With the recent arrival of groups that deviate wildly from the typical idol formula, it begs the question: how far can you go before they stop being classed as idol groups, and simply become female rap groups or rock bands with a collection of female vocalists. Unfortunately, these arguments are often not really used to define a genre but just as a lazy way to dismiss groups that a person may not like. However, it’s an important question worth asking: how exactly do we define an idol group and how much variety is allowed in our genre?
I believe that this issue comes up most often with idol groups that have an alternate style to the usual bubblegum pop instrumentals that typical groups are known for. Recently, groups such as BiS and PASSPO have been championing rock instrumentals or groups like Morning Musume have been switching to a more EDM-focused beat in order to add more variety to their music. With every change that is made to a group’s style, you will find fans who are incredibly vocal online about how this is moving away from what an idol should be.
Furthermore, another issue is the change of the marketing of the groups and the personality of the members. BiS for example have moved far far away from the typical “kawaii” personalities of older idols with the members having adopted more vulgar, morbid and sometimes even sexual personalities. This has worked to the group’s success, at least in the NSK community but many people would call them “non-idols” due to their outlandish marketing. Another example would be the up-and-coming group Fairies, who while having very cute and idol-like members; their marketing, musical style, and choreography are all very reminiscent of a high-production mainstream K-pop group. AKB48, while being one of the first names I think of when I hear “idol,” arguably has qualities that would disqualify it from being considered an idol group. I mean a good amount of the members are far from cute. I would call Shinoda Mariko gorgeous, sexy or even “marriage-material” but I feel like she hasn’t been cute in years. Speaking of Mariko, many of the members are also way older than your typical idol which is really unusual.
If we allow all of these groups to call themselves idols, then what’s stopping the mainstream groups that show idol-like qualities from being called idols too? I mean if recent Morning Musume with their EDM influences and barely any TV coverage are considered to be idols, then why can’t Perfume with their high production EDM instrumentals and tons of TV time be an idol group? If AKB’s occasional rock songs get a pass, then why doesn’t SCANDAL get called an idol group? When is “they’re not an idol group, so I don’t like them” a truly valid argument?
The point I’m trying to make is that the genre of “idol music” is way too vague and non-specific to actually use in an argument to dismiss a group. Plus, it’s a rather silly argument in the first place. So what if a group isn’t a typical idol group? – it’s a stupid reason to not like them. Being “non-idol” is not a valid reason to dislike something. Using arguments like this also hurts the idol industry as it limits the variety of idol music out there. I really doubt we, as a community want all idols to be the same. Then why do we use petty arguments like this to dismiss these groups? Do we really want to fall into the same trap that other fandoms (*cough* EDM *cough*) fall into and split the fandom by genre disputes?
An idol group to me is just a pop group where the personality of the members is an equal or even bigger selling point compared to the music. Sure, with this definition we run into some gray areas but it’s so vague, we can’t expect to categorize every form of music. So in my opinion, even despite labeling yourself as a hardcore idol fan, you should give some of these “non-idol-like idol” groups a shot. Because without them, will this genre have any hope of variation? Or will we let it stagnate and eventually lose interest in the music?