Independent Women: Self-Produced Idols With Skills Beyond Just Singing and Dancing
When hearing the term “J-pop” or “idol”, there may often be negative connotations of mass-produced generic music geared towards being used in a commercial or sold through the use of cute performers. However, if you look beneath the surface, there is a considerable amount of creative and challenging music being produced every day.
There is a definite prejudice towards the term “idol” in Japan, to where there was a commotion caused when TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE made their “artist declaration” in December of 2014. In a previous piece by Akimasa Munekata, he shares his insights on the perceived differences between idols and artists and the connotations the words carry with them. Generally, the talents of idols are dismissed as being inferior to artists, particularly when it comes to vocal and dance skills. Many groups will often refer to themselves as a “vocal and dance unit” or some other similar term in attempts to escape being discriminated against as they work towards their dreams.
Many accomplished songwriters and producers have been lending their strength to idol groups, increasing the diversity and musicality of the genre, which makes sense for them as idols sell more than artists based on their business model of using of handshake events to sell CDs. However, the more popular a group gets and sells, the expectations of recreating or expanding upon that growth also increase, which may lead to less derivation from tactics that have already been proven to work. One example is how AKB48 followed up on the massive success of “Koi Suru Fortune Cookie” (2013) with “Kokoro no Placard” (2014), and “Halloween Night” (2015).
At the same time, using so many different creators can make it difficult for a group to define their own individual style. If you compare Team Syachihoko’s “Shampoo Hat” (music by Enon Kawatami of indigo la End, Gesu no Kiwami Otome) to some of their other songs like “Ai no Chikyuusai” (music by Minoru Comorita), “Shuto Iten Keikaku” (music/lyrics by SEAMO), the differences in style are pretty obvious.
With the collaborative nature of producing idols, it is easy to see that they often have very little input in the music they perform, what their costumes or cover art will look like, how their MVs will be, or even what events they can appear at. On the flip side, there is security in not having to expend energy on writing music, designing outfits, planning choreography, and negotiating deals with venues. Being associated with a strong agency/label brings with it more opportunities and support, like how avex trax regularly holds the music festival a-nation or how ASOBISYSTEM puts on Moshi Moshi Nippon events all over the world.
There are definitely a growing number of young women contributing lyrics to their songs, most famously Kanon Fukuda with “Watashi” her graduation song from ANGERME and Miyu Yamabe with “Stay with me” , TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE’s first single following their artist declaration. After all, doesn’t it make sense that young women would be able to express their feelings in ways that the largely male contingent of composers and producers might not be able to?
Here are a few young women who have chosen to take matters even further and produce themselves.
The self-produced unit of former Dorothy Little Happy members, KOUMI (Koumi Hayasaka), MIMORI (Mimori Tominaga), and RUUNA (Ruuna Akimoto) made their debut on February 1, 2015 during @JAM the field vol. 7 at TSUTAYA O-EAST. All three members contribute lyrics with KOUMI planning the choreography, MIMORI composing the music, and RUUNA leading the group.
Having spent 5 years as members of Dorothy Little Happy, callme was born out of the trio’s desire to show their more grownup side. They eventually decided to graduate from Dorothy Little Happy in order to devote themselves fully to callme. The tour finale/graduation concert at Nakano Sun Plaza on June 12, 2015 was full of tears and tense moments.
While it remains to be seen if callme will experience the success of their former group or escape the constant comparisons to Perfume, they are working hard to make a go of things on their own with the support of their label avex trax. It seems like every weekend, they’re performing somewhere in Japan honing their skills and refining their sound. Also, once you burn all your bridges, there’s no choice but to move forward.
callme Official site: http://avex.jp/callme/
callme Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/callme_official
callme Official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/callme.official
callme Official blog: http://ameblo.jp/callme-official
callme Official Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/callme_official/
Nama Ham to Yaki Udon
Nama Ham to Yaki Udon made their debut at the beginning of 2015 and has quickly made a name for themselves with their performances which combine hilarious skits and catchy songs that are usually about food. Named after the members’ favorite foods, high school students Marina Nishii (aka Nicchan) and Risa Higashi (Riichan) write all the music and skits used during their performances, design their costumes, and even handle booking of venues. Their fans are called “kuishinbo” (gourmands) and are often brought on stage to become part of the performances.
Nama Ham to Yaki Udon sold out their first one-man live “〜Anata wa Honto ni Shiawase Desuka?〜” at Shinjuku Marz (capacity: 300) on October 25, 2015. As their March 2, 2016 second one-man live “JK Last Live” at Akasaka Blitz (capacity: 1,298) to commemorate their graduation from high school approaches, only about 200 tickets remain unsold, an impressive feat for such a new group, especially one where the members do everything, including customization of their goods.
Nama Ham to Yaki Udon Official site: http://namaudon.tokyo/
Nama Ham to Yaki Udon Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/namaudon_kawaii
Nama Ham to Yaki Udon Official blog: http://ameblo.jp/namaudon-kawaii/
Nama Ham to Yaki Udon YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3TsGT3fpvAxtxu2Kfg4ZlA
Marina Nishii Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/namahamu0822
Marina Nishii Official blog: http://ameblo.jp/namahamu0822/
Risa Higashi Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/lisa281_sing
Risa Higashi Official blog: http://ameblo.jp/higashi281/
Having played guitar since elementary school, Mari was active as a solo idol（茉里）and sung in rock bands before she joined up with Kenta Sakurai (Maison book girl) as Izukoneko （いずこねこ）from 2011 until 2014, releasing 3 singles and 6 albums, her final appearance coming in the film “Sekai no Owari no Izukoneko”, which was released in March of 2015.
Mari joined Saki Kamiya (ex-BiS) in Pla2me（プラニメ）, making their debut in August of 2014 and releasing 2 singles until her withdrawal from the group on May 31, 2015 citing artistic differences and homesickness. After her departure from the group, the name was changed to POP, short for “Period of Plastic 2 Mercy”, 4 new members were added, and the image was drastically changed.
Mari announced her re-debut, this time as a self-produced soloist under the name Mari Mizuta（ミズタマリ）in June of 2015. As part of her reinvention, Mari expressed interest in organizing events, creating projects, as well as being open to collaborate with others on projects, which may include being a vocalist for a band, or modeling.
As she is doing everything by herself and trying to keep up with her studies in Kyoto, progress has been slow as far as getting a MV or something like that out but, she did Tweet a few short clips of her December 28, 2015 performance at KANSAI IDOL FILE at Osaka Muse.
One of her projects includes a group named mtopi she formed with singer-songwriter Miki Mizuki (ex-Mikichu) and Yuri Shinohara (ex-TAKENOKO▲). The name of the group comes from their motto “Endeavoring to climb up into the space of Utopia from frustration”（挫折から這い上がりutopiaみたいな空間を目指したい。）and the 3 “Ms” that each of them represent. Miki is in charge of magic and music, Mari is in charge of powerful movement (dance) and design, and Yuri is in charge of making miracles happen through hard work and fashion. Here is a short clip from their Christmas live at Shinjuku Marz on December 13, 2015.
Mari Mizuta Official site: http://www.mizutamari.red/
Mari Mizuta Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/mizutamari_2
mtopi Official site: http://mtopi.jp/
mtopi YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvmE9hYkVZxDNft6rvgA14A
Risa Satosaki began writing songs in elementary school and taught herself how to play the guitar in middle school. Despite being accepted into the prestigious Waseda University’s School of Culture, Media and Society, she dropped out in order to pursue her dreams of making it in music. After a short stint in Ten-Girl 9:50（店ガール9:50）, an idol group made up of young women who worked in large electronics stores, it seemed like Risa was going to return to her studies. Upon finding out how badly she had been exploited by her former agency and seeing how much school enrollment fees were, she decided to start her own record label Flow Entertainment in 2014. Here is the MV for one of her recent songs “Shy Girl Wars” starring Mochi Fukumaru from Shojo Kakka no International.
Because of her role as company president, Risa is often referred to by her nickname “Shacho”. In addition to her solo career as a singer-songwriter, she is also the leader of the idol group Shojo Kakka no International. Having learned from her previous experience, Risa makes sure that everyone signed with her is properly compensated for their time. Here is the MV for “Shojo Kakka no PK Ultra Keikaku” from Shojo Kakka no International’s first mini-album “Pulp Program” (release date: November 6, 2015).
Risa Satosaki Official site: http://risamusic925.wix.com/satosakirisa
Risa Satosaki Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/risamusic925
Risa Satosaki YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCp4mLYFcz8XQ-0YEVQuv79A
Shojo Kakka no International Official site: http://shonasho2014.wix.com/shonasho
Shojo Kakka no International Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/shoujokakka
Shojo Kakka no International Official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/shounasho
Shojo Kakka no International YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC04LzyklHDrSZVl31ymg2dA
While this is just a small sampling of young female performers who are out there making things happen on their own terms, perhaps they are slowly changing the definitions of what idols are? The highly polished and trained groups produced by teams of professionals will probably never completely go away but, it seems that going through the typical process of passing an audition is not the only way to the bright lights of a stage.
The Cover Art and the Details of Zawachin’s First Single “Mada Minu Sekai” is Now Available!
8th Wave of Tokyo Idol Festival 2016 Performers Announced!!