Idols are a unique part of Japanese pop culture. The term technically refers to male or female singers, performers, and actors with highly-commodified images and an intensely passionate fan bases, but idols are more commonly teenage girls performing in groups. We’ve touched on the topic of idols in previous episodes—most recently with our endorsement of the excellent documentary Tokyo Idols. In this episode, Alice shares with us her story of breaking into the industry, insights into the idol sub-culture, and thoughts on why fans of teenage girl idol groups are primarily middle-aged men.
The first foreigner-only idol group
Alice’s dream was to work in the idol industry, so, naturally, she reached out to countless talent agencies. After more than enough failed attempts and run-arounds, she eventually found an agency who specializes in foreign models. Once she began working with them, however, she found they wanted her to focus mostly on cosplay events. Frustrated that no one would take her idol dreams seriously, she spitefully left the agency with two other foreign models, and formed マイドレミ (Maidoremi).
Breaking into the idol industry
For Alice, the idol industry was surprisingly easy to break into, even without the help of an agency. Because the industry is always looking for fresh, new faces, all it took was crafting the group’s brand, setting up a social media presence, and reaching out to event organizers. She found that most organizers were welcome to letting Maidoremi perform at idol events. This could have possibly been due to the novelty of a foreigner-only idol group, but Alice saw it as the opportunity needed to start performing and building a strong fan base.
It’s all about the fans
An idol’s success hinges entirely on fans. At idol music events, attendees must name which group they are coming to see when they purchase their tickets. This gives the event organizers clear numbers of which groups bring in more fans and are therefore more profitable. This might seem like new idols struggle with maintaining a presence at events, but, due to this strong fan-idol association, there’s one phenomenon of idol events that can be exploited by up-and-coming groups:
If there’s a massive crowd for one group, the people there who are there other groups are going to be like ‘Oh, what’s going on over there?’ and then it’s really easy for you to steal other groups’ fans.
Why are idol fans mostly middle-aged men?
A surprising realization one might have when first seeing a teen idol group perform is the fanbase demographic—it’s almost entirely middle-aged salarymen. While it’s difficult to argue against there being unsavory motivations behind a few of the fans, it’s more likely that the mediocrity of the Japanese salaryman lifestyle has created a yearning for youthful excitement and aspirations captured in the performances of these young girls. According to Alice, there’s also a sense of fulfilment felt when fans support idols:
I wouldn’t say these people have given up on their dreams, but they’re watching someone else working so hard to make their dreams come true, and supporting that person makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself.
For more of Alice’s story, including her excellent advice on taking risks and starting your own business, be sure to tune in to this week’s episode.