Producer Yasushi Akimoto’s women-led idol group Nogizaka46 helped to expand the J-pop genre beyond traditional bubbly numbers to include more contemplative songs that explored heavier topics. The mega-successful band was launched in 2011 as the “official rivals” to Akimoto’s then-dominant girl group AKB48. Nogizaka46 purposely started off with 46 members in total—two less than AKB48’s headcount—to demonstrate how much more the group could do with fewer performers. This clever bit of marketing helped the collective to stand out, and they only built on this fanfare and continued to differentiate themselves from competing acts by moving in new musical and lyrical directions. Popular singles such as 2017’s “Influencer” and 2018’s “Synchronicity” found the band dabbling in more understated sounds, underscoring their all-together-now vocals with novel string sections and electronic melodies. With this sonic exploration came a decided shift in lyrical themes, as members were more willing than their J-pop counterparts to tackle more psychological topics like depression, anxiety and other challenges faced by teenage girls in modern Japan. Ensuing outfits like Nogizaka46’s sister group Keyakizaka46 may have dove even deeper into these rarely charted territories, but Nogizaka46 stands alone in demonstrating how Japanese artists can touch on serious issues while also delivering catchy pop tracks.