This summer, a unique idol group named "Pinky! Noora & Petra" will make its official debut in Japan. The unit consists of sisters Noora and Petra from Tampere, and Ayane Fujisaki a.k.a. Pinky!, a member of the already popular idol group "Dempagumi.inc." Pinky! Noora & Petra, or Pinope for short, is probably the only idol group in Japan that has girls from Western countries as members. With their debut single "Aurora to Peace" coming out on August 23, the threesome performed for the first time as Pinope on June 25 at their management Dear Stage's Showcase, wearing costumes resembling the Finnish national flower lily-of-the-valley. The Embassy of Finland's Press Section interviewed Pinope members in July.
--How was your first performance?
Noora: I wasn't so nervous. I was nervous during the MC, but Pinky! helped me. The fans already danced with us, they practiced and remembered the moves. I saw that they had fun and it made me happy as well.
Petra: It's always nice to see the audience happy. I wasn't nervous either.
Pinky!: This is my third group, after Dempagumi.inc and Niapin. There wasn't a sense of anxiety (even though members are from foreign countries.) Noora and Petra are very much interested in Japanese idols, and they've done a lot of studying. It's like they've already been idols … it feels strange, when you're on stage and you look on the side and realize "ahh, they're not Japanese." They can do the MC in Japanese, and we talk about silly things at the back stage too.
Pinky!: Like how tofu is cheap in Japan! They prepare meals at home, so we talk about cooking and such. You put nuts into onigiris (rice balls), right? Japanese usually don't put nuts into rice, so it made me wonder… sounds delicious!
Watching the three talk and laugh among themselves make them look as if they've been good friends from long past. But it was only March this year that it was officially decided that Pinky!, Noora and Petra will form a new unit. The two girls from Tampere suddenly appeared in the Japanese idol scene like shooting stars.
Noora and Petra's older sister loved Japanese anime and manga, and so naturally, the two also became fans of Japanese culture. They eventually got interested in Japanese idols and dance culture several years ago, and started uploading odottemita, " tried dancing" videos on youtube. Noora saw the Dear Stage AD calling for new talents in December 2015 when she was studying in Japan as an exchange student, and decided to apply. She and Petra had the opportunity to perform at the opening act of the Dear Stage Showcase in June 2016; the two came back to Japan in January 2017 to be backup dancers for Dempagumi.inc. Pinky! of Dempagumi.inc who loved the Moomins and Nordic design, and Noora and Petra who were infatuated with Japanese idol culture and especially with Dempagumi.inc, were drawn to each other and eventually formed the group "Pinky! Noora & Petra" and will come out with a debut CD.
--Noora and Petra, you also made dancing videos using music from Dempagumi.inc. How did it feel to learn that you were going to form a unit with a member of the group that you love?
Noora: We were surprised, we were like, how did that happen? Pinky! is really kind to us, she teaches us the idol culture. We have lots of fun during practice, we have the same kind of humour too.
Petra: I kind of try to separate Pinky! from Dempagumi.inc. They are not magical girls, but human beings… You can't really work with anyone if you're looking up at them all the time.
--You're singing in Japanese. Did you enjoy singing since you were little?
Petra: No, singing is new both to me and Noora. There is an easy-going singing culture in Japan, but in Finland, you need to be a professional or super good to be able to sing in front of people. We now practice singing at home too.
--But you were familiar with dancing.
Noora: I used to do gymnastics in elementary and middle school, and then changed to jazz and ballet, and also modern dance. Petra hadn’t done anything dance related before, but we started a hobby dance group with our friends a few years ago, and we performed at Japanese pop culture events in Finland for fun. We all wanted to make dance covers of Japanese songs. There are about two, three other dance groups that do Japanese idol dance covers in Finland.
--Pinky! is the "dancer" in Dempagumi, right? You also did choreography for Pinope. Did you try to make the moves Finnish in some way? How about the songs?
Pinky!: "Koisuru Helsinki (Helsinki in Love)" is like a marching song, where everyone is walking in the streets of Helsinki. There are lots of "moi" in the lyrics, so I tried to make gestures that both the audience and we can do together. I wanted to make choreography that makes people want to dance. The melody and lyrics are full of kawaii (cute) elements.
I think the most well done part is when Petra is singing in "Koisuru Helisnki." Noora and I are bending our knees and swinging our heads from side to side, and Petra is teaching us like a teacher that tonttu (Santa's assistant) and Joulupukki (Santa) live in Finland. When I checked the concert video, I thought "how cute!"
"Aurora to Peace" is an electric pop song that gives a feeling of being in the natural world. The melody sounds exciting, and makes people want to hum along. The hook when it goes "shalalala…" doesn't much sound like an idol song, and may have been able to express it because it was us.
--Pinky! also wrote the lyrics for the third song "Kiertokulku (meaning 'cycle' in Finnish)." It's very unique, sounding like you're reading poetry out loud.
Pinky!: I've never been to Finland yet, so I asked Noora and Petra about Finland, thought about them and used my imagination to write the lyrics. There aren't many idol songs that express poetry either. Should I make it sound like an idol, unique like Pinope, or more artistic… trying to have the right balance was hard.
--In what other ways are you trying to have Finnishness?
Pinky!: The lily-on-the-valley costume is one, inserting some Finnish words during the MC is another. Idols end their performance by saying "bye bye!" and leave the stage; we unify greetings with just "moi moi" and "kiitos!"
--And how does the audience react?
Pinky!: You know, the fans imitate us. They quickly memorize the new choreography. I can sense that they got interested. There were even fans that told us they looked up the Finnish lyrics by using Google Translate.
--Japanese fans are quite unique. They are so unified, performing wotagei (dancing and shouting gestures performed by fans at concerts). Noora and Petra, you were just one of the fans, and now, you're in midst of Japanese idol culture. How does that feel?
Petra: It's not much different, being on stage or watching from the audience. From the stage, you see all the fans doing the moves and shouts. People on both sides are having fun. It's like communication, it's like fans are friends of idols. I think that's cute.
Pinky!: The distance between the idols and the fans are close in Japan. Fans make the wotagei gestures and shouts for Dempagumi.inc. It's interesting each time. It's like, oh they imitate the choreography here, oh you do that now? It's a place for presentation, both for us idols and the fans.
Noora: I went to Dempagumi.inc’s concerts when being here as an exchange student. I was surprised to receive a little piece of paper from the fans, which explained what I should say and when.
Pinope's promotion activies will be in full gear from this summer, participating in Roppongi Hills Summer Station Idol Festival 2017 on July 29, Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 on August 5 and so on. And towards the end of August when their CD debut single comes out on August 23, they will have many appearances at different venues across the nation (http://www.teichiku.co.jp/artist/pnp/). Although busy days lie ahead, the three of them look relaxed and enjoying the moment.
Noora and Petra: We're really happy to see that the fans are having so much fun at our concerts. If we can make the fans happy with our group and bring a little part of Finland to their lives and make them happy that way, we're happy too. We'll do our best in the future as well, so keep cheering for us!
Pinky!: Finland is such a wonderful country, it makes me wonder why not more people know about it. Maybe we can be the ones to tell. 2019 is when Japan and Finland celebrate the 100th year of diplomatic relations, and so if we can together promote the two countries' wonderful things… We'll continue to be active, so please cheer for us. Kiitos!