Phase II Prep: Who’s Viable

It’s been a little while since I’ve referenced Phase II and made a bunch of mouth-off-shooting promises about it, but some things happened and damn it all, I only have so much time around here. But we are getting closer to being able to try out a few things, and, with the Homicidols Census results being what they were, our options are actually pretty wide open.

So. You may have seen that Maison Book Girl is in Canada:

You may also wonder why I don’t do anything with MBG on here, and the answer is a good one; ask me later

That’s great for Maison Book Girl; usually, idols need to be pretty widely popular among J-music people (or popular, period), or attachable to somebody else’s tour, to be able to visit North America. Aiming for Western audiences takes investment that, with evidence of support often lacking, is difficult to reckon in an industry with as narrow of margins as idol.

But that’s always been the point of this here website, actively connecting artists with new fans by making use of the fact that there actually are a lot of us, and we can make a difference if we’re able to work together. I’m weighing what you might call strategic considerations, how and where would be the best to connect, and there’s always the question of Who.

I don’t know if trying to make it work with one particular test case or a small group or groups across the board or what is the right best first look, but I do know that we need to have some kind of consensus around the best candidates to try to promote more widely than our community.

A few of you are familiar with my line of questioning on this because I’ve pinged you for opinions at different times. It’s a simple question: Out of this whole alt-/heavy-idol universe, out of the idols that we sort of collectively find interesting, who has the most viability among Westerners?

A few points on methodology before the poll:

  • I realize that “the West” is really big and heterogenous; just bear with me
  • The criteria for selection for this list were general popularity on the site and (less scientifically) in other online community spaces, like Facebook
  • To have an even 10, I applied a little of my own personal taste to the question
  • But because I don’t want this to be about me, there’s an option to select something that you personally feel is a better option than what’s presented, and that’ll count the same as anything else
  • You can only select once per submission, but I encourage everybody to consider all angles, which may mean having a short list; if that’s the case, just stick it in the comments
  • Keep in mind that not only will any idol’s point of entry to Western audiences will be within a particular scene or niche, but they might not be able to leave that — like, a good argument could be made that, their diverse fan base aside, Babymetal is still just a metal thing
  • This poll isn’t going to be a solo decider of anything; it’s for input as much as anything, so please do share your thoughts
  • Consider all aspects of an idol or group when selection. The music has to be first and foremost, but how they perform, present themselves, behave, etc.

If you have questions, just go ahead and ask. I’ll leave this up for a few days.

33 thoughts on “Phase II Prep: Who’s Viable

  1. I hate to be a “Debbie Downer” but I don’t believe that any of the groups on your list could become viable in the West. I wouldn’t even consider most of them to be viable in Japan.

        • That’s fair. The point is:

          Phase I: We all get better connected.
          Phase II: We start to connect other people with idols.
          Phase III (super ambitious): Bridge the gaps of distance; create Western markets for idols.

          It’s not an overnight thing, and it’s not an easy thing, and it’s not a thing that everybody’s going to want to do. And that’s fine. Phase I happened because people were/have been willing to grind and pretty much obsess; it took about eight months, and it’ll probably live forever in a way as more people become fans and then advocates. Phase II? It hasn’t even actually started yet, and it’ll last for a very long time, and only to the extent that people want to participate. So maybe it’s all just a bunch of wankery! No big deal.

          • Thank you for the explanation. The main issue I see with promoting idols to a mainstream audience in the West is that the concept of “idol” is pretty foreign in itself, for a variety of reasons. So you would need to promote them as “normal” pop or rock singers instead, which brings up two issues the others have already written about: 1. Idols need a live band! 2. Idols tend to be not-so-good singers!

  2. On the subject of groups with potential in the West, I more or less look at three loosely-held “x-factors” if you will….

    Quality of music
    Viralbility (Which is a nicer way to say “novelty appeal”.)

    Babymetal nailed all three factors, and their management was smart enough to level off the “novelty” enough to enable them to be held up as a legit metal band. I don’t really think anybody is going to ever do it as successfully as they did, but I also don’t think they really need to. I know the Maniac and I have discussed this before, and I feel a lot of groups could do quite well with modest goals and touring smaller venues. Basically, by coming to the West as touring rock bands rather than giant pop stars.

    There have always been Japanese punk bands that come here almost annually and pack clubs and sell out of their merch. A group like Dempagumi Inc. never had any interest in doing small potatoes gigs, but Necronomidiol could certainly pull it off and do very very well at it. It’s really just a matter of it being worth the considerable expense and visa hassles, and ultimately, if these acts really want to attempt this kind of crossover. This is why Homicidol’s project and fan networking is a crucial factor. The only realistic chance of any of this happening lies in Western fans being able to establish a highly visible and networked audience that clearly wants to come to see these groups, and have demonstrated that they will spend the $$$.

    I think there is an awareness manifesting itself in idol management that some of these groups have struck a chord with Western fans that is stronger now than it has been previously. You see more attempts in social media to reach out to those of us over here. Realistically, most of these groups we talk about will never cross over, but I think there could be more possibilities than we realized.

    • ” Basically, by coming to the West as touring rock bands rather than giant pop stars.”

      I think this is the crux of the matter – I really doubt any group could make it in any appreciable way in the West unless they have a live touring band. Despite initially seeming like a novelty Babymetal gained respect in the West because they have an incredibly tight and talented live band and Suu has a great singing voice live.

      Compare that to the usual idol band – singing along to backing tracks. And the quality of the singing usually isn’t great, you even get people like BiSH using vocals in the backing track to cover up their deficiencies. This kind of setup would never fly in the West.

      On the other hand the cost of a touring band is prohibitive for idol groups, most of whom are barely scraping by as it is. It’s a catch 22 situation for them really that confines them to certain Eastern markets and the occasional anime convention in the West.

      I really enjoyed it when YMM & Maison Book Girl played with a live band, shame BiS never got round to it.

      • I agree. When I first got into Babymetal they played with the Kami Band very rarely. And I was always way more pumped seeing their live performances with them, rather than without them. It probably would have to be a convention or tacked on with another band. I’ve seen a few Japanese hardcore bands play with other hardcore bands here but that’s a smaller scene.

        Not gonna lie, would love to see BiSH or BIS with a backing band, or on Warped Tour. haha. Maybe next time HjioKaidan comes around they can take BiSH like they took Avandoned. 😀

    • You used one word in particular, and I think it’s really at the heart of it all — virability. It’s not incidental that Babymetal was still not much bigger than BiS when they were both heading toward Budokan at roughly the same time. “Gimme Chocolate!!” took off in the West and it’s been all uphill since (I won’t venture a guess as to whether the song had the same impact in Japan, as the timing may have only be coincidental).

      The safest strategy is to do the route that many bands have followed, and become a touring or festival mainstay with support within a scene — not common, but common enough — and play for a slow burn, which is basically anathema to idols, but winning over the support of the Cool Kids is a good way to create some buzz and attract others.

      But have a video go viral? That’s a huge advantage. It doesn’t have to result in your being the hottest thing within a particular scene; Ladybaby had literally one song when they were booking shows in Europe and the United States (granted, that was the point, but still).

  3. So anyway, I typed that long winded bunch of stuff but never addressed the poll… 😀

    BiSH will eventually play a show in the West. I’m certain of it. And not just because the girls want it, but I bet that Watanabe thinks about it quite a bit. (If anything, his ego wants it to happen.) It could take place in France well before the USA. (Jpop seems to be pretty big in France I’ve observed. A number of groups play take their first Western steps there.) It may as early as next year.

    Necronomidol will never be Babymetal sized, but a lot of Babymetal fans will love them, and people looking for something “more intense” than BM will mark-out for them. Also Goth and Darkwave fans will totally embrace them. Plus they have that Ricky guy managing them. A wider, but still “underground” potential is there.

    And the craziest wildcard of all: HANAKO-SAN. I keep saying that once non-Jpop casuals start sharing her live videos, she will go viral just like Sadako in The Ring. Looking around twitter and FB, people LOVE this girl. Really love her. She gets almost as much attention as BiSH. Yes, she basically screams “novelty act”, but if she keeps performing with a live band more often, people will pay attention to her. I never in a million years though Babymetal would move beyond being a “weird Japan” viral meme, but they did it. And while Hanako-san will never be that huge, she could sure as pack a club here. She could very easily be more popular outside of Japan than in her own country.

    • Have you recently attended one of Hanako-san’s live events? Or has anyone else here for that matter? I couldn’t be bothered to attend one last spring (too many idols, not enough time) but I’m curious how big (or small) of an audience she actually draws.

  4. Frankly i think people need to stop championing and overhyping mediocre acts and the standard and quality of these groups needs to go way up before any substantial amount of people, inside or outside of Japan, will give a shit about this “scene”.

    I have thought about writing a longer thing about this(and i still might) but i will basically sum it up like this:

    “Alternative” idol groups are more interested in being “alternative” idols and not interested enough in being an alternative TO idols.
    It’s mostly the same shit just ran through “edgy” filter and some distorted guitars thrown on top.

    Possibilities of groups that are exceptional are not impossible but honestly i think if we ever get something like “a new BABYMETAL” it’s not going to come from the “alternative” idol “scene” but from the Band scene.

  5. It’s (mostly) a great list but as has been said, I can’t see any of them being popular in the west. I’m the fool who wrote in Neve Slide Down and I’m almost certainly wrong and it’s way too early to tell but I can just about imagine a universe where they can attract a sizeable cult following in the West, though more at Shonen Knife levels than Babymetal’s. They have to be made to stop smiling and being all kawaii on their twitter though.

  6. Being from Brazil, it doesn’t actually make any difference (at least in the terms we have today). Being honest, it makes me cringe when someone (including idols themselves) says an idol group is going on a “world tour”. Idols will only perform in East-Asian countries, USA and some countries from Europe (usually the same ones – UK, France…). From what I remember, the “craziest” country an idol (BABYMETAL) performed was Mexico and it was just because it was right next to the US. And there is a good amount of people around here (and if you check the stats of idol fan groups, for example, there is quite a number of brazilian fans), that’s definitely not the problem. And this is way worse for African and Central American countries.

    • I’m with your whole sentiment, and I’m legit surprised that there aren’t more groups going to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, etc., let alone Mexico. A project I’d like to eventually take up would be for idols outside of Japan — if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that there are not just fans in South America, but an actual idol scene.

  7. By the way, you guys, I really appreciate everybody’s thoughts (yes, even you nay-saying jerks). This is all about information gathering, and you’re providing a lot of information and insight.

  8. I voted for BELLRING少女ハート. Why? They are the most unique and stand out above all the others. Sure they are not as vocally gifted as some of the others but what this group has over them is a look, a visual aesthetic that is different and a musical selection that has so many variables that is sure to find the favor of all or any specific genre fan out there.

    Most of the other groups perform music that stays within a certain boundary (pop punk, metal, hardcore) but BRGH hits you with literally everything (shoegaze, punk, grunge, electronic, jazz, even theater showtunes). Include the fact that they look odd from the start (“are those wings on their arms?”) and their choreography is often very avant-garde and it turns into something where you become intrigued and can’t look away. Their songs also have a lot of Ai no Te (call & response) that is fairly easy to learn and great for crowd involvement.

    One of the goals they have had for a while now is to perform at Coachella. That would be a perfect start for their entrance into the Western world with their indie psychedelic style and underground appeal. And I’m sure they would be a much entirely better act than some of the others that perform there.

  9. The real reason this doesn’t work in the west- The management do not support each other. BabyMetal has not once had an opening act (Wiltern sold out/no opener), Perfume sold out the Wiltern (no opener) Moimoro Clover Z is selling out the Wiltern (no opener) that’s a major problem. You cant grow an audience in America without exposure and that’s how all the acts here gain it. I hate to keep referencing BM but they are the bar- their exposure was gained from festivals and exposure to an eclectic audience. Lady GAGA did what you are suppose to do which is add an opener and it worked. Unfortunately, like others have stated, none of the groups on the list are viable by themselves but, you put a few of them together and you have an event.

  10. I think an enormous part of “viability” is having, or the perception of having an insane fanbase, and having music a “foreigner” would listen to, in absence of it being “Japanese”.

    The girls in crinoline warrior outfits blew up a few overseas Cons, got stalked at airports, had songs a non-idol fan could mostly relate to, merch was more readily available (from Facebook) than what hoops we usually jump through to get. The CD/DVD were became available from domestic online sellers, etc. I think this is where a “Stage II” unit would need to be, or aspire towards.

    Although Itunes/Amazon music, perhaps even spotify can help me convert a friend over to become a “Homicidol Unit X” fan, suggesting to a friend to join Ototoy, sign up for amazon.Jp, or Tenso is a large hurdle for most units not in that category. I would NOT have done that for BM but have done that for other Units since.

    If a friend said “hey What’s that song, I like it”, l most certainly most would send the MP3’s to a pal who liked a Unit I was suggesting in too many instances. That’s money that can keep a favorite unit from going broke, and ending, though.

    Maybe at some point, we all need to talk about “obtaining stuff” from files to CD’s, to T-shirts? Fan Art goods are probably a different issue altogether and fill a niche,

  11. My thoughts are that you need to have a live backing band 1st and foremost, and have the girls actually singing and not lip-synching or have a minimal backing track. That puts Passcode, Bish, BabyRaidsJapan in the best spots if a baking band is provided based on the music, live performance, and the amount of girls/staff they need to bring here.

  12. I think Oyasumi Hologram and 3776 Extended are at the kind of level where they could be sent overseas as part of a larger event. They have a small number of members [making travel costs less imposing], use vocal harmonisation instead of the usual idol technique where everybody sings the same melody line, and use live accompaniments. In the case of OYSM, they already have a connection to the Western world with Pete Swanson’s project VMO. They don’t do metal, which means people looking in from outside won’t see “a BABYMETAL rip-off”.

    You’ll Melt More! have performed with popular Western bands touring Japan [Deerhoof, of Montreal, etc.] and have a relationship with Hijokaidan. The members also occasionally play instruments, which I think might work in their favour.

    BiSH performing overseas seems unlikely: even though Avex tried appealing to the Western music scene with BiS Kaidan [going so far as to include an English profile on their site], when the opportunity for BiS Kaidan to perform in the UK was offered to them, they turned it down. Plus, as long as BiSH is still singing along to CD audio at live shows, then I don’t think people will take them seriously.

    • OYSM is interesting because I can see them appealing to particular audiences. And I know that the “they’re actually butt singers” thing might be an issue, but they really are in some folks’ wheelhouse, to the point that the vocals might seem charming.

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  14. Late to the party as i did forget to vote.
    But i’d also like to add tot he list of people thinking that if one idol band with a relatively small popularity would want to perform outside of anime convention area, it needs a backing band.
    That’s the main stuff that kept me actually out of Babymetal fanboying at their beginning up until the first album.
    Out of the bands here i see Passcode that might be doing the job enough, as the second problem is the more than too often awful vocals livewise.

    Oh and out of the alt idol scope Kikkawa Yuu performed in Chile if i remember correctly ?

  15. One thing to note about Kikkawa Yuu is that, popularity wise, she does not seem to be far away from being an underground idol herself, lol!

    • Yes, i didn’t check it, but i knew she had done something in south america other than mexico.
      Yes she is indeed very low profile and popularity, but these are tough times for solo idol anyway.
      She was giving HP 10th anniversary badges hand to hand at the moring musume worldwide handshake in France 4 years ago, just stopped there on her way to a show in belgium, hardly knew her at that time.
      Well at least she gets to free boobstouching Sengoku from Up Up girls, that makes for the lack of pay for her i guess.
      I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find perversion gifs for her but she’s not part of the site ^^

  16. Who’s next? Dunno. It’s a fun ride.
    Just pushing favorites and sharing newly found Units seems all what can we do?

    Kit Cat currently have my attention.

    They are squeeky clean, stable and everything else a Homicidol unit shouldn’t be.

    Collaboration with Motocompo, if retro is your sort of thing.

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