A personal reflection on the idol group KissBee by guest writer Toby Hagen.
For the last few years I have been a huge supporter of an idol group that seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the international Japanese idol fandom. Whenever I would bring them up in conversation, the response was always the same; “Who?”
When Beyond Senpai approached me to write an article for them ahead of their online live show on September 8th 2020, a concert with huge significance for the group and their fans, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce them. So read on and allow me to introduce you to one of the hardest working, musically diverse, and socially outgoing idol groups ever… KissBee!
Debuting with just 3 members in 2014, KissBee rapidly grew both in their number and in their popularity with audiences, with their first one-man live taking place in January 2015 and their debut album releasing towards the end of the same year on December 26th.
Their initial success lead to their 5th single release on May 31st 2016, landing at #1 on the Oricon Daily Chart. Keen to engage with their fanbase off the stage as much as on it, in August 2017 they launched their URA-KISS YouTube project hitting 100k subs by June 2018 and subsequently winning the ‘Yahoo! Search Award 2018’ Newcomer Award for being the most searched new idol unit.
With their trainee division, KissBee Youth beginning to make waves in 2019 and with the time since seeing their biggest concerts to date, it seems that there is no stopping KissBee in their pursuit to entertain Japan!
As with all idol groups, members have come and members have gone. As they exist today, KissBee is comprised of members Seika Nakayama (25), Misaki Tanifuji (20), Rena Ooe (20), Yui Fujii (19), Nonoka Shinohara (16), Chihiro Hieda (21), and Ema Yamazaki (19). Each of them have unique personalities, interests, motivations, and ways that they engage with fans; but make no mistake, when they are together they really are the gold standard when it comes to defining the word “team”.
When you see them rehearsing their choreography or having meetings, there is always an incredible vibe of best friends hanging out and doing what they love together, yet they are so dialed in to every aspect of what they are doing.
Their choreography is precise and elaborate, always trying something new and different. This all comes into focus during their thrilling live shows, where the audience interaction is high and the crowd gets involved with the dances. Even if you don’t like their music (which I don’t understand because their discography is so diverse that there really is something for everyone!), you cannot deny that KissBee are always on the top of their game.
The group entered my life in the summer of 2017. I had decided that my constant interest in Japan and everything to do with the country was ready to be taken to the next level. And so I started to learn the language, learn about the history and culture, and even became an amateur Japanese chef.
During this time, I discovered the YouTube channel Abroad in Japan. A few months earlier, Chris had posted a video called ‘Japanese Idol Girls Ruined By Marmite’ and in this video he battles KissBee members Hina Takano and Misaki Tanifuji in a game where the punishment for failure is being forced to eat foods from each others country that are known to taste horrible to the other. I was immediately drawn to the surly attitude of Hina and Misaki who were acting tough but when every time they won they would burst into beautiful smiles of delight.
I wanted to know more, and then spent hour after hour watching KissBee videos and listening to their music. At this point I was not very familiar with idol music, but something about KissBee was drawing me in and I was unable to escape. I knew I wasn’t alone, but I felt intimidated about engaging with the members or their fans over SNS. After all, I couldn’t speak Japanese. And so, after a year of learning the language, I finally reached out; and boy oh boy, did I get a reply!
Using the popular SNS app LINELIVE, I noticed tweets from the members of KissBee that were announcing chat sessions. I attended one and kept myself quiet. I noticed you were able to send digital gifts that had a cash value, essentially a tipping service, and you could include messages with these gifts. The next LINELIVE show I attended featured members Yui and Seika, and former member Miona in a group chat. I sent them a message, in English. Seika read it out loud and seemed astonished that someone was speaking English suddenly.
Seika was my oshi of the group, so needless to say my heart exploded and I was thrilled! The chat seemed to be surprised by the English person in their midst too, and so the next day I went back on LINELIVE. This time I met Chihiro and Misaki, whom I had seen being forced to eat liquorice on Abroad In Japan. They also were delighted that there was an English speaking fan watching. The fans rapidly picked up on this not being a one-off deal; there really was someone from overseas trying to reach out. Suddenly my Twitter erupted in follows, with curious KissBee fans wanting to know who I was and, more importantly, how I knew about KissBee.
And so it was, in March 2020, that I really got to know KissBee. Not just their music or their history; I got to know them. I would say hello on LINELIVE every day to the members in their individual broadcasts, and in turn they would say hello back. I would try to speak Japanese, and they would try to speak English.
Seika was originally my oshi, but I rapidly became a huge fan of everyone and I learned so much from other fans. I discovered the personalities of each member, their personal music tastes, what they liked to wear or what they liked to eat. And it was these early conversations that made me jump from “I like KissBee!” to “I LOVE KissBee!”.
In July 2020, KissBee held their first online-only concert, and this was my first live show experience. I had seen them on YouTube live, but this time I had a ticket to a show! By this time I was friends with everyone, and to say that I was proud of them all during this live show would be an understatement. It was an incredible experience despite Chihiro and Rena being unable to perform due to sickness and surgery respectively, and proved that online concerts were just as fun as the real thing!
Alas, a few days after their online live debut, founding member Hina Takano tragically passed away on July 10th at the age of just 20.
All KissBee activities were immediately cancelled and for the most part their social media use stopped. The outpouring of grief was immense to say the least, and time seemed to grind to a halt.
Hina was truly the core of everything KissBee, and though she had retired from the music side of the group she was very much present in their URA-KISS videos and had also started up her own company, ZZZ.inc.
A week before she passed away, I had my first conversation in Japanese with her over ZOOM. She smiled and laughed, expressing joy that I was learning the language and was truly grateful to know that KissBee had spread beyond the borders of Japan. I miss her so, so much. I think about her every day and catch myself silently asking her for guidance when I need to make choices. She lives on in the hearts and minds of those of us who were blessed to know her, and I am so thankful to have her light in my life.
On Tuesday 8th September 2020, KissBee will be taking to the stage for the first time since their online live concert at the beginning of July. During this hiatus, their passionate fanbase, the Hachisans (AKA The 888), have continued to support the group and each other, offering words of condolence, words of encouragement, and words of hope.
This time has given KissBee time to heal, time to reflect, and time to plan for the future, too. Though at times things may have seemed uncertain for everyone, with the tagline “REMEMBER / RESTART”, this online live concert promises to be both a loving tribute to a dear friend now sadly departed, and to give the audience their first glimpse of the new era to come. They have already announced that they will be debuting a new look (one of the hallmarks of KissBee is their amazing outfits), and they have their first remix album on the way too. It will be a landmark event for KissBee and the 888, and an emotional farewell to Hina.
To know KissBee is to know unity. Is to know passion. To know joy, love, and laughter. Everything they do, from hanging out with fans on LINELIVE to making prank videos on YouTube, from recording new music to performing it live, it is all done with their hearts aimed at the world. They go from strength to strength, and deserve to be heard by everyone. They may just be an idol group to the world but they mean the world to their fans, and so do their fans to KissBee.
And we all can’t wait for you to join us.
All photos are gladly received from the official KissBee website.