Japan’s local idol groups return to the scene amid new COVID-19 rules

Budding ‘idol’ song and dance numbers in Nagoya, said to be a hotbed for the emergence of new talent, attempt to rekindle the all-important close contact with fans after long struggling against restrictions on music. coronavirus.

The audience’s proximity to the idol-pop performers, both boy and girl groups, and solo acts, is a key part of the fan experience, but the opportunities to perform live have come. sharply declined due to restrictions on face-to-face activities introduced to combat the COVID-19 crisis.

Although performances have resumed in the central city of Japan, they come with a whole new set of rules, such as adhering to strict social distancing protocols and even registering names and contact details at events. in some cases.

Cool-X, a group of dancing and singing male idols, performed their repertoire in front of around 50 predominantly female audiences at a shopping complex in Sakae, an entertainment district, in mid-November.

“The opportunities to perform outdoors have been limited. We hope you will support us even though it might be the first time you’ve seen us, ”one of the members told the audience.

Competition among aspiring idols in Nagoya is intense, with more than 100 artists performing individually or in groups, according to an entertainment industry official.

Idol-pop outfits like OSU attempt to reconnect with fans in person, which is vital for their popularity. | KYODO

During the performance of Cool-X, the audience was required to wear masks, stand on fixed markers for social distancing, and were prohibited from cheering. Instead, they could clap and sway.

After the performance, Cool-X members chatted with fans who had purchased band-related products on offer at the venue.

As the COVID-19 infections spread, Cool-X broadcast live performances online and kept in touch with fans by phone. The band resumed live performances in October.

A 19-year-old student who was on the show said Cool-X helped ease her sense of isolation after the college she enrolled in switched to online classes last year.

While she enjoyed Cool-X’s performance, she admits the new COVID-19 rules in place aren’t ideal for having the best time.

“I felt sad because we had to keep away from the group. When they’re closer, I can dance with them, ”she says.

Junki Maeda, 27, one of the band members, admits: “The sooner the audience can raise their voices to encourage us again, the better to make our performances more exciting.”

The Nanairo Milky Way female idol group operates independently without belonging to an artistic agency. When the prefectural government of Aichi, of which Nagoya is the capital, asked companies to reduce their working hours as an anti-infective measure, the group saw its revenues plummet as its merchandise sales after the performance had to end more. earlier than usual.

Some Nanairo members are taking part-time jobs to make ends meet.

“Some of us have had economic difficulties,” said 23-year-old group leader Nako Sugino.

Although the group is growing in popularity, members are frustrated as performances planned in places like Tokyo and Osaka have been postponed due to the health crisis.

“Many idols belonging to small talent agencies or independent groups have dissolved or suspended their activities,” according to an entertainment industry official.

Referring to the difficult business conditions since last year, Kenichi Yufu, 49, owner of a business that runs entertainment idols and a club with live music, said: “You had no other choice than to laugh and overcome difficulties. “

The company lost millions of yen with the canceled performances and saw its revenue drop by half last year, Yufu said. Although business has resumed this year, he said the business is only halfway through a full recovery.

Despite this, Yufu takes a proactive approach in his plans to introduce new idol groups because, as he said, “there is an energy that can only be conveyed through face-to-face performances.” While launching a new idol group, he attracted over 100 people to an event held at his club in mid-November.

At the event, members of the public were required to wear masks and were not allowed to shout, but expressed their support for the performers by waving pen lights and swaying to the music.

Ami Natsukawa, the 22-year-old leader of OSU, a female idol group who performed at the event, said: “We hope to energize people, although a full return to the way things were previously or maybe impossible. “

Yufu says that at the moment, anyway, idol groups have no choice but to deal with the circumstances of the pandemic.

“I want people to see our efforts to get along effectively with the coronavirus by taking the right steps,” he says.

In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces.

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