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Lessons learned from Keyakizaka 2nd Anniversary

header credit to : @selisuke

6-8th April, 3 Keyakizaka concerts were held to celebrate their second anniversary. The pressure was high, as Hirate Yurina & Shida manaka were absent, but also because hiragana keyaki also did a successful 3 days in nippon budokan. I thought it was interesting to talk about those 3 days because it gives insight of what could be Keyakizaka future. One setlist goes as follow :







What strikes me here is not the song composition, but the center composition. Each major song is highlighting a different member; sometime unexpected. New faces give a fresh touch to song that are usually centered by Techi. Eccentric centered by Habu mizuho, Futari saison by Koike minami or Fukyouwaon by Sugai Yuuka. Sugai sama was praised for her expression by japanese netizen, as fukyouwaon is famous for being one of the most difficult song even in keyakizaka repertoire. Those different center address a strong message to fans : “we’re not techi sidekick, we all have what it takes to become center”.

It was well timed. From interviews done here and here after the Zenkoku tour (summer period), only Yuichanzu showed will to make a change: in substance, they were ready to be center. Management could have just put Yuichanzu on Glass o ware to build the switch, but they decided to give everything a shot to build. We don’t know if members chosen were ready, but they took the opportunity nonetheless. The effect got amplified.

Sample of Fuuchan feedback after concert & Translation of Sugai sama last MC. Report credit to : @kojirabu 

It was urgent to build individuality. Keyakizaka background showed lot of “group” song that really build a bond between the group. You find your place as a group, but what about your place as a member? There’s a risk that members think “the group will always prevail”, fading away their own ambition. No ambition, no goal, no will to move forward. By giving everyone a front row position in A-side, giving them an opportunity to shine, is extremely important to help the girls get confidence.

It sounds obvious, but there’s many case in idol history where girls were stagnating for years. Let’s take an example in AKB48 : Kobayashi Kana (team K) only had pride in performing 700 times in AKB theater. While popular members were trusting senbatsu position, Brand endorsement and TV performance, some members faced the cruel fate to only perform in a 250 seats theater. When members don’t see a future in the group, they get frustrated and graduate to oblivion.

What is the symbolism behind having everyone wearing red blazer, the original color of techi?

Keyakizaka has one edge compared to AKB48 : their number. Kanji keyaki are 21 and promote as 21, for 5 singles already. It’s now official that hiragana keyaki are being independent. Thanks to that, no one is being shafted, and it’s easier to push members. In fact, the 21 members of keyakizaka get the same amount of push as AKB, but one has 21 members and the other 100+. No wonder Keyaki members feels individually more powerful.

Looking past recipe of success, Keyakizaka is getting closer to AKB formation during their prime : Maeda Atsuko and the Kami7. The mechanism was quite straightforward. A bright center, easy to recognize that could pull the mainstream audience to the group. Some of them get curious and eventually become new fans. And while the center was busy appealing outside the idol circle, a strong base of popular members were maintaining the core fanbase so it only keeps increasing. Acchan was highly recognizable outside, but kami 7 members were also highly recognizable inside (Watanabe Mayu was the cute type, Kashiwagi yui the singing type, Kojima haruna the sexy type). You strong individuals to make it work.

Well. Moriya Akane is the majime type. Watanabe Rika the ponkotsu type. Sugai Yuuka the noble type. Watanabe Risa the cool type. Imaizumi Yui the singing type. To me the Kami7 of keyakizaka has been built, but management is making it even wilder by developing Habu mizuho, koike minami and suzumoto miyu. This is why i think management is in the right path.

Individuality is also encouraged with sub-unit songs during concert

But making everyone strong is not saying we’re building a Keyakizaka without Techi. In fact, it allows Techi to follow Acchan route : getting outside the idol world and appeal to the mainstream audience. We’re currently witnessing techi’s absence of all keyakizaka activities for a while now. People are speculating it’s about health, but another piece of the fandom think she’s doing outside work. For the moment, we don’t know. But if she’s doing her supposed lead role in a movie, we’re totally into “Techi ascent”. She was already modeling a cosmetic, and i would not be surprised if a movie producer got interested in her potential. Techi being demoted of Keyakizaka center can be seen as a downgrade. But to me it has 2 benefits : getting rest from the exhausting center position, and develop new skills by accepting outside work.

As a said in the “how to measure popularity” article, pushes are not equal in influence. Appearing in keyakitte kakenai has not the same impact as modeling for a popular fashion magazine. In the same way, it’s much more interesting for Techi to be absent from TV performance if she’s lead role to a drama. The pattern is now as follows.

Techi : outside the idol world doing acting in a drama viewed by mainstream audience

Other members : developing their individuality by being promoted in songs, concert, live performance and TV show

Hiragana : getting more work like drama, TV show and new album by being independent from Kanji.

As you can see, we’re witnessing huge improvement compared to what was perceived Keyakizaka until now :

Techi center >> Kanji members as Techi’s sidekick >> hiragana members seen as Kanji’s sidekick.

Keyakizaka is much more healthy, homogeneous. Now techi can rely more on her teammates, and hiragana don’t have to wait their turn to be in senbatsu, because, well they do their own single (album from now on). Objectively speaking, Keyakizaka is going for what worked best for AKB, and avoid mistakes done even by Nogizaka46 (2nd gen are considered as “unders” for a long long time).

Expectation increase, but success follows : it’s getting harder and harder to win a lottery ticket for keyakizaka concerts.

I’m not into conspiracy theory, but how Yuichanzu perfectly compensate Techi absence in “glass o ware!” is uncanny. I think Techi absence was scheduled from the start, and used to build the “everyone will get stronger” narrative. Same with Hiragana budoukan. Those 2nd anniversary concert showed that the girls can absolutely handle a concert without Techi. But few month before, they were told that their current self can’t manage that and they let hiragana a whole 3 days in budoukan, giving plenty of exposure to promote them and the new gen. And wow, we announce a new album. Those events are piling up too perfectly to not be suspicious.

But you know what, it doesn’t matter. Hats off to Sony management for taking risks, giving everyone a piece, and making great music. Hats off to the girls to pull such high level of performance. What i learned from this 2nd anniversary, is how much effort it takes to build a popular group. What Keyakizaka has done in only 2 years in incredible.

However it’s not about time. A member can stay theater girl for years. It’s about giving the accurate amount of opportunity for a girl to reach her true potential. Keyakizaka is about giving great opportunities to girls who have great potential. It’s about betting on girls you don’t know if they will succeed, but you take the risk anyway. We can always blame management for being biaised to one member over another, but keep in mind they invest money and we don’t (well we do buy goods, but there’s no uncertainty to get the goods, while investing on a girl is uncertain). They deserve some respect.

If management does like to take risk, why not change the center for the next single? Neru being full kanji now, and popular enough, this is the perfect timing to turn another page of keyakizaka history.