Idol Thoughts: Do Idols Need Talent?

Recently I was browsing Maji De 2ch, a blog that posts translations of 2ch threads (2ch is basically an anonymous board that was the inspiration for 4chan. You can talk about anything but there is often discussion on idols). I like browsing the various sites that do 2ch translations, just because it’s often very interesting to hear about things that Japanese fans talk about.

The post that caught my attention was this one. Essentially, it’s reactions to a talk that Sashihara Rino did, where she said that, if you aim to be an idol, you don’t have to learn how to sing or dance.

(Translation from  the Maji de 2ch Page)

“Girls who can’t dance are cuter. They make you want to root for them”.
“Most idol fans these days are old men, right? These old men actually find the girls who can’t do anything cuter, and they’re happier when they tell a girl that ‘You’re totally no good!’. I think people are more attracted to idols who are giving it their all despite being really bad at it”.
This, understandably, is a fairly controversial statement about the nature of idols. So, what do I think?
…Sasshi’s partly right. BUT this is oversimplifying things.
Sasshi’s statement basically says that idols that can’t sing and dance are cuter, but they should be giving it their all. Which is a fairly key concept that I think would be easy to miss.
One of the defining features of the idol industry, in my opinion, is that it’s based on watching idols grow. The vast vast majority of girls who become idols have never done much of anything in the entertainment business before. Some may have modeled, or did commercials, but the point of the idol industry, especially the female idol industry, is that it’s a temporary stepping stone to another career. Therefore, it’s not necessarily a good thing for an idol to be polished from the getgo, because that’s not the point  of idols.
However, there  are some other things that I think need to be taken into consideration.
1. A fan might be drawn to an idol’s performing talent. 
People become a fan of an idol for a variety of reasons. Some like the cute girls, some like personality, some like this kind of “can’t do anything” type. However, some people like the talented girls.
For example, I don’t follow foreign fans of Hello!Project as much, but Tamura Meimi of S/Mileage has been getting buzz lately because of her vocal talent.

Meimi’s been a good vocalist for some time, but given some time to improve and given songs that show of her vocal skills, she’s been getting buzz, at least from Hello!Project fans.

I’d say this is similar with girls like Ishida Ayumi, as well. I became a fan of hers both because of her dance skills and because of her drive to become a good dancer.

This isn’t exclusively Hello!Project. AKB48 has had various singing contests and things, which allows girls like Iwasa Misaki and Takeuchi Miyu to shine. Natori Wakana is also a strong singer who gets notice for her voice. Would Iwasa Misaki have been able to rank at #33 last year (just out of the Undergirls) if she didn’t have her vocal skills and her brand new enka career? There’s no way to know for sure, but vocal skills can definitely help girls.

However, as a counterpoint, I don’t think JUST singing and dancing are the only things that can make a girl stand out. They’re the most popular talents to have, for sure, since being an idol means a lot of singing and dancing. However, AKB’s Matsui Sakiko is a very skilled pianist, which has allowed her a great deal of press.

2. Girls have to actually try and practice once they get in.

Being initially unpolished is fairly acceptable among idol fans. No one is going to expect a new trainee to AKB to be the best singer and dancer the group has seen. However, very few girls can make it if they don’t try, or don’t seem like they’re trying. Girls like Shimazaki Haruka are few and far between, and that type of push is a big gamble. One of the most popular things to show of idols is videos of them practicing, working hard. That’s the key here; practice and hard work are fairly essential, once you’re an idol. So while I’d say you don’t have to be inherently talented to get in, you have to at least try.

3. It’s all how a girl is marketed.

This is the big one. Inherently untalented idols can be popular IF they are marketed well. I mean, look at Sasshi herself. She’s not exceptionally talented, but plays this up, and plays up that she likes idols.

An idol who isn’t the most popular in her group but who does this exceptionally well is S/Mileage’s Nakanishi Kana. Kana, when she joined especially, isn’t particularly good at singing or dancing, and is kind of clumsy. However, it seems like she tries really hard and always looks happy about the whole thing. Recently, in S/Mileage’s latest single ‘Yattaruchan,’ Kana got a prominent role by having a spoken part that became the most notable thing about the song.

However, one of the most memorable instances was in the dance to Choto Mate Kudasai. In this, Kana purposely messes up, and jumps the wrong way. It’s a little thing, but it puts her front and center. It says that she and management are aware she isn’t the most talented, but they want to show her off anyway. This is important.

Ultimately, while I think that being talented can be an advantage, that ultimately it is mostly how a particular idol is marketed.

What do you think? Do you like talented idols or idols who aren’t very good at singing or dancing? Do you agree with Sasshi? Comment below and I’ll write a Your Thoughts post next week!

2 thoughts on “Idol Thoughts: Do Idols Need Talent?

  1. Much like you, I feel that Sasshi is right in one way, but wrong in another. Idols don’t necessarily need that talent, but they need a likeability factor about them, and for some, their likeability factor is their skills in dancing, singing, or how they portray themselves. Nakanishi Kana, for example, has the skill of being able to speak. She speaks very well (which surprised me, because I always took her as the goofy girl I loved and cherished) and, whilst it doesn’t seem like a talent, has become one of her strong points, as Yattaruchan has shown (and Hello! Pro Station when she MC’ed). But some girls do need their talent to get them by, like Maeda Atsuko. I find Acchan so boring and bland, and she is forgettable with her looks, but her voice is so pretty to listen to.

    For me though, I like Idols for various reasons, whether it is their talent (Ayumi as a dancer), their looks (Iikubo Haruna) or just because I absolutely adore them for their lack of talent and other driving factors about them which make them shine in my eyes (Eripon and her awkward beauty, her love for Gaki etc, and Niigaki Risa for her acting skills).

    But like you say in your post, it is how the Idol is marketed, and when marketed well, they can truly shine as Idols and prove their worth in different areas that do not focus on singing or dancing.

    By the way, very well written, and a joy to read. I love you~

  2. I’ve been an idol fan for almost 8 years. I agree with you about it all. Each fans have different taste, whether they like a certain idol because of her personality or the way she does her best in everything. But personally, talent is the biggest factor for me to be able to support the idol. Of course it’s a big big plus for me if she has a great personality but an idol who can sing and dance really well is the best for me 🙂 I guess it’s because i live in a country where you shine if you are talented enough. xD

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