Community Article: Is Indonesia Ready

Today we have another guest article from our community! Malcolm, known around these parts as SleepyOta, asks important questions about JKT48 and if it will have the impact in Indonesia that it needs:

As you may have noticed, Japanese idol groups, most notably AKB48, have been branching out into other parts of Asia. AKB has frequently performed overseas and there is already a prominent fan community outside of Japan. Currently, most of the focus has been in South-East Asia. AKB48’s involvement has escalated to the point that there is now an AKB theater in Singapore which hosts performances every month and a new 48 group has been established in Jakarta, Indonesia named JKT48.

I feel as though I should put in my two cents. I live in Malaysia which has a similar culture to Indonesia. Also, I feel like I would receive much more exposure to JKT48 than someone in the States. I have a bit of knowledge of how pop culture works in SEAsia so I might have a different view on the project.

First things first, I must address the question: Is there even an interest in Japanese culture? I would say yes. Japanese culture especially otaku culture has a strong following in SEAsia. In Malaysia, magazines can be seen in every retailer with translations of popular manga into the local languages. Also, popular anime are shown on the television sometimes even with the original Japanese dub. Otaku culture is big in SEAsia so this might be in JKT’s favor.

But is the interest in Japanese music large enough to sustain a music group under Japanese management? That I am unsure about. Right now, in SEAsia and other parts of Asia, there is a much larger interest in Korean music. The following in SEAsia is absolutely huge and just about every teenage girl here has some sort of interest in K-pop. K-pop is played on the radio constantly, given a lot of airtime on local television and sometimes artists perform at the same venues as popular American and local artists. This popularity can be attributed to the fact that American music has been in the region for a long time. K-pop being essentially American pop with Korean lyrics was able to assimilate very easily to what SEAsians were already listening to.

On the contrast, you do not hear a lot of Japanese music here. Rarely have I heard a Japanese song on the radio. While Japanese music videos are in fact shown on TV, they are usually only the openings or endings to popular anime. Simply put, Japanese music is extremely different from other countries’ music. It follows its own path and does not try to mimic popular international artists. Being so different, it is hard for foreigners to swallow unless they have a genuine interest in Japanese culture. Just being an anime fan sometimes doesn’t cut it.

Despite this, it is not impossible for there to be a following for JKT or other idol groups. Recently there has been a new idol group hailing from SEAsia. They call themselves Sea☆A and the members are all South-East Asian (3 from Singapore and 1 from Malaysia). They have been gaining some popularity and their second single is even the ending for the anime, Toriko. You can check out their second single, Deli-Deli Delicious below.

My opinion is that it is possible for JKT to be a success in SEAsia. However, they have to get past a lot of obstacles to get there especially the stigma that Japan is just for anime and videogames. Furthermore, Japanese music currently does not have a place in the mainstream SEAsian music scene and JKT must find a way to appeal to the masses. JKT can do it but it’s going to be very very hard.

So, those are my thoughts. What do you guys think? Can idols make it big in SEAsia or even in Western countries? Are you interested in JKT? Leave your responses in the comments.


About Dae Lee

-Dae, aka Mizu -Writer, broadcaster, and podcaster on New School Kaidan

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  1. As someone who honestly hasn’t been following JKT in the slightest, is it really confirmed that they’re singing all of their songs in Japanese? That seems like it’d be a bit of a tactical error, especially if what you say about Jpop in the region is true.

    I honestly don’t know if JKT can make it in SEAsia but I’d be happy if they did. It would certainly open the door for even more overseas 48 groups if JKT proves to be successful.

    Great article by the way.

  2. I heard they will be singing in English, Tagalog, and Japanese.
    I’m curious as to how their original songs will sound like.
    The Heavy Rotation CM gave me the impression that their group voice is low, compared to the typical Japanese idol groups.

    A handshake event in Jakarta is schedule, from the top of my head, on the 18th of this month, and I think these handshake events are a good way to measure how many ppl in the target country are interested in JKT.

    Oh, and AkiP recently had a interview about this topic:

  3. I’m definitely interested to see what this group does. I’ll definitely grab whatever they put out and see for myself.

  4. “Can idols make it big in SEAsia or even in Western countries? Are you interested in JKT?.”

    Although I was hit with chairs and harsh looks when I mentioned this during a live broadcast.. I’m interested in a Western Idol group attempt. At first glance anyone would say “that definitely wouldn’t work in the west”, including myself.

    When I first began joking about it to my friends I’d always mention NYC48 and how I’d be the first audition, blah blah. But honestly, in regards to America.. you never really know what will sell until you’ve tried to sell it. America is a real huge melting pot of cultures and opinions. Same way the talentless jokes in jersey shore can be overnight major successes.. I’m sure there’s a chance for an idol group.

    I believe it would need to be approached correctly however. Carelessly introducing “idols” to the west will probably be the worse way to do it (especially a large idol group). in America, where individuality is usually what people are after.. it could be a fail.

    However, if it was approached in the same way AKB originally dropped as a Theater Show, there’s room for LOTS of success.

    I don’t know anything about Indonesia, or what flys down there. From reading the article I see that it could be on rocky grounds. But I’m sure there’s a way to market the group. The part that’s hard to cover when exporting idols, is the cultural differences.

    Which is why I believe an Idol group may work in NYC. If it was marketed as a Theater show and got its foot into the door via that channel. Because in NYC, shows are still very big here. Theater is also able to eventually spawn films, etc. So its not unimaginable that an all girl dance theater show could evolve into a pop group. By then it will already have won over many via its pure and seemingly prestigious roots.

    One example of an all female group that works, is The Rockettes. Its been holding strong for over 70 years in NY and continues to do well. However, moving beyond a show is impossible due to the limitation of being a dance only show. However, a 48 group can transition because its not limiting itself to one form of artistic expression.

    The Rockettes are a great example, imo. They’re never shown as individuals though, so I doubt the average joe on the street could name a single one. Therefore although it has prestigue, history and success, it has failed to win hearts. Idol groups are powerful…

    Girls want to be idols, look up to idols.. guys want to marry idols. 48 girls, 48 personalities, singing, dancing, theater show.. idk the potential seems endless, honestly.

    I believe its all a matter of time. Maybe I’m wrong and a group wouldnt work in the west. Maybe it wont work in Indonesia either..


    As globalization continues, I’m sure in 100 years time…. idols will be a worldwide thing. Perhaps it is premature to attempt a group at this moment, but I think they should. I also think by taking the risk with JKT, they’re showing real balls.. and they should continue to figure out how they need to tweak the marketing for it to have the same success as AKB. Its a wonderful practice for other countries in the future.

  5. Tagalog, eh? That’s strange. The general Filipino public has no interest in Japanese pop sung by Indonesian girls. The purpose is unclear for me.

  6. Sorry, Indonesian, not Tagalog lolsz

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