By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
This is J-Pop Spotlight: A column where every month until the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, we explain some of the biggest musicians in Japan performing in a genre that is starting to go mainstream in North America.
In the history of J-Pop, there are well known groups that defined their era and revolutionized the genre. In 2005, famous record producer and songwriter Yasushi Akimoto created AKB48, which originated the idea of a group performing in their own personal theatre (theirs was in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Akihabara) so fans can engage with the group in person. This also set a standard for meet and greet events.
When I began following J-Pop fulltime in 2013, the group was mainstream—seen everywhere in the entire country. Akimoto created a rival group for AKB48 in 2011. The group is called Nogizaka46, and they were also founded on the idea of idols you can meet. As the decade went by, more sister groups for Nogizaka46 were created—all together, they are called the Sakamichi Series (or the 46 groups)—and they are one of the biggest idol groups right now.
Compared to AKB48, they appeal to everyone, and have groups that have different styles for each type of hardcore idol fans. The rest of the 46 groups include Keyakizaka46, Hinatazaka46, and Yoshimotozaka46.
Nogizaka46 is an easy breezy group, and you can see such traits in their synchronized choreography and elegant clothes. Their breakthrough year began in 2017, when they got the award Best Song in the Japan Record Awards—the Japanese version of the Grammy Awards—two years in a row for “Influencer” and “Synchronicity.” The group could make history this year by being the first musicians to get the award three years in a row.
Keyakizaka46 is the opposite of Nogizaka46. Their songs tackle serious topics, beginning with their first hit single in 2016, “Silent Majority,” which talks about rebellion and challenging the system. The lead member of the group, Yurina Hirate (nicknamed Techi), is the forefront member in many of the singles they have released. Their choreography is very intense and passionate.
They had an understudy group called Hiragana Keyakizaka46. When more members were put in the group, they started to form their own group personality that was more cheerful. In February 2019 during a press conference, the group was made independent and renamed to Hinatazaka46. The group can be described as Nogizaka46 with the choreography of Keyakizaka46. Their recent hit single “Is it OK to like you so much?” shows their unique style and it was the number one song on Billboard’s Japan Hot 100 between Sept 30 and Oct 6.
The most interesting group of all is Yoshimotozaka46, which is a collaboration with one of the biggest talent agencies in Japan: Yoshimoto Kogyo. The group consists mainly of comedians—both boys and girls, and elderly members as well. While you might think that they are doing this for charity or fun, but they are actually very serious about the group, shown in the music videos of their songs. The group has EXILE TAKAHIRO (also known as Takahiro Tasaki) doing their choreography. One of the members in the group, Yuriyan Retriever, was seen on season 14 of America’s Got Talent doing body building—she even saw Simon Cowell!
The 46 groups are rising up the slope, and there is a group that is for everyone. They will probably get more attention because they could be involved in the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Nogizaka46: Rena Yamazaki
Keyakizaka46: Nanako Nagasawa
Hinatazaka46: Kumi Sasaki (Captain)
Yoshimotozaka48: Riho Miyaki
Nogizaka46: Rotating between Mai Shiraishi, Asuka Saito, and Sakura Endo
Keyakizaka46: Yurina Hirate
Hinatazaka46: Nao Kosaka