Atarashii Gakko! Champions Youth and Nonconformity in AG! Calling

“Our concept is for everyone. It does not depend on how old you are as long as you’re living and enjoying the moment,” Atarashii Gakko!’s Kanon says of the group’s raucous new album.
As is with most legends, there are different accounts of how the members of Atarashii Gakko! met. Some say they met in a supermarket aisle when they all reached for the last pack of discounted sushi, others say they’d known each other as kids. Yet others claim that the hallowed halls of their to-be-company Asobisystem were hard at work to rescue humanity. Whatever the story, the wheels of fate were turning to put together a foursome poised to fight the invisible but omnipresent monster of boring, soulless adult life — armed only in their sailor uniforms and chock full of sizzling energy.
Dramatic retelling aside, the quartet — Suzuka, Rin, Kanon, and Mizyu — might not be battling titanic fictional villains, but they are up against an equally fearsome foe: boredom. Their recently-released album, AG! Calling, reinforces the quartet’s image as a paragon of fresh, zany energy that sends a shock through sluggish veins. AG! Calling is an escape from the drudgery of the everyday, and Atarashii Gakko! believe it’s their “destiny” to spread the joy of seishun (youth) to the world.
Slotting in perfectly with the group’s core ethos, the “calling” in AG! Calling is taken from the Japanese kanji “Korin,” which has a dual meaning of descending, as well as one’s own calling. On their single “Tokyo Calling” — released seven months ago and now included on the album — the group descends upon the concrete metropolitan facade of Tokyo, with Mizyu’s characteristic helicopter ponytails swinging full speed. The group makes an urgent announcement: “Don’t hesitate to move forward! Hope for the future is here!” They repeat this mantra and call forth a ball of light from the sky, leading everyone from mundanity to freedom.
It’s a proverbial full-circle moment for the group, who heralded themselves as the “Youth Representatives of Japan” — their name in Japanese is Atarashii Gakko no Leaders, or New School Leaders — and championed finding and embracing your individuality in the face of a highly conformist society. Early releases like “Mayoeba Totoshi (If You Get Lost)” confronted listeners with hard-hitting questions: “What is the meaning of freedom? If it’s just acting like an adult, I disagree. Let me find it myself.” The eerie and relentless “Dokubana” (2017) bemoaned the fate of an outlier in society, which is “scorned and hated” until it withers in place.
By the time they got to “Nainainai” — their first release under 88Rising — the group had condensed their ethos into pointed critique wrapped in effervescent eccentricity, representing the unique worldview that the biggest rejection of conformity would be to boldly embrace who you are without rejecting the confines of society outright.
As they have expanded their world — marked by performances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” a successful debut at Coachella this year and performance at Primavera Sound in Barcelona — and inched further into adulthood, “seishun” has evolved from a philosophy to a way of life. AG! Calling rejoices in its reinvention of everyday tedium and positions them firmly as the cheerleaders of a liberated way of life.
Below, Atarashii Gakko! talk about AG! Calling, their successful Coachella performance, and how their core philosophy will develop with them.
You guys just came off of a very successful Coachella set. How was the entire experience?
Suzuka: We have been together as a group for nine years, and the show at Coachella was like, Ah, that was why we had to be together, we had to form the group The live performance was the answer of the meaning of being together as Atarashii Gakko! That’s the kind of feeling we had.
Suzuka, you actually said in an interview earlier this year that participating in Coachella will bring you one step closer to Beyoncé. Once you wrapped up the performance, did you feel that way?
Suzuka: [Jumps up and flashes a thumbs up.] Yes! I took one step towards Beyoncé!
Rin, you got the chance to meet Lauryn Hill, whom you have cited as an inspiration