Avantgardey appeared on the 2nd audition session of America’s Got Talent, 2023. Formed in 2022 in Osaka, Japan, Avantgardey has gained a reputation on social media as, in the words of Japanese site Akanekikaku, the “mysterious school-uniformed & bobbed-hair group”. When I first watched their act, I was struck by two things besides their talent.
First I wondered how their wigs could stay in place with all the energetic moves. Second, I was struck by how demure the group managed to be in school pinafores while doing a routine that includes some skillful gymnastic moves, especially since the issue of the sexualisation of schoolgirls has been a hot potato issue in Japan. Let’s watch the video.
Both points are easily answered. First, the group might not wear bob-cut wigs. All twenty members have very similar haircuts from what I can see on an image search, though there are routines where some members wear long dusty-blond wigs. Whatever the case, full marks to the hairstylist. Second, the choreography is extremely well conceived to keep a frothy, fun, and highly synchronised routine going without unduly displacing the knee-length pinafores. So well done founder & choreographer Akane.
After the performance, Heidi Klum says, “I really think I saw your Japanese soul.” While clearly complementary, this sounds a trifle tone-deaf in these times of heightened cultural sensitivity. Again there is a simple answer. The AGT video does not show the preliminary comments before the performance. When asked what distinguishes Avantgardey from previous dance acts on AGT, a group member says: “We have an original dance piece filled with Japanese soul.” Here’s a little more of that soul:
The above performance was on Japan’s Got Talent in March 2023. Judging from a translation of Wikipedia Japan’s entry on JGT 2023, the group appears to have reached the finals (they are called Avant-Garde in the translation). In terms of worldwide exposure, a performance in January with the popular American electronic music artist DJ Steve Aoki may have been more significant. Certainly, most of the reviews of Avantgardey’s AGT audition make no mention of JGT but mention the Akoni appearance as a significant stepping stone to the group’s popularity in the US.
Avantgardey charmed the judges on AGT. They even had the judges replicating the hand movements from the dance as the judges enthusiastically voted yes. The US Sun reports that the judges have been “slammed for snubbing fan-favourite act by not giving out golden buzzer for ‘perfect’ performance.” (Curiously the report ends by saying that Putri Ariani is still pegged as the overall winner of the season).
A significant part of the charm and humour of Avantgardey are their stylised movements and exaggerated facial expressions. They even did a choreographed penguin shuffle as they exit the stage to a standing ovation. It’s a great final gag that references their black and white uniforms. (I’m still wondering about their hairstyles though. If they are wigs, they should market the attachment pins/devices)
What about the song that Avantgardey chose for their catchy, comical, and fast-paced routine? The track is Cinderella Honeymoon by Hiromi Iwasaki, a Japanese “city pop” singer who released the first of her 18 full albums in 1975. Cinderella Honeymoon is her most popular hit. In case you are wondering, here is Avantgardey with DJ Steve Aoki: