Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 10

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!!

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru is a five member unit based in Harajuku. Their aim is to be both cute and energetic, and just by looking at this image I say they’re on the right track.Formed in 2016, KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte Kuru has several original songs but no singles as of yet, so hopefully they’ll put something out soon. Their songs have some notable songwriters, the most exciting to me being KOJI oba who cowrote Momoiro Clover’s Hashire and has written or arranged for Hangry & Angry, Hello!Project, Band Ja Naimon! and others. So while they’re very indies they have some good songwriters working with them.

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte Kuru seems just really fun. They have the Dempagumi.inc / The World Standard style of being just completely off the wall in terms of style and energy. Their music is fun and their performances are really exciting. I really hope that KAMO ga Negi goes places because I’d love to see what they could do. They are a really fun group with a surprisingly high level of music and performance, given how new and how indie they are. I definitely recommend checking them out if you like Dempagumi.inc, The World Standard, Band Ja Naimon or any other groups in that vein.

Kikkawa You

Kikkawa Yuu (often styled as Kikkawa You) is a former Hello!Project trainee for several years after being a Morning Musume audition finalist. She performed as a part of Milky Way, the group for the Kirarin Revolution anime and was generally a fan favorite as a trainee. In 2010 she left Hello!Project and became a solo artist in 2011. Since then she’s been relatively active, putting out 3 studio albums, one cover album, one best of album and 11 singles over the years.

While Kikka started off doing pretty standard idol fare (the excellent Konna Watashi de Yokattara being one of my favorite idol songs), she’s since moved on to doing more indie, experimental music. Hana, her single from 2015, is a whopping 17 minutes and 25 seconds, aiming to be the longest idol song ever written. Her two singles released since then, Ha wo Kuishibare and Sayonara Standard, were both written by singer songwriter Oomori Seiko, who has a definite style to her music. While her sales haven’t been astronomical (which is a shame), Kikka has a style all her own and it’s been really fun to see – I hope she continues the path she’s on because Kikkawa You is doing some really great stuff you should be paying attention to.

Kimi iro Project

Kimiiro Project is brand new – they made their debut on March 25 of 2017 so they’ve been around for just about four months. They’re so new they were just added to the TIF site and don’t have any real info about them. They’re doing their first solo live in August so things are moving pretty fast for Kimiiro Project- they’re also doing the idol festival circuit and won a space to perform at TIF.

They have a YouTube page but there’s mostly only videos of introductions / solo videos of all the members. So if you like Kimiiro Project you should be able to learn about the individual members. Watching some of their live videos, they still feel really green and inexperienced. Which, to be fair, is expected after a group’s been around for only four months. All the members seem eager and energetic, which is fun to watch, but the vocals are pretty poor and the music is generic. It would be interesting to see a group like this after some training and some higher production values because I do like just how energetic they all seem – they’re just not there yet as performers.

GANG PARADE

Gang Parade is a part of the big surge of anti-idol / alt-idol groups that have popped up in the wake of groups like BIS and BISH. Co-founded by one of the former BiS members Kamiya Saki (who’s interestingly enough temporarily back with BiS until September), Gang Parade is a group with many names – first they were Pla2me then PoP and now Gang Parade. It’s interesting to see them back at TIF – back in 2015 when they were still PoP they got kicked out of TIF for their lives getting too rowdy.

I feel like at this point you know if you’re into the whole anti-idol / alternative idol scene or if you’re not – either it does something for you or it doesn’t. I kind of lie in the middle – I admire a lot of these groups for breaking the idol mold and want more groups to try this but the sound and the aesthetic of these groups is so far from what interests me. That said, Gang Parade might be the group that breaks through if you’re interested in this scene but are like me and don’t really gel with groups like BiS or BISH – a lot of their music seems straight up accessible. FOUL, a recent single, is very listenable, but Beyond the Mountain, their latest single, is genuinely fantastic and could very well end up one of my favorites of the year. If you’ve been thinking of getting into one of these groups but can’t get into something like BiS maybe give Gang Parade a shot.

Candy Zoo

Boy oh boy I feel like it’d be hard to find a group that contrasted with Gang Parade more than Candy Zoo. Candy Zoo made their debut in 2013 and their name is to represent that they want their personality to be like candy but also want to be watched like a zoo – while i don’t know if a zoo is what I want to compare idols to, it’s a cute name. They also used to wear animal prints but I’m not sure if that’s obsolete now.

I honestly  wasn’t expecting much from a group like Candy Zoo based off of their name and image but I was pleasantly surprised – the song and video for their song Kesshou is surprisingly great. While the other songs I have heard from them aren’t quite as good as this latest single their other songs are solid and seem well-produced. The group overall seems fun and while I don’t think they’ll wow everyone I think if you like cute groups you might be pleasantly surprised by Candy Zoo.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 9

Shoujo Koukyoukyoku – Girls Symphony

Girls’ Symphony (as I am going to call them because the Japanese part of their name literally means Girls’ Symphony) is a unit that was formed in 2015 but debuted in early 2016. Their aim is to have seven members who are all active doing their own thing (gravure, modelling, etc) but then come together to be in Girls Symphony. They put out their first and only single last year, Mahou wo Kakeru yo. Please note: There is a pretty popular Wake Up! Girls song that has the same name as this group, so if you search for this group make sure you aren’t actually checking out Wake Up! Girls.

Girls’ Symphony doesn’t have a ton of stuff out yet, besides some concert videos, so they’re very new. However, Mahou wo Kakeru yo is a good song and they cover some decent idol songs when they perform, such as NMB48’s Hoshizora no Caravan (one of my favorites). They have a really great classic idol appeal that might be a big appeal to some. If you’re looking for an idol group with a classic appeal / aesthetic I’d go with Idol Renaissance, but if you would prefer a group that does more idol songs then you might want to check out Girls Symphony.

KATA☆CHU

KATA☆CHU is a unit that was formed in 2016 with the theme of unrequited love, since the Kata in their name is kataomoi. So this unit’s goal is to support people who long for something or who have unrequited love. Since a lot of people go to idol music for comfort this is a very cute idea. KATA CHU also prides itself on having unique music that would be interesting to fans.

That said, they don’t have very unique music, at least not from the songs I’ve listened to on YouTube. They have some decent songs but they’re pretty standard idol pop in construction and performance. If you like standard idol pop KATA CHU is a fun group still firmly in the indie idol phase, but that’s where they are – pretty normal.

Kapushikigaisha Hyper Motivation

This is an office / company themed group formed in 2016 where the members aim to be cheerful, energetic and have high motivation. Each member has a “title” like if they were in a company, such as being the public relations department, human resources department, etc. and in general aims at office workers. This is a really cute gimmick,and I do wish that more idol groups would have themes like this, mostly as an office worker myself. Unfortunately, Hyper Motivation hasn’t put out any singles yet, but do have some videos on YouTube.

While I like the concept I’m not just seeing it from Hyper Motivation – their energy level doesn’t seem to be that high in performances and while some of their music is solid it doesn’t seem to fit this theme. With more time and effort I could see Hyper Motivation become the group they say they are, and I do think there’s some potential here – none of the members are bad at what they’re doing. But for a group that prizes energy and motivation I’m not getting it from Hyper Motivation.

Kamiyado

This is a five member unit based in Harajuku – their name has a few different meanings but KMYD, part of Kamiyado also stands for Kawaii Max Yell Dream, which is super generic idol phrasing but I kind of love it. They were formed in 2014 and have released 10 singles and one album since then, so they are a pretty active. That said, their first 8 singles all were limited to 500 copies so they’ve been very indie, though their most recent two singles are available for purchase online and are on a different label.

I like Kamiyado – they are still very indies but they seem to be aiming to be an indie group in the vein of MomoClo or Dempagumi.inc. Their music isn’t at all polished but it’s fun and has promise. Despite the lack of polish the music and performances are really fun and I can see big things for Kamiyado if they keep this up. I’m going to try and follow them more in the future and you should check them out.

Kamen Rider Girls

Kamen Rider Girls is the official girl group for the Kamen Rider tokusatsu series. Formed for Kamen Rider’s 40th anniversary in 2011, they perform theme songs for Kamen Rider series and things. Each member used to represent a protagonist from a Kamen Rider series, though for the past couple of years they’ve no longer done that. They’ve released several singles and are putting out a new album in August.

I feel like this group really most likely depends on if you are a fan of tokusatsu / a fan of Kamen Rider. As someone who hasn’t watched that series I’m not sure if Kamen Rider Girls are for me, really, especially since so much of their activity centers around Kamen Rider. Their production is solid and professional – since they’re partially produced by Avex that is to be expected. They do have some songs that aren’t used for Kamen Rider, so there is a possibility you might like them if you aren’t an existing Kamen Rider fan. but I’d mainly recommend them to people who like Kamen Rider already.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 8

elfloat

elfloat is a 3 member unit formed in 2014 by Blue Forest, a music video company. Their theme is fairies and they generally have that sort of elfin, fairy theme to their look and their presentation. Their first single “Tokioki Mermaid” was released this year and sold over 20,000 copies, but they’ve had some original songs for years as well as music videos, so they have other stuff to check out. They also recently did a solo show at Zepp Tokyo so elfloat is a group on the rise.

That said, even after watching several videos I don’t know if I really get it. They seem like a decent group, but I think the biggest disconnect is their stated theme and their actual impact. Musically they seem like they should be doing Armor Girls music – Irish inspired pop, while they have some decent rock music in their repertoire. Their videos are fun (Like a Tinker Bell is kind of goofy and pleasant) but don’t really fit either. Musically I like some songs but after listening to several none really stick with me. The group seems fun but not one that’s particularly memorable.

Elfoat is definitely a group to check out if you like rock-inspired idol pop but they don’t do much for me.

Electric Ribbon

Electric Ribbon was formed in 2007 though they’ve had several member changes since then, so this year marks Electric Ribbon’s 10th anniversary. They recently added several new members so that this group now has six members, and they recently released their first single with this lineup, “Twinkle in you,” though since this group has such a history they’ve put out several singles before that. Their goal is to have a girly, electric sound, so both electronic and cute/idol.

Personally, Electric Ribbon doesn’t particularly excite me all that much, but they do have some solid music – Twinkle in You is good, Eyeline is good. They have some solid upbeat pop music with an electronic flair, to the point where I don’t know why I don’t listen to Electric Ribbon more. They’re a very indie group but since they’ve been around for 10 years at this point I’m not seeing anything to indicate that they’ll be stopping anytime soon.

Okai Chisato

After doing my C-ute review post this is a familiar face! Okai Chisato was one of the members of the Hello!Project group C-ute which just disbanded earlier this year. Chisato over the years got more and more vocal parts and focus to the point where she was a main vocalist in many C-ute songs. While I’m not a huge fan of Chisato’s voice, she gained a big reputation for her vocals.

Chisato also has a flair for variety appearances which seemed to be where she was headed post C-ute. That said, appearing at TIF might mean more of a vocal career in her future? Time will tell. But if you were a fan of C-ute, you know who Chisato is.

Otome Brave

Otome Brave has perhaps my favorite idol group concept / gimmick ever – they’re RPG idols, where each concert they gain experience and level up. I wish that whole concept would shine more in their music and performances (at least the ones that I’m watching on YouTube), but it’s a really cool idea that feels pretty true to form in that performing more does mean they’d gain more experience.

Otome Brave has so far released one mini album back in April 2016 so they aren’t a terribly active group in terms of putting out new music. However, what music they do have is pretty solid – nothing extraordinary but Mikansei Braver is very fun and Yakusoudokukekishou, their main track of the mini album, is very catchy. There’s not a huge amount about Otome Brave out there, so it’s hard to follow them internationally, but they seem like a really fun group with a fantastic concept I’d love to see more from.

On and Go!

Formed in 2016, On and Go is a group based in Osaka formed of four members who went to the same high school. On and Go is one of the biggest groups I’ve wanted to follow more after last year’s TIF because the clips I saw of them were really fun, however there’s not a whole lot about On and Go online.

Earlier this year they released a self titled mini album as their first music release, with two different versions (with all different songs) so they have put out music. Unfortunately, even though the group is a lot of fun they just don’t have much out there for foreign fans or fans not based in Osaka – they currently have two concert videos on the YouTube channel of their agency so you can see why I like them a lot and like their music a lot, but that’s about it. Which is unfortunate because On and Go seems like a lot of fun.

If you are OK with investigating a group and not finding a lot I recommend on and Go, but be prepared to be annoyed with how little you find for them.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 7

= LOVE

Pronounced “Equals Love,” =LOVE is a group produced by HKT48’s Sashihara Rino.that is aiming to be a group of both seiyuu and idols, working with Yoyogi Animation school. = LOVE is brand new – the member profiles on the = LOVE website were posted in June and the photos were posted just days before this Happy Disco blog post. So if you’re looking for a group at the start, = LOVE could be an option, especially if you’re a fan of Sasshi.

Since = LOVE is so new there isn’t much about them out there – the members have done some streams on Showroom but that’s about it for now. So it’s hard to say what sort of music they will do or what kind of an idol group = LOVE will become. But if you want to follow a group from its inception this could be for you.

SKE48

I feel like every time a 48 group pops up I just have to say you either like them or you don’t, and you probably know that by now if you’re reading this blog. SKE48 is the first sister group of AKB48 and is based in Nagoya, Japan. Since SKE’s been kicking around for nearly ten years at this point, they are releasing their 21st single soon and have almost as storied a history as AKB48. There was a while where in my opinion SKE had the best music of all the 48 groups (their singles from 2010 through 2013 are almost all fantastic songs I still listen to regularly), so if you’re looking for a 48 group to follow musically SKE might be a good option. I haven’t been terribly fond of the songs I hear from them recently, though, so I can’t quite tell if they’re still at that level. Their single from 2016, Chicken Line, seems to be fairly popular and a lot more interesting than a lot of AKB’s recent singles.

Again, if you like SKE you probably know already – I doubt any of the 48 groups will convince you to like them if you dislike the rest. SKE has a big history, though, so if you’re looking for a 48 group that’s not AKB then SKE isn’t a bad option.

S★Spicy

S★Spicy is a unit that most people aren’t terribly aware of but do have a history. Formed in 2009, it’s a two member unit that’s actually a big sister unit to the other Stardust Promotion groups, so Momoiro Clover Z, Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, etc. The group has had various name changes over the years, starting with S★Spicy, then S★Spicy-1 when they had one member, S★Spicy-2 when a new member was added, and then going back to S★Spicy.

That being said, it’s kind of funny because they’ve had just about as many name changes as they have singles. Despite being around since 2009, S★Spicy isn’t prolific, with only five singles and the most recent one being from 2015. That said, they really just keep on kicking year after year, so if you want to follow a Stardust group with some staying power but also is very much and indie group (and seems to be staying that way), S★Spicy could be for you. I also like that both members are older than your average idol.

Since they are still relatively indie there’s unfortunately not a lot for  S★Spicy out there. That said they are a really fun group and so if you’ve been thinking about getting more into Stardust’s indie idol scene I recommend checking out  S★Spicy!

STU48

Another 48 group! Again, I feel like you probably know if you like 48 groups or not, but STU is a pretty interesting case. For one, they are super brand new – the first generation members were announced in March and they have one original song, so if you’re looking to get into a group from the ground up STU48 might be for you. They also have an interesting idea in that while most 48 groups have a home theater in the city they’re based in, STU48’s theater will be on a cruise ship instead and travel between six different prefectures. Their theater has yet to open, but this will be interesting to see in the future.
Ultimately there’s not much to see from STU yet – they have their original song, Setouchi no Koe, and the members tend to frequently do streams on Showroom. Their first single is set for November. Again, if you like the other 48 groups you probably already know if you want to follow STU, but it is always interesting to follow a group from their absolute start, and that’s where they are with STU48 now.

NGT48

OK, more 48 groups, here we go. NGT48 is a newer 48 group based in Niigata. They debuted in 2016 and in 2017 got their first single with Seishun Dokei. Of the three 48 groups in this single post, NGT48 is the middle group – they have nowhere near the experience of SKE48 but have been around for longer than STU48. So they might be a fun place to join in, especially since they already have a single and some songs.

Again, you know if you’ll like NGT48. Personally they’re the 48 group I’m most excited about, but that’s mainly because, due to all the graduations from the 48 groups, front girl Kato Minami is possibly my favorite 48 group member. But considering you probably know your feelings about NGT48 already I won’t spend more time on them.

 

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 6

Uijin

Uijin is a four member unit that was formed in December of 2016, so still very new. The group’s concept is centered around a fictitious city of neo tokyo, which is a pretty common name for a futuristic Tokyo in anime and games. They recently released their first full album which includes lyrics written by the members of the group. Their style musically is idol pop with healthy helpings of electro and rock sound.

For being such a new group and for not having ties to other groups (as far as I can tell) Uijin seems remarkably good so far – their music is simultaneously interesting,  underground idol music but it’s well written and accessible. The members seem like solid performers and their live videos look super fun. If you’re looking to explore more of the underground idol scene, Uijin could be an accessible in. If you’re looking for electronic, futuristic rock with an idol bent, you have some specific tastes but Uijin might be your jam. Their song Meltdown I particularly like (and parts of it remind me a bit of Hangry & Angry’s Reconquista), but their other songs on their channel are good. Since they are so new they don’t have a ton out yet, but you should definitely keep Uijin on your radar.

AOP

AOP (written as A応P but I’m simplifying it here for my sake) stands for Anime Ouen Project, or Anime Cheer Project, basically a group built around cheering on anime. AOP  doesn’t only cheer on anime, with members that like it, though – they’ve been doing theme songs for anime. AOP hit it big in 2016 with doing the opening theme songs for the popular anime Osomatsu-san, which made Zenrokyu Batankyu do very well. Unfortunately their other singles or albums haven’t done quite so well, but they are a fairly prolific group – they’ve put out two singles, a mini album and an album this year and last year they put out an album, a mini album and four singles. So if you like anime music and want a group that’s constantly churning out new stuff, AOP could be up your alley.

While last year’s Cotona Mode is an ultimate guilty pleasure of mine (it is pure idol fluff), I haven’t been able to get into AOP much myself. More than anything they come across to me as a less polished i*Ris. Which isn’t a bad thing – most groups don’t achieve the polish of i*Ris and the anime theme is pretty fun. The members seem like fun and some of their music is great  – their latest single, Jitensha ni Hana wa Mau is pretty solid and last year’s “Ano ne, Kimi dake ni” is great. But if this group sounds like they’d appeal to you I’d check out both i*Ris and them. AOP is a bit less polished so if that appeals to you more than the highly polished i*Ris I’d check them out.

AKB48 16th Generation Kenkyuusei

I feel like this needs no explanation, but I’ll give one in case you’re unffamiliar with the AKB48 system. This is the 16th generation of AKB48 members, who passed the audition and debuted as research students late last year at the end of 2016 and will be in training until they debut in a proper AKB team. That said, this generation has been doing a lot of performances on their own – they had a big concert on their own at Tokyo Dome City Hall in January and have since performed in the AKB theater on their own as well.

I mean, if you’re into AKB you should probably follow them, if you’re not into AKB you won’t. This group isn’t likely to change any minds, but if you’re an existing 48 fan you can follow the future of AKB48 if you check them out.

AKB48 Team 8 

AKB48’s Team 8 is kind of an oddity that I’ve never been quite sure what to make of. Formed in 2014 by an audition for all the members, the concept is that they are comprised of a member from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures (though they currently have 44 members), who aim to travel to each prefecture, where they are idols who will go to meet you. They’re also sponsored by Toyota. So while they’re a part of AKB48 and some of the members of Team 8 are also cocurrently members of other AKB teams, Team 8 is kind of its own thing – a team but not a team in the sense of A, K, B and 4. They’ve so far visited 38 prefectures which is a pretty solid number.

Again, if you’re not into AKB48 I doubt Team 8 is going to change your mind, unless their theme or their Toyota sponsorship is somehow really interesting to you. They kind of do their own thing, and I think their theme is clever, but they’re AKB48 at their core. Either you’re interested in that or you’re not.

HR

HR is a unit from Fukuoka with their name standing for Hakata Reboot. HR is a bit of an odd duck in that they seemed like they were on the rise but have gone in odd directions – this group has had a LOT of members shuffle in and out over the past years since they’ve debuted in 2010, and while they’ve done some things I don’t think they’ve hit the heights I thought they were. The group made their major debut in 2015 and have since put out four singles, but in many ways I’d say their peak was in their indies days in 2014, with the release of their single “Evolution da,” album release and their subgroup Splash Revolution. That said, their single sales have been solid, so that might be my personal perception. I am interested to see how many members they end up with – they’ve always had a fairly large lineup, so seeing three members be HR is a little weird.

Since HR has very recently lost almost all its members, it’s hard to recommend going back to older videos because I don’t know how relevant they will be to future idol fandom. They have some fun, solid idol music – Kimi ni Spark, their first indie single is a favorite of mine and I actually own a physical copy of Evolution Da I like that single so much. Their style is pretty standard idol, so I’d say they’re mainly of interest if you are located in Fukuoka and want to support a really solid local idol in the local scene. I really liked them in years past until my oshimen, Kobayashi Mayu, graduated. They’re a bit hard to follow as a foreign fan, especially as they are victim to region locking, but there’s quite a few fan recordings of their concerts around Fukuoka. I’m a bit conflicted on HR, honestly – there’s a lot to like in their history but it remains to be seen where they go from here.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 5

There are now 211 groups confirmed for this year’s Tokyo Idol Festival, which means I have my work cut out for me! Also when I started this post it was 181. God help me.

Idol Choho Kikan Level 7 

Their name means Idol Intelligence Agency Level 7, and their concept/gimmick is that they are idol spies, which I think is just about the best gimmick I’ve seen from an idol group in a while. The fans are the “boss” and the members go on “missions” to infiltrate idol activities (variety, gravure photos). Right away I absolutely love this gimmick, and I think it’s super clever.

Level 7 (which is their much more commonly used name) was formed in 2014, but they haven’t done all that much yet – while they perform around the Tokyo area, their only website is an Ameba blog, and they’ve so far released two singles officially and one venue-only single. So while this gimmick is great, they don’t have all that much stuff out there. Their YouTube has quite a few long (over 30 minutes) digests of their concerts, so if you’re interested in them that can help. That said, this seems like a tough group to follow for foreign fans. Taking a look at their live videos, though, their music is a lot better than it has a right to be. Their music all has a “cool” feeling to it, not always rock but not being the typical cute idol pop. Strawberry Trap in particular is very catchy, but I also like Taboo and Bravery. So I’d definitely check them out. They’re a small group without much out there but their music is better than it has a right to be and the group has a great energy while performing.

atME

atME is a four member unit that formed in May of 2016 so just about a year ago. They want to promote having strong visual appeal but also strong performances as well. The thing I find interesting, though is the fact that while this is what they say on their TIF profile, on their (not linked) website they specifically point out that they’re a “next generation” idol group aimed at the yutori generation (basically a younger generation seen as getting lenient education), emphasizing them as rebellious and passionate in a way that makes me wonder if I’m missing something from my limited Japanese translation.

They don’t have a ton of music or live stuff out, but they seem like a fairly standard idol group with a more hard rock sound than most. Still, their debut song Paralyzer is solid and they seem like the members are pretty talented. I’m not sure how much their next generation theme really does anything, except for influencing some lyrics, so it’s hard to say if this will actually result in much. Their most recent video on their YouTube channel is from August 2016 so they aren’t terribly active, but if you like a rock sound with your idols and have explored more conventional options atME could be something you check out.

Iginari Tohoku San

The first Stardust unit I’ve covered this TIF! Iginari Tohoku San is a unit based in Tohoku and is considered a “Lesson unit” so they’re more of trainees than anything. Formed in 2015, Iginari Tohoku San is very much just getting started. Because of this, there isn’t much – they’ve released one single (another coming in a few weeks) but it’s only for sale at events and at HMV Japan. They’ve also released a single with Sakura Ebi’~~s, the Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku trainee unit, who they did a concert with as well. That said, since they’re produced by Stardust it’s easy to anticipate that they will grow with time and that their standard of production will be high, so while there isn’t much yet it’s easy to expect they won’t just fizzle out – all of their singles have been released within the last few months. If you’ve been wanting to follow Stardust idols from the start of their career, this is your chance. Like other Stardust groups they’re a ton of fun and energetic, so I am excited to see where Iginari Tohoku San goes!

Iketeru Hearts

Iketeru Hearts is a sister group to Afilia Saga. Formed in 2014 they were originally trainees with some members being promoted to Afilia Saga before they were all promoted to being full idols in 2015. In 2016 they made their major debut with “Let’s Stand Up,” which was written by Tsunku – so far they’ve put out four singles in total. Their goal is that through their singing, dancing and smiles they’ll make negative people positive.

Unfortunately a lot of their videos are region locked, which is a shame for foreign fans. Curiously, the leader of the group, Arata Yuyu, has a YouTube channel that’s pretty active and possibly your best window into Iketeru Hearts if you’re not willing to use something to get around the region lock. Since the group has performed in France and Singapore it does seem like they want to expand internationally, so hopefully their label will work to get their videos out of the region lock.

They seem like a pretty fun group – if you like Afilia Saga then you’ll probably like Iketeru Hearts who have a similar vibe, considering they’re sister groups. They’re upbeat and fun, and if you’re interested in a group like this then Arata Yuyu’s YouTube might be a fun look at the group. They’re a little tricky to follow as a foreign fan, so they will probably appeal mostly to foreign Afilia Saga fans, but if you like upbeat energetic groups they are definitely ones to check out.

Ichigo Milk iro ni Somaritai

I did a serious mental debate as to whether I should post this post or not. I almost had a “well, I’m done with this TIF coverage” moment when I saw this group pop up because I did not want to talk about them at all, but I feel like it would do a disservice to not present the idol industry as it is, warts and all, so here’s the wart – a group I’ll just call Ichigo Milk.

To be absolutely fair, this group has a decent amount going for it. It’s produced by former Otome Shinto leader Takahashi Yurika who created the group and their aim is the Budokan, in part because Otome Shinto never made it there. So in many ways it’s her passion project, which I really enjoy. The group is specifically very girly and pink.

Honestly my biggest issue right now are those pacifiers. They show up in the group’s promo images and it’s infantilizing and uncomfortable more than most other idol stuff I’ve covered for this blog. Lots of idol groups appear, act or are young, that’s no secret. And while I’m not a huge fan of a lot of this (I wish more groups would take a mature approach), it’s OK to have idol groups to be cutesy and I like stuff like this. This is blatantly taking an idol group and presenting them as infants. And I really don’t like that. It’s not fun or silly, it’s kind of gross in a way. A lot of you may feel like I’m overblowing this, but this is sincerely very offputting to me in a major way, to the point where it made me feel like I didn’t know how much more I wanted to follow TIF or indie idols. Or idols for that matter. And while I’m sure I’ll forget about this group for the most part and go back to liking my other idol groups, right now this is not a great look.

For what its worth their first song and video, Lollipop, is solid for the most part. Not great but a catchy enough song and a pretty fun PV until the end. But until they drop this part I can’t in good faith recommend them at all.

Response: This Exists’ Anti- Idol video

The other day I was looking around for a video to watch on YouTube when I saw that one of my favorite channels, This Exists, made a video about idol culture, specifically the anti-idol / underground idol scene. As a long time viewer of that channel, which explores strange and interesting subcultures, this felt like a great mix – the channel has covered music genres before (the video about vaporwave helped me become a fan of the late great Especia) but the one thing I’ve always loved about This Exists is that it tends to keep an open mind. As someone who follows a lot of the foreign press about idol culture, you tend to see it all devolve into some of the same arguments and just fundamentally miss the point about a lot of things (The recent BBC-aired documentary, “Tokyo Girls,” about idol fans calling handshakes an inherently sexual act will go down in infamy among other idol fans).

Since I was so excited to see this pop up on my YouTube feed, I thought I would write a response here rather than in the YouTube comments, in case any of my blog readers are interested as well!

First off, I have to say I’m actually quite impressed with the research that Sam did in this video by citing Yamaguchi Momoe and Onyanko Club as progenitors – while there were other groups I’d consider to be idol groups (Pink Lady, Candies) they’re not really the same thing. Onyanko Club was really the originator of the “more is more” philosophy that so many idol groups have today. So many journalists tend to see idols as a new phenomenon or a new trend (we saw that even in “Tokyo Girls,” which showed idols as something new rather than a continuing trend). It’s clear that actual research and deep dives were done, which is a refreshing change from some of the journalism I’ve seen surrounding idol culture. Seeing an actual look at the more underground idol culture and flat out looking at more than the first hit for AKB48 on YouTube (which for years was either Baby Baby Baby or Heavy Rotation, before the YouTube Red thing).

All that being said, while his analysis is really great and explores idol culture in a way I’m surprised to see, I’m not sure things line up quite as neatly as they do in this video. Throughout the video he points to Momoiro Clover Z paving the way for anti-idol groups, and while I do think that Momoiro Clover Z’s influence has been a big one I’m not sure I’d agree it was as big as it was. Babymetal had its origins in 2010 as a subgroup of Sakura Gakuin, and BiS was formed in 2010 as well. This all coincides with the start of the idol boom, which I would argue started at the end of 2009 with AKB48’s River hitting #1 on the Oricon charts (but I feel like most people would agree was in full force by the end of 2010 after AKB48’s Heavy Rotation was released). So considering Momoiro Clover Z didn’t add the Z until the middle of 2011 and it took a while for their simultaneous rise in popularity and strangeness, I’d suggest that while they definitely influenced later groups and the popularity of later groups, that the influence is more on the end of the idol culture existing as more of a subculture and also the content creators themselves.

While pop music in American culture and a lot of cultures tends to be mostly popular culture, idol music has for quite some time existed with nerd culture – fans of idols are ‘otaku’ in the same way that anime/manga fans are ‘otaku’ (though most Western idol fans tend to prefer to refer to themselves as wota). While I’m not sure where this shift happened (it may very well have been with Onyanko Club), idol fans are often nerds – these are the people that have carried idol groups throughout the years when popularity wanes, and also the people that are fans of the smaller groups. Being able to aim music at a smaller demographic allows for more demographics to pop up within idol groups, and also offers idols the opportunity to exist on an underground music level. Idol music is in many ways subculture more than it is mainstream, though it certainly is mainstream. This also allows for collaborations between other more underground groups – Babymetal’s collaboration with Kiba of Akiba works because of their connection to Akihabara, nerd culture. It also allows for Miri of hip hop idol group Rhymeberry to go freestyle at hip hop events and gain some experience that way.

The other thing that I think is so weird and interesting about idol culture and frankly has kept my interest in this for so many years at this point is just how the dedicated fanbases can prop up some of the weirder stuff. Music does matter, but there are so many other reasons to buy a single. Physical sales still matter a lot in Japan, and to bolster these singles often include other items, often a ticket to an event of some kind or a photo. Fans are highly incentivized to buy a copy (or multiple copies) of every single, which allows groups to get a bit more creative. Morning Musume, for example, put out Mr. Moonlight ~ Ai no Big Band~, a big band-inspired track inspired by the all-female Takarazuka theater troupe, and they could do that because they knew the hardcore fans would buy their single. While this has allowed for some laziness in some groups, it also allows for inventiveness in others. At the height of its popularity Morning Musume changed musical styles almost single by single, and they knew they’d keep their fans.

I’d also emphasize the songwriters as being a big part of how idol music has hit creative gold, musically. My favorite idol songwriter, Maeyamada Kenichi, got his start remixing video game and anime songs online but then was recruited to write music for groups like AKB48 until he wrote Momoiro Clover Z’s most popular song and became a well known name. Narasaki, another songwriter for Momoiro Clover Z and Babymetal, started out with a band Coaltar of the Deepers. The people writing music for idol groups today got their start writing music for other subcultures and moved over to idol things. And these names are well known among the hardcore idol fans – I’ve seen groups like LinQ advertise when they have Maeyamada write them a song, because he’s well-known among idol fans. Morning Musume’s longterm music producer, Tsunku (who recently has taken on a much smaller role due to cancer) is also well known, though a big part of that was that he has been a public figure (and Morning Musume was formed out of the runners up to an audition to find a vocalist for his band, Sharan Q). Someone I frequently see pop up is former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, who provides guitar riffs for idol songs and has had decent popularity in Japan. There’s a lot of people with varying experience writing all these songs.

I’d also say that like with everything else the ease of production of music allows for more opportunity for creators to make their mark. While they’ve moved to another agency, the group Osaka Shunkashuto originally had one person who was their manager, the staff, the songwriter, doing literally everything for the group, and they found an audience. Magical Ban Bang is another group that manages and formed themselves – they all met doing dance covers online and decided to form a group together. This also happened with Ayumikurikamaki, and there are several other groups that formed because of one producer or the group themselves deciding to do it. Due to the increased ease of production and the ease of marketing using YouTube, Twitter and other platforms like Showroom, groups no longer need to appear on TV to promote themselves. Culture in general is becoming a lot more niche and idol msuic is no exception.

Another thing is that while the idol world in general has strict rules, they’ve been eroding on heir own for quite some time – it’s all a public front that most people would acknowledge as a front. For example, one of the most popular and well known members of Morning Musume, Abe Natsumi, was caught spending the night at an actor’s home at the group’s peak in 2000, but she played it off as being there “playing Playstation” and nothing came of it. The most popular member of any of the AKB48 groups (currently in HKT48) Sashihara Rino was potentially helped in her rise to popularity by a dating scandal, where an ex-boyfriend sent pictures of her to a tabloid. While her move to HKT48 could possibly be considered a demotion, it allowed her to gain a lot more popularity and get a lot more attention than she would have in AKB48. Other members of AKB48 and other idol groups have been “caught” doing something that would previously gotten them kicked out, and most of the time they get a slap on the wrist, if even – it’s often ignored. Some idols have even laughed it off. It’s still a public rule but more than anything it’s become “don’t get caught.” This is just a long tangent to say that while the whole idol aesthetic is a squeaky-clean one, it’s very clearly a facade that most people can see through.

Popular groups are also starting to become more ambitious, musically. While AKB48’s music has gotten stagnant, one of their “official rivals,” produced by AKB’s producer Akimoto Yasushi, has reached mainstream success with singles like Silent Majority and Fukyouwaon being essentially protest songs. Momoiro Clover Z’s sister group, Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, released an album called “Anarchy.” Granted, all of this is under the same model of idol-ness and is still highly controlled by their various agencies and publishers, so it’s incredibly manufactured, but what sells is shifting in an interesting way. Momoiro Clover Z sells out the biggest arenas and just last year released two concept albums essentially about life and death with Amaranthus and Hakkin no Yoake. While Momoiro Clover Z has done a whole lot, popular tastes are shifting. While Nogizaka46, another official rival, initially started out having more traditionally cutesy idol songs, they’ve shifted their style to be more contemporary.

Idol culture is endlessly fascinating, and while I do have my quibbles with the This Exists video they’re small ones at best, and not the giant ones I usually have when someone covers idol culture elsewhere. It leads me to wonder if there’s any easier way for those of us who have experience with idol music and culture to get our thoughts ought there or at least collectively make a primer to share with the next Babymetal or with the next Ladybaby, whenever that may be. I try to do that with Happy Disco but I know I don’t have a very wide reach. This Exists does a lot of great deep dives into things with research, but the next time the Wall Street Journal decides to do an article or a video on this I’d prefer it to not just end up with “it’s Japan and it’s weird!” Food for thought, I suppose!

And, to end this, I find it kind of hilarious that one of the first examples Sam gives in this video about more gimmicky groups is a Baseball-themed group, because of course Japan has a baseball-themed girl group and their song Diving Catch is one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard.