We roughly get if someone is popular or not. There’s no absolute way to know if someone is number one (even Sousenkyo itself), and it’s especially true in Sakamichi. This article is an attempt to list all scales & tools available for a fan to estimate someone popularity. I divided the list in three parts, which are : Fan’s evaluation, Management evaluation, and Third party evaluation.
list of handshake slots sold
handshake sales : probably the most intuitive one. Members are obviously popular when they sell a lot of slots. Keep in mind that even if a member doesn’t have a lot of slots sold doesn’t mean she’s not popular, because a 450/500 slots is considered “0” because it’s just not 500. You can have a 12/12 member selling fewer slots than a 0/24 thanks to that. However, it’s safe to say a 24/24 is selling more than a 5/24. In that regard, let’s compare AKB and Keyaki slots results. Glass wo Ware: 711 / 827 HS slots Jabaja: 464 / 4,463 HS slots. What do you prefer?
Merchandising sales : We actually don’t know if goods are produced the same amount between members. If they are smart the answer is no, but we can guess a member popularity at how fast a member goods are being sold. It’s the same with handshake round. When i went to a concert, Nagahama neru goods were sold out already early in the morning while some saitoh fuyuka goods were still available after the end of the concert. In a close category, you can evaluate a member popularity according to the number of fans wearing their oshimen towel. I was surprised to see so many watanabe risa’s towel.
Card trading : it’s a pretty big deal in Japan. In my experience, people can spend hours in trading between handshake events and concert. It’s exciting to complete their collection and interact with fans for those. The more someone is popular, the less there’s card available to trade (they all keep them for their own collection). Some card can be quite rare, especially Album cards or limited edition of a concert. From what i’ve seen, people play fair and try to trade extra they have in exchange of other extra for a win-win situation. In that case, it can take a while. Having a zuumin card felt like owning a 100 dollar bill!
Concert calls : it depends of the context, if it’s someone anniversary, etc etc. But objectively speaking, Aozora to marry concert call were tenfold those of let’s say goninbayashi. There isn’t that much sub unit to really grasp the difference between members, but as time goes on, it can become a relevant scale.
Social media notifications : On matome (japanese forum) or SNS (social media network), you can see the most read, most commented articles, most of the time they revolve around popular members. The amount of hashtag used to talk about a member, etc. Each time Yurina is absent/behaving in a special way, japanese netizens are steaming.
Mobile game : surprisingly a relevant tool to determine someone popularity. There’s 14 000 players reported to have Nagahama neru as oshimen while oda nana is most likely around 2000. You can also witness how gachi (serious) some fans are when they spend thousand of premium currency to get their oshimen exclusive card. When they commit lot of money into the game, it’s the same pattern as spending lot of money for their oshimen good. If you sell, you are popular.
mobame (mobile mail): plain simple, how many suscribers do you have. Even though i highly doubt yurina has a high number considering how her blog post count is low. But she’s an exception. Sashihara rino built her popularity through her mobame blog after all.
the senbatsu for sekai ni wa ai shikanai
Senbatsu : the most talked, the most criticized. People are passionate in anticipating the infamous senbatsu annoucement, worried sick if their oshimen get a “fair” treatment. How senbatsu is built should theorically be according to the theme of the song, the potential of the girl, what has been done before, fan’s feedback…but we all know that everyone can’t be satisfied. Management should also consider not only the current fanbase, but how to reach a larger audience. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Sub-unit : It can take different proportion. Sometime it feels like being use to comfort a member who’s been on the side for a long time (in AKB group, i’m thinking of dendenmuchu for example), but it also can become a real alternative to promote members (of course, Yuichanzu). It’s a more flexible decision than senbatsu, and the availability is higher too (only one senbatsu for the A side, but as many sub unit as we want). it’s the perfect tool to push a member, as well as developing their identity inside the group. Not everyone are equal in front of this tool : while uemura rina is only in “156” sub unit, Hirate Yurina has 4 solo!
Drama : For the moment it’s produced by management. From “Daigoro dare ka koroshita ka?”,”zankoku na kankyokutachi” and “Re:mind”, you can obviously see those who have the bigger script. However, it can be a tool to raise awareness of unknown members potential (kageyama yuuka, kakizaki memi great performance)
Interviews : Like what is being written in blog, management decide what content is allowed to appear in magazine or not. I do believe it is meticulously calculated. And of course, some get exclusive solo interview (rockin’on japan yurina 44 page outlet) while some have to do joint interview ( in Quick japan, you have yurina&neru solo, joint yuichanzu, then it goes up to 5 like FIVE CARDS members!
Photobook : i’m supposed to put this in third party, as editor house are those who print and distribute the photobook, but they need management green light to produce. A relevant tool for fans to figure out someone popularity : management only bet on popular members, and mostly appeal to the member core fanbase. Nagahama neru’s photobook sales were quite a surprise i must say. I wonder what’s more relevant between Photobook sales and Sousenkyo numbers.
Variety show : but more from a group point of view. If the group has momentum you can go up to three regular TV show. But it depends if management is willing to put money to push the group.
Imaizumi Yui being the cover of magazine BRODY
Third party evaluation
Magazine cover/gravure : Gravure and idols are two worlds that are intimately connected. Keep in mind that from the magazine point of view, they put faith in a member popularity to increase their sales. To put trust in your popularity, or even giving money for photoshoot, is a great way to evaluate someone popularity. After Zuumin return, Yuichanzu had like 4 covers, photoshoots and interviews in less than two month, showing how much confidence magazine give to the two to sell to hungry keyaki wota.
Individual work (Radio program, variety show appearance) : Radio program is a modest but efficient alternative to common gravure. We have Sugai Yuuka Recomen, and Koike minami Yuugata paradise. Recently Neru is topping the list by being the representative of Nagasaki during chinese festivities, but also appearing in golden slot game show. Another example is Kageyama yuuka being involved in football related activities.
Celebrities social network : This part is very prominent as it reach people that are outside the core fanbase. It’s quite a big deal when a random japanese goes from “this group is liked only by otaku” to “this group is liked by Honda Tsubasa. That’s cool”. This indirect promotion is unvaluable to get a wider range of potential fans and grow the fanbase. Before getting people to watch Keyabingo or the group MV, you need a “hook” that tease their curiosity. Most of the time influencers from show-business are just that. It’s the best way to get out of the idol niche and become mainstream like AKB did in 2009.
Brand/companies advertisement : In my opinion the most important tool to evaluate popularity. There’s people willing to pay you to endorse their product. You reached a point where your visibility has value to them. The bigger the company is, the more relevant your popularity is (and so is the paycheck). Actresses like hirose suzu or Ayase haruka have most of their income not from movies earnings, but from brand endorsement (Suzu has like 14 endorsement contract). Considering Keyakizaka appear in Docomo, Lotte, or Baitoru, their worth is legit. Even though Yurina is the uncontested center of keyaki, she barely start making solo endorsement like 24H cosmetic. It makes you realize how high companies advertisement level is. In their prime, AKB48 had also dozen of companies contract.
As you can see, it’s not one factor alone that determine members popularity, but the complex connection between all of them. Also, not all factor have the same value. Management is much more committed in developing a member photobook than making a b-side for a unit of several members. Popularity is like a ladder : First you start with the easiest, which is fan’s evaluation. You keep doing your best to reach management attention, and you get their favor. Then reaching a certain level, third parties are interested in your profile and the big game start: leading role in movies, drama, big company endorsement, solo songs (Yamamoto sayaka solo album), kouhaku.
I think Keyakizaka has still a bit of leverage. But that means keep doing good music, and getting interesting opportunities.