Let’s Talk About “Art-Idols”

One of the more enjoyable and exciting things in the bold new world of non-traditional idols is the continuing openness of personal self-expression nurtured into the performers. While there’s always been a creative streak within the scene even in it’s more “commercial” days, I really started to take notice of this new emergence of experimentation with the debut of Maison book girl in 2014…

Those first press photos of Koshouji Megumi’s post-BiS group, with their modernist fashion style and aesthetic, seized my attention immediately, and I’ve never gotten that impression out of my mind since. With MBG and other bold new groups taking the stage, the “alt” prefix started being applied to this emerging trend, but to me, I saw their efforts as being more about personal expression and a desire to take idol from a product market into high art. To this day, I refer to Maison book girl as an art project, and their genre as being “Art-Idol.” 

The parallel worlds of idol and art has been a topic percolating in my head for some time, and recently I’ve been pleased to see it continue to build a foundation and following. For me, the ultimate culmination of this exists in the form of TRASH-UP!! Records, a label that I’ve been a die-hard follower of since the day I discovered one of my absolute favorite groups, Avandoned. TRASH-UP!! is more than a music label, it’s also a graphic design studio, a film production house, a magazine publisher, and an organizer of happenings that showcase the connection between art and idols. It seems only inevitable that they’d finally curate their own art show…

Opening Sept. 30 and running until Oct. 22, “Idol and Art” will bring these two things together in a gallery setting. Among the featured artists will be Beni and Kotao of Avandoned, Sari from NECRONOMIDOL, Ruan of Cinema and boy CQ, members of Dots and SAKA SAMA, and many more, all displaying their artworks and the creative spirit that goes beyond their music. This show will be raising the bar for the new wave of idols and adds another argument to why idols deserve to be viewed as artists more so than commercially produced products.

This isn’t the only avenue where idols are exploring their artistic sensibilities. As idols take more control over their own careers and destiny, they continue to use their concerts and social media to connect art to their audience. Avandoned have achieved some highly deserved praise for their absolutely gorgeous cheki photos, which are essentially miniature collectible works. Beni and Kotao are also constantly making clever and quirky short-run t-shirts, which they personally silk-screen. Kotao herself is the daughter of a manga artist, and an exceptional painter and multi-media artist in her own right, while Beni of course is clearly enjoying her passion for zine-making, a hobby that I understand the rewards of personally.

Avandoned’s lovely cheki photos, along with their hand-made merch and a mini-zine from Beni…

Necroma’s Sari is also a zine-maker and artist, and makes lovely individually crafted items that place the joy of art-collection into the hands of fans worldwide. Another prominent idol-artist is Yurumerumo’s media guru Younapi, with her adorably playful artwork that she sells at pop-up shows and events. And don’t overlook her fellow YLMM! member, Kechon, who’s got a delightful style all her own!

Some examples of Sari’s delightful art endeavors…

On the left: Younapi appearing at one of her gallery happenings, and showing some recent work. On the right: A couple of of Kechon’s terrific drawings…

Another artist is every sense of the world is the always-amazing Hachigatsu-chan, aka Ms. August of Oyasumi Hologram, who has participated in art happenings that cross over from painting into performance art. This connection of visual expression serves to enhance the musical experience these idols work so hard to bring us.

Ms. August in her other element.

And all this art stuff isn’t contained to the exploration of tangible media. Tentenko’s consistent output of sound collage and experimental MVs remind us of the prolific heyday of Dadaism, along with the wondrous dot-chan’s we love so much, who also work in that tradition. And while we’re at it, the infamous Hanako-san is, at her heart, a performance artist with her chaotic performances and character persona. Plus she’s a nifty doodler and merch-fabricator as well.  Meanwhile, the aforementioned Cinema and Boy CQ is a fascinating blend of music, fashion and filmmaking that is slowly getting recognized as an even fresher reappraisal of what an idol group can be.

There are of course other mediums and methods that unite the idol world with the art world. Minna no Kodomochan’s signage no doubt drew curious folks to check them out, and then stick around when they realized the quality of their music. Kika of BiS has constantly rotating facepaint schemes that are as memorable as Sari’s iconic make-up and fashion sense. And speaking of Necroma, the recent MV for “DAWNSLAYER” adds deeper symbolism to their music by prominently featuring Angolo Branzino’s classical masterpiece “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” within the video’s story. (I never knew my art history classes would one day benefit my interpretations of Japanese idol music…)

Rei’s(?) foot stepping onto the face of Cupid: Commence overanalyzing!

Thinking about it, I know that I’ve left out some other excellent examples of art-idol crossovers, so I would greatly enjoy reading any comments that can expand on this, so please feel free to share your observations and thoughts on this subject. (In the near future, I’d like to follow this article up with an exploration of idol fan-art.)

And here’s my exit question: Do you art-minded readers ever connect idols with art movements? Dots = Dada? BiS = Brutalism? Billie Idle = Pop Art? See what I mean? Feel free to comment, or perhaps even post them as #artidolmovements and let me know!!!

Once again, TRASH-UP!! Records show “Idol And Art” runs from Sept. 30 until Oct. 22 at the Mograg Gallery in Tokyo. If anyone happens to go, I’d love to hear about it!

UPDATE! Since this piece was published, the “Idol and Art” show now includes both Younapi and Kechon  among the artists! Plus Risa Satosaki has been added! Something great has gotten even greater….

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About “Art-Idols”

  1. Nice one.

    We don’t talk about them here because the music doesn’t fit but the first thing that comes to my mind when you say art-idol is art/rave duo Namakopuri. Both members are cosplayers but Namaco (purple hair) is an artist and animator, making many of their MVs herself.


    Their debut album was even called Art no Kamisama (God of Art).

    • I’m not familiar with Namakopuri so i just clicked that link with no preconceptions…. and it WAS GREAT!!! I loved that and will be looking them up for sure. Great visuals as well!

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