April to June was full of inspiring news of J-pop artists succeeding in other countries. Perfume performed at Coachella, Wednesday Campanella played Primavera, Haru Nemuri went on the road in Europe, and CHAI embarked on a tour in the United States. Babymetal also led the way for idol groups by debuting at Glastonbury. There is an audience for this music outside of Japan, and the artists themselves are taking notice. “There are people from abroad who come see us and reply to us on social media, so lately I’ve been wanting to perform overseas,” BiSH’s Cent Chihiro Chitti recently shared on music program Japan Countdown. Hopefully more acts get opportunities to travel and play their music as the year goes on. Here are some great singles by idol groups released from the year’s second quarter.
The year in idol pop began on a very dark note: NGT48’s Maho Yamaguchi addressed a recent assault she experienced this past December. “Even though this kind of thing happened, I was forced to take a break as though nothing happened; they’re just brushing it under the rug,” the idol tweeted, on the same day she discussed the event during her Showroom stream. The company saved face by firing and replacing management staff. Yamaguchi ended up leaving the group altogether, but not before revealing that her company pressured her to apologize. If she hadn’t, others would’ve been forced to read an apology note on her behalf.
It might feel uneasy to hear and read about new idol music from this quarter with Yamaguchi’s case in mind. The year already has brought a spoil of great singles from all levels of the scene. The list covers more than enough variety in style, be it rap, metal, electro and many more. But her situation shouldn’t be ignored for keeping the spirit of feel-good entertainment. The audience is held accountable in their media consumption; at the very least, idol media should not be consumed so passively.
Rino Sashihara of HKT48 posted an Instagram story at Tokyo Idol Festival about how this year is the last time she will see many idol groups and individual idols take the stage. PASSPO, Beboga, and Vanilla Bean—just to name a few—experienced their last performances this past quarter while Morning Musume '18, Dempagumi.inc, and NMB48 lost some big names from their respective lineups. Namie Amuro signaled the end of J-pop in the Heisei age with her retirement this summer, and the idol scene seems to be going through a big shift heading into the new era as well.
The second quarter of pop in Japan was a rather grim one to witness. Misconduct with young women by numerous male idols from the ages-old Johnny & Associates agency made headlines. While a couple of NEWS members were caught drinking with underage girls, TOKIO’s Tatsuya Yamaguchi was dropped from his group after sexually harassing a teenage girl. Reports later turned worse with a story on the suicide of a local Ehime idol, an act her family ties to stress from her agency. A Buzzfeed Japan story also detailed how a former member of Niji No Conquistador sued the president of Pixiv for sexual harassment. It’s an unfortunate reminder that toxicity isn’t too far in proximity of this scene of music, no matter how sunny it may all seem from the outside.
Graduations of idols happen all the time from the top to bottom of the chain yet the first quarter of this year saw a few that shook up respective areas of the scene. Momoka Ariyasu left Momoiro Clover Z in January, and it’s still sort of odd to see the group as a four-piece on TV; Pour Lui exited BiS in March (she returned but as a member of Billie Idle in May), closing the bridge to the Society’s past legacies in the underground. After such big departures, it amazes how Morning Musume has lasted so long after many cycles — 20 years to be exact, an anniversary which the franchise celebrated this February. Such a benchmark raises a question: is it better for a group to try its best to persist or fold while it’s hot? Momo Clo also hit year 10 this year, and it takes up too much space to stop now, but look at Idol Street groups GEM and Cheeky Parade, both set to disband this summer: lasting a decade into this business is a very rare thing.
Despite the departures, the idol scene in Japan in 2018 is already off to good start from rich pop singles by groups old and new. Here are some of them.