The History of Kaigai Idols
One of the earliest YouTube stars was a twenty two year old Pennsylvanian woman named Margaret Lillian Adams, better known as Magibon. She rose to fame by saying a simple phrase in Japanese “Hi, I’m Magibon!” and staring oddly into the camera for sixty seconds. Magibon’s YouTube channel went viral for her eerily cute demeanor—and somehow, this ordinary American girl next door became a viral sensation in Japan.
It was no coincidence that Magibon was a huge fan of Japanese pop idol groups like Morning Musume. Like Magibon herself, idols in Japan are known for—well, being cute and appealing to fans.
It was Magibon’s meteoric rise to famed that inspired an idea in my head. I wanted to be big in Japan for doing nothing.
In a pre-Kardashian era, “internet famous” wasn’t a thing. Sure we had Tila Tequila, Jeffrey Starr and Perez Hilton but this phenomena of MySpace selfie fiend turned mainstream sensation was still quite novel.
Not very long after Magibon’s rise to fame, a young British girl named Rebekah Cruel, also went viral in Japan for doing a dance cover. News broke of a shy 14 year old girl making it big in Japan and nerdy girls all over the world flocked to the prospects of making it big in Japan.
At 12 years old, I was one of them.
The community at the time was small and consisted of a tight knit network of Western girls dancing, vying to gain the attention of a Japanese record company. At this time it was called the “Odottemita Community” with the name soon transforming to aspiring idol to at last, Kaigai Idol.
We discussed dance routines on Tumblr. Some of it devolved into girl world relations you’d have in IRL — such and such has bad routines, her makeup is lousy, she would never make it in Japan. But most of the time these dynamics were wholesome. Girls from Edinburgh, Indianapolis and Paris were all able to bond with one another over our Hannah Montana weeaboo dreams.
Power dynamics became apparent too. Girls who spoke Japanese, had been to Japan or had the highest dancing skills gained favor. While the younger, quirkier, nerdier ones vied for the spotlight.
I was never great at dancing — Being Black and not good at dancing is a bad combination. Everyone is always disappointed.
(Me, age 15 in cosplay in front of wheat in Michigan. I performed at Chiptune shows in Ann Arbor)
Yet what set me apart was my encyclopedic knowledge(*cough* autistic) of Akihabara history and my hobby of reading cultural-anthropological papers on idol culture. I also boldly called myself an Idol — without ever having set foot in Japan. Manifestation I thought, it was criticized as being arrogant at the time but it seems now that self-describing yourself as an idol has caught on. Awesome.
The Japanese idol community in the West has changed quite dramatically over time. In the mid 2000s, there were quite a few of us that ventured to Japan.
Women like KeekiHime(Austria), Elle Tia (Canada), Kelsey(Canada), Pinkii(USA), Ally & Sally (Canada), Ari(America) all made a huge influential mark on Japan’s idol industry. From what started as a passion in their bedroom with a webcam. This really exemplifies the power of the internet, in my opinion. There was no time in history where a girl could think something as crazy as “I’m going to be an underground pop idol in Japan” and it actually come true. Amazing.
The community now has grown in the West with many performers opting to perform in their local communities. And I think it’s amazing. This is the first time in history where ordinary girls can make their wildest dreams come true. Idols like Paida, Sorb3t and others regularly perform at idol shows in the West.
Even an idol convention has sprung up around in the American Northwest with many Kaigai Idols headlining!
Are you excited to see where Kaigai idols are heading or want me to cover another net subculture? Let me know!