The following is a translation of this article (鞘師里保“所属事務所離脱”のワケ…ハロプロ擁するアップフロントは芸能界のホワイト企業) published on the Business Journal website on July 29th, 2019 (writer credited as “Editing staff”). At the time of translation, this was their second most-read/popular article, surrounded by Yoshimoto Kogyo and Johnny’s management news.
When former Morning Musume member Sayashi Riho appeared at BABYMETAL’s concerts as a support dancer, it shocked the idol industry. After all, it’s not ordinary for a former ace for a famous idol group to support another well-known group that belongs to a different production company.
Someone involved in the music industry (henceforth “A-san”) proposed, “it’s possible this came about from Sayashi and Nakamoto’s (SU-METAL) connection, with them both taking lessons at Actor’s School Hiroshima when they were younger.”
Sayashi ended her contract with UP-FRONT PROMOTION (UFP) at the end of November, and performed as a free agent for BABYMETAL.
A-san said, “although it appears as though Sayashi was just a supporter and not a full member of BABYMETAL and contracted with Amuse, Inc., on the UFP side it’s as if Amuse took someone UFP had raised and trained on their own. No matter how much of a free agent she may have been, it’d be normal for UFP to not allow her to do what she did. However, the fact that she did support BABYMETAL shows how deeply UFP feels about their artists.”
UFP, which houses the idol management group “Hello! Project” with groups such as Morning Musume, ANGERME, and Juice=Juice, is often called a “white company” (one which has low turnover and values employee welfare).
An entertainment company insider (henceforth “B-san”) said, “although the management may limit what the idols can do or their social media, because of that they’re well-managed. Most importantly, they’re given the ‘freedom to quit.'”
There are many members who graduate after a substantially short active period, such as “17-year-old future ace” Sayashi (graduating to train in dance abroad), “successful in variety shows” Suzuki Kanon (graduating in 2016 to become a nurse), and Ogata Haruna (graduating in 2018 to go to a 2-year college). Others include Country Girls/Juice=Juice member Yanagawa Nanami who retired from the entertainment industry at 17 to attend college, and ANGERME’s Katsuta Rina announcing her September graduation to pursue a career in fashion. In H!P, although they may be expected to succeed as idols in the future, many graduate to pursue other paths.
B-san continues, “in particular, well-known members like Sayashi and Suzuki can be seen as ‘valuable assets’ from the company’s point of view, which would also be highly important ‘sources of income,’ so it wouldn’t be strange if they weren’t allowed to graduate or retire. However, in UFP’s case, they mostly respect each member’s wishes. The idols in UFP must feel a sense of gratitude that the company puts their lives first, even over their entertainment career.”
Hello Pro Kenshuusei: An ideal system
So, how is it that H!P has continued for over 20 years even though their ace members quit one after another? The secret is their “Hello Pro Kenshuusei.” (Note: ‘HPK’ will refer to the Kenshuusei system, while ‘KSS’ will refer to the Kenshuusei members.)
“H!P’s big drawing point is their high level in singing and dancing. Supporting that high level of performance is the HPK training system. Even if a popular member graduates, a KSS who gained experience in the HPK can be added as a new member, which can reasonably secure a group’s performance level. By doing so, they’re able to replace members while retaining as much of the group’s charm as possible,” explained A-san.
H!P will hold outside auditions on occasion, and choose members from these open auditions. But lately, the main route has been promoting a KSS from within to become a full-fledged member.
A-san explained why. “The amount of KSS promotions increased after 2011. That was when we were right in the middle of the ‘idol boom,’ so even amongst the various groups at the time, H!P (which was already known for their high level performances) was, as a result, able to distinguish themselves using the HPK system. In addition, this was around the time ℃-ute was being recognized as ‘the idols other idols look up to,’ so the management side of H!P must have actually felt how H!P’s popularity was connected to their increasing performance levels.”
If you to look at a pro baseball team as an example, if the team became strong enough to go for a championship, attendance would naturally increase. H!P’s emphasis on performance is the same concept: they’re doing the same thing a pro sports team would do, in the idol world.
“If you were to put emphasis on a member’s individuality/personality, you end up having to rely on that member no matter what, so in the end you can’t help but steal their freedom from them. However, by focusing on the performance as the group’s foundation, you’re not only able to respect each member’s freedom but you’re also able to continue the group. And for a KSS, if they continue working on their performance the chances of them becoming a full member increase [as a result of respecting the full members’ freedom], so it becomes easier to reward hard work,” says A-san.
Not everyone can imitate them, but Hello! Project may be the ideal management who “doesn’t exploit their idols.”
I’m thinking the reason this is one of the most read articles lately is because between what’s going on with Yoshimoto and Johnny’s, having an entertainment management company praised must be a breath of fresh air. Sayashi dancing with BABYMETAL made its rounds in both social media and specialty news outlets, so although mostly based on opinion and speculation, the article helps clear up what would have normally happened (i.e. Sayashi disallowed to dance with BABYMETAL) to what actually did (because UFP is a respectable company that doesn’t force loyalty).
Although not directly touched upon, we can possibly infer that the fact the article mentions the three groups with added members from the HPK must also mean the general public actually does pay attention to what’s going on with H!P and how the girls are added.