J-Pop idol group Atarashii Gakko! is taking the world by storm. Only a few years after their debut in 2017, they have signed onto 88 Rising (the LA-based label responsible for primarily Asian acts such as Rich Brian and Niki) and have also performed at Coachella 2024. Despite being a Japanese idol group, their fame comes from their almost radical anti-idol approach. 

Japanese idol groups are typically girl groups known for their kawaii fashion and its accompanying aesthetics. Dressed in short frilly outfits, they perform energetic choreographies and sing about love and joy in the world. With a dedicated mostly male fan base, this industry has been plagued with an array of issues, including the objectification, sexualization and infantilization of its often teenaged performers. Atarashii Gakko! emerged within this context, aiming to transgress the oppressive cultural norms that dictate the lives of J-pop idols. 

Photograph of Atarashii Gakko! members, from left to right: Suzuka, Kanon, Mizyu and Rin. Image courtesy of JPop Fandom.

Unlike other Japanese idol groups, the group whose name translates as “New School Leaders,” dress in loose school-girl uniforms. They don long skirts and quirky hair and make-up, often seeming odd and off-putting to the men who are typically part of Japanese idol fanbases. Their choreography is akin to quirky and artful contemporary dance, appearing “unflattering” to those used to the kawaii dance moves that idol groups usually perform. 

Their music is also equally radical. They perform a blend of rap, jazz, techno and pop to sing about haunted toilets and alien invasions. Gone is the need to pine for love and relationships; in its place is Atarashii Gakko!’s signature blend of chaos and fun.

Pineapple Kryptonite by Atarashii Gakko!, their hit song about an alien invasion. Video courtesy of 88Rising/YouTube.

Atarashii Gakko!, “the New School Leaders,” are indeed leading a rebellion against Japanese idol culture. They fight back against objectification of women, leading through example and showing that women can be in the entertainment industry and not have to cater to the male gaze. They can still be their true selves and gain global success and recognition. This is why Atarashii Gakko! is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality.

Photograph of Atarashii Gakko!. Image courtesy of Unlocked Microsoft.

Each of the Atarashii Gakko! members reimagine archetypal characters often found in Japanese school girl media. First, we have lead vocalist Suzuka, with her round glasses and short hair who is known as “The Wildcard.” Referencing school girl anime, she plays the class nerd, yet she transgresses this trope by showing that class nerds can also be boisterous leaders. Similarly, curly haired Rin, is “The Nice and Funky one,” who is athletic and spunky with a ‘bad attitude’. Rin raps and hangs out with the boys, but there is an added layer of complexity to her stage persona. She is still kind-hearted and willing to take one for the team. 

Kanon, who is known as “The Graceful One,” plays the role of the ‘pretty girl.’ With long sleek black hair, she appears stylish and vain. Yet, Kanon is mischievous and rebellious. Last but not least is Mizyu. With bobbing pig tails, she is known as “The Sleeping Kitten,” or the cute one of the group who would typically be child-like and naive. Mizyu breaks away from this convention by being inquisitive, brave and reliable. The character traits that Atarashii Gakko! members have embodied go beyond showmanship by portraying women as complex individuals. The band members assert themselves as relatable and worthy of respect as both performers and individuals.

Photograph of Atarashii Gakko! performing at Nippon Budokan. Image courtesy of Niew Media.

Aside from performing musical numbers, like other idol groups, Atarashii Gakko! members have their own comedy skit show on 88 Rising’s YouTube channel and have amassed over 6.9 million TikTok followers on an account where they share their daily lives as the characters they embody. 

This highlights the paradoxical nature of their art: despite proving that Japanese idols can succeed by rejecting the traditional idol pathway, they still must adhere to certain norms and go to great lengths to perform for their audience, even when off-stage. Without doubt, Atarashii Gakko! has made significant strides in making the Japanese idol industry better, yet there is still much work to be done when it comes to making the space more equitable and empowering for its women performers.

Find out more about Atarashii Gakko!, their songs and other initiatives by checking their Instagram on @japan_leaders.

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