Friday, August 18, 2023

From "One character solo part" to finding her own strengths - The trajectory of Ikuta Erina from Morning Musume '20

"I got promoted from 1 character, to 21 characters? That's a big success."

Ikuta Erina, who currently works in Morning Musume '20 as sub-leader, used to be given few solo parts and her standing position was mostly in the back row.

In 2012, the year after she joined the group, they released the single "One Two Three" in which she was given a solo line of only one character. Five years later, she made her breakthrough with "BRAND NEW MORNING". The quote at the beginning of this article comes from her blog at the time when she expressed her irrepressible joy about it.

Since then, she has continued to develop her unique strengths in acrobatics and golf, and recently she has been shining even brighter. This started with her posting on Instagram, which she opened in May. Her personal account has gathered over 90,000 followers (as of mid-July 2020). Although it's still a work in progress, there seems to be this situation that whenever she updates, the content of her post reaches the internet news sources.

We asked her to speak specifically about her change of mindset so far and the social media communication she is focusing on now.

Tsunku's words which changed her mindset "You can't become a good singer in one day"

――There was a time where your only solo part would be the "ru" part of "Aishiteru", but now Ikuta-san is shining even brighter by making use of her strenghts such as acrobatics and golf.

In our first single after joining the group, "Maji Desu ka Ska!", all new members got solo parts. However, I had no solo parts in the next single "Only you". In this 4.5 minute song, I only had 10 seconds to sing and only 4 parts.

――Even 9 years after its release, you were still shocked enough to immediately respond with a specific measurement of your parts...

That's right. I felt bad for my fans who supported me. But I was once told by Tsunku "You can't become a good singer in one day", and from that time I changed my mindset.

――In what way did it change?

First of all, I paid close attention to Sayashi Riho, who had a front position and a lot of solo parts. She's a really good dancer. I began to think "If I work hard at dancing, maybe I can get a part, too.", and so I worked even harder in my dance lessons than before. After that, I was really chosen as a dance member. It was a big confidence boost for me.

――So you changed your perspective and the direction of your efforts a little.

I'm still not a main singer, but when we appear on singing programs, the times the camera would focus on me has definitely increased. From there on I changed my mindset and thought "Let's become cuter! Let's polish my visuals!". Even now, I always have a high sense of beauty, and I want to graduate in the most beautiful state possible.

――Specifically, what kind of efforts are you making?

I am conscious about my hair and make-up, as well as getting massages and avoiding swelling. I don't think weight matters, so I don't go on unreasonable diets. Even if I weighed more than 50kg, if I can lie about it it's fine (lol). I'm researching how to show my beautiful side, including posing.

――Since joining in 2011, Ikuta-san hasn't missed a single day of work. As a professional in managing your physical condition, you are known as "iron lady" among your fans.

I don't think the staff can do their best for someone who isn't doing the best they can. Of course, it's an effort for myself too, but I believe that my feelings about this will be understood by the fans and people around me.

Communicating with fellow generation member Sayashi Riho. Sticking to the Instagram operation

――You recently started Instagram, and your followers are growing at an amazing rate. Whenever you post something, it's being reported on internet news. The "potato chips shine" photo has also become a topic of conversation.

I'm grateful for that. I don't only check with the members but also with my idol friends, "What kind of posts would get many likes?", and we share around information.

――Your fellow generation member Sayashi Riho opened up an Instagram recently. It seems you often communicate with her on LINE.

About 30 minutes after she opened it up, her followers hadn't increased at all and she was all whiny like "What if no one finds my account" "I only have 10 followers..." so all of us from the 9th generation encouraged her like "It'll be fine! (laughs).

――The only thing written in her profile description was "It's the real ooone!!", so at first fans probably thought it might be a fake account (laughs).

That's right (laughs). After fans realized it was real, her number of followers grew quickly, I realized Riho-chan's popularity is really amazing after all.

――It looks like her charm lies in the fact that she doesn't seem to be aiming for anything specific. On the other hand, Ikuta-san, you seem to be very dedicated about your social media operation, right? Do you have a specific strategy?

If I had done it similar to Riho-chan, it wouldn't work for me, so I had to create a strategy (laughs).

First of all, on Instagram you have to show who you are in three lines in your profile description. "Who am I?", "What am I doing?", "What do I like"; you have to instantly tell this to first time viewers. I wrote it in english so even foreigners can understand it.

――You are very conscious of gaining new followers. How do you think about what to post?

I am always looking for something to share from hashtags used around the world. I don't just send out messages to my fans in Japan, but I also study English, Korean etc. and add hashtags in each language. After all, there are far more users from overseas.

A close-up of the face rather than a full-body shot! The content is carefully studied

――Even when it's your personal outfit, you'll use hashtags with a high search volume, like "#GUcoordination".

I keep thinking "How can I get people who are not interested in idols to find me?"

I also check out the hottest brands in China, stand in line before the stores open to buy them and post photos in them. When I want information about shopping or places to visit, I myself often search for hashtags on Instagram, like "Which words should I use when I want to pick up on information?".

――Ikuta-san, you seem to have blossomed quickly on Instagram. What makes you enjoy it so much and operate it so strategically?

I don't really force myself to study it. I have always loved following current events and trends. I get a lot of information naturally, so I try to incorporate it into my posts.

――It's amazing that you know what Instagram users are looking for.

Even before I opened my account, I've always been researching what kind of accounts would grow quickly. There are many people who have made their know-how public. Even ordinary people have become influencers in niche fields, so I thought "If idols have the support of their fans and make a serious effort, I believe they can do quite well too?". I have a bit of hope...

――You're doing a lot of research. What have you learned from other idols posts?

I just honestly asked my idol friends "What kind of posts get the most likes?". They all said "A close-up of the face often gets more than twice the likes as a full-body photo".

――So it's not the case that Instagram-like photos will automatically make your account grow.

After all, we are idols, so it's better to use our face in the first photo when posting multiple ones in one post. I always make sure that the first one shows my face clearly, and other information is detailed in the photos after.

Conscious of "self-introduction" posts to attract new fans

――Do you feel you have actually gained new fans through Instagram? How are you measuring the effectiveness?

I check the growth rate of my followers every day by looking at the management page. For example, when I post something Disneyland-related, I get a big wave of likes from people whose icons are Disney characters. If I can get into the "popular posts" within the Disney-related hashtags, I have more chances to be seen by people who don't know me.

――That's very strategic!

When walking around Disneyland, everyone's always searching for hashtags, wondering where and what angle to take pictures at. So they imitate those cute pictures. So I take pictures in solid spots and upload those.

――It is convincing.

After all, I want to attract people who have never heard of Hello! Project or Morning Musume. That is why I try to make those "introduction posts". I know that my fans from long ago will keep following me without leaving. So I'm relieved about that, and I'm very conscious of the growth rate of comments from new fans such as "I recently found out about you" or "I saw you on YouTube and was curious about you so I came here!".

――So you are not only aware of the number of followers, but also about your fanbase. All of Ikuta-san's photos are beautiful, which camera app do you often use?

Really all apps are great nowadays. When my bangs look a little flat, I just copy and paste to cover it up. You can manage anything (laughs).

――Amazing. We're no longer in an era to cover up edits.

The camera app I use the most is Makaron, and the filter one is Ulike. I also recommend the Chinese app "FiuFiu" because it's very effective.

I want to give back to the organization without giving away my knowledge

――Ikuta-san, you share the social media information you have obtained through research with the other members of the group. Don't you feel that you should keep it only for yourself?

Rather than thinking about personal gain or loss, I think it is better to share knowledge with everyone. If the idol industry and Hello! Project as a whole can thrive because of it, we can increase our mutual fan base, so it's a win-win situation either way.

――You're even thinking about promoting for multiple fanbases.

Uploading two-shot photos with other idols is a good way to increase popularity, and although it's a bit of a stretch, I'm trying to take advantage of it as much as possible (laughs). I'm also actively posting photos with the other members of Hello! Project. After all, if I keep saying that I love social media, and I get jobs like this one where I get to talk about Instagram. That makes me really happy.

――We are grateful too that Ikuta-san seems to be enjoying today's interview and talking with us. It really is because you love trend-catching and social media that you are able to continue to share your ideas on Instagram.

Recently, I've been getting more and more opportunities for my posts to go on internet news, so I'm posting them in a language that allows to quickly create a story. The occasion can be anything. I want to create more and more opportunities for people to get to know not only me but also idols in general by getting even a little more exposure.

――Unlike in the past, idols are now required to have various skills such as sharing information and marketing. What do you think will be required of idols in the future?

Those who are able to do it are already doing so, but it is video editing. I think YouTube will continue to grow for another 10 years. You can watch what you want, when you want and you can even watch it at double speed when you are busy. As a medium, it is the most powerful.

I don't have a personal YouTube account yet, so I would like to use videos to communicate on Instagram in the future. I have not yet worked out how to do that on Instagram stories, so that is where I will start.

She started an Instagram and started talking to a lot of kouhai members

――You have been busy working ever since you joined, but the restriction of activities following the outbreak of the new coronavirus has, in a sense, created a gap in your life. What did you spend your time doing?

I really can only say "Even though we couldn't do anything, I did my best". We'll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the 9th generation next year, it's so frustrating we can't do anything about it. Concerts and events we were scheduled to perform in have all been cancelled...

――It was really unfortunate that "ROCK IN JAPAN FESTIVAL 2020" had to be cancelled.

It was hard for us to not be able to deliver any concerts to the fans, even though we had been working on it from lessons to rehearsals. But after all, it was no one's fault and it couldn't be helped, so I tried to focus on input and social media.

――There probably was a time you couldn't see the other members. What kind of exchanges did you have?

Okamura Homare-chan, one of our new 15ki members, invited me to play Animal Crossing New Horizons together. I was happy to be asked to play together by a kouhai member. I don't think the new members are afraid of me, but being so far apart in age, it might make them feel a bit uncomfortable asking.

――So basiscally, is Ikuta-san the type waiting to be invited?

I am the type of person who wants to treat everyone equally, so I've never messaged kouhai members individually on LINE. Sometimes I'd just ask them if it was OK to post a photo with them on my blog. But, since I started my Instagram, I've had a lot of kouhai members talk to me. They'd say things like "Ikuta-san I saw your post! It was so cute!".

――So Instagram is not only a communication tool for PR and fans, but also for communication among members.

More and more kouhai members have been mentioning my name in their blogs. It makes me happy and wants to make me write more in my blogs (laughs).

I don't want to make my fans worry. The intention of declaring "I'm not graduating"

――In the first half of this interview, you said that you want to graduate in the strongest and most beautiful state, but in fact you have declared at events that you will not graduate yet.

I have been a member for almost 10 years. My fans thought it might be about time, too. So I decided to make a proper announcement.

I'm from Fukuoka, so fans would be scared and nervous that I might announce my graduation during the Fukuoka leg of the concert tours. I want everyone to enjoy the concerts from beginning to end with a pure heart, without worrying about that.

――So it was a kind gesture to reassure fans.

I try to speak to "everyone" at all times, so I hope that my feelings reach each and every one of you.

――You always speak to "everyone". Ikuta-san, you are quite conscious of this, aren't you?

I don't want to treat anyone special, I want to take care of everyone. When I encourage the audience at a concert, I don't say "Hey, YOU there!", I say "Hey, the people over there!" (laughs).

――You have a strong desire to treat all of your fans equally. Indeed, we have the impression that Ikuta-san's fans are very united. They spread the word by using the hashtag "#eriponkawaii" as an advocate for Ikuta-san.

That's right. Everyone is always fast to share. It's like "All Ikuta wota are friends". Even at handshake events, I can hear the cheerful exchanges between fans like "How have you been~? from outside the booth (laughs). It makes me happy. When we hold a golf event, many people come to play with us.

――By the way, since you are not graduating yet, what is your enthusiasm as sub-leader of Morning Musume '20?

I want to become a popular idol overseas as a representative of Japan. Right now it is still difficult due to the effects of the new coronavirus, but I want to become an idol that is invited to overseas events such as "Japan Expo" and fashion shows. To achieve this, I will work even harder on Instagram, singing, dancing, and media work.

Original article:
Translated by: ©Eriponderful World