Meet J-pop’s new ‘chubby’ groups

Chubbiness, one of the key groups in J-pop's new 'chubby' movement.

Chubbiness, one of the key groups in J-pop's new 'chubby' movement.

A cursory watch of SBS PopAsia shows that when it comes to chart-topping acts, Asian and Western music have something in common. They both hew to the genre’s unspoken convention that its practitioners should be slender in shape. (There are of course exceptions, such as acclaimed British singer-songwriter Adele or American newcomer Meghan Trainor, but in general watching music videos doesn’t exactly give a diverse glimpse of body sizes.)

That’s why it’s interesting to see the emergence of ‘chubby’ girl groups in the realm of J-pop. Their weight is an explicit part of their marketing message, with names chosen to highlight their size and music videos full of sweet and salty snacks.

La Big 3 is a trio with a bright and bubbly ’50s aesthetic, whose recent debut single 'Pochative' merges the word 'pocchari', meaning chubby, with 'positive'. Another act to have hit the scene is idol group Chubbiness with their first single 'Manmadeiya!', which reportedly roughly translates as ‘fine as we are’. Chubbiness was formed after music company Avex held a ‘Nationwide Chubby Girl Audition’ that had 3500 applicants vying to fill only 10 spots. The act’s mission statement is said to be to represent “dancing, singing, fashion and deliciousness” (not a bad mission statement as far as these things go...).

Advertisement

The groups seem to be a response to the growing body positivity movement in Japan. This has been spearheaded by La Farfa (who La Big 3 model for), a Japanese fashion magazine launched in 2013 that features plus-sized models. Harumi Kon, the editor-in-chief of the title told The Japan Times, “We don’t promote losing weight or gaining weight, because there are women that look gorgeous regardless of what they weigh. Our view is that people should not be defined by the size of the clothes they wear.” The magazine found such a receptive audience that it was switched from a biannual publication schedule to a bimonthly one.

La Farfa also coined the rather charming term ‘marshmallow girls’ to create a body positive phrase to describe larger women and fight fat-shaming. Plus-sized model Goto Seina gave her stamp of approval to the newly-minted term saying it “makes me really happy”. Other steps on the Japanese fashion scene towards body diversity include comedian Naomi Watanabe’s very cute fashion label Punyus and her approach to marketing the apparel. The on-trend range is modelled with plus sizes and straight sizes alongside one another to show they look equally good on a variety of body types.

An example from the latest Punyus collection [image: Punyus]

The reception to the rise of these ‘chubby’ girl groups has been mixed. Chubbiness in particular has received criticism that its members are in fact straight-sized and has provoked heated discussion in the YouTube comments section of their music video as to if they would be considered overweight in Japan. Queries such as “Can you really even call some of these girls ‘chubby’?” have shown some people regard the group as nothing more than a bandwagon-jumping marketing gimmick that only pays lip service to body acceptance.

The other critique of both groups is that while it’s good to have different body types on the pop scene, much of both groups’ marketing only focuses on their weight. It’s one thing to show diversity, but if the only aspect of the ‘other’ ever shown solely revels in that ‘otherness’, it does seem to somewhat miss the point. In La Big 3’s clip, the girls are shown singing into ice-creams, sausages and chicken drumsticks as if they were microphones and Chubbiness’s sugar soaked music video opens with a table spelling out the group’s name in lollies. However, it could equally be argued that it’s a subversive act to see women joyfully eating whatever they like, given that only earlier this year the blog Women Who Eat On Tubes implied that for females the very act of consuming food is somehow unseemly.

Even if the groups do only represent a baby-step in terms of showing body diversity, it should be considered a move forward. Jezebel’s Isha Aran phrased the positives of their emergence as being, “How often do we see big happy women singing and dancing without a goddamn care in the world?” Hopefully Chubbiness and La Big 3 will encourage their fans to unashamedly shake their booty – no matter what size it is.