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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3 comments

  1. sorry, have to disagree with you on some points you mentioned.
    First, that you stated AKB isn’t cared about by much of the Japanese public and that their welcome is worn out. I read everything you post, but this is by far the most insane and literally the most ridiculous thing you’ve probably ever written that I have read.
    First of all, unless you can point to some survey taken by the whole of Japanese population, please allow me to ask how on Earth did you even dream up of a statement like that? Also, have you been to Japan recently? I have, and I can tell you that after 9 years, it’s STILL impossible to get into the AKB cafe on a weekend without waiting in an enormous line! Not to mention this past summer they filled up a few stadiums completely for some AKB-event that I’m sure you’re familiar with (HINT: YUKO’S GRADUATION). KOUHAKU was full of ALL AKB GROUPS, and you can’t even walk five feet out of the main terminal at Narita airport without seeing AKB everywhere. Now, I realize none of these things doesn’t mean AKB is in the public spotlight, but consider this: If they weren’t selling so much or were so disliked by the public that nobody cared for them, then how are they EVERYWHERE IN JAPAN AND STILL ATTRACT SOLD OUT CROWDS DAILY!!!????
    I think they are becoming more relevant, if anything else. Even on a world basis. Take me, for instance. I only have been following AKB for the past three years, but I’m glued to my computer waiting for subbed vids to come out and everytime I visit Japan, which is often, I make it a point to trek to the AKB CAFE and the theatres or any events they have. If so many people don’t care about AKB, I find it strange that they are on a billion advertisements, billboards, and tv shows. I think what people don’t realize is that if the media push AKB keeps getting wasn’t translating into sales, they wouldn’t keep getting that media push. And because they are SO Pushed by their management into everyone’s faces in Japan, that means a good deal of Japanese must be buying into it. Or else you wouldn’t see them anywhere and after nine years, I would think people if they got “sick of AKB48,” would’ve let AKB’s management know this by not supporting them or selling out baseball stadiums anytime AKB decides to do their events there.
    I just really, really think all the doomsday talk I’ve been hearing since I first stepped into the AKBfandom three years ago needs to stop. They will be around and relevant for years to come because they put a BILLION dollars into Japan’s economy last year. They’ve reached a corporate level, and yes, I do think they need to keep being fresh and doing new creative things, but also they can continue to push out their brand of products that everyone knows and loves and not necessarily do anything different because there are people like me who will buy whatever they put out just because it’s AKB48. I mean, think of it like those who fall into the cult of APPLE. I know people who will literally buy EVERYTHING APPLE puts out just because it’s made by APPLE. So in other words, the brand effect of AKB48 isn’t ever going to go away unless something really horrible happens amongst their ranks, like a mass suicide of one of the groups, or AKI-P or somebody in the higher management systems gets accused of raping one of the girls, or something heinous like this. I mean, two girls from AKB got stabbed and all it did was Slow them down a few weeks. If anything, it only served to increase their popularity by having people talk about them more and become interested in them further, even if it was for a negative reason. I could say the same about Minami’s shaved head scandal, which nowadays in AKB is something that is often the butt of a Mechaike joke that gets everyone laughing and we all see how well Minami has done since then.
    The point I’m trying to make by writing all of this is to let you know that I strongly believe based on things I’ve seen in Japan personally and also people I know in Japan personally that it’s just not true that AKB isn’t something the general public cares about. I think if anything the general public embraces AKB as part of their culture, because that is exactly what AKB has become in Japan… a culture for young girls who dream of being on the big stage and then get the chance to do it by joining the ranks of AKB. That means you have parents ALL OVER JAPAN who hear their daughters tell them they want to be in AKB and by default, they are going to, in most cases, support their daughter’s dreams of doing just that. I know the parents of one girl personally who this happened to and their daughter’s now in the Kenkyuusei ranks. Guess who is now HUGE AKB fans as a result?
    Also, and I won’t go on and on about this point but I feel it must be brought up, I think that SKE is definitely hurting from so many changes and a lack of a stage in three years, but I also feel it’s important to bring up that the single biggest reason that SKE hasn’t done so well is because they’ve NEVER had a Maeda Atsuko. I mean, the Matsuis have all been lended out so much that they don’t feel like they were ever in the race to become a Maeda for SKE. Maybe Jurina but she’s all over the map now doing so many things with other groups. You never seen Maeda get loaned out to SKE or the other groups though. And HKT was pretty lost until management decided to send Sasshi down there, and now they are my favorite group out of all the groups. I think perhaps that is what management was thinking when they decided to bring in Saechan to SKE but that hasn’t turned out exactly the way they expected. NMB has Sayanee who COULD be the next Maeda, but she’s too reserved and too serious to have people I think attach themselves to her just yet, or perhaps never. And Milky screwed up any chance of being a Maeda because of her scandal. Plus I don’t think she’s well liked by other members… just watch the end of the Janken tournament to see what I mean there (nobody seemed to care about her win and she was alone on that stage for some time). I won’t go into the other groups like Jakarta or Shanghai because they operate in their own worlds and are doing rather well it would seem. But again, there is a vacuum for a huge face to put onto SKE. If they could find somebody who really, really captures Japan’s wonder like Maeda did then SKE would vault itself to the top of all the AKB fandom, but they wasted their chance for this by loaning out the Matsuis so much. I would be interested to know who you might think could be the next Maeda. I can honestly say right now there isn’t a single girl I see that Maeda quality in out of all the girls in SKE. Or any of the other groups, for that matter.
    But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I think we as fans just need to stop saying things like AKB isn’t relevant or important and instead, keep pushing for more fans to discover them and share their amazing songs and videos and idol power with everyone. I think we all need to stand united for the girls now, especially as they head into a new direction, and we need to keep hoping and discussing about the directions AKB should strive to head into, and not moan and complain or whine about how great AKB USED to be. They are STILL amazing and fresh and very, very much important to many people, not just in Japan, but worldwide.

  2. just release good songs? like i hardly ever bother to visit ak/sk/nmb youtube channels anymore. The smaller and indie groups are coming out with cooler stuff.

  3. Mike Stephenson

    You mention the demise of Team K and SKE and there is one common factor in both and that is Akip’s one in ten years idol namely Jurina. Rena said she’s not and never has been double centre and is sick of being number two in SKE and it’s fairly obvious she’ll be leaving soon another nail in SKE’s coffin. J pushed as a dancer, sorry she is an average dancer in SKE and not in the same league as Beeps members especially Anna and Yukiko, as for singing she is on a level at or below Mio from HKT or Natsumin from AKB in other words bloody awful and her acting well average, mundane best describes it. He also said Meru was the next Jurina and now the poor girl is slipping down the pecking order in HKT and I love Meru she is refreshing. How could Akip say from an audition that Jurina was so great it beggars belief and now of course he’s stuck with her. SKE will only move on when J is shipped off to AKB and SKE’s real talent is allowed to develop. However, it is not all down to the J effect, moving Yuasa to AKB upset the SKE members they did’t call him Papa Yuasa for nothing and even when he left SKE members searched him out at concerts talking to him and taking photos. Then we had the Sae effect she had already turned down a kennin in AKB declaring she was SNH only not a bright thing to have said and then accepting a kennin to SKE, many fans still believe that is why SKE’s leader Nishnishi left and hold it against Sae as she was the glue that held SKE together. On pure talent alone AKB’s centre should be and have been Yukurin she can sing and dance, she looks after younger members and is very funny. Secondly there is only one person with the ability, common sense and brains to be General Manger and that is Sashi, love her or hate her she has amazing ability and is hugely driven. Now something about foreign fans. Many years ago AKB took part in the Japanese Expo in Paris and were hugely derided by the foreign press. On returning to Japan Akip was asked about the reaction to AKB in the foreign press and he said it was not a problem because AKB was a Japanese group made for the people of Japan not foreigners so no matter how much international fans beat their gums moaning or complaining it’s like water off a ducks back too AKS we Geijin are totally irrelevant even to the extent that they don’t count overseas sales of cd’s when compiling the weekly charts. At one time Akip and TGSK used to listen to Japanese fans and tailoring AKB around the fans suggestions but apart from Sousenkyo that has all ended as AKB Groups have become too big, maybe the mutterings coming out from SKE about splitting away from AKB may become a reality. NMB are doing very well not being part of AKS. Yoshimoto have kept the same manager, the same competent leader and center from day one and are by all accounts the pride of Osaka. Now Derek Vasconi talks about the relevance of AKB in Japan, sales are hovering about the one million mark and if you work on people buying 2 types at least that’s 500,000 individual sales out of a population of 173 million not exactly stellar but better than other Idol groups. I’ve watched AKB’s struggle from the beginning courtesy of a Japanese student who lived in my house and she was an idol fan and yes after a couple of years they became good and their variety shows like Shukan were hilarious especially when they sent Paruru off to train with the Korean commando’s and she threw a strop.

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