Idol Hands Vol. 4

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Welcome back to Idol Hands! In this installment, I’ll be discussing questions about the current state of SKE48, AKB’s senbatsu roster, and other happenings of the 48 idol world. Let’s take a look and find out more!

AKB’s new generation won’t be as popular as their predecessors at all. What makes an idol successful?

It’s no secret that AKB’s new generation of idols are less popular than the original generations, but that has little to with whether or not they’re “worse” idols than their predecessors. After being around for over 9 years, much of AKB’s novelty is gone, and they’ve worn out their welcome with the general public. They’re not the next big thing anymore, and a lot of Japanese people don’t even care very much about AKB to begin with. For better or worse, people will judge an idol at first glance based on the name of the group she belongs to. However, an idol’s success is nevertheless defined by her fans.

The existence of people willing to support an idol with all their might regardless of her talents is what makes an idol an idol, and that loyalty is what separates AKB from being just a very large girl group. For an idol to be successful, they have to make people want to support them. The easiest and most reliable way to do this is by pushing clean-cut idols with wide appeal, such as Watanabe Mayu or Miyawaki Sakura, because idols who can appeal to many different people are likely to have many different fans. There are many factors that influence an idol’s success, such as management pushes, mass media exposure, and intense fan support, but it’s ultimately all about appeal. An idol who has a few fans that really love her and an idol who has a lot of fans that somewhat like her are both successful, because they’ve both attracted people who will give them support.

 

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Why isn’t Watanabe Miyuki in senbatsu for “Green Flash”?

Despite Watanabe Miyuki’s popularity and recent solo debut, AKB senbatsu is a very competitive environment, and her scandal last year damaged her popularity just enough to remove her from consideration. To put into perspective how intense AKB senbatsu is, this is a list of senbatsu changes that have happened over the past year. Singles with a senbatsu over 16 members still have a top 16, which are usually known as “media senbatsu”.

“Mae Shika Mukanee”

IN: Kojima Mako, Suda Akari

OUT: Ota Aika, Iriyama Anna

“Labrador Retriever”

IN: Kizaki Yuria, Iriyama Anna

OUT: Oshima Yuko, Kojima Mako

“Kokoro no Placard” (This single’s senbatsu is decided by fans, not by management)

IN: Ikoma Rina, Miyazawa Sae, Shibata Aya, Miyawaki Sakura

OUT: Watanabe Miyuki, Minegishi Minami, Kizaki Yuria, Iriyama Anna

“Kibouteki Refrain”

IN: Kizaki Yuria, Iriyama Anna

OUT: Shibata Aya, Miyazawa Sae

“Green Flash”

IN: Kojima Mako

OUT: Suda Akari

As you can see, there’s not much room to fiddle with the roster, and there’s also very limited room for entry. Recently, AKB management has shifted towards trying to push more new generation AKB idols for senbatsu singles and they’ve been removing popular sister group members in exchange. Iriyama Anna, Kizaki Yuria, and Kojima Mako might not be the absolute most popular idols in 48G, but management needs to get them to a place where they can eventually reach the top. These idols’ positions come at the expense of the “least most popular” members from other sister groups, like Suda Akari and Watanabe Miyuki, since they’re still very well-known in their respective 48 groups and it’s to be expected that AKB idols would be pushed on an AKB single. Watanabe Miyuki might return to senbatsu for the 2015 elections, but a management-approved decision likely won’t happen without a big push from fans.

 

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What’s happening with SKE48? Why have they had so many graduations recently? If you were SKE management, how would you manage SKE amongst all of this?

SKE48 is currently going through hard times, and it’s because of a few different reasons. Many idols are leaving SKE because they feel like their hard work isn’t going to be rewarded. Management hasn’t been able to land idols very much outside work, so idols who haven’t been pushed or promoted feel like they’re being suffocated inside the group as well. On top of that, SKE also has the highest average member age of all the 48 groups, so graduations are going to naturally be more common there than in the other groups. When idols graduate because they feel as if their position in the group is hopeless, and fans feel as if they’re waging an uphill battle against management, it can easily create an atmosphere of despair.

The other reason SKE is in a tough position right now is because of morale. After two shuffles and the addition of several controversial kennin members, the structure of the group and senbatsu has become very different than what it used to be, and not necessarily for the better. SKE’s sales have been in nonstop decline for almost 2 years now, and management’s attempts to boost CD sales by giving senbatsu positions to popular sister group members such as Watanabe Miyuki and Yamada Nana bring anger to SKE fans who feel as if those members are taking up space that could potentially be used to focus on developing native SKE idols. Appointing Miyazawa Sae, an idol who has previously never been involved with SKE, to “leader” of Team S is also certainly going to cause friction in the group.

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SKE48’s CD sales over time. Note that 12gatsu no Kangaroo, their 16th single, has only come out recently and thus has lower relative total sales compared to the other singles.

At this point, SKE’s best option is to forge onward and completely rebuild themselves. That’s already a difficult task, but it’s made tougher by the fact that SKE is already an established group, so they have few aspects of novelty to drum up public interest besides new idols to push. AKB can continue to stay fresh through projects such as Baito AKB and Team 8, but it’s hard for a sister group to recover momentum once they’ve lost it. If SKE wants a second chance at glory, they’ll have to really rely on pushing new girls to inspire fan support. The best way to do this is through introducing new idols, and the results of SKE’s 7th generation auditions and the upcoming 2nd Draft Kaigi will be vital in determining SKE’s success going forward. The idols pushed as SKE’s new generation, such as Kitagawa Ryoha and Miyamae Ami, are potentially as important to SKE’s future as Kojima Mako and Mukaichi Mion are to AKB’s future.

It’s also very important that SKE management give idols more opportunities to grow and develop. All three of SKE’s teams have performed “Te wo Tsunaginara”, SKE’s first original stage, at some point in their history. A new stage would give the theater idols an opportunity to bond over something special, work towards something new and exciting, and would also revitalize fan interest in the theater and in the teams. SKE hasn’t had an original stage in over 3 and a half years, and idols consigned to theater performances of songs already performed by other groups can lead to feelings of interchangeability and a lessened sense of self-worth.

There will always be idols in the back row of the lineup and rarely given time under the spotlight, but management needs to reach out and ensure that these idols have chances to spread their wings elsewhere. SKE needs more TV shows, radio programs, and local lives that can showcase the appeal of lesser-known idols and give them opportunities to develop their talents. An SKE equivalent to Tentoumu Chu!, Namba Teppoudai Sono or Blueberry Pie, such as a reformed Selection 10, would also be a great way to promote the new generation and attract interest.

If hope can exist in SKE, and idols can feel as if their hard work will definitely be rewarded one day, that hope becomes what moves idols to keep going. Fans can also be one of the biggest sources of an idol’s hope. One of the key ways to solve SKE’s problems is through fan support, because it can become a huge positive influence on the mood of a group and it’s the only way to fix a lot of SKE’s problems. If management can be convinced of SKE’s power, then they won’t feel the need to load up on high-profile transfers and will let the sales numbers speak for themselves.

SKE’s problems won’t be solved overnight, or even by the next single, but they do have the power to fix their situation. All that’s needed is hope and effort, on everyone’s part.

 

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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