How Covid-19 has affected fan-performer relationships within visual kei

Gamze Kelle

Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan

[0.1] Abstract—Since the spread of Covid-19 beginning in the year 2020, which led to global mass cancellation of in-person events, visual kei, a Japanese music subculture, has faced problems because the genre's main, and sometimes only, source of income relied on touring and organizing close-contact fan events. Visual kei performers therefore had to invent creative ways to find new modes of liveness, and fans had to find new ways to participate in these online events. Some bands adapted to online platforms, finding ways to enhance liveness and authenticity during these events. Ethnographic observations made at online and off-line events indicated creativity in planning events, with fans' seeing the pandemic as a chance to connect with other fans, thereby ensuring that visual kei bands were not only able to continue their activities during Covid-19 but also, depending on how skillfully they adapted, even expanding their fan base overseas. Although before Covid-19 the genre remained local to Japan, with its traditional notion of privileging liveness and avoiding mediatization during fan-band in-person events, after the pandemic, it embraced mediatization and online platforms, becoming available on both social media platforms and music streaming platforms.

[0.2] Keywords—Authenticity; Digitalization; Japan; Liveness; Online shows; Participation; Platforms

Kelle, Gamze. 2024. "How Covid-19 Has Affected Fan-Performer Relationships within Visual Kei." In "Fandom and Platforms," edited by Maria K. Alberto, Effie Sapuridis, and Lesley Willard, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 42.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Visual kei is a Japanese music subculture that emerged in the 1980s, gaining significant interest thanks to its unique and flamboyant looks and fashion as well as the wide range of musical genres, and still influential bands, such as X JAPAN, LUNA SEA, and BUCK-TICK. Visual kei enjoyed mainstream popularity after its emergence in the mid-2000s, with many bands performing in big venues, including the Tokyo Dome, and making frequent mass media appearances. However, after the disbanding of the originary visual kei band, X JAPAN, in 1997, and its legendary guitarist hide's death in 1998, the genre started to lose its popularity. The second generation of visual kei, despite featuring influential bands like MALICE MIZER and L'Arc-en-Ciel, experienced a decline. With second-generation performers unable to replicate the financial success and popularity of the first generation, major companies withdrew their support for the genre (Seibt 2013). Consequently, visual kei performers faced limitations in making mass media appearances.

[1.2] Today, while some bigger performers are supported by smaller management offices, many bands are self-managed and/or indies. Although management offices help visual kei performers on both organizational and financial levels, they have significant control regarding band members' looks, events they should attend or avoid, and even how they should present themselves. This means that many visual kei bands prefer to remain self-managed despite the financial help that management offices may offer; they retain full control of their band, but they also have to finance themselves. Because of the freedom that indie and self-managed bands have, many fans consider the indie scene to be real visual kei, as opposed to bigger bands controlled by their management offices. Indie bands survive thanks to fan support, and this has caused visual kei to privilege fan-performer relationships by organizing various events that bring fans and performers together.

[1.3] ACME, a self-managed indie visual kei band, provides an excellent case study to explore how the Covid-19 pandemic affected visual kei music performances and fan practices, particularly in relation to the restrictions on public gatherings and the closure of live houses. Fans and performers were forced to find new ways to create the visual kei experience online. Although some bands were unable to adjust and stopped their activities, either temporarily or permanently, those that adapted demonstrated creativity in engaging with their fans, generating new modes of participation and liveness, and even expanding their fan base to overseas. ACME is a good example: they cleverly used various digital platforms to reach out to fans, planned creative events, and successfully survived the pandemic, even emerging as a stronger band. Although it was not uncommon for visual kei bands to focus on online performances during this time, ACME actively used many different platforms and planned their fan events in ways designed to maximize their interactions with fans.

[1.4] This study explores ACME's online fan events on platforms like TwitCasting, YouTube, and Fanicon. Even though the events were primarily held during Japan time, overseas fans actively participated, with comments written mostly in English, Spanish, and Japanese. The events were archived for only twenty-four hours, creating a "live performance" experience. According to ACME's website (, with each new online event, the number of international fans attending the events increased—so much so that once Covid-19-related restrictions were relaxed, ACME organized and completed a North America summer tour that included the United States and Canada between June and July 2022. An analysis of ACME's online activities shows how fans and performers utilized digital platforms to create a new online fan culture, one that discussed the concepts of liveness and authenticity in digital concerts.

[1.5] Visual kei has been extensively studied from various angles, including its history and aesthetics (Inoue et al. 2003; Ichikawa and Fujitani 2018), masculinity, gender roles, and androgyny (Inoue et al. 2003), and its relation to otaku culture, particularly boys' love manga (Hashimoto 2007; McLeod 2013; Johnson 2019). This study departs from the past research on visual kei by focusing on the liveness of visual kei online during an unexpected pandemic period, and the platforms' role in not only creating new modes of liveness but also enabling fan-performer communication. This research also builds on previous research on liveness. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, Couldry (2004) discusses how digital technologies began to change the way people experience performances and the way they generated new modes of liveness. Rendell (2020) explores spontaneity and authenticity of live performances, focusing on the concept of portal shows, which he defines as sites of convergence between traditional concerts and media. Anderton (2021) provides an overview of how platform utilization has evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic, including using free sites like YouTube and Instagram to deliver free performances, switching to ticketed live streams, and using virtual reality. Anderton also discusses how these platforms and tools are used to recreate the in-person experience online, permitting fan socialization. Gu, Domer, and O'Connor (2020), in their work on the indie scene in China, discuss whether online platforms could mimic the live house experience well enough. Onderdijk and colleagues (2021) focus on social connectedness during online concerts, discussing how the mechanics of different online platforms (such as fans' being able to control the camera angle or make a song request) affected social presence and fans' feelings of connectedness toward the performers. Finally, Philip Auslander (2022) discusses the mediatization of live performances and challenges the traditional view that considers liveness and mediatization to be opposites. I draw on Auslander's ideas regarding the mediatization of live performances to inform my discussion of the digitalization of visual kei fan events, which are not really mediatized because live houses usually do not have big screens, and fans are not allowed to record or stream the shows. However, when the pandemic forced cancellation of live performances, the performance modes within visual kei changed quickly and permanently.

[1.6] This study adds to previous work in a few novel ways. First, it switches the focus from the Western scene to Japanese visual kei, a genre that strongly emphasizes the proximity of and relationship between fans and performers. Within visual kei, this means that in addition to analyzing the performances, it is also important to focus on fan behavior. Second, this study is informed by online and in-person fan events. I conducted fieldwork as well as ethnographic observations to assess different modes of liveness and authenticity and fan-performer interactions. Fans and performers have utilized various digital platforms to build a new digital fan culture online; these digital platforms have played an important role in helping them achieve this new online fan culture through discussions of liveness and authenticity of digital concerts. Here I combine industry analysis with ethnographic fieldwork at various in-person and online fan events, including concerts, handshake events, talk events, and events held via various social media platforms such as Zaiko, TwitCasting, YouTube, and Fanicon. During the pandemic, I attended numerous online events of different performers, where I observed fan-performer interactions and performances. I took notes and engaged by writing comments in an attempt to better comprehend the dynamics between performers and fans as well as the dynamics among the fans themselves. My focus was on understanding how various platforms facilitated or hindered liveness and engagement during these events.

2. Live houses

[2.1] Live houses are small live-music venues that usually include a bar inside. They are important for the local music scene, particularly for visual kei, because both small and big visual kei bands frequently perform at these venues. Located mainly in the Shibuya and Shinjuku districts in Tokyo, live houses hold significant importance in visual kei fan culture not only because they host a lot of visual kei concerts and fan events but also because of the intimate atmosphere they provide. I begin by describing what a typical concert looked like before the pandemic so it can be compared with later digital events.

[2.2] Imagine you are at a typical ACME concert. As you approach the live house, you realize that you are surrounded by other ACME fans, known as ACMATE. You note that many fans cosplay as the performers; dress up in special outfits, such as Lolita and goth; and wear the band's merchandise. Fans have prepared many gifts and letters for the performers to give to the band members directly during the meet and greet, which usually occurs at handshake or photograph events before or after the concert. As you enter the venue in ticket-number order, you also purchase a drink ticket, which is necessary to enter the show. Because there are no seats at the live house, you drop belongings on the floor to save a spot. Then you exchange a ticket for a drink and hang out with other fans. During this time, you might purchase merchandise or take Polaroid photographs of the performers, called cheki (note 1). As the lights go dim and ACME members appear on the stage one by one, you join other fans as they start jumping, screaming, and calling band members' names. You may also participate in the performance through furi, or choreographed dance moves done by the fans, where you and other fans, along with the performers, dance together in a way complementing the show. Fans and performers engage in close contact with each other throughout the performance by moshing, dancing, and screaming together. Performers seize every opportunity to connect with fans during live events by engaging in various activities: they make eye contact with as many fans as possible, point at individual fans, reach out and hold fans' hands, stage dive, and even venture into the crowd. They also interact with the audience during MC breaks—that is, during breaks in between songs, when band members take turns sharing their feelings about the show or otherwise engaging with the audience.

[2.3] Although Auslander (2022) argues that being present in person at a live event does not contribute to a feeling of community or achieve proximity between performer and fan, instead noting that such performances further separate performer and audience member despite their being in the same space, Auslander also notes that because of the utilization of big screens at many performances, audience members end up watching a mediatized and controlled version of the performances even when they are present in person. However, the unique nature of visual kei concerts and fan culture within live houses means that these events foster unity not only among fans but also between fans and performers. This is achieved through extensive fan-performer interactions during the main event and through meet and greet events held afterward. Moreover, these events minimize the level of mediatization because many live houses do not use screens to display the performers, and recording performances is usually prohibited.

[2.4] Despite allowing such close and intimate events, live houses are poorly ventilated, leading to Covid-19 outbreak clusters at the beginning of the pandemic. As the pandemic worsened, in-person concerts and events were banned in Japan, leaving the live houses empty and silent. The more this situation continued, the more damage it caused the live houses, and consequently visual kei as well as the local music scene more broadly. Governmental support for the live houses fell short, the cancellation of in-person events increasingly continued, and multiple states of emergency were declared, especially in Tokyo. As a result, visual kei and live houses in general started to face serious problems.

3. Emergence of digital visual kei fandom

[3.1] For most visual kei bands, touring, holding in-person events, and selling merchandise at events comprised their main income. Before the pandemic, ACME, like other visual kei bands, held frequent concerts and fan events. For instance, when the band was formed in June 2017, it began an in-store event tour from July 23 to September 17, which included Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Shizuoka, and Sendai. This tour included talk shows, photograph sessions with the band (satsueikai), autograph sessions (sainkai), and handshake events (akushukai). Next, they started a concert tour in August in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Shizuoka. According to their website, for the rest of the year, the band did two more concert tours, one more in-store tour, four extra shows, and a fan trip (fan ryokō), and they released a new single. In addition, they planned various off-line events to get together with fans.

[3.2] When the pandemic started, many visual kei performers turned to digital platforms. ACME was as active on digital platforms as they were in off-line events. They were able to use online platforms skillfully. Before the pandemic, ACME's online views were about forty or fifty people, with most being Japanese fans; during the pandemic, their one-man online events were watched by about 120 or more fans, and looking at the comment section, perhaps more than half was made up of international fans. The keys to successful adaptation were a focus on maximizing fan interactions, converging digital and in-person elements, and cultivating a permanent fan culture, rather than viewing online events as a temporary solution. ACME started doing four types of online events during the pandemic: free online concerts, mainly on YouTube; free talking and/or gaming events mixed with old concert footage on YouTube, TwitCasting, and Fanicon; paid hybrid live streams of the concerts that took place in live houses; and online fan meetings, both as a band and individually on different platforms. Next, I turn to a discussion of these events, explicating fan and performer behaviors and communication, digital fan culture, and the role different platforms play in shaping these events.

4. Free online concerts

[4.1] ACME held their first online free concert on March 14, 2020, on YouTube and Instagram simultaneously (video 1). This event was followed by many more throughout the pandemic. However, I will focus on their first one because it provided the basis for the format of their following concerts. They streamed this performance from a music studio with instruments set up, creating the illusion of a stage. Compared to their regular concerts, the members opted for lighter makeup and more modest hairstyles, and they wore black jeans and band T-shirts instead of flamboyant costumes. Without stage lights or other effects, the concert had a scaled-down, intimate atmosphere. As the term "stage persona," first suggested by Horton and Wohl (1956), suggests, to interact with their fans, performers create on-stage personalities that do not necessarily reflect their private selves. Naturally, elements like props and lights, as well as performers' looks, including costumes, hairstyles, and makeup, help create this stage persona. Because the members of ACME showed up without their flashy stage looks at this performance, it gave the illusion that they had moved away from their performance personas and were being completely themselves. This meant that the band members' interactions with one another and with the fans, especially during the MC breaks, seemed even more natural and sincere. Further, utilizing popular platforms like YouTube and Instagram meant that the concert became accessible to fans worldwide. The live chat feature provided an opportunity for fans to actively participate and engage with one another and with ACME members.

Video 1. ACME's first live performance on YouTube, March 14, 2020.

[4.2] The concert was streamed using a single camera positioned in front of the stage, replicating the perspective of the first-row audience at an in-person concert. This increased the feeling of the performance's liveness; it brought it closer to the live house experience, where fans could somewhat choose what to focus on, as opposed to watching a DVD that is recorded from multiple angles with professional cameras zooming in and out on the performers—a mode that controls the audience's focus. This is similar to the big screens used at live performers, which Auslander (2022) discusses as limiting the audience's choices on where to focus and causes the performance to feel like watching a DVD rather than witnessing a live performance. By giving the audience the freedom to choose where to focus, ACME implied liveness.

[4.3] ACME had bilingual staff members behind the camera to facilitate communication between fans and the band members by reading both Japanese and international fans' comments to the members, as well as translating the band members' talks during MC breaks into English for the international fans. ACME members also used their own devices to check the show's comments during the MC breaks. Unlike their performances at the live houses, for this concert, ACME members did not prepare any particular themes for their MC speeches. Instead, they gave short MC breaks after each song to read and reply to fans' comments. This focus on communication distinguished ACME from other major visual kei bands like SID, who performed without an audience and streamed their performances in real time. Although they performed with professional lighting, stage effects, and multiple camera angles, they lacked the direct interaction with fans and the ability to read comments during the events. At the start of the concert, ACME members also mentioned that because it was a free event, fan donations via Super Chat on YouTube would be appreciated. This function allows viewers to donate any amount from 100 yen to 12,000 yen per donation, with a daily limit of 50,000 yen.

[4.4] Although live stream concerts are not new, they were not really popular before the pandemic. Much of the concern and criticism about online concerts was about the lack of interaction and social experiences during these events, especially between fans and performers (Bennett 2015; Harper 2015). However, ACME overcame these obstacles by prioritizing communication with fans. They encouraged use of commenting and ensured that missed comments were brought to the band's attention by bilingual staff during breaks. They invented new ways for fans to be involved in the performances, such as creating a set list based on fans' song requests. Moreover, ACME chose YouTube for free online concerts, a platform that allows fans to comment and interact with each other freely. Using this freedom, fans not only wrote numerous comments but also engaged with each other's comments and even invented digital furi. Auslander (2022) points out that creating a sense of collectivity at digital events has proven to be vital for the concept of liveness because it helps increase the feeling of presence. ACME successfully transformed online live music into a communal experience, supporting Auslander's observation.

[4.5] ACME started the concert with their new release, "Usogao," and let fans choose the rest of the set list through Super Chat requests on YouTube. They answered all song requests regardless of the donation amount, making fans feel included and shaping the concert's flow. Fans seemed to particularly enjoy this concept because they could actively participate and shape the flow of these events, unlike watching a prerecorded concert or event on DVD or online. As they announced on their website at the time, fans participated in the chat with both paid and regular comments—so much that ACME had to prioritize song requests made via Super Chat.

[4.6] Choosing YouTube as their platform proved to be very effective for such events, especially the way ACME utilized it. First of all, it is a widespread, free-to-use platform, and many people already have an account. Therefore, it is accessible worldwide for watching videos, as well as for commenting and participating in live chat during broadcasts. Another advantage is that the content on YouTube is "spreadable," as Jenkins, Ford, and Green (2018) term it, which means that it is easy to share across other platforms. Fans can add new meanings to the content by adding comments, stickers, or other details when they share the content. This was exactly what ACME fans did to spread these live streams on other platforms, such as visual kei fan groups on Facebook, or on Twitter (now X) with hashtags. Finally, YouTube's Super Chat feature allows viewers to financially support the broadcasters. ACME brilliantly utilized this feature by turning it into a way for fans to request songs. By creating the set list out of the fans' song requests made via Super Chat, ACME managed to include the fans in the performance in unique ways not possible for in-person concerts, where set lists and MC talks were decided ahead of time. This type of event became so popular that ACME held more of them, which eventually led to another type of hybrid online event (which I discuss later).

[4.7] James Rendell (2020) discusses the importance of spontaneity at online concerts in achieving the liveness and exclusivity of in-person concerts. By drawing on examples from an online show by James Alex, Rendell describes how the performer used the camera to enhance interaction from fans who watched from their screens by moving closer to the camera, looking directly at it to create the same feeling of eye contact as at off-line events, and urging fans to sing along. Moreover, Rendell notes that because the show was not recorded, it was experienced only by the fans who attended that day, further increasing the exclusivity. In a similar move, ACME made live streams available for only twenty-four hours after they ended. In addition, the band members (specifically the vocalist) engaged with the camera in a similar way as James Alex: he moved closer to and farther from the camera, headbanged, and invited the audience to perform furi. The fact that ACME created both the set list and the MC talk by collaborating with the audience not only maximized the show's spontaneity but also made it exclusive. Although it was archived for twenty-four hours, and although some fans recorded the show and uploaded the videos to various streaming platforms, the whole concert was created by the band and the fans together in real time. Hence, even if someone can watch it later, the exclusivity of the event remains intact.

[4.8] However, many visual kei performers could not adapt to online performances. These bands instead focused on online talking events, or they made sure to hold talking sessions after the concerts. For example, a major band, SID, did a live stream concert at a concert hall without an audience in 2020. They replicated their typical in-person concert setting from stage lights to costumes. This concert was streamed on Zaiko, and fans needed to purchase tickets to watch it. Even though Zaiko provided a lot of paid chat options to mimic furi, such as little stickers that mimic various furi moves, the band members had no way of seeing these comments, let alone interacting with their fans, which meant that the show was more similar to watching a DVD at home than a live performance. Another example is XaaXaa. This band also did live streams during Covid-19 where they performed at a live house without an audience, streaming the performances on YouTube for free. Although they were not able to connect with the audience during performances, they made sure to host after-talk events as soon as the concerts were finished in order to interact with their fans. Similar events were carried out by bands both major and minor, including NICOLAS, the Thirteen, and D, on various platforms like YouTube, Zaiko, and TwitCasting.

[4.9] The main reason ACME's concerts were so successful during the pandemic was that they found a way to interact with fans during concerts instead of trying to recreate a traditional concert experience at an empty live house with no off-line audience. ACME fans helped shape these online events through active participation, creating new fan traditions as a community. Fan participation made these events successful; without them, no matter how much ACME might have tried to find creative ways to perform, it would not have worked this effectively. One interesting fan-created response was digital furi created via emoji. Fans sent emoji of oranges for the song "ROTTEN ORANGE," and after ACME members commented on how amazing it looked, fans, encouraged, continued sending emoji, coming up with new emoji for other songs. The process was similar to how fans created furi at live house performances: some fans started using an emoji that they liked or that they thought best represented a song, and if the other fans agreed, they also started using it. Just like furi, as time passed, and as more online concerts were performed, fans started not only creating different emojis for different songs but also started teaching each other the correct emoji for each song.

5. Talking and/or gaming events mixed with old concert footage

[5.1] Around March 2020, ACME began hosting free live streams of talking and gaming events mixed with video clips of their old concerts. They mostly preferred YouTube for these events, most likely because of its spreadable nature as well as the platforms' accessibility. These were perhaps the most interesting performances. Not only did they converge in-person and digital events but they also converged different types of events: talking events, gaming events, and concerts. For a while they did these events every Thursday. For these types of events, ACME members gathered in CHISA's house, wearing their everyday clothes—sometimes even sweatpants—and hairstyles, with no makeup. During these events, fans got to see the band members being normal human beings, enjoying alcohol and snacks during these events, so it felt to the audience like they were witnessing a casual hangout between the band members—but fans got to hang out with them by writing in the chat. A single staff member helped from time to time with band management; although he stayed off camera, he occasionally joined the conversations, especially when there was an announcement about upcoming events or band activities.

[5.2] During these events, ACME would show a set list from one of their past live shows, allowing fans to request songs. The video clips shown during these events were not taken from live shows that had been released as DVDs, which distinguished the experience from watching a DVD together. Mark Duffett (2003) explores how the concept of liveness has changed to mean different things, including "reproducing the exclusive encounter between musician and audience" (315); he also argues that the "aura" of the live performances is mostly created as a result of its exclusivity, with only people present at the venue able to experience it (315). ACME's fan events created a unique sense of exclusivity by featuring previously unreleased past performances. This meant that the only way to experience these performances was either to have attended the original concert or to be present during the live stream. In a fascinating blend of public and exclusive elements, ACME made these performances accessible to a wider audience by archiving the videos on YouTube for twenty-four hours, again providing a window of exclusivity designed to hint at a shared, transitory, live event.

[5.3] After showing the set list, ACME members engaged in lively discussions covering a range of topics, including recent news, personal anecdotes, favorite games, and food. They also played games, including video games such as Mario Party on Nintendo Switch; more old-school Japanese games, such as Pop Up Pirate and Batsu Game, and even a drinking game. Fans left comments and requested songs through Super Chat, and whenever a song request arrived, ACME took a break from the game and played the requested song clip. After discussing that particular song or performance, ACME resumed playing games or continued their conversation. Some fans used Super Chat without making a song request in order to show their support for the band and have their messages highlighted in the chat, elevating their status among fellow fans. Once again, fans used emoji as furi while watching song clips from past concerts. ACME members joined the chat as well. Initially they just identified the song that was playing. However, they later began using the same emoji furi as fans did. This dynamic demonstrates how ACME fans and performers worked together as they built a new online fan culture.

[5.4] ACME members did similar talking events individually on other platforms, such as TwitCasting and Fanicon. As opposed to the ones described above, they did not previously schedule these events. Rather, these were spontaneous, and the members did these whenever they could. These two platforms differ from YouTube in terms of functionality as well as exclusivity. TwitCasting was used only for talking events, and these were sometimes mixed with gaming or other activities. For instance, CHISA, ACME's vocalist, sometimes played mini games, such as personality quiz games or Kuuki Yomi (also known as Consider It) (note 2), as fans commented in chat. Other ACME members also shared their hobbies with fans during live streams. The drummer, HAL, mostly cooked during live streams as he chatted with fans; SHOGO played his guitar, allowing fans to request any song from any band. RIKITO did not do much TwitCasting events on his own, but he joined as a guest in other members' streams. One important feature of TwitCasting is that each live stream automatically ends after thirty minutes unless the fans supply what is called continue coin. For five continue coins, the live stream is extended for an additional thirty minutes. Fans also have the option to support them by sending "tea bags" in different sizes. This feature is similar to Super Chat in YouTube. Fans can also select the amount of donation they would like to make and send the relevant size of tea bag to support the streamers financially. Again, much like Super Chat, their comment appeared on-screen in bigger, more flamboyant fonts. ACME members never missed reading the tea bag messages and thanked the fans who sent them, bringing visibility to those fans.

[5.5] The time limit TwitCasting imposes, even though it can be extended, is somewhat inconvenient for longer events. There is always the risk that fans might forget or might not want to supply the continue coins. Also, TwitCasting is more popular in Japan than it is overseas, so when ACME's strategy was to expand their music overseas, YouTube was a more suitable venue than TwitCasting. However, with these live streams, band members were able to connect with their existing fan base by sharing their hobbies, which showcased their individuality. ACME members could also see how many people were watching their streams on TwitCasting. This gave the band a chance to experiment and find out which kind of contents attracted their fan base.

[5.6] The band also used a paid platform called Fanicon, which has a large variety of functions. It allows performers to have their own page, like in Facebook or X/Twitter, where they can share images, videos, and posts as well as perform live streams and engage in group chats with their fans. Moreover, Fanicon has another function, called scratch (sukuracchi), which is similar to scratch lottery cards. Fans can earn prizes that range from the rarest to the most common when they purchase scratch cards. In CHISA's Fanicon, the rarest prize is a ten-minute video call with CHISA, and the most common is a prerecorded voice message. ACME members utilized many of Fanicon's different functions, including live streaming. The contents of their Fanicon live streams were similar to those in TwitCasting. The members mainly shared their hobbies or daily lives with their fans. However, because Fanicon is a paid platform, the content is inevitably nonspreadable and exclusive to paid members only. Also, Fanicon content is accessible only via a smartphone app, not on computers, so the screen size is only as big as a phone screen, which can be a disadvantage for live streams. Perhaps this was why ACME members preferred other platforms to Fanicon when they did live streams. However, they often used Fanicon for other functions, especially for scratch cards and group chats.

6. Hybrid live streams of live house concerts

[6.1] When in-person events started again in early 2021, after Covid-19 lockdowns eased, many visual kei bands, including ACME, returned to live houses and began hosting hybrid events. These events involved streaming the live house concert in real time on paid platforms like Zaiko. Fans had a choice between attending the concert at live houses or online. Online tickets were about 1,000 to 2,000 yen cheaper than live house tickets. Live stream performances were archived on Zaiko for two days, allowing fans with online tickets to rewatch the concert multiple times during that period. The flow of these hybrid concerts mirrored previous in-person and online events, where both online and off-line fans could gather early to hang out with one another and engage in usual fannish practices while waiting.

[6.2] During these hybrid events, ACME members showcased their flamboyant stage costumes, full makeup, and elaborate hairstyles. The live streaming camera maintained a fixed angle throughout the show. Fans there in person at the live houses performed furi, whereas those attending online used emoji to mimic furi and express their feelings. Fans who watched the shows on digital platforms also used paid chat options to support the band financially. Although band members did not check the comments on the digital platforms during these events, fans still never stopped making comments and sending paid options. The band members engaged with the online audience as well by approaching the camera and making hand signs, such as pointing toward the camera as if pointing directly to individual online fans, or making heart signs. Although direct communication between performers and online fans was limited compared to the other types of online shows I have described, fans still seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show and participated via chat.

[6.3] In-person restrictions were put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. For instance, live houses were required to operate at half capacity to ensure social distancing; audience members had to be seated and had to wear masks; and audience members were not allowed to jump, scream, or even talk. These guidelines significantly affected fan participation and the overall experience compared to prepandemic visual kei performances. Both fans and ACME members seemed nervous during these initial postlockdown concerts, as interactions between fans and performers, as well as among fans themselves, were limited. ACME members expressed uneasiness about not being able to see fans' faces or see their reactions during the performances, leading to uncertainty about the audience's enjoyment of the show.

[6.4] As ACME continued to perform concerts under the imposed restrictions, they sought alternative ways to engage with fans during shows. They encouraged fans to clap and perform some furi that did not involve screaming or jumping, such as waving their arms. Band members began bringing plastic toy chickens that make a noise when squeezed, and fans started doing the same. They used them in between songs and during MC breaks when they wanted to react to something. Online fans interacted with each other by replying to comments, discussing their favorite songs, and sharing their thoughts on the set list. Some fans expressed a preference for online events, as they could avoid the crowded live house environment. Overseas fans, who typically did not have a chance to see ACME perform live, expressed their gratitude for these opportunities.

[6.5] As Covid-19 restrictions started to loosen, despite not being allowed to scream or remove their masks, fans were moshing once again. Finally, in 2023, all restrictions were removed, and the in-person concerts were again carried out as they were before the pandemic. However, many bands, including ACME, H.U.G., Luv PARADE, XaaXaa, and SID, continue their online fan events in the form of hybrid concerts as well as online talk and game events—and sometimes they still perform online concerts.

7. Results of digitalization

[7.1] Although the digitalization of visual kei events helped the genre to expand overseas, it also disrupted fan hierarchy. Previously, visual kei was considered to be local to Japan, and fans in Japan held a higher status because of their proximity to the genre and their ability to attend more events. Additionally, within Japan, dedicated fans who followed bands on tour and secured front-row spots were higher in the fan hierarchy. Moreover, most visual kei content was exclusive to the Japanese audience, either because they were fan club limited (many fan club subscriptions required a Japanese address and a Japanese phone number, so they were inaccessible to overseas fans) or because the performers did not upload their full content on free streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, or even YouTube. There were also language-related problems. Most overseas fans did not really understand the band's talking events or announcements because of the language barrier. Today, increasingly more performers have been providing English translations of their content. Some bands, including ACME, not only make their content available on various streaming platforms but also add English translations of their song lyrics on YouTube. Fans living in Japan had the upper hand in terms of knowledge and visibility because they could attend these events, which were mainly in-person only.

[7.2] The shift to digital events meant that fans from all over the world gained access to the scene, and traditional behaviors, such as following the band around and being in the front row, lost significance. These practices were replaced by using paid chat options and making interesting comments that would be picked up by the performers. Across all platforms, the paid chat options were designed to stand out among the other chat entries. YouTube's Super Chat feature uses different colors for each amount of donation, and the username of the sender stays pinned on the top of the chat box for some time, depending on the donation's amount; larger donations stay pinned longer, bringing more attention to the sender. The performers often showed special interest in international fans' participation, expressing their surprise and joy. All this disrupted the established fan hierarchy, eventually leading to competition between international and Japanese fans.

[7.3] In addition, some platforms' features contributed to tension between fans. For instance, there were many incidents where some CHISA fans argued and doxed one another in the group chat function of Fanicon over the attention some fans were getting from CHISA. Although Fanicon does not allow fans to private message other fans, it has a group chat function. Some performers, such as Mao from SID, disable this feature, perhaps to prevent these fan arguments from emerging. However, some fans took their issues to another platform, Tanuki, and engaged in negative behavior, such as doxing other fans. Tanuki is a Japanese visual kei discussion forum that offers complete anonymity; membership is not required to create entries. As a result, because of the lack of consequences, many entries are negative or even harmful.

8. Conclusion

[8.1] This study examined the impact of Covid-19 on visual kei fan culture through in-depth analyses of digital fan events that ACME conducted during the pandemic through discussions of liveness, authenticity, mediatization, and fan presence. This study focused on ACME's three main types of events: free online concerts; free talking and/or gaming events mixed with old concert clips; and paid, hybrid concerts that take place in live houses and are simultaneously live streamed. These events were analyzed in terms of platform functions, fan participation, and band performance to illustrate how ACME so successfully adapted to the change brought by the pandemic. First, they prioritized their communication with fans over technical details, such as costumes, hairstyles, and makeup. Second, ACME took the pandemic as an opportunity, using their creativity to plan various events to expand their fan base. Finally, ACME found new ways to emphasize the liveness and exclusivity of these events by actively involving their fans in the events: taking song requests via Super Chat on YouTube and letting fan comments decide the contents of MC talks.

[8.2] Fans developed new ways to participate and shape these events by creating new fan traditions for online events on digital platforms. They picked different emoji as furi to represent different songs, and they began teaching one another which emoji to use, and when. Overall, these digital events have proven highly successful for ACME, enabling them to connect with fans during the pandemic and generate income. In an interview, ACME members talked about how much they enjoyed these digital events; they were able to connect with their existing fans as well as meet new fans, and they added that they would continue to do them even after the pandemic (ACME 2021). It is likely that we will witness even more convergences in the future, as well as more digital platforms to facilitate such events.

[8.3] This study contributes to platform studies by demonstrating the ways different platforms can play crucial roles in maximizing the fan engagement as well as in creating different modes of liveness. ACME's different types of online events across different platforms demonstrates that different platforms may be utilized, depending on the purpose of users and performances. This study adds to fan studies by focusing on visual kei, an understudied Japanese music subculture with unique fan traditions and performances. It also highlights the importance of fans acting as a community and finding new ways to participate in performances.

9. Notes

1. Cheki are also low budget: they are taken by staff members, usually at the venue, just before the live performance. They are usually sold for about 1,000 yen for one cheki of one member, and thanks to their low cost and practicality, they are one of the main sources of income for visual kei performers.

2. In this game, players are presented with Japanese cultural situations and are asked to make choices on how they would act in each situation. There are a total of a hundred situations, and when players complete them all, they are presented with a personality test result with different categories, such as common sense, responsibility, and spatial awareness.

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