Tokyo Girls’ Style gets glow sticks waving at @Jam Expo

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

The glow stick business must be booming. Sure it was a staple of 1990s rave culture, but the modern idol-pop scene has taken to them at least threefold. And Yokohama Arena was filled with them last weekend at the @Jam Expo.

The country’s biggest idol-group showcase featured a staggering 100 acts playing to a crowd of young women and men (OK, there were definitely more men) on seven different stages.

The @Jam festival, organized by Zepp Live and originally under the name Ota Jam, has spawned a number of offshoots: @Jam the Field, @Jam Next and the Kawaii Pop Fes. However @Jam Expo was the biggest undertaking so far.

Dempagumi.inc headlined the event, which included up-and-coming idol acts such as Lyrical School, Otome Shinto and Yufu Terashima. Also performing was JKT48, an Indonesian branch of Japan’s most famous idol group, AKB48. My personal highlights included Dorothy Little Happy, a five-member idol group from Avex that won audiences with its ballad “Starting Over,” and self-proclaimed “girls rock unit” Passpo, whose backing guitar melodies were a welcome change from the many synthesizer performances of the day.

Also putting in a strong performance was Tokyo Girls’ Style, a five-piece that formed in 2010. The group had its performance streamed live via pop-music website MTV 81.

“I was really happy that so many people had the chance to see us perform, I wasn’t even expecting our stage to go over capacity,” Tokyo Girls’ Style member Miyu Yamabe said after her group finished its performance. The stage area was so packed that organizers ended up having to turn people away.

“Since the expo is targeting an audience from overseas, we incorporated our most well-known songs into our set,” Yamabe said. “Hopefully, that way first-time viewers could get a sense of what our style is about.”

Formed in 2010, Tokyo Girls’ Style includes Yamabe, Ayano Konishi, Hitomi Arai, Yuri Nakae and Mei Shoji. This year, the group has made specific efforts to expand its global fanbase and has participated in two Kawaii Pop Fes events abroad — one in Taiwan and the other in Hong Kong. In addition to those shows, a Chinese version of the group’s song “Partition Love” was included as a bonus track on some versions of its latest album, “Killing Me Softly,” which was released in June.

While many idol acts see most of their growth potential coming from other Asian markets, Tokyo Girls’ Style has also set its sights on the United States. The group performed at the two-day J-pop Summit in San Francisco, one of the largest of its kind.

“I didn’t feel much pressure, but since it’s our first time visiting San Francisco, I was nervous that no one there would recognize us,” Yamabe said. “However, we had some fans there, and I think that even people who were new to us paid careful attention.”

Of course, with Tokyo Girls’ Style making the effort to reach out to overseas music fans, I thought it was only appropriate to ask what non-Japanese musicians the group listens to. Nakae, a self-confessed R&B fan, mentioned Chris Brown and Austin Mahone, while Yamabe said she tends to listen to K-pop. But then the girls began to compare their own performances with overseas acts, and pondered how Japanese idol groups manage to fit in.

“With us, all five of the members hold their own microphones,” Konishi said, alluding to the fact that all of them play equal roles in the group. She added that overseas acts tend to be very polished when they dance, opting for subtle movements to look cool.

“Instead of dancing smoothly, we try to be as big and energetic as possible,” Konishi said. “When we’re dancing, we don’t pay attention to anything, not even our costumes!”

Perhaps this momentary rumination will lead to some new surprises when Tokyo Girls’ Style performs at @Jam the Field vol. 6 at Tokyo’s Roppongi Blue Theater on Nov. 24. One thing that likely won’t change, though, is that you should stock up on your glow sticks.