About a year ago, Beckii Cruel was a teenager bopping around her bedroom to Japanese pop music and posting her videos on YouTube.
Today, she is a global internet phenomenon, seen by an estimated 10 million viewers, and no nation more than Japan loves her every move and sound.“It just started out as a bit of fun and I really didn’t expect it to turn into this”, said 14-year-old Rebecca Flint. “I’m getting used to being a celebrity and I really want to carry on with what I’m doing now — going on tour, the photo sessions, the TV appearances and just having a good time”.
Her debut single — “Tsubasa wo Kudasai” — was in the Japanese charts, an album is on the go, and there are plans for an animated TV programme starring Beckii and her sidekicks in the “Cruel Angels”, Sara Cruel from France and Gemma Cruel from Portsmouth.
Beckii’s meteoric rise to fame in a country where tarento are two-a-penny is thanks to her manager, Mitsuya Fujimoto.
Fujimoto and his business partner Peter Emina were representing British Indie bands looking to raise their profiles in Japan and get a recording contract. One way of doing that, Fujimoto realised, was to get the groups to do a cover version of a relatively obscure Japanese song that music fans here would consider showed the groups’ knowledge of, and interest in, the Japanese music scene.
“We needed something different from what was being done already and that was to bring something directly to the Japanese market”, he said. “Beckii was already a Net idol so there was no need to spend a lot of money”.
Fujimoto discovered Beckii when one of her early YouTube performances, “Danjo”, was getting a lot of hits.
“She was already popular at that point, mainly with viewers in Japan, because of her sweet way of dancing and singing”, Fujimoto said. There were plenty of other teenage girls out there doing a similar thing, but Fujimoto was only interested in those getting more than 1,000 hits on their videos. “Some of these girls are talented at dancing, others are good at singing, so they’re not just anime dance idols”, he said. “They’re inspired by Japanese popular culture — fashion, music, manga”. Fujimoto now gets hundreds of emails from pushy parents demanding that they sign up their daughter. And Beckii has received abusive messages and blog comments.
Fujimoto concluded the initial deal with recording giant Tokuma Japan in two days. Her DVD debut — “This is Beckii Cruel: Too Cute to be Real” — was released in November and went into the Oricon charts at number eight. She has already appeared in TV commercials for chewing gum.
“She has tremendous potential for sponsorships — more so here than anywhere else in the world”, said Fujimoto. “Japan is simply so much more advanced in putting the talent and the product together”.
She has one major advantage over most of the competition. “Her Britishness is a major marketing asset”, Fujimoto said. “And it helps that she is so extremely sharp, ambitious and driven”.