that’s fine as well.

Let’s work together to make Idol Matsuri a huge success! Thank you for listening to my spiel, and I hope you’ve considered donating money to make this first convention really special.

Review: Dempagumi.inc – Sakura Appareshon + Fancy Hoppe U Fu Fu

Hey guys! Happy Monday! Sorry I took an unscheduled week off. Partly, I desperately needed to get some sleep (work has been a doozy for a few weeks), and partly because I spent the last week perfecting my book proposal for the 33 1/3 series (333sound.com).

Dempagumi.inc is at this point the most consistently excellent idol group, in terms of both music and PVs. They might not be my overall favorite group, but I’ve gotten to expecting a certain level of quality from Dempagumi.inc. So here’s my review of their latest!

Sakura Appareshon

Song:

I feel like there are two types of Dempagumi.inc songs. The songs I love immediately on first listen (i.e. W.W.D) and the songs I love more after taking some time to listen (i.e. Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo). Sakura Appareshon is part of the second category. The first listen I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but after a few listens (mainly facilitated by how much I adore this PV!) I think I got a hang of this song.

The thing is, it’s not the sweeping orchestral epic of W.W.D II. But it’s not trying to be. It’s also not one of Dempagumi.inc’s quieter, sweet songs like Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo. But again, it’s not trying to be that. It’s one of the more middle of the road songs like Den Den Passion and Demparade Japan. It’s the type of song that is really excellent, and deserves a lot of praise, but ultimately doesn’t quite get up there in terms of top 10 lists. Which is kind of a shame.

Sakura Appareshon adds a level of traditional themes to the normal level of Dempagumi eccentricity. In fact, there is one section that is very reminiscent of matsuri songs; or at least the poppy version that I know from idol music. My favorite thing about Dempagumi.inc trying new things is that there is a very distinct sense of self in Dempagumi.inc’s music.

My first thought with both the song and the PV is that this is what I wish Momoiro Clover was doing now. Remember when Momoiro Clover was originally a group intended to have a traditional influence? They wore modified yukata for their first three PVs? When I first became a MomoClo fan, I was really excited for a group that would blend some of that traditional Japanese image with idol pop. Ultimately they went for something different, but Sakura Appareshon fulfills that desire I had.

Like I said, this doesn’t fit the dramatic highs of W.W.D, but this is still a memorable, fun Dempagumi.inc song that is more than worthy of an idol group of this caliber. 8/10

PV: I love this PV. Let’s get this out there right off the bat.

I have a particular fondness for PVs that have long takes. Limitations encourage creativity, and limiting cuts and visual effects does that. While Sakura Appareshon isn’t as extreme of an example as Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s Te wo Tsunagou, it still has a fair amount of practical effects and most of the PV is comprised of long takes.

Even if this isn’t the completely long take PV of Te wo Tsunagou or AKB48’s Dakishimecha Ikenai, this still really exemplifies why I have a fondness for this type of PV: it’s because it shows off idols almost better than any PV.

sakuraappareshon1

The reason being is that, more than almost any other music genre, idols are dependent on personality. Sure, some idols survive on being strong singers or dancers, but personality is key to most idols’ successes. I’d say that having a strong personality to an idol group is one of the most important facets of a group’s success.

sakuraappareshon2

 

PVs like Sakura Appareshon, that take place in one setting and are generally without many special effects, are dependent on the creativity of the team behind the group as well as the girls themselves. In the hands of another group Sakura Appareshon would be boring and uninteresting. It’s the girls of dempagumi.inc (and the creative team!) who make Sakura Appareshon fun to watch and rewatch. Dempagumi.inc is a personality driven group (in addition to their really high production values and fantastic music/PVs) and this type of thing suits them.

sakuraappareshon3

 

That isn’t to say this couldn’t be improved; some of the stop motion speeding things up was unnecessarily added to make the PV more fast paced, I assume, but it made a friend of mine’s eyes hurt, which is a shame. It wasn’t a very necessary addition, either. I also think that the close-ups, while handled well, weren’t particularly necessary, and were in there a few too many times.

sakuraappareshon4

 

Ultimately these aren’t huge complaints, and Sakura Appareshon is one of the most successful PVs of the year so far. 9/10

Fancy Hoppe U Fu Fu

Song: You know the song is a CM tie-in for candy because the word “flavor” is heavily included!

This song is pretty retro sounding, in JPop terms. I want this to be the opening of a late 80s/early 90s shoujo anime. Which is, from the PV, what I think they’re going for.

I have a feeling that this song is going to be hit and miss for a lot of people, but I like this song a lot. The first time I listened to it I was unsure of how I felt, but then the chorus stuck in my head and wouldn’t let go.

It’s not particularly Dempagumi.inc of a song but it’s pleasant and retro. While I want Dempagumi.inc to stick with a lot of what they’ve done in the past, this song represents the type of group I’d like more of. Stuff like Vanilla Beans and early Nogizaka46; groups that have that retro type of appeal.

Still, this is really pleasant, and a song I have been enjoying. 7/10

PV

This is a much more standard PV than Sakura Appareshon. Again, the word I would use is pleasant. Which does seem to be what they’re going for; this isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it is nice to watch.

fancyhoppe1What people are going to notice more than anything is the low-contrast, soft focus filter that’s on everything. I have a feeling that this is going to be contentious; people may dislike this a lot. However, it feels to me like it’s keeping with the late 80s/early 90s shoujo manga aesthetic. They only needed to add bubbles or twinkles and the effect would be complete.

fancyhoppe2

 

It feels like a bit much at times, but, really, it feels like this is intentional.

Beyond this, the PV is pretty unremarkable. This is an exercise in adorableness. The cheerleading scenes are cute, and all the group scenes work nicely together. I do like when they write wktk on the screen; it’s a nice touch.

fancyhoppe3

This PV isn’t remarkable. It’s made well (as expected) and nothing is bad, but it’s just pleasant. Like the song. 7/10

Overall, this is a strong single. It might not be anyone’s favorite Dempagumi.inc single (especially with last year having W.W.D/Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo and W.W.D II/Not Bocchi… Natsu) but this is hardly a misstep for the group. If anything, it’s nice to have a mellower Dempagumi.inc single, to show that they can excel at this too.

 

Idol Thoughts: What I’ve Been Up to..

Hey gang! Sorry I suddenly dropped off the face of the planet for two weeks. I was working on a project…

If you follow my twitter at all you might have seen, but I made a book proposal to the 33 1/3 series. This is a series of books focusing on a single album for each book. I found the series through Ray of Idolminded, and as soon as I saw that the series was accepting submissions I jumped on it.

And yes, my submission is AKB48’s 1830m.

I have no idea how this will be received, to be honest. The series hasn’t really done anything like it; the majority of the albums reviewed are rock, and idol music isn’t the natural progression. Yet, on the other hand, they don’t exclusively do rock albums or even albums that are considered “good.” The book I’ve read from the series was based off of Celine Dion’s “Let’s Talk about Love” and it was focused on ideas of taste and why people like music that others hate. I saw that two people this year submitted ideas on writing about Miley Cyrus’ album BANGERZ. I feel like AKB48 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Even still, this was an interesting experience for me. I was trying to pitch the idea of idol writing and a Japanese idol group to people who, as far as I know, have little to no knowledge of it, let alone interest. Writing my proposal was an interesting exercise in trying to convey idol culture and AKB within the constraints of the questions at hand. I worked hard at it, but if a miracle happens and they decide to accept my proposal I know that this is something I will have to polish and test on others, to see if I did a good enough job.

I like writing on Happy Disco. Writing about idols and Japanese music is fun for me, and it’s the type of thing that I wish I could do professionally. If this works out, this wouldn’t necessarily make me rich or famous, but it would be writing about idols, getting some money, and getting a very nice stepping stone to show for possible future writing jobs. But like I said, this is still a very long shot to get, so I’m not going to bet on this.

Ultimately, though, I do wish that something like this would happen; if not my book than another JPop book. There are some assorted books about JPop and idols; at this point a lot of them are academic and, thus, expensive. I would like to buy Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Culture, for example, but justifying that $69.30 price for a kindle version alone is difficult. Some books touch on the concept of idol music (like Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential) but not to a really major extent. An accessible book about idol music might be a good step into getting more people to talk about it and think about this type of thing seriously, which is something I’d like.

Again, I have no idea if this will actually be accepted, and I don’t want to get my hopes up. This is just why I’ve been away from the Disco for a while. Wish me luck!

Your Thoughts: Idol Demographics

Hey all! Long time no see! I was busy with a personal project, but I’ll let you know about that in this week’s new Idol Thoughts post.

We’ve got comments from Steve Summers (writing at Selective Hearing) and Skoban! Comments from these guys are in bold italics, my responses are in plain text. First comment is from Steve:

The main point I wanted to bring up here is just in regards to your last 2 paragraphs. You seem to speak with the assumption that idols are something new and have been “working themselves into the mainstream culture” lately. Thing is, idols have been around since the 60s, and for most period of history within those almost 60 years, idols HAVE BEEN pretty mainstream and accepted outside of wota, with a few exceptions like the early 90s and mid 2000s. It isn’t something new that idols are being marketed to the mainstream and accepted by it to some extent.

I understand where you’re coming from. I mean, I really like Matsuda Seiko, and the 80s in particular had a lot of that back and forth between Matsuda Seiko and Nakamori Akina in sales. Idols have been in the mainstream since their introduction. However, that’s not always been the case. I doubt that people are going to go “oh, I like Matsuda Seiko’s music, so I ought to give MomoClo a try.” The idol industry has changed a lot over the years, and if your experience with idols is liking Candies and Yamaguchi Momoe, you might need an introduction into current idol culture.

Also, I think time really makes things look different in retrospect. Take western music; The Beatles could be considered a boy band, but I doubt Beatles fans care much about One Direction. Even if you don’t consider The Beatles a boy band (and I don’t blame you if you don’t), then even The Monkees have gotten a lot more respect in retrospect, and I doubt people who liked them would swoon over the boys of One Direction. Even if the genres and celebrity styles are similar, it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily compatible.

Even though the main chunk of the idol’s activities are targeted at wota, they can change their image and activities at a whim to appeal to other audiences whenever they want, and they often do. Like when idols do TV commercials or advertisements for computers or food or something else that has nothing to do with their regular activities, they’re just adapting to the situation and using their general image as “attractive, youthful people” to sell the products they’ve been commissioned to sell. These kinds of things are most of the exposure that idols really get with the mainstream most of the time.

They’re really just marketing tools who are molded and changed on a whim when they get commissioned to do a different kind of job or appeal to a different kind of market, so I think this magazine in particular was highlighting some of the aspects of the idols that more specifically appealed to the audience that is the magazine’s target readers.

That’s true; I know that the groups they focused in particular on were groups they decided were appealing to women. Which makes sense. The thing I found interesting was that there were sections that focused on education, saying “these are major aspects of idol culture.” It wasn’t just the articles about C-ute, 9nine, Tokyo Girls’ Style and the other idol acts deemed popular enough with women, but introductions to very indie groups, glossaries, a map of idol groups and where they fit in with each other, etc. It got fairly in depth for what could have been puff pieces which had interviews with the girls about fashion or something and had them model. It was specifically “these are important aspects of idols” and I thought that was fairly admirable.

With those two things in mind, I think you make it out to be a little bigger of a deal about it than it really is in regards to the industry or culture. Not saying you shouldn’t be excited about the magazine, as you can be excited about whatever you want, but I just don’t think it means anything major for the industry or culture. Interesting to hear your thoughts, though~

I don’t know if the magazine itself is 100% going to change anything. I just think that it’s kind of a way of showing that the times are changing, and that, years into the current idol boom, a popular magazine shows a spotlight on idols that aren’t AKB or MomoClo. I think your points are really valid, but I do think that the female idol fan demographic has been growing, and this indicates that it’s a significant enough interest for a women’s fashion magazine to dedicate an issue.

 

With that, here’s Skoban’s comment!

Haha, I have the same magazine cluttering my desk XD

I agree with you – it does seem like recently, the tides are turning from hardcore, predominantly male idol wota towards increased acceptance by the mainstream. Anecdotal evidence suggests that female attendance for Morning Musume and C-ute events seem to be steadily rising, and this new female audience seem to be composed of more relatively ordinary girls rather than hardcore female wota.

Oh yeah, it really does seem that way. I mean, it’s all anecdotal, but watching older Morning Musume concerts, when they called out “female fans” it used to be a lot quieter than it is now. I watch Team Syachihoko events more than anything, and the female fanbase is really sizable; not just one or two in a crowd. Even at smaller fan events there’s usually a decent number of ladies there. And then you have the Onna Matsuri events for Momoiro Clover Z, where they filled the Budokan with female fans. (I remember the concert where they first announced the first Onna Matsuri; some of the female fans were flipping out).

There seems to be more acceptance for working as an idol as well. It’s not uncommon for a newcomer to the idol scene to mention a senior idol as their inspiration to enter the industry. Contrast this to the motivations of some pretty established idols:
When they made a guest appearance on an Arashi show, all of MomoClo Z mentioned that they had joined their agency with the hopes of becoming actresses or singers. The agency just happened to put them into a sort of experimental dance group thing, which then blew up to where they are now.
Also, some members of early generation AKB48 joined with the intention of gathering experience in order to become actresses, variety talents, and the such.
There’s also Kusumi Koharu, who created quite an uproar when she mentioned that she considered Morning Musume as a stepping stone on the way to becoming a model.

This is something I have thought about a lot, actually. Even if this current idol boom starts fading, there are a lot of girls who are dreaming of becoming idols, rather than becoming something else. I mean, I’m not sure if that necessarily makes better groups, but I seriously doubt there will be a shortage of idols or girls who want to become idols. It’s already starting; a lot of the younger groups have girls who admire AKB or MomoClo. Yuzuki from Team Syachihoko admired Reni from MomoClo so much that she wanted to become an idol. It’s kind of cool, really.

All in all, I’m in agreement that this kind of increased coverage is something good. It shows that idols aren’t just being supported by wota, but are also being backed by the mainstream audience. And as a plus, it also supports new entrants into the idol scene. More lolis for us!’

And I got another comment from Skoban:

Just so you know, I dashed off this translation of page 14, where the idol feature begins. It does state at the end that they are trying to move beyond AKB and MomoClo

{Huge pink letters} Researching idols in secret {/pink}
Now, you can’t talk about entertainment, the economy, or fashion without mentioning idols.
“Japan’s idols are on the move!”, one really feels.
Therefore in this anan, an idol feature of women, by women, for women.
From the ability to produce themselves; we get feminine power, expressive power, willpower,etc.,
We’ve been studying from these idols, and there really is a lot.
Now, study with all your might the things you want to keep an eye on in the idol scene beyond AKB48 and Momoclo. (Emphasis mine)

As a bonus, top left on the cover: Currently surging, girls hooked on female idols!

Thanks for the translation! I think this is a really interesting statement, especially the whole “feminine power” part. It’s great to see that this was a concerted effort to go past AKB and MomoClo. Thanks!