The Whimsical World of Dempagumi.inc

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with that idol powerhouse, ey? Throughout changing trends and saturated markets, Dempagumi.inc have proven themselves to be a rock in the idol scene – but much like actual rocks, their appearance has taken many forms.

…Okay that metaphor really sucked didn’t it. Something about erosion? Erosion changes rocks over time and they have a lot of new members now. Look, the new single is good and it being a very Dempagumi take on some rock n’ roll feels like an appropriate time to re-introduce them. Let’s take a deep dive into “Shoudouteki S/K/S/D!”

“But why are Homicidols, an alternative idol blog, talking about pop idols?”
We’ll let you in on a secret here: the idea of “alternative” is kind of fake. Really, “alternative idol” as a phrase is just as nebulous as using “alternative” to describe music in… well, anywhere at all. If you take it to just mean the pairing of alternative music genres with idols, it still misses out on a lot of groups doing something interesting and lumps in groups that are otherwise excruciatingly normal but just happen to have guitars. The team talk about it in the secret group chat sometimes and really just take it to mean “anything slightly against the grain” at this point.
Put it this way, do you remember how when Avril Lavigne dropped some of her first singles and some people would say “this isn’t REAL punk” because it was from a pop star? Or when you meet somebody new and they say “I like alternative music” and you aren’t sure if they mean buttrock or Mongolian throat singing (or both if they’re fans of The Hu)? “Alternative” is a broad spectrum, as are idols, so let’s put 2 and 2 together.

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Of course, a decade ago Babymetal shot to international fame by combining heavy metal with sugary sweet vocals and on a domestic level in Japan, BiS were really pushing their “anything to sell” mantra by headbanging with pantyhose on their heads over what sounds like a Muse bassline, so discussions were being had about idols as an entertainment medium! This was an introduction to idols that do alternative things for a lot of people and for some, almost set in stone that link to alternative, heavier music. It’s why both we and you, our beloved readers, are here after all. So if you like that sort of thing and only that sort of thing hey, you do you. But just much as the sonic landscape of the idol world is ever-changing, so are definitions and so are scrappy music blogs.

However, the discussion is kind of through a western oriented lens looking at Japan and it’s trends. As is this article now, because simply stating that the lens is there doesn’t suddenly remove it. We’re limited by our point of view as (mostly) people from outside of Japan just as much as we’re able to embrace it to give a unique voice on things, which is almost a textbook double-edged sword. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a good example of this – part of the reason that she went viral all those years ago (other than the music being good, but that’s besides the point) was because her aesthetic was viewed by that western lens as being quintessentially Japanese – bright, colourful, quirky, zany. Of course, she is a Japanese woman from Japan making Japanese pop music, but her Harajuku cute-to-the-point-it-becomes-sickly-sweet aesthetic was far from what would be considered “mainstream” within Japan itself and yet, that lens had decided that “this is Japan.” As the more eloquent Ryo from the newsletter “This Side of Japan” said, “the same aesthetic touchstones the Japanese public didn’t understand as their own somehow makes up the common visual language of Japan in the international imagination.

Dempagumi have that much in common with her, their music is also bright, colourful and zany with embelic electronic pop music and is, of course, Japanese music from Japan made by Japanese people. But it’s not exactly the forefront of mainstream culture. Akihabara and nerd/otaku culture is excruciatingly well regarded around the globe, just ask your local anime fan, but to simply put them into a box labelled “mainstream” would erase the way they constantly fuse subculture and their own unique, Dempagumi.inc twist on things. Hence why when some people think of what you could call the “2010’s alternative idol boom” their minds go to Babymetal and BiS, but not Dempagumi. That’s why “Shoudouteki S/K/S/D” is a great springboard to look at them anew because once again, alt rock isn’t the only type of alternative both in idol and in all music ever, but we do talk about that kind of thing quite a lot!

Their latest single is another revolution on the ever-spinning Dempagumi wheel. While rock might feel like a different direction for them, it doesn’t feel out of place whatsoever! This is rock music released after their previous single, the Disney-esque “Princess Dempa Power! Shine On!” From regal to rock to reinvention – they’re doing it all. Reinvention is as much apart of their group identity as their fusion of quasi-denpa with pop too. If you’re old like we are, you’ll remember when they dropped their Hyadain produced cover of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, which if you listen to it for the first time might surprise you a little, but it still feels like a Dempagumi.inc song through and through. This is what we mean when we say they’re like a rock, that song came out a decade ago and they’ve held steadfast to the point where you can juxtapose any of their new releases to it, and not a single one would feel like they wouldn’t pair together.

Even the video’s visuals juxtapose one another, just as their music does!

New member Rito delivers the first line, who you might recognise from their little sister group Meme Tokyo. Various girls from around Dear Stage were added to the group after the graduation of longtime member Eitaso, with Rito having her own unique, androgynous style. Taking equal comfort with the masculine and feminine and even that which is neither, Rito introducing the song feels like the most appropriate choice. The member who’s look is ever changing, with a dual nature, is leading the new dual natured song, from one of idol’s most multifaceted groups. A whole Rubix Cube of themes that’re easily recognisable in any configuration! That’s just who Dempagumi are.

Rito

Rito

Now right, we don’t want to drag on too much here. This being a “deep dive” was no joke, so without further ado, go listen to the new single! Go listen to their old singles! Go listen to an album! The 2010’s alternative idol boom shaped one of the most interesting artists in idoldom right now, and Dempagumi.inc’s world wide dempanation isn’t stopping anytime soon.

 

2 thoughts on “The Whimsical World of Dempagumi.inc

  1. It is a shame that Dempagumi, despite their success, seems to fall into this weird limbo where they’re simultaneously too pop to get alternative/underground cred and a little too weird to compete with the big mainstream groups. Their music is often times ADHD in the most focused way possible but it always feels like they can tackle any genre — pop, rock, jazz, R&B, whatever — and always make it sound good and make it sound like theirs.

    You can even see a bit of that scatterbrained focus in the lineup. Ever since the classic lineup crystalized in 2011 they’ve had members leave and added yet Risa and Mirin have been there since the very beginning, Eitaso was there until earlier this year and even Pinky’s been with the group for a decade; a kind of unstable stability. I think this kind of inherently contradictory nature is the core of what makes Dempagumi unique. The pop group that’s too weird to ever truly be mainstream, a group that somehow has both a stable and changing lineup. the introverted outcasts who wanted to be extroverted stars.

    Despite appearances, they’re a group that can’t really be pigeonholed as any one thing or beholden to any one musical style. In the end, they’re simply Dempagumi and in that way they’re definitely as important to the alternative and underground scene as they are to the mainstream showing that it’s possible to be kind of weird, not fit neatly into a box and still somehow make it all work.

  2. This! They are always regarded as maybe too alt for mainstream, but too mainstream for alt, they really have their own category and are bound to drop absolutely anything and it won’t seem out of character for them! I really like this group and it actually got me into alt idol in the long run. We have our historic leader and center, Risa and Mirin, despite losing the entire Eitaso/Miu gen, Pinky helps filling the void of sunshine Eimi left, and even got her own subunit with the Engag.ing girls! Rin and Nemo are probably the most orthodox idols out of them, but that’s somehow a twist in itself (I just kinda dislike that Nemo gets disproportionate attention, but eh, she is a living crossover so I guess it’s fair). Originally I felt like the post Eitaso revolution was kinda too much, but they were all already known DearStage faces and warming up to them was kind of easy, Ria and Kozu came together from Engag.ing, so the only ones left from there to resurface are Amane and Maria, and honestly I didn’t like Rito at Dempa that much at first, don’t get me wrong, Rito in meme is great, I just felt that they watered them down in Dempa, yet they are just too good at dancing and actually adds a lot to the group! I’m impressed by Hina’s idol history already despite being 14, and despite not knowing Aonyan that much, as a sufferer of Nemu Oshiloss I can say she has been the closest one to fill Nemu’s niche, yet adds a lot of her own! I don’t usually like when groups go too big, but I feel like 10 member Dempa has great chemistry overall and can’t wait for more releases.

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