Saturday, December 10, 2016

Iketeru Hearts Interview: Making "Iketeru" A Universal Word


(Top left, clockwise) Iketeru Hearts members Yuyu Arata, Kotone Uchida, Rie Tachibana, Karin Ochi, Yuno Yurano, Nijika, Kazune Manami (Not in picture: Madoka Usami)

Their ambition is to make the Japanese word "iketeru (cool)" a term as well-known as "kawaii (cute)" and be a bridge connecting Japan and the world.

Idol group Iketeru Hearts were in Singapore last month for the recent Anime Festival Asia (AFA) Japanese pop culture convention. It was their second year in a row attending the event, having placed first in a contest organised by idol-supporting app CHEERZ for the second consecutive year.

Since their major debut in February this year, the sister group to popular Japanese idol group Afilia Saga has released three singles and charted twice in Oricon Weekly Top 10 to date.

We sat down for a chat with the members about their motivations behind being idols, their favourite animes, what kind of anime they would like to sing for and what makes them different from other Japanese idol groups.

Welcome back to Singapore! How do you feel about being able to perform at AFA again this year?

We are glad that we are able to perform in Singapore again. There were many fans who came to support us last year and we are so happy that we can enjoy the same level of support again this year. We are also delighted that there were many people who came to watch our performances.

We were still idol trainees when we performed here last year. However, we've since made our major debut and released three singles this year. This time around, we were able to bring many of our original songs to Singapore.

Iketeru Hearts performing "Lumica Jane" at AFA 2016
(Credit: Nubhan Abdul Aziz)

We are really happy to be able to come back and perform on stage as an actual idol group, as Iketeru Hearts this time, singing our own songs and wearing our own costumes. It feels really great.

While we only spent time at the CHEERZ booth last year, it was fun promoting Lumica light sticks and glow sticks to the public at the Lumica booth this year too. We had an official collaboration with Lumica for our third single, "Lumica Jane" this year.

Iketeru Hearts at the CHEERZ booth at AFA 2016

Since it's your second time here, tell us what do you like about Singapore!

All: The food! The food is delicious!

Kazune: We went to eat paper chicken (seasoned chicken wrapped in paper and deep-fried) together yesterday! Chicken rice is delicious too! (The other members exclaim in agreement.)

Yuyu: I like bak kut teh (pork ribs simmered in a herbs-and-spices broth).

Kazune: Laksa (rice noodles served in a spicy coconut milk and curry soup base) is delicious too! (The other members voice their agreement.) We haven't had it this year yet but we had instant laksa cup noodles from the convenience store. It's very delicious!

All: There's really a lot of delectable food in Singapore!

Yuyu: I also like the many huge and flashy buildings here and the spectacular night view! While we were walking on the streets, we saw many incredible Christmas decorations which were put up. The Christmas lights here are beautiful! We also came across a really amazing Christmas display with many objects at one of the malls here.

Yuno: The mall decorations here are much more extravagant than those in Japan. There were many desserts such as cakes and candies at this particular display. In fact, they looked so realistic that we had wondered if they were really edible at first but they were actually just fake food items.

All: Singapore is a really beautiful country!

(Note: We surmise that the Christmas display Iketeru Hearts is referring to is the one at The Centrepoint. The mall was crowned the best-dressed mall on Orchard Road for Christmas on Dec 9.)

Since we are talking about AFA, what are some of your favourite animes?

Kazune: I'm watching Yuri on Ice at the moment! It's very popular in Japan right now but I'm surprised that it has also caught on fast in Singapore. I came across many cosplays of the characters and original illustrations on sale at AFA. It's a really hot property here! I also enjoy the Fate series and Vocaloid in addition to anime.

The cosplayers in Singapore are also really amazing and there were so many characters being cosplayed at AFA! We really enjoyed ourselves seeing each and every one of them pouring so much passion and dedication into their cosplays and enjoying the event to the fullest.

Rie: I like Love Live! (the other members voice their agreement) , Macross Frontier, Gundam...

All: Osomatsu-san! Yeah! We like Osomatsu-san!!

Karin: What surprised me the most at AFA was that even when there were no performers at the Akiba Mini Stage, and there was only a video of Love Live! playing, there were people who were performing calls and mixes.

If you were to be able to sing for an anisong like your seniors Afilia Saga, what type of anime who you like to sing for and why?

We'd like to sing for an idol anime similar to Love Live! or one with a school setting! We like animes such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and K-On!

It would really be great if we could sing for an anime which depicts the story of a group of girls chasing their dreams.

Many of us like action animes like Macross and Gundam so we'd love to sing the theme songs for such animes too!

Having performed at many similar events overseas such as Japan Expo 2015 in France and IDOLidge Carnival 2016 in Taiwan, what are your thoughts and feelings with regards to Japanese idol culture spreading overseas?

Since we love idols, we are delighted that idol culture is spreading overseas. As idols ourselves, we also feel very happy and fortunate that we have many opportunities to go overseas and spread Japanese idol culture to the world.

We hope that Iketeru Hearts will be able to travel to many, different countries and that many people will get to know about us.

By being able to sing anime and game songs at Japanese pop culture events such as Japan Expo and AFA, we are able to act as a bridge between idol culture and 2D (anime and game) culture. Similarly, we hope that we can serve as a bridge between Japan and the world when we perform overseas too.

What do you think is the appeal of idols?

Yuyu: I am moved and impressed whenever I watch an idol I admire perform live. They are so dazzling on stage and it feels as if I am in a dream. I like listening to the songs live and just soaking up the atmosphere.

I feel that the appeal of idols is being able to watch their growth unfold before your very eyes, to be able to interact with them personally and getting invigorated by them.

A lot has happened since last year and you have already released three singles and started regular live performances (AKIBA Stand-Up! Nights) since your major debut in February this year. How do you feel about having achieved so much in less than a year?

It hasn't even been a year and we feel really wonderful to have been able to achieve all this. The level of support from everyone is incredible and we really owe it to our fans for helping us to achieve so much in less than a year.

We are extremely grateful to all our fans and we will continue to strive hard to become even better.

Tell us more about your recently-released third single, “Lumica Jane” and how it came about.

"Lumica" in the title refers to the (Lumica-branded) glow stick which concertgoers hold during a concert. When you snap the glow stick, a chemical reaction occurs between the two liquids inside, lighting the glow stick up.

The two liquids are analogous to idols and their fans. Similarly, when they come together, a reaction occurs between the two parties, magic happens and the entire atmosphere is lit up. That is the message of the song.

In addition, similar to how light is emitted from the chemical reaction. the hope that fans and idols will continue to shine more and more brightly than ever before is also expressed in the song.

How would you describe Iketeru Hearts’s songs?

Nijika: I think that our songs encompass quite a wide range of styles. There are cool songs and there are cute songs.

Rie: Many of our songs have a strong and steadfast outlook of the world.

Yuyu: There are fast songs such as "Lumica Jane", which gives listeners the sensation of speed. It is closer to an anisong in terms of its style and melody and anime fans are more likely to take to it. On the other hand, there are also relatively slower songs with a more relaxed feel such as "Let's Stand Up!", which is reminiscent of older idol songs.

Karin: When we first heard "Lumica Jane", we thought that it would be great if we could perform that song overseas, being a song that would appeal to overseas audiences due to its anisong characteristics. We are glad that we could have this song in our repertoire and perform it at AFA.

What songs would you like to tackle in the future?

Since we have yet to perform any slow songs such as ballads, we would love to try our hand at them in the future. Listeners may appreciate these songs by listening to them slowly and carefully.

With so many idol groups in Japan, especially in this age, what sets Iketeru Hearts apart from other groups?

We think that Iketeru Hearts, being an idol group targeted towards the world, is what sets us apart from other groups. Our second single, “Flap to the World (Sekai e Habatake)” contains messages to the world in its lyrics, which reinforces us as a group reaching for a global audience.

This time around, "Origami", the coupling track on our latest single "Lumica Jane", was also composed by its composer Momoi Haruko with a global audience in mind. The song has a very distinctive Japanese feel to it, with Japanese elements in it. We hope that listeners will be able to "feel Japan" through this song.

What are your motivations for becoming idols?

It's got to be performing live and being on stage! (All the members chorus in agreement) That’s our motivation for becoming idols. It's also what we like most about being idols.

To end off, are there any goals which you are currently working towards?

Our next target is to make our first one-man concert, "Heart-Warming Night", on January 9th next year a success. It is the culmination of everything we've achieved so far including the release of our three singles and it is what our regular monthly performances, "AKIBA Stand-Up! Nights" has been building up to. We want to put on our best performance for everyone!

The bigger goal in mind is to be a bridge connecting Japan and the world, and to spread the wonders of Japanese anime and idol culture to the world.

We'd also like to make "iketeru (cool)" a universal word like "kawaii (cute)", which so many people outside of Japan are familiar with.

Lastly, we'd like to continue to spread Iketeru Hearts' songs to Singapore and all corners of the world!

Iketeru Hearts's first one-man concert, "Heart Warming Night" will be held on Monday, 9 January 2017 at Shibuya WWWX. Tickets may be purchased in advance for 3500 yen or 4000 yen on the day itself, with more details on the official website.

We hope that you've enjoyed reading our interview with Iketeru Hearts and we certainly hope to see them back in Singapore again next year. Until then, we wish them all the best in their quest to make "iketeru" a word recognised by all!

Photos by Eugene Chua and Nakitty Channel