Idol Hands Vol. 2

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Welcome back to Idol Hands! In this installment, I’ll be discussing questions about centers, pushes, scandals, and other happenings of the 48 and 46 idol world. Let’s take a look and find out more!

Do you agree/disagree with this statement: “A Center based on senbatsu is a terrible idea…‘The rich become richer’”

I both agree and disagree. It’s true that a center chosen from senbatsu is an example of the “rich becoming richer”, but that’s not always a bad thing. AKS would love everyone to believe this, but the world of 48 isn’t actually a magical land of hopes and dreams where hard work will definitely be rewarded and any idol can rise to the center position if they believe in themselves enough. A center is chosen to lead the group, and senbatsu to accompany the center, but they lead AKB in the realm of mass media. The unfortunate truth is that more often than not, an idol’s success is dependent on how popular she is with fans than it is on her raw talents. For the most part, an idol is selected for AKB’s senbatsu based on one of two things:

1) This idol is popular. She has a lot of fans who can make AKS a lot of money, usually through handshake tickets, sousenkyo votes, appearances in other media, or a large fan presence on the internet. If an idol makes it into senbatsu, her fans will feel validated in their efforts to support her, and the idol can in turn use her senbatsu position to attract more fans to support her. This is a big example of the “rich becoming richer”, but if an idol already has momentum, it’s in management’s better interests to continue the push while she’s still popular.

2) This idol can potentially become popular. She was either popular in the past but struggled to stay relevant in the current state of AKB, or management believes she has the ability to become popular in the future if given exposure to build momentum. It’s easier to get a new idol popular than it is to restore the popularity of a has-been idol, which is why the senbatsu for “Kibouteki Refrain” has so many newcomers as opposed to veteran idols like Kitahara Rie or Takajo Aki.

It’s part of the same logic that goes into placing non-AKB girls into AKB senbatsu. Why take a risk on a girl that has an unclear chance of becoming a star, when you could just play it safe and load the whole A-team in? Of course you have to give the new generations exposure, but for AKS, an idol who can become popular is secondary to an idol who is already popular. The center position is meant to be a focal point. You can make almost anyone in senbatsu into a good center, but they must have the qualities necessary to be a strong senbatsu member, and popularity is a big factor.

 

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Do you agree that management is trying to chase after the next Acchan and they’re trying to push girls who fit into the “Acchan template” (cute, girl-next-door types with bland/quirky but not strong personalities) and hoping they strike gold with one, and in doing so they’ve flooded AKB with these types?

It can certainly feel like that sometimes, but management’s sort of moved away from trying to find the “next Acchan” and pushing an idol as such. When a young idol joins AKB and shows promise, calling attention to the idol by comparing her to a famous idol of the past is a move to get people interested in her. Since new idols don’t tend to have developed personalities and sometimes share visual characteristics with Acchan, comparisons can come easy. However, it can hinder the growth of an idol’s own personality if all people see in her is someone else, so they’ve tried to move away from that strategy.

Management has a preference for idols who fit into the “Acchan template” because those types of idols are very popular right now. Kojima Mako, Kato Rena, Takahashi Juri, Miyawaki Sakura, Tomonaga Mio, Kawamoto Saya, Owada Nana, Mukaichi Mion, a fair amount of the most successful up-and-coming idols are appealing for the same reasons. These types of idols are cute, earnest, agreeable, friendly, and embody many of the traits that evoke being an idol. Having a strong personality or great singing and dancing talent is valuable, but right now most wota value a cute girl willing to put her best foot forward and smile for the camera above all else.

It’s worth noting that new generation idols are now starting to find their legs and develop distinct personalities, so I wouldn’t write them off as bland or boring just yet. AKB prides itself on its diversity of idol personalities, it’s just that right now management is playing to the fact that certain types of idols are more popular than other types of idols.

 

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In general, do you think idol characters are exaggerated from actual character traits of the person or are they completely invented?

It depends on the idol, but for the most part an idol’s character is either an exaggeration of her actual personality or created from personality traits the idol feels comfortable portraying. Idols are for the most part normal girls, and many of them have no experience acting or working in the media 24/7. Most idols tend to feel comfortable with creating a persona based on how they act normally.

A good example of this is Shimazaki Haruka. Paruru is famous for her salty character and for acting bluntly towards her fans and other idols. It’s possible that Paruru actually feels this way about some of her fans and other people, but she plays it up when she’s in public because she realizes that it makes her stand out among AKB’s idols. Paruru’s not as salty these days because she has a much larger and broader fanbase, but it’s still an aspect of her idol character. Paruru was apparently told as a kenkyuusei that she could be replaced at any time, so from then on she resolved to become an irreplaceable idol in AKB.

This is part of the reason idol characters are exaggerated but still played straight; AKB has literally hundreds of idols active at the same time, and coming off as a quiet, innocent girl-next-door type of person doesn’t make you stand out when almost anyone else can do the same thing. A strong character makes an idol’s appeal unique, so it’s in their better interests to use it to stand out as much as they can.

An idol first and foremost exists for her fans, so her fans are often the ones who end up being the final judge of her character. If an idol feels comfortable with portraying a certain type of character that her fans don’t want, they might get angry or stop paying attention to her. It’s all about appeal, and a lot of what makes an idol successful is when she can find a way to present herself that appeals to a lot of people, while also coming off as natural and as close as possible to the idol’s “true self”.

 

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Aside from love ban rules and stuff, saying it was possible, what’s your opinion on idols and fans dating? Do you think such a relationship can exist? (Especially since fans see idols in a way that might be their true self).

This might be a little controversial, but I think idols that are marketed as being able to freely date fans aren’t strictly idols anymore. What defines an idol as an idol and not as a musical entertainer or girl group member is her relationship with fans. The pseudo-romantic aspect of the idol-fan relationship doesn’t apply to all idol fans, but it’s inextricable from what people consider to be an idol. There’s a very specific reason idol groups are comprised entirely of attractive young women, after all. Even if it’s sexist or backwards or repressive, that quality is still what primarily defines an idol. An idol exists for her fans, and fans exist for the idol.

It’s all about perception. An idol who dates despite there being a no-dating rule is viewed differently than an idol who dates because dating is allowed. When dating becomes encouraged and the norm instead of something done secretly behind closed doors, the game changes completely. Why do people accuse an idol of “betraying her fans” when she dates? It’s because the idol fantasy of her acting as a pseudo-girlfriend is shattered and the idol is no longer bound equally to all of her fans. It’s a similar concept to how nuns aren’t allowed to date because they’re “married to God”.

This very fan perception is why idols in 48/46 are given different punishments depending on who breaks the no-dating rule. People support an idol based on whomever they find the most appealing, and all of these appeal types are different. If someone like Watanabe Miyuki, who’s known for being flirty and salacious, gets into a dating scandal, it’s very different than if Matsumura Sayuri gets into a dating scandal, because fans view Milky differently than they do Sayurin. Idols being allowed to outright date their fans runs against so much of what makes an idol today, I’m not even sure people would still call them idols.

 

That’s just what I think about these topics. My ask.fm account is available for your questions, but I’ll elaborate more on them using this article series. Did I miss or overlook something important in these answers? Do you disagree with any of the points I brought up here? Let me know in the comments!

About NSK

New School Kaidan is a community-focused website for the Japanese idol industry international fan base. Between podcasts, broadcasts, events, and analytic articles, New School Kaidan aims to bring an understanding of idol culture to the masses.

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One comment

  1. I liked your take on the love ban rule. I think a lot of international fans, me included, are quite forgiving if Idols dated, but it depends on what kind of fan you are and your Oshimen. There are many types of fans. Some fans are girls, fathers, “big brother” types or people who view AKB48 and it’s girls not as love interests or romantic fantasies but more as a supportive role that you want to see your favorite girl or group grow and shine in a friendly capacity. For some there is a mixture of the two. There is no doubt that a scandal can really hurt an idol like Miyuki because, as you mentioned, her flirty style and behavior really brings in those romantic kind of fans, while i’d wager Sashihara is an example where her fans were more diverse in type, as she was known for being incredible at variety, personality etc.

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