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Japanese Pop Culture Throwbacks: Rise of the 'Boyish' Idol

Posted by Motifive, 04 February 2017 · 1155 views

We all know that almost every idol group has, or should have, the short haired idol. The energetic, sporty, tomboy short haired idol. Hello!Project alone has had a number of them. It's become a recognizable staple of the idol industry. A type, even.

A type that became popular due to the rise of the 'boyish' idol in the 1990s.

Before we jump into the 1990s, a brief look at what popular idols looked like in the 1980s. Short haired idols were in abundance, most of them mimicking the 'Seiko-chan cut' that legendary idol Matsuda Seiko had made popular in the early 1980s. In the mid-1980s, Goto Kumiko debuted. She became a breath of fresh hair among the legions of 'Seiko-chan cut' idols with her long hair and a look that was categorized more as 'beautiful' than 'cute.' Goto became a regular face in the media, making countless appearances in dramas, film and CMs. She quickly became the it girl of the late 1980s. Her popularity caused a demand in the media for girls like Goto and talent agencies quickly debuted young girls who had a similar look. Long, flowing hair and natural, 'feminine' looks.

And so, Goto was credited for the 'beautiful girl' boom that extended into the early 1990s. Mizuki Alisa, Sakurai Sachiko and even Goto's close friend Miyazawa Rie all became popular due to the demand caused by the beautiful girl boom.

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At this time, 17 year old Uchida Yuki was a high school student. She debuted in the early 90s while still a student with very little success in the modeling industry. She was initially a model for women's fashion magazine CanCam, whose main models catered to the look that was popular at the time, for mere months before being dropped. Uchida's appearance was a stark contrast to the look that was popular in the media.

After her CanCam stint she was picked up by a sports clothing brand for their new bikini line, where her athletic look was more appreciated. Her work seemed to quickly increase following the bikini line campaign. People seemed to take to Uchida as her appearances increased. She was sporty, energetic and spunky - which made her all the more refreshing in an oversaturated market. Between her CM appearances and her appearance in the drama, '17sai -at seventeen-', She became a household name before the end of her first year in the entertainment industry.

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Uchida, like Goto, had set off another ripple in the industry - the 'boyish' idol boom. Companies were no longer interested in long haired beauties, their focus turned to short haired, 'boyish' young girls. Many idols with a similar look to Uchida began to debut, one of the more notable of these being Endo Kumiko, who was touted to be the true 'post-Uchida' idol.

Though like most idols, Uchida opted for a mature image as her 20th birthday approached. Fans were not pleased with the new look. Instead of the mini skirts and high heeled boots she donned for her new image, fans missed the laidback tomboy look that had made her so popular. With her new image and most of her fans losing interest, it seemed that Uchida's original seat in the industry had been vacated.

Hirosue Ryoko debuted during Uchida's image change. She was an athletic girl from a small town in Kochi who had dreams of becoming an actress. But it wasn't until Docomo chose Hirosue to be the face of the launch of their new 'pocket bell' paging service that she became a national star. The CM is remembered to this day, with the opening of Hirosue staring upward into the camera as the camera pans out becoming iconic CM imagery. Though Hirosue had launched an acting career at the same time, she became far more recognizable through her countless CM deals and magazine appearances that varied from idol magazines to fashion magazines to almost every other sort of magazine published at the time.

Hirosue's popularity was something not seen in the industry before and she became a social phenomenon due to her unprecedented popularity that spanned across multimedia. Her success was attributed to appearing at the height of the boyish idol boom and having the right amount of two aspects of the archetype idol at that point: the tomboy and the 'cute.' She was, at the time, the best of both worlds.

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As her popularity skyrocketed at the same time as the the early days of the internet's popularity, she became the first celebrity to have their own board on the anonymous board 2channel and countless fansites dedicated themselves to sharing scans of Hirosue's magazine appearances, a rarity at the time. Magazines would hold entire issues at the end of each year dedicated to cataloging Hirosue's copious amounts of fan merchandise. Her debut photobooks sold half a million, being the more recent entries in the top best selling photobooks in Japan's history.

Like Uchida as well, Hirosue had 'post-Hirosue' actresses and idols appear after her. Actresses Tanaka Rena and Kato Ai, who later became famous in their own rights, debuted during this time. The two were called 'Hirosue copies' by the media which at the time was oddly enough considered a compliment. The 'post-Hirosue' marker has been applied to even idols and actresses of the modern age, including Nogizaka46's Ikoma Rina and actress Nounen Rena.

Though the boyish idol boom comes and goes with each new it girl that comes and goes, it remains a recognized archetype in the idol industry. As much as we recognize the tomboy, athletic short haired idol now, it didn't truly become a well known concept until the era of Uchida and Hirosue. The two are still recognized today as the founders of the boyish, tomboy idol image.

Interestingly enough, Uchida and Hirosue would finally work together in a drama almost 20 years later.

Always quite liked Uchida Yuki. :) She's not a half bad actress either :)


I'm loving this series of posts btw, the nineties was an interesting time for idoldom.

this was really interesting! I don't know a thing about idols from the 90s, but this kind of inspired me to look up a little bit more about it. :)