One of the hardest things I have to explain to people who’ve never heard about idols is the difference between an idol and an artist, or rather what separates idols as its own genre. One thing I’ve realized (and I’m sure many others have as well) is that it’s a really tough thing to define for the uninitiated. So I’m going to try to break it down and hopefully figure it out, first starting with what I think doesn’t define it.
A genre of music
Idols do have a stereotypical form of music, sure, and there’s definitely something to this. However, with the advent of groups like Babymetal, Rhymeberry, Passpo, BiS and Alice No. 10, idols are able to do metal, rap, rock, and almost any genre imaginable. So while there may be something that’s “stereotypical idol,” the cutesy upbeat fast-paced music, it’s not necessarily what defines idoldom.
Someone who doesn’t write their own music
This is a big part of being an idol, I think; I am having a hard time of thinking of idols that contribute to the writing of the music other than occasionally helping with lyrics. However, this isn’t something exclusive to idols; for example, I would have a hard time classifying modern day Hamasaki Ayumi as being what we think of as an idol, but she (for the most part) doesn’t contribute to her music. Similarly, while I enjoy Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, neither really contributes to the music and neither are really classified as idols.
A pure/virginal young female performer
The dating rule definitely springs to mind; however, what do we think of AV/gravure group Ebisu Muscats? I realize they’re almost an exception to the rule, with many AV members, but they’re still a reasonably popular idol group. Similarly, SDN48 (while not AV) had no qualms with being sexy/adult, as are other idol groups. While the dating rule is still in place, its existence is not necessary to be an idol.
An unskilled music performer
While skill in performance is not necessarily a requirement for idols (Indeed, more often than not idols are unskilled) there are really skilled performers among idols. While I think that Matsuura Aya eventually transitioned into being an artist rather than an idol, she was an incredible singer. There are other very talented female idols; Iwasa Misaki, for example, has been doing very well for herself with enka, and other AKB girls are very strong singers.
A part of an idol group/collective/company
While idol groups definitely are more popular than solo singers nowadays, this isn’t necessarily the case. For example, Kikkawa Yuu is no longer under Hello!Project and is a soloist, and is definitely an idol. Aso Natsuko is also the same; she was never in an idol group, but is definitely an idol.
After doing this thinking and making a small list, I’ve come up with two main criteria:
1. The idol doesn’t concentrate on one area of of herself to present. Basically, music artists focus a lot more on music than any other aspect of performing (dancing, variety, acting, etc.); an artist may dabble, but they are firmly focusing on one thing. Idols are supposed to be a jack-of-all-trades, specializing in personality if anything.
2. An idol defines herself as such, and is defined as such by others. For example, as I said before, Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Payu aren’t idols almost simply because they aren’t, though Perfume was once an idol group. Likewise, Morning Musume started off mainly as a vocal group, with producers telling the girls they weren’t idols; however, at some point that was out the window and they were flat out idols.
What do you think? Does anyone have a tried and true method of identifying an idol?