Where the Men At? : The Boys of Alternative Idol

By Cal and Daemon

The recent completion of the very first WACK Men’s Audition means that we are closer than ever to seeing what may be the first serious attempt to launch an all-male punk idol unit by an A-list, independent agency. While recent years have seen more and more underground idol units welcome men as members, the almost complete lack of male idols or a prominent alternate idol boy band has always been a curious aspect to the genre. It is actually one of our favorite recurring discussion topics both in Team chat and over on the Homicidols Discord Server. So, before WACK (or YOSHIKI) usher in a boy band wave to wash over the alternative idol world and drown us in guys, we figured we had better put down our thoughts for posterity while also making note of the trailblazing men who have already made a mark on the genre.

The Current State of Things

Western media has a few bad tendencies when it comes to covering mainstream J-pop idol, particularly the penchant for pushing an image of an industry dominated by girl groups. While it’s impossible to avoid male K-pop groups in the anglosphere, the portrayal of Japanese idols in the mainstream is still stuck on the “girls performing for an audience of older men” narrative and, it goes without saying, that’s a stereotype that we reject and resent. While the marketing tactics of female idol mega-groups AKB48, Nogizaka46 and their myriad sister units have guaranteed their chart dominance in CD sales (and environmental waste), in almost every other metric, the boy bands destroy all comers. Year over year, male idol units dominate the charts when it comes to total music media sales. And it’s not even close:

This begs the question: if male idols so thoroughly permeate the mainstream idol market, why are there next to no male idol units in the independent and underground alternative music scene? They exist and we’ve reported on a few loosely, mixed gender groups too, but part of it is the sheer chokehold that Johnny’s groups had on the image of the male idol: prettyboys and pop music is the way to go! But when it comes to the microcosm of alternative music? There’s a bigger fish in this pond. Enter: Visual Kei.

The Live House and Visual Kei

The independent and underground music scene in Japan largely subsists within the network of Live Houses that stretch across the country. These small, live music clubs serve as home to a variety of alternative music cultures including Homicidols’ raison d’etre, chika idol. Underground idol, since its inception, has consisted of predominantly female artists performing to mostly-male audiences. At the same time, the visual kei scene within the world of the Live House is kind of chika idol’s male mirror image. Consider:

  • The alternative idol scene consists of almost all-female groups performing to predominantly male audiences. Musically, the groups experiment with a variety of styles from punk and hardcore to nu-metal, EDM and hip hop, and live acts include MC portions where members highlight their personalities. Audiences are very active during shows, performing “wotagei” (synchronized gestures and chants, you might also know it as “MIX”) and merch sales include the opportunity to get a cheki with your favorite idol. 
  • The current visual kei scene consists of almost all-male bands performing to predominantly female audiences. Musically, the bands experiment with a variety of styles from punk and hardcore to nu-metal, EDM and hip hop, and live acts include MC portions where members highlight their personalities. Audiences are very active during shows, performing “furitsuke” (synchronized gestures and chants) and merch sales include the opportunity to get a cheki with your favorite band member. 

In this countercultural music world, it appears that visual kei fills the niche held by all-male idol units in the J-pop mainstream. Sure, we have Johnny’s groups and BTS in the main stage limelight, but when it comes to alternative music? V-kei is the way. 

Though this is, in part, an overgeneralization. There are many alternative and underground idol units that draw sizable numbers of female fans, and there are also any number of current visual kei bands with female members! The demographics of everything are like that for a reason, but not everything is a blanket statement, y’know?

Another aspect is also one thing about underground idols that’s easy to forget (for good reason because we’re spoilt for choice) is that a lot of groups only perform their songs at lives and don’t release them to stream or purchase. When you live outside of Japan this doesn’t leave much recourse; experiencing a group solely through members’ selfies on Twitter and one or two live videos just simply isn’t that fun. If you go to Japan regularly it might be a different story, but if half of our articles were just, “they look lovely”, with no music, we’d have no readers!

In short, the combination of v-kei and the image of the seemingly perfect boy performing to pop music are the apex predators in this food chain, so that’s where the fans are. Where there’s fans, there’s money and where there’s money, there’s competition.

But this would be a pretty bad introduction to the idea of male alt groups if we just left it there, right? So let’s make some noise for these groups of boys!

All-Male Alternative Idol Units

Black Sheep Syndrome

The quintessential fusion of male idols with alt rock! Black Sheep Syndrome were (they broke up in December 2021, alas) very popular and often the lead attraction at many a taiban. If you look at a lot of these old group lineups they almost seem like a kind of odd one out, with a gothic edge in a sea of prettyboys. Their former management just put out a call for audition, so perhaps a successor group is in the works.

Nichome no Sakigake Coming Out

Active for 10 years now, the idea behind Nichigake is that gay men can sing feminine idol songs too. So while their music is more pop-esque, their “alternative” comes from blazing a trail in the underground world, performing side by side with a lot of the girl groups we report on regularly here. For the past decade, they’ve made their mark, being equal parts sensitive and powerful.

Secret Society NiRVERGE ∀

Also known as Himitsu Kessha NiRVERGE ∀, this all-boy unit debuted in 2019 and describe themselves as a rock band that threw away their instruments. While the description, and some of their songs, may be reminiscent of BiSH at their most playful pop, the group is also not afraid to branch out into more hardcore genres, occasionally  incorporating harsh vocal and nu metal elements.

Here Here Heres 

Back in 2018, AqbiRec generated a ton of buzz in the chika idol world with it’s announcement of auditions for an all-male brother unit to There There Theres (successor group of the legendary Bellring Girls Heart). The pedigree behind the project was impeccable, but it is hard to say how serious the effort actually was since the resulting unit, Here Here Heres, disbanded after a single performance.

HaSH

A short lived project with music made by Matsukuma Kenta and SCRAMBLES! When you listen to this, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to recognise their signature sound. Just don’t expect the men’s WACK group to sound like this, their demo songs at the recent audition were made by Shigeyuki Harada from the band Shiggy.Jr.

Soukyouku Spectrum

Active for just over a year, Soukyouku Spectrum are a group that get compared to a visual-kei band frequently due to their style and sound. Their music video for “Call of Destiny” got a little buzz from people outside of Japan for those very reasons, so come find out what the other side of the j-music fanbase are raving about!

The Men of Mixed-Gender Idol Units

Yukkyun (Cinema & Boy CQ, Project DIVA)

Yukkyun (aka Guilty Kyun) is a self-anointed diva who, along with the angelic Ruan, comprise Cinema & Boy CQ, a unit at the vanguard of the burgeoning Art Idol sub-genre. When not performing songs from soundtracks of movies that do not exist, Yukkyun works on his self-produced solo activity, Project DIVA, and collaborating with the likes of Haruko Tajima, the genderfluid founding member of Oyasumi Hologram. Yukkyun’s debut solo album, DIVA YOU drops later this month on March 30th.

Kajiwara Paseli-chan (NaNoMoRaL)

Paseli-chan is the producer, live digital manipulator and vocalist for the abnormally excellent digital rock and jangle pop unit NaNoMoRaL alongside primary vocalist Amamiya Miku.  The two met while working with unit Emoquru Scoop (aka Emop), Amamiya as an idol and Paseli as a composer and producer.  The duo initially planned to partner with Paseli producing Amamiya as a solo idol, but after both of them performed onstage at Amamiya’s solo debut, they decided instead to move forward as a duo. The end result is one of the most unique idol acts out there in terms of both music style and live presentation.

Ladybeard (BABYBEARD, DEADLIFT LOLITA, LADYBABY)

Combining metalcore vocals, a bodybuilder’s physique and the yume kawaii fashion sense of a teenage girl, Ladybeard has been a palpable force in alternative idol since his stunning 2015 debut with LADYBABY. Currently fronting the unit, BABYBEARD, the Australian pro-wrestler turned Japanese idol brings an inexorable spirit of maniacally joyous kawaii insanity to every project he’s involved in.

Buchou (DESURABBITS)

Since their founding in 2013 through their disbandment last year, Buchou provided an iconic presence to one of the most stable and consistently excellent units in loud idol.  Playing the role of omnipotent overseer of idols Karin, Yuzu and Emi, Buchou also provided harsh vocals, raps, and holds lyric and arrangement credits on some of the unit’s songs. A veteran grindcore and noise artist in his own right under the name AKIRADEATH, Buchou brought legitimacy to a groundbreaking idol unit intent on carving a niche for themselves in the digital hardcore and death pop genres. 

Tassy & Hauki (Monoclone)

Although both male members recently graduated (Tassy last year and Hauki just this past January), for a time, Monoclone was the most high profile and well financed co-ed unit in independent idol.  A group with a selling point of “all of the members had a lot of plastic surgery” certainly have the money to release some good songs, ey?

As for the dudes in question, Tassy recently helped found the group Gay(i)ly, a carnival themed idol group with an all gay lineup.

And Hauki is now a founding member of Yumekui Neon!

Lost in Translation

At this point, you may be thinking, “Hey, you uncultured cretins! You forgot about [Name of Idol Unit]!!” and you may very well be correct. The above is by no means a  definitive list of the men of alternative idol, and if you have a favorite that we missed, we want to hear about them. Please let us know who you think also deserved a mention either here, on Twitter or over on the Homicidols Discord Server.

Please note, however, that there are several idols or units you may be thinking of that we have intentionally left out of this article due to the difficulty of translating both the language and culture of gender. If we encountered any ambiguity or uncertainty in how an idol self-identifies their gender, we erred on the side of respectful caution and did not include them in this article about men.

Let’s Hear it for the Boys!

That’s just a few examples, past and present, of some cool guys making cool music! There’s too many to cover in just one article, so if you like what you’ve seen so far, we also have a playlist for you to tuck into! It’s got both new and old faces, so hopefully you’ll find something you like and who knows: we might be seeing some more men around these parts in the future too.

2 thoughts on “Where the Men At? : The Boys of Alternative Idol

  1. Excellent article. I’ve been missing groups Like SuG, An Cafe, Vistlip, v[NEU], Spiv States, LM.C, even D=OUT and DIV which have kind of disappeared or I’ve just lost contact with them. Though they play instruments typical of rock bands I would put in the category of boy alt-idol groups because I can’t find any other place to put them. OK, maybe VK but not quite. Listening to many of the men (hard to use the term men rather than boy) groups they are reminiscent of the groups I mentioned. I’m going to put together a playlist of the groups you have put together here with some of my old favorites that I find similar and see if the is a link. I’d love to know what others may think.

  2. Pingback: March 2022 Monthly Favorites – Phoenix Talks Pop Culture Japan

Comments are closed.