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10 Japanese Idol Groups With Unique (or Weird) Concepts

Updated on January 21, 2017

Unlike the western concept of idols, where celebrities can be admired and placed on a pedestal despite lacking talent and/or good manners, Japan’s idols have to conform to the strictest of standards coming from their management and the fans themselves.

Japanese idols are groomed by their management agencies not just in their professional lives but also with their private lives – most of them are contractually obligated to maintain a “pure” image, which means they can’t enter into a relationship (or at the very least, can’t enter into one that will be seen by the public) and must maintain a good role model image; no smoking, drinking, or even swearing. The slightest gaffes like being seen in public kissing a person of the opposite sex will merit punitive actions like being suspended, on top of the fan backlash.

On the positive side of things, Japanese idols hold an intrinsic appeal due to their use of gimmicks or themes. Many of them rely on the usual “schoolgirl” or “maid” concept, but there are several idol groups that succeeded with unique – and sometimes weird – concepts. Here are 10 of the best:

#1- Perfume

Concept: Electronica

Perfume’s main genre is a contemporary brand of electronic dance music that incorporates elements of dance-pop, house music, and synthpop alongside the usual bubblegum pop. They make heavy use of autotune and vocal effects despite being accomplished singers.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

Japanese idol groups, particularly female ones, tend to lean more towards bubblegum pop as their main genre. While they do stray into other genres, they are mostly done as one-offs or temporary experimentation. Perfume is the only idol group so far to make use of Electronica as their main concept.

#2- The Margarines

Concept: Just Want to Pay Debts

The Margarines were originally formed in order to raise enough money to settle the members’ debts, which amount to a total of 127 million yen.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

The Margarines are unique and weird because even though it’s common knowledge that the idol industry runs on money, the idol group is honest about their motivation: they need to raise enough money to pay off their debts, all of which were run up for reasons ranging from student loans, to family debts, to being scammed by business partners, and some were just due to plain overspending.

#3- KBG84

Concept: Close to Heaven

You might recognize the name to be a play on Yasushi Akimoto’s 48-member girl groups, but the numbers in KBG84’s name does not represent the amount of members, but the average age. KBG84 is Japan’s first (and most likely only) geriatric idol group, consisting of women aged 80 years at the minimum.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • There’s the fact that idol groups not just in Japan, but all over the world, are focused on youth. Many idols dread aging because it limits their market appeal as idols, but KBG84 embraces age and in fact requires 80 as the minimum age to be an active member.
  • The group has a positive outlook on their age and doesn’t shy away from admitting that they are already on the twilight of their years, hence the tagline that they are Japan’s idol Group “Closest to Heaven,” which would be rude to say to any old person but taken as a point of pride for KBG84.

#4- Morning Musume. / モーニング娘。

Concept: Graduating Members

First created by rock musician-turned-producer Tsunku in 1997, Morning Musume’s main concept is that each member graduates from the band after a few years, and replaced by new members discovered through auditions held all over the country.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • Morning Musume is unique by virtue of being one of the first. They were pioneers of the large idol unit template upon which AKB48 and its ilk are based on.
  • Morning Musume holds the honor of having the most top ten singles in the Oricon chart, as well as the second highest overall single sales of a female group. To date, Morning Musume has sold over 21 million singles in Japan alone.
  • Because all members will graduate and be replaced over time, the Morning Musume group can technically live forever.

#5- 48G

Concept: Idols You Can Meet

All of the idol girl groups under the 48G banner are marketed under the concept of “idols you can meet” that perform daily and hold regular meet and greet (including “handshaking”) events with their loyal fans.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • The 48 part of the name originally refers to the first 48 members who debuted with the first group, AKB48, which is based in Akihabara. The larger roster is already unique back then, but the 48G group has since expanded into other groups targeted towards different locations, such as SKE48 for Sakae, Nagoya, NMB48 for Namba, Osaka, HKT48 for Hakata, Fukuoka, and even foreign countries such as JKT48 and SNH4 for Jakarta, Indonesia and Shanghai, China, respectively.
  • Fans are not expected to memorize each member or group due to the sheer number of options. Rather, they are encouraged to pick and support specific members. In a way, the “idol you can meet” is better translated as “idol you can personally relate to.”

#6- Especia

Concept: Vaporwave Visual and 80s Sound

Especia’s main concept is that they seem to represent the vaporwave movement in both their music and visuals; their songs are an eclectic mix of 80’s disco, funk, and j-pop, while their fashion statements blend 80s with contemporary style.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • Their choice of genre and visual themes make them stand out among other idol groups, most of which tend to ride the current mainstream genre trend.
  • They also extend the vaporwave concept’s anti-corporatism outside of music and fashion: they are one of the first few idol groups to use crowdfunding in order to produce a record, an effort that resulted in the vinyl album Taste of Spice last January 23.

#7- Babymetal

Concept: J-pop Idol Group Meets Metal

Babymetal fuses the conventional idol dance pop with various styles of metal, ranging from symphonic death metal, to speed metal, etc. The band refers to their style as “kawaii metal.”

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • Idol groups, particularly ones with members in their early teens, and heavy metal acts occupy completely opposite ends of the genre spectrum, but Babymetal manages to fuses the two and still make it work.
  • A typical Babymetal performance will feature pop dance routines, devil horns (which they call “fox horns”), and headbanging, all in the same song.
  • Babymetal has fans overseas that are not interested in j-pop nor idol groups, as the metal side of their concept is decent enough to be considered interesting by hardcore metal fans.

#8- Kiyoshi Ryujin 25

Concept: Polygamy

Kiyoshi Ryujin 25’s main concept is that all six members have the same surname, Kiyoshi, because they’re all married to the only male member of the group – singer and songwriter Kiyoshi Ryujin.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • Many idol groups try to market their members as pure, innocent young girls who don’t even have boyfriends, but Kiyoshi Ryujin 25’s members are not only marketed as married women, but to the same guy at that, which makes them illicit under most circumstances.
  • The live performances and music videos of the group play out as musicals, as they incorporate the polygamy concept as the story behind many of the performances.
  • The group is also one of the few idol units with a prominent male member.

#9- Niigata Rice Girls

Concept: Elderly Idols Who Are Actual Rice Farmers

The members of Niigata Rice Girls are all aged 50 to 70 years old, but their age is not their main gimmick, but rather a side effect of the fact that their concept is that all the members are actual rice farmers and the theme of their songs and videos is rice.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • While their age already makes them stand out in the idol group industry, their professions as real hardworking women give them some sort of street cred, and ensure that they won’t be easily dismissed as pampered young girls (because they’re not.)
  • The Niigata Rice Girls also has a very unique gimmick in that they specialize in all things rice (their first single is titled “Happiness Rice Balls”), as well as being positive about life and work.

#10- Momoiro Clover Z

Concept: Ridiculous Fusion of Different Genres and Concepts

Momoiro Clover Z’s main concept is a mish-mash of various inspirations taken from the typical idol group concept, tokusatsu, and anime. Their music is also equally eclectic, ranging from pop, to dance, and even rock.

What Makes it Weird and Unique

  • Momoiro Clover Z, unlike the traditional idol group, was not conceptualized and assembled by a talent agency. Instead, the original members began as a street act in 2008, performing for bystanders in the streets of Tokyo.
  • The members of Momoiro Clover Z have their own specific color, and this color scheme is retained throughout all of their costumes whether it’s a music video or a live performance. This type of color coding is no doubt modeled after tokusatsu shows where heroes are represented by color.
  • The dance routines of the group can be intense and will employ acrobatics, such as leapfrogs, cartwheels, handsprings, and their patented “shrimp jump,” which is an exaggerated version of gymnastics’ “sheep jump,” done by jumping upwards with the back arched and both legs bent backwards.
  • The group has collaborated with various non-jpop acts, including the iconic American hard rock band KISS.

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    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 2 years ago from The Garden State

      Yeah, that's, ummm...I guess "unique" would be a good word for it. :D

    • xypherfarrell profile image
      Author

      Fairlane Raymundo 2 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @FatFreddysCat, i think "Polygamy" concept takes the cake

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 2 years ago from The Garden State

      The only two "bands" on this list I'm familiar with are Momoiro Clover Z (due to their KISS collaboration) and BabyMetal (for the extreme hatred they get from so-called 'true' metal fans on message boards, who seem to think that they're an insult to the metal genre)... neither act is really my "thang" but they're certainly, errrr, interesting.