Japanese anti-idol...idol groups?


I know nothing about Japanese music and I really don’t have a taste for the treble, but I stumbled across this explainer and I’m fascinated.

Drop some knowledge!


thank you [picks the knowledge up]

Tho I wonder if this movement could really be called “anti-idol” since the basic framework is still operating as expected: a large number of people working as multiple subgroups being outfitted to work multiple venues and being marketed as certain “types” of people. I wouldn’t say it’s inherently deconstructing the genre conventions.

Rather it’s just making more products to appeal to wider demographics. And that’s not inherently bad, creating wider demographics leads to a great deal of creativity. But it’s certainly not turning idol culture on its head.


yeah i feel like referring to babymetal as anti-idol is like… misunderstanding how pop music functions? like i’ve also always thought the term “anti-pop” isnt a good descriptor of what’s happening there. is seeking to subvert a genre about moving away from the genre, or stretching it laterally and showing its true limitless potential? also specifically using morning musume as an example of a prototypical idol group is extremely silly considering that group’s history


So do y’all feel like anything at all is being subverted with groups like BiS?
I feel what you are saying, the method of production is far more substantial than the particular aesthetic.


I wouldn’t say necessarily that nothing is being subverted, I mean there is a clear aesthetic subversion with groups like BiS, babydoll etc.

But the same way art noveau isn’t called anti-art, anti-idol isn’t really … anti idol pop. It’s still trying to make a consumable product through a manufactured, market driven image and brand (though it is playing with genre and convention in an interesting way). I would simply say that anti-idol is a new style of idol pop, rather than a deliberate deconstruction. A full deconstruction and antitheses of this genre can only exist outside the production structure that currently exists.

(like I feel like a true “anti-idol” group would be some new wave performance art collective who are utterly unidentifable and interchangable who dance choreographed routines to like… randomly assembled haikus or some shit in a weird happenings style flash mob. Not metal bands who operate in pretty much the same way as regular idol groups.)


Idol as a genre has always seemed like it was born to, and continues to be 95% about marketing so if you’re making something as a mass commercial product I’m not really sure it can be called anti the thing that it just is.


Even if it doesn’t fit the “antithesis” or opposite of Idol groups, I do think this fulfils the colloquial term of “Anti-X” as being almost identical (even to doing the same actions) but under a distinct philosophical difference. An “Anti-Hero” often acts identically to the story’s hero but under the goal of self-interest. The “Anti-Establishment” often follows a hierarchy (and might even follow the same governmental system) but disagrees on ethics. Here the “Anti-Idol” groups follow the same commercial feeder-model and starlet-focus, but disagree on the idea of purity indicative of the genre.


Mmm true. I’m maybe coming at this from the standpoint of art history too much, where there is movements that deconstruct every aspect of “traditional” art.

But I still feel as though the fact that anti-idol is mostly based on branding and marketing kind of excludes it from the term “anti-” it’s not trying to go against the core of the model. They just take the existing model and then make it edgy. And sure that’s true of a lot of anti-heroes as well, but I also don’t think merely “acting in self interest” describes the subversive aspect of anti-heroes enough (i can’t speak to anti-establishment b/c I don’t know enough about it). A lot of anti-heroes simply lack traditional heroic traits, they might be jealous of other people’s success, they might be lucky, buffoonish, manipulative, ruthless, ordinary, or they might act in self-interest. Anti-heroes are about contrasting existing heroes in the work or other works, and they can do it multiple ways.

Anti-idol explores genre and purity, sure. But other than that I don’t really see how they contrast existing idol groups beyond that, and due to market demand I’m pretty sure they can’t.

But that’s strictly my personal feelings on it. I agree that the term could fit, I just don’t think it does personally.


my friend runs a very very good radio show about the history of idols and it goes very in-depth with the research. i linked them the anti-idol video and they thought it was good enough to warrant a response to on the next episode of the radio show! that’ll be airing today at 7PM CST: http://www.kvrx.org/schedule/programs/21834


so BiS coined the term “anti-idol” and they’re one of the only groups that i think could really lay claim to it due to their origin being non-industry and them being like, a proper band that was self-formed and to some extent self-operated. obviously they’re on a label and have producers and such but i think one of the key things that determines what is or isnt “idol” to begin with is how they were formed and why they were formed.

artists like BiS and Jun Togawa i think can safely be called something like “anti-idol” because their intent as artists is to be that. but to extend that term to deliberately marketed idol groups like Babymetal is inaccurate because it IS an idol group that was scouted by the industry and not formed by the members, being marketed as one by the same corporations that market conventional idol groups. it’s just a natural extension of the existing industry and when you don’t analyze the monetization sides of these things you miss out on obvious categories like that, which i think is the video’s biggest fault


I’m not sure exactly how this fits into the broader framework, but as far as I can tell Especia is sort of an ex-idol group?

Their older stuff had a standout aesthetic, but the marketing is still clearly there, like in No. 1 Sweeper:

Big group (by American pop standards), lot of attractive members, even if the choreography isn’t involved and there aren’t 9 outfit changes.

But now the group is down to just three artists, and their more recent music videos are pretty spare and don’t have any of your standard Idol elements.

Unfortunately I can’t really do much beyond speculate as to what happened since there’s not a ton of press and almost nothing in English.


Ah, thank you for articulating what I was struggling with before! I agree 100%.anti-idol has to be a deliberate artistic choice and comes a lot down to how the group is formed and how it operates in the industry.


the radio show is going live in about 10 minutes! be sure to check it out if you can: https://twitter.com/idolprofessor/status/887806874363547649


I recorded it in case anyone is upset that they missed it. Message me if you want the audio file.


all the past episodes have been recorded as well and they will be uploaded at some point! i will be sure to link it here when it happens


Apologies for the bump, but I know what happened to Especia.

Sometime late in 2015, management decided they wanted to move the band from Osaka to Tokyo. All the members kind of reassessed what they wanted to do with their lives, and three members decided it was time to move on for various reasons. All of this only got announced in early 2016, just before the release of CARTA. That left just two members, Haruka and Erika, and a lot of retooling to do. It seems like the end result was something that tried to look and feel more “adult,” dialing back on the costumes/aesthetic and switching entirely to English lyrics. Mia came on as the third member and they put out a few singles before this last incarnation disbanded for good.

Lots of insight into the end of Especia’s most popular incarnation comes from this interview with Haruka after the graduation announcement and graduation interviews with Chihiro and Monari. (I don’t really know why Chika’s isn’t on the site, I could’ve sworn I read it at some point.)


Thanks, that’s pretty interesting!

I’m also not well versed on the genre it seems. What’s “graduation” mean in this context? Members striking out on their own?


Basically a retirement from the group, some go solo while others go to other fields.


essentially it means “retiring from the group” but its definitely used as a euphemism for “you’re too old/not profitable enough so we’re gonna fire you from the group now.” the most popular and long-lasting idol groups tend to have a very well-greased revolving door for new talent to swoop in whenever someone turns 23 or so


Ah. That sounds pretty distasteful for a few reasons. Especially if it’s even sort of tied to reaching a certain age.

I kind of thought the groups were sort of viewed as talent mills like Disney or Nickelodeon and you were sort of handed your creative freedom more than you were aged out.