In the underground car park of Akihabara’s UTX building (which some of you may know from Love Live!), Tokyo’s summer’s-coming humidity is intense, to say the least. My best shirt is pasting itself to my back and I can feel my face flushing with every step through the dense, soggy corridors in search of Dela, who I’m assured have just arrived.
As if by magic, the next corner we turn reveals a twin-tailed figure in the distance, literally skipping towards us, waving with one hand and eating ice-cream with the other. Her name is Ai Akinami – fans call her aichrin – and everything about her screams ‘idol’; she’s energetic and cheerful and looks happier to be in this dank car-park than anyone has any right to. From the front seat of a near-by people-carrier, Makoto Kondou takes a break from tweeting to say hi, and as the doors clang open we’re joined by Reina Ayase and Yuri Ikenaga, four members of Nagoya’s delightful, enchanting, lovely angels; also known as Dela.
Dela, while not necessarily Japan’s most famous idol group, have just released their first greatest hits collection, entitled Delax – dela best –, and are in Tokyo to perform as part of a promotional tour. Nagoya to Tokyo is a long drive, and I was expecting the girls to regard this interview with, at worst complete disinterest, or at best, mild annoyance. Instead, all four members are positively beaming with enthusiasm and the reason soon becomes very clear; these girls LOVE what they do, and they’re not alone in that.
“My favorite song on Delax is Daitei Fantasia“, Makoto says, “I think it’s the best song to show people what we sound like and it get’s a really good reaction when we perform it live. It’s probably our most exciting song”. Describing idol music can be very difficult, mostly because it rarely conforms to one genre. Sometimes it’s cute, sometime’s it’s cool, sometimes it’s manic and sometimes its melancholic. One thread that rings true through all of it however, is that it’s as much about the fans as it is the artist.
“My favorite song on Delax is Fighting! Sayonara Nante Kowakunai and it’s also my favorite song to perform”, Ai’s mannerisms are almost hypnotic as her twin-tails bop in time with her excited chattering, “It always cheers me up when I’m sad. ‘Fighting’ means, [in Japanese English] to do your best, and at fan meetings, fans always tell me that they listen to this song when they have a tough week at work, and it helps them make it through”.
“Idol performances are interactive” according to Reina, “the audience are part of the show. We enjoy performing and they enjoy it too, so we all enjoy it together and dance together. I think, if European people or American people saw an idol show for the first time, maybe they wouldn’t understand it, but they’d think it looks fun and want to take part too. I think you have to see it yourself to understand”.
Interaction with fans is the lifeblood of any good idol band, and while the big guns like AKB48 and Babymetal do this mostly through documentaries and tour diaries, for Dela, keeping in direct contact with their fans is their number one priority. Twitter, which enjoys relentless popularity in Japan – infinitely more so than Facebook – is a great way to do that. “Idols usually have other interests too, you know?”, Yuri begins, “For example, I really like soccer and I tweet about it quite often. So some of my followers don’t even know anything about idols, but they follow me because they like soccer. Usually though, once they learn about my idol work, they become interested in that too. It’s something everyone can appreciate if they find it the right way. Twitter is a really great way to bring people together. We don’t have a lot of time to meet fans, but with Twitter we can speak with anyone, anytime. Even if they’re overseas”.
Speaking of overseas, although idol music has recently started to take hold around the world, it has, for the most part, been confined to Japan. Dela have been trying to change that, as Ai is happy to explain. “We’ve performed in Hawaii, Singapore, Vietnam, Shanghai, Taiwan. We’ve done street performance here in Japan, but that’s something I’d like to do in other countries too. Also I’m half filipino, so I’d like to perform in the Philipines. We haven’t been there yet.”. For the rest of the girls, the international market is also intriguing. “I’d like to visit Sweden”, says Yuri, whereas Makoto thinks “If we performed in New York we’d get a lot of new fans, it’s like the city of cities you know?”. For Reina though, the question of where Dela goes next isn’t so simple. “Dela‘s concept, or motto, is ‘from Nagoya to the world’ so I’d like to live up to that. I’d like to perform all over, but honestly I don’t think there’s one place I could choose over another”.
After our interview, the girls invited me to their live show that night, and I somehow ended up backstage with them while they prepared. Idol music may appear, to fresh eyes, to be childish and frivolous, but the amount of work that goes into every aspect of it is matched only by the enthusiasm with which it’s received by the fans. The girls work their asses off, the fans go berserk, and everyone, everyone, has a good time. “It’s hard to explain idol music”, remarks Ai as she furrows her brow. “It makes people happy”.
And Dela certainly do that.
Translation assistance by Mai Kawamitsu