Corona and its impact on idol life – and graduations

The Corona virus has the whole world in a tight grip, Japan included. Mass events are not allowed at the moment, which is why most idol activities – concerts and handshake events – have come to a halt. However, the job of a (modern) idol is to be in reach for your fans. In contrast to other musicians, the appeal of an idol is not only their music, but their face, their character, their aura. Fortunately, the modern world can fall back on social media – and for once, the real positive aspects of SNS come to light.

Hello! Project’s idols have become much more active on social media the last few weeks, especially on Instagram. Beyooooonds have developed a „school“ corner, in which the girls teach the viewers about a topic dear to them on a rotating basis. Older members, like Morning Musume.20’s Fukumura Mizuki and Ikuta Erina, went (Insta)live. Some groups gathered to do more-or-less acapella covers of their songs, like Juice=Juice and, once again, Beyooooonds – sometimes joined by Beyooooonds‘ pianist Kobayashi Honoka or even by the songwriters, who accompany the girls with instruments.

Some people say that this way of communication feels much more fun and closer than seeing them on stage 4 times a week or standing in line for a handshake. Many very shy fans in Japan, but especially fans from overseas, can finally experience what they only know from other fans‘ reports: The character of the girls. It does indeed feel a bit like a throwback to early- and mid-2000’s  TV appearances.

I really hope this kind of communication won’t just disappear once the girls will be busy with concerts and single selling events again. Those take a lot of time and the girls won’t be as free as now, but I do hope management realises that letting the girls loose a bit is actually a good thing.

The good, the bad… and the ugly sides of idol fandom

That doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to new concerts – and especially new releases, which have also come to a halt. It’s also highly probably that Up-Front is losing a lot of money as we speak. The artists have a normal salary that won’t be stopped now, but their main income (mostly sales from handshake events) broke off.

Business aside, another side of idols has come to a standstill: Graduations. While Murota Mizuki and Kobushi Factory still graduated in March, without an audience, the graduations of Miyamoto Karin and Funaki Musubu (both planned for June) have been postponed to a yet-unknown date. Both girls have expressed the desire to graduate in front of an audience, saying a last goodbye to their fans, and not just disappearing without a last personal contact.

While other countries are already at the point of loosening the restriction measures it is not known when Japan plans on doing so – especially densely populated hotspots like Tokyo are at risk for new waves of outbreaks. It is possible that the two girls graduate in fall or winter. Generally speaking, 2020 was already dense in graduations to begin with. But what if other members planned on leaving later in the year, too?

One statement comes to mind: Ikuta Erina saying „Please support me until after the Olympics!“. She has already retracted this statement, saying she doesn’t have plans for a graduation, but it still makes you think. The summer Olympics 2020 were a big event which would have pushed any non-urgent graduations to another time. Were their plans on saying goodbye to Ikuta later in 2020? Who knows. At this point in the year it is unlikely that any other member will anounce her graduation for 2020.

However, this puts some groups in a weird situation. Many members have been around for 5 years and more, several Morning Musume members and Takeuchi Akari knocking on the door of 10 years in Hello! Project. Especially Morning Musume is getting crowded. The big question is: Will 2021 be the year of mass graduations?

Depends on the group, I think. Morning Musume is at high risk for such a thing to happen. While even Fukumura, as the oldest member, has still a year until hitting the magical age of 25 (October 2021, to be precise), there is still a total of 4 members reaching a tenue of 10 years in the group next year – 9th and 10th generation joined Morning Musume in 2011. Not to be the killjoy, but a double graduation of Fukumura and Ikuta at the Spring 2021 tour would be bomb, because at that point they will have reached their 10th year (February 2021). But of course, letting many established members leave at the same time is also a risk, which is why I doubt that many double graduations will happen – especially since none of the girls seem to have ambitions that need an urgent graduation.

Going with the tradition of Hello! Online’s thread „Which MM member will graduate soon?“, I will try to word my thoughts in the following tables (and, following this, for other groups as well).

2020: no graduation
2021: Ikuta (spring), Ishida (fall) OR a double graduation of the two of them in fall
2022: Sato (spring), Fukumura (fall)
2023: Nonaka (spring), Oda (fall)

Everything else is still uncertain. But I won’t leave this without notes:

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Ikuta or Ishida to go first. But especially with Ikuta, it seems like she has no incredibly important role in the group right now. She’s only mid-popularity in handshakes, and she’s a background performer in concerts. In fact, for 15ki guidance and general big-sister-feeling I’d love to keep her in the group, but I just don’t see it.

When it comes to Ishida, it feels like she is simply over her prime. She’s still good, but she’s not irreplaceable. That’s why I think Ikuta and Ishida would be two good picks to go first. Ikuta can continue her sporty idol side business, while Ishida could join Yoshiko-sensei as a choreographer.

Why did I put Sato before Fukumura? Because I don’t think she wants to be leader. It is possible that she simply continues without being leader, like Umeda Erika passing °C-ute’s leadership to Yajima Maimi, but that would be a first for Morning Musume, and MM is a bit more conservative in many things. In fall 2022 Fukumura will turn 26, which would be a great landmark to end her career in Morning Musume (being the second oldest to graduate after Nakazawa Yuuko). At this point, Oda takes up leadership.

To be fair, I’m not sure about 2023. I can see Oda graduating earlier. It’s also possible that Nonaka steps up as the next leader and blossoms once again. But I think it’s also unlikely that over the next 3 years all remaining Colourful Era members graduate and no other members. It highly depends on the girls‘ ambitions and dreams. Not only the 12th generation could graduate in the next 3 years (they have already been in the group for 5 years, did you know that?): Kaga Kaede and Morito Chisaki are also already over 20. The only girls that are somewhat save are 15th generation. Nevertheless, Morning Musume is crowded with girls that can’t let go.

Moving on to other groups, ANGERME is still in the middle of a mass graduation phase. Since Wada Ayaka’s graduation in June 2019, three other girls have graduated and one had to postpone her graduation twice. And then there’s Oota Haruka who is currently on hiatus. Since Takeuchi Akari is still young at 22 years I feel like she can go on a little longer, despite her also joining the 10-year-tenue-group next year. Rikako will be an interesting case, since she has her modeling gig on the side. Same with Moe. However, I do hope that ANGERME can go on without a graduation for at least 2021.

Juice=Juice is in a somewhat dangerous place, too. The original members are all over 20, with Kanazawa Tomoko turning 25 in 2020 already. Management adding Kudo Yume and Matsunaga Riai also hints at upcoming graduations. Therefore I can imagine the following timetable:

2020: Miyamoto
2021: Kanazawa (spring)
2022: Takagi, Uemura, Inaba

By the end of 2022 all original members will have reached 25 years in age. Inaba Manaka has also been one of the older members. I can imagine management adding another bunch of new members in 2021 or 2022, and at that point the members will all be exchanged – going full circle on NEXT YOU.

When it comes to Tsubaki Factory there’s not much to say. They only work as a group. From what the members have said about their group life, they talk and discuss a lot as a team. It is possible that a member might want to graduate at a point, but unlikely that they join the rotating line-up madness. This puts them out of line for graduations, since it’s more of a life project than a school like many other groups.

And regarding Beyooooonds, there’s probably not going to be a graduation soon, since they’re still fresh as bread out of the oven. Of course, looking at the older members they might not stay as long as Kiyono Momohine, for example, but there’s definitely no rush or impending graduations caused by Corona.

And that concludes the Corona post. We all live under difficult conditions at the moment, and so do our favourite idols. They still try to make our days brighter, and I am thankful for that.

Everyone, stay safe and healthy.

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