Rookie no more. The 48group has witnessed the birth of SKE, NMB and HKT and now was the turn for Nogizaka to get their own. But to expand in such ludicrous speed over a stagnating fanbase, the chance to make fans weary and bored increased tenfold. It is hard to not become “another sister group of…” and appeal to a japanese audience, now hard to convince. And yet Keyakizaka46 took the idol world by storm, and even ended 2016 by appearing in Kouhaku in less than one year. What were those key moments that made the difference? Through this small write up i will attempt to highlight what made Keyakizaka a force to be reckoned with.
1) Bringing Music back to the foreground
Music is a matter of taste. But there will be a difference in production, like how much resources you invest in an A-side compared to a B-side. To release a powerful song as first single was a smart move: the goal was to make people react and break the orthodox type. The use of hispanic percussions, accoustic guitar which oppose the pop auto-tune of regular idol release helped Keyakizaka quickly build an unique flavor. Not only Silent Majority, but Sekai ni wa Ai Shikanai is a bold release using poetry and heavily feature piano to stand out.
Idol industry, especially 48group, has suffered from lack of consideration musically wise, as they weren’t taken seriously or even not considered as artists. However, AKB48 proved it wrong releasing great songs like Oogoe Diamond, Iwake Maybe, Everyday Kachuusa and River in a row ( it was called the kamikyoukutachi era). It was possible to praise idol music, and Keyakizaka managed to bring it back to the foreground. In a recent Foreign survey (600 answers), Silent Majority was chosen “Song of the year” by fans.
2) Meaningful lyrics that strikes people hearts
Lyrics of their songs, most of the time dark and rebellious, helped to shape Keyakizaka trait. It’s still Akimoto Yasushi who’s in charge of lyrics, but this time, thanks to Keyakizaka easy-to-perceive personality, he succeeded in making lyrics consistent with music videos. We can quote the excellent B-side Yamanotesen, Hirate Yurina solo, that pictures well the melancholy of a girl lost in thought, or Bob Dylan wo Kaesanai, another B-side but this time from Yuichanzu, makes a smart allegory between the struggle to forget someone and the reluctance of giving back a Bob Dylan CD.
Idol songs are most of the time fluffy and light hearted. Keyakizaka A-sides developed other theme like pain, hardship, and willpower. More frequently, and with more intensity. Because those themes are unusual, they garnered more attention, becoming the “rebellious” group. Lyrics help the listener match his own feelings with the song; and thus getting more involved in the group.
3) A group-oriented choregraphy designed by talented dance teacher
Probably TAKAHIRO-sensei is the most respected staff by Keyakizaka fans, as he hugely helped Keyakizaka build their identity as a group. In a regular group formation (16 members line up), there’s the center on the front, and the choregraphy revolves around the center. However, TAKAHIRO sensei tought it would’ve been more impactful to design Silent majority into highly paced / synchronized sequence involving everyone, reminding the military pattern. Through this dance, Keyakizaka gained a lot of amplitude that others sister group didn’t have. In Kataru Nara Mirai wo, choregraphy reached another level thanks to signature moves like the cross-formation. ( 4×4 teams switching places with the same timing).
TAKAHIRO-sensei himself is a very reliable person that members can look up to, especially because they are inexperienced and need someone to guide them. With great professionalism, he encouraged the girls to have faith in themselves and to not shy out from excellence. Something Keyaki fans will be eternally grateful for. Takahiro biggest strength is probably to efficiently forward the meaning of the song to the choregraphy itself.
4) A powerful Ace, like Maeda Atsuko at her time
It’s debatable if having an eternal center does make a difference, but no one will deny that AKB48 golden age was when Acchan was Ace. Hirate Yurina draws attention thanks to her gaze, intense energy and maturity even though she was only 14 centering Silent Majority. The reason why a group need an Ace is to draw attention to neophytes, non-idol song listeners. General audience are different from idol fans, and react to songs and members differently. They won’t remember a member very well if you rotate the girls in front all the time. They won’t remember if the girl in front doesn’t give them a “raw” first impression. An Ace is someone able to trigger an emotion on someone in a very short of time. The first impression is probably the most important too.
Hirate “Techi” Yurina also has this particularity to “embody” Keyakizaka songs to perfection. She performs the song like she’s possessed, making her dance unique. Her kind of Ace aura is also different from others, as she is more known for her serious stare than her cute smile like top members Acchan or Watanabe Mayu. To hold a mysterious, intense Aura hooks people and make them curious. Not even mentioning the high level of performance that makes fans stay.
5) A wide range of members with strong personalities
Aside from having an Ace able to release the full potential of a song, it’s definitively all the members of the group that create the core fanbase. In AKB48 there was Acchan, but also the Kami7, which fans could easily refer to as their personalities were recognizable. An interesting group is basically interesting members, who have skills and qualities that make them stand out.
Hirate Yurina is the wondergirl, Nagahama Neru is the cute/girls next door, Sugai sama is the princess type, Moriya Akane is the majime type, Shida manaka and Watanabe Risa are the kakkoi (cool type), Uemura rina/harada are the loli type, Imaizumi and Kobayashi Yuis are singer, Oda nana and Ozeki are moodmakers, Suzumoto Miyu and Saito Fuyuka is the best dancer, koike minami and Yonetani are the cute type… In fact, the range of personalities in Keyakizaka ensure that fans can find the type he has the most affinity with. We all know that an idol fan relationship is a lot about feelings, and to see the girls growing their character is the reason why fans are liking the members even more.
6) Reaching brand new fanbase : female and youth
Something that could also apply to their sisters of Nogizaka (by being cool and elegant): to have build a rebellious, cool and strong character hugely helped in reaching a new fanbase. While AKB48 is targeting middle age man through gravure and cute song, Keyakizaka (or more like Sakamichi series) was able to increase their range where female fans yearn for members like Watanabe Risa and Shida manaka (who are good at danso/modeling) and young fans who are more into cool songs like Silent Majority.
This is a trend i’ve observed on Social networks like Twitter. Most of Keyaki fan accounts are the same age as the girls themselves, around 97′ and 00′. To have been able to appeal to this fanbase allow Keyakizaka to avoid this harmful stagnation that is suffering AKB48 (not in sales, but in handshake slots sold). You could also say that, by not splitting handshake events like 48group sister group, Keyakizaka has higher chance to sell their slots, but in the long term, to add multiple fanbase is the reason why they sales are high.
7) Promote music skills and ensure song diversity
Keyakizaka46 has found their identity and signature through the word “rebellion” with songs that follows a pattern (Silent Majority, Otona wa shinjite kurenai, Fukyouwaon) but lyricist and songwriter also vouch for diversity, like Futari saison being a meaningful ballad.It’s even more significant with B-side venture “Shibuyagawa” and “Tuning” from the duo Yuichanzu. Thanks to those retro-pop-folk refreshing songs from the showa Era, Imaizumi & Kobayashi Yuis succeeded in balancing with the rough and dark set of Keyaki songs.
Something that strikes me is how one sided resources to make music are in the idol industry. Most of the time, it’s a huge use of synth and machines. It doesn’t do justice to the idol genre who emancipated through genre like Metal and Rock too. In the case of Yuichanzu, A-capella performances and acoustic guitars is hugely praised by fans who root for a comeback to basics. Imaizumi has yet to be center, but display great vocals that would be a waste to not capitalize on. Same with yuipon. Not also mentioning Keyakizaka obvious ability to make standard idol songs like “Aozora ga chigau” or “Matta atte kudasai” (Nagahama neru solo)
8) Proper promotion and financial back up from management
This must be an obvious statement, but it isn’t always applied (Hello SKE). Keyakizaka had the chance to have 1 regular TV show (Keyakitte Kakenai), 2 season of national TV show (Keyabingo), One drama (Who killed Tokuyama) numerous appearance in music show including Kouhaku Utagassen (because Silent Majority buzzed), recently Variety show (Nagahama Neru participating in Quizz show), radio broadcast ( Yurakuchou radio program, All night nippon radio program), exclusive modeling contract ( Watanabe Risa with Non-no magazine), countless photoshoot from top members ( Moriya Akane, Sugai yuuka, Shida manaka, hirate Yurina)
A group success is the meeting point between huge amount of tools and resources with girls holding huge potential. It’s also a lot about timing : Since management want to keep Keyakizaka active and in the forefront so people don’t lose sight of them, they release their single in a very solid pace. NGT debuted at the same time as Keyakizaka, but one group released only 1 single while Keyakizaka is on it’s fourth release.
9) A style and identity they can call their own
Nogizaka are cool and elegant. HKT are young and cute. SKE are energetic and positive. NMB are fun and native. Keyakizaka, in result of the music, the lyrics and dance, has found their own characterstic : Raw and untamed. Not only their high level of performance give them the aura of “professional performer” but also is coherent of the message they want to forward : “We give our all because we want to break of our chains” (freeedoooooom)
People recognize you when there’s something to recall. This is probably why underground idol struggle to go beyond their local market because they don’t have a style that make them different. I won’t say Keyakizaka is doing something original (because cool idol songs exist with Beginner, Uza, etc…) but that’s the adequacy between everything (dance, music, lyrics) that bring what’s unique in Keyakizaka and that other group can’t replicate.
It was a turning point to have their identity quickly defined because Keyakizaka had started during Nogizaka’s great momemtum. To acknowledge kinship with Nogizaka and claiming their own at the same style was Keyakizaka key to success.
10) A potential that keeps fans enthusiastic
Keyakizaka benefit from the “rookie” factor : they are fresh and bring new blood to the idol scene. The momemtum is still high and Keyakizaka has still goals to reach, like bigger concert venue, increasing individuals outdoor work like their sempai Shiraishi mai or Nishino nanase or even starting other drama. The truth is, 48g has seen their endorsement contract fading one by one ( in Acchan era, AKB members endorsed 10+ product, now they barely make 2-3), which translate a loss of interest of idols from general audience. The challenge ahead of Keyakizaka, or even all idol group, is bigger than ever.
Keyakizaka has the potential to reach this level of visibility in japanese entertainment scene once again. But they need to keep their excellent level of performance and develop a network between production companies ( Ogi pro, Ohta pro, Watanabe pro…) to make each individuals viable in various field. In order to become national idols, you need to go beyond idols : become models, talento, actress and singer.
In conclusion, Keyakizaka has found success in fields AKB management failed to invest once again. But it’s up to the girls to turn their work opportunities into concrete realities. And as any project, it needs time to get return on investment. What’s interesting to point out, is that even though Keyakizaka is a rookie group, most of the girls are past 17 and are likely to seriously continue their path as idols ( in AKB group the girls are young without career opportunities, so they graduate after high school). This is a relief for all fans who want Keyakizaka to surpass the other sister groups.