Quality vs Quantity: Idols Must Have Something Extra to Breakthrough!

Quality vs Quantity: Idols Must Have Something Extra to Breakthrough!

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The movement known as the “Idol Warring States Period” (Aidoru Sengoku Jidai) which began around 2010 has settled down, and the idol world has moved away from being a mere “boom” to an “establishment” in and of itself but, as we move from 2014 to 2015, two major trends have begun to assert their influence.

The first trend would be of idols crossing over into the mainstream and no longer being confined to the preconceived notion of what an “idol” is. Looking at the success of Perfume, AKB48 (and the other “48 groups”), and Momoiro Clover Z, as well as last year’s breakthrough of BABYMETAL and, in order to truly get one’s “big break”, it is necessary to become a group that surpasses the constraints of an “idol”. Whether it is through receiving worldwide recognition, or winning the support of those from various genres, it comes down to being able to attract a large number of fans, not just “the idol fans of Japan”.

For example, the group Dream5 was selected to perform at the 2014 NHK Red and White Song Festival (translator’s note: Kouhaku Uta Gassen, as it is called in Japanese is an NHK program broadcast live on New Year’s Eve and generally reflects the tone of the year) while groups like BABYMETAL,, and Nogizaka46 were not invited. In the case of Dream5, they sang the anime theme song for the massively popular franchise “Youkai Watch” so they had a legitimate reason to appear (translator’s note: the popularity of Youkai Watch in 2014 lead it to be dubbed a “social phenomenon” by the Japanese media). As you can see from that example, some kind of external factor is necessary in order to cross over into the mainstream public consciousness. While there are countless factors aside from just working diligently contributing to a group getting a big break, it should be interesting to see whether or not such a thing happens again in 2015.

The second trend is how idols are shifting away from the “era of diversity” and towards the “era of quality”. The “era of diversity” can be best summed up by its alias “Idol Warring States Period” which is basically a period where it seems that “anything goes”. Taking advantage of the initial boom, large numbers of groups were formed and began their activities as idols. However, in the process of the movement shifting from “boom” to “establishment”, groups with vague or poorly developed concepts and/or inexperienced management encountered difficulties continuing their activities long-term. At the same time, upstart groups like Idol Renaissance and the rebooted Tokyo Performance Doll gradually raised the bar for what was accepted as a quality idol performance with their high-level performances that surpassed many of the groups that came before them.

Idol Renaissance – “Hatsu Koi” (First Love) is a cover of the classic song by singer-songwriter Kōzō Murashita and the MV was filmed in a single continuous shot.

Tokyo Performance Doll – “Brand New Story” is the first single of the group that was relaunched in 2013. They are known for their acrobatic and energetic performances.

With this current state of affairs, in the next few years, it can be forecast that the number of idol groups in this seemingly infinitely expanding sphere will be divided into two groups: the ones going on “indefinite hiatus”, disbanding, or suffering the loss of popular members; and the ones that will be moving up the ranks on to the next accomplishment. As we transition from 2014 to 2015 and the world of idols matures from “boom” to “establishment”, it seems that it will evolve from an “era of diversity” to an “era of quality”.

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Related Artists : Dream5 Nogizaka46 AKB48 BABYMETAL
Yasuhiro Okada

Editor/Writer – Co-author (with Shinshi Okajima) of “Group Idol Shinkaron” (Evolutionary Theory of Idol Groups), one of the first books to analyze the “Idol Warring States Period” (popular media term for the current idol boom in Japan). Author of the book “Idol no iru Kurashi”(Living With Idols), a collection of interviews talking about idols from the perspective of idol fans.

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