When you think of school, you think of order, rules, education, structure. These expectations are subverted by the Japanese group ATARASHII GAKKO!—“Atarashii Gakkou no Leaders” in Japan. Their name translates to “New School Leaders” in English. They are rising artists in the international music scene—their music exploring complicated feelings and various topics that are part of being young. ATARASHII GAKKO! are breaking stereotypes through music and performance, showing just how cool young women can be.
In late 2020, the four-member group signed to 88rising and made their global debut with “NAINAINAI” in January. On November 6, ATARASHII GAKKO! had their United States debut stage, opening for 88rising’s Head In The Clouds Festival. EnVi Media had the chance to speak with the girls ahead of their performance on Saturday, discussing their last single “Pineapple Kryptonite,” their goals as artists, and breaking into the international music scene.
Getting to Know ATARASHII GAKKO!
ATARASHII GAKKO! may be new to the United States, but they are not new to music. The group was formed in 2015 with four members: Suzuka, Mizyu, Rin, and Kanon. When they came together, all of the members were in middle and high school. Hence the name “ATARASHII GAKKO!”
Suzuka can be recognized for her short hair, glasses, and spontaneous personality. She takes on the role of leader. Mizyu is the oldest member who can be recognized for her pigtails and bangs. Rin is known as the nice one with curls. Kanon is the youngest member and is known for her sleek hair and elegant persona. More of their fun personalities can be seen on their Official TikTok page, where they have garnered over 3 million followers and 46 million likes.
Their first music video was “Kamu to Funyan tofubeats Remix” recorded on a 360 camera. The video has a youthful and cute kind of appeal, a simple dance with fluorescent lights, and anime-style masks. ATARASHII GAKKO! officially debuted in 2017 with the piano-heavy rock track “Dokubana.”
The girls have since gotten older and their music has grown with them. Their music explores exam stress, pointless school crushes, and existentialist topics.
“We want to tackle as many different genres as possible and show our diversity to the world how we are able to do different kinds of music. We all love different kinds of music and that helps create variation for us,” they told EnVi.
The “ATARASHII GAKKO!” Style
While they are a Japanese group, it is to be noted that they are not within the cute J-pop idol box. ATARASHII GAKKO!’s music takes inspiration from various genres including hip hop, dance, jazz, and rock.
Their performance is just as dynamic. Their dances are full of stunts, sharp angles, head banging, and emotive facial expressions. It should be noted that each choreography is created by ATARASHII GAKKO! themselves as they each have experience in dance.
“I don’t think a girl has to act a certain way, just because they’re a girl. If we’re doing what we love and being confident, we’re naturally showing that women can be strong,” said Rin.
Many of their charms were presented on the Head in the Clouds stage earlier this month. The group entered the stage in their seifuku, school uniforms, a performance costume they deem as an essential part of the group’s image.
“When we started, it was a representation of our authentic selves, but now that we are older we are wearing it as a representation of Japanese culture, and it feels like we are wearing it like a costume, our fighting costumes.”
Through their unique beats and unpredictable performances, they have created their own unique style, the “ATARASHII GAKKO! Style,” as the group told EnVi with a laugh. “We want to stick in their memory as weird, playful girls.”
Suzuka added that she hopes people will say, ”Wow, amazing girls!” when they think of ATARASHII GAKKO!
A Quest To Spread Culture
Since signing with 88rising, ATARASHII GAKKO! have taken it upon themselves to show off Japanese culture. Their videos feature tons of Japanese pop culture elements including sumo and school life.
“As part of being representative of japanese youth we want to show japanese culture and our own charm to the world,” Suzuka told EnVi.
In addition to including culture in their music videos, ATARASHII GAKKO! have created a mini video series on YouTube called, “Seishun Academy.” Each video explores aspects of Japanese culture in a humorous, digestible way for their new international fanbase.
“We made that video [series] to introduce Japanese culture, but with a standpoint of how it is different from American culture that their audience is so familiar with. We wanted to show it in a fun and engaging way in our style.”
On “Pineapple Kryptonite”
On September 20, ATARASHII GAKKO! released the first single from their SNACKTIME EP in collaboration with the legendary producer Money Mark. “Pineapple Kryptonite” is a dynamic song with a mix of soothing singing and cool raps. The music is striking and retro. The small sounds in the background of the track give it more of an extraterrestrial feel, which suits the theme and visuals of the video.
“We have a lot of feelings towards this song since this is one of the first songs we made from scratch with Money Mark. It’s like a baby. We have a lot of attachment towards this song,” they shared. “He inspired us a lot with his approach to music making. It was very playful. For example we were playing with kitchen utensils and picking up sounds from there. He taught us that music is everywhere in our lives.”
The video expresses the song’s quirky atmosphere through ATARASHII GAKKO!’s slight humor and hip hop-inspired choreography. In the video, the four girls dress up as a family in a RV and battle a giant green alien man in their school uniforms.
“It comes a lot from our imagination. We made a storyboard with Money Mark and then decided what concepts we want to put into it like the flow. We even made a model like a diorama to show the director what we wanted to make. A lot of our dreams are put into this video.”
What’s Next For Japan’s Music Leaders?
ATARASHII GAKKO! released their SNACKTIME EP on November 12. They worked with Money Mark for all five songs on the mini-album. The group revealed two songs ahead of its release: their single “Pineapple Kryptonite” and “Free Your Mind,” which was teased at the Head In The Clouds Festival.
While they are dropping the album on an international level, ATARASHII GAKKO! shared in their press release that all songs will continue to be in Japanese. “Singing in Japanese is something we want to continue doing. Since we’re singing and rapping in Japanese, we wanted to do things in the lyrics that you can’t do with English. In English, you can fit a lot of words into a bar, but with Japanese, the language itself is very rhythmical. So we used that to our advantage.”
Through their album, the group hopes to redefine what it means to be an Asian artist and counter stereotypes. Suzuka said, “We want to break the typical image that people have towards Asians, and show that there are some really unique Asian people out there. 88rising is showing that there are incredible Asian artists that can have a worldwide appeal, and we want to be a part of that.”
Check out our coverage of ATARASHII GAKKO!’s set at 88rising’s Head In The Clouds Festival here.
Thumbnail: Miranda McDonald @mirandamcdonald – Golden Voices