Rei Kuromiya is a Japanese singer, fashion icon and model. She is 17 years old (born 29th November 2000) and is from Saitama, a prefecture close to Tokyo. Rei currently leads her own rock band, Brats, and does considerable modelling and fashion work. She is also famous for her previous work in Ladybaby, for being a winner of the MissID 2015 competion, as a model for magazines and fashion designers and for her early work as a gravure idol. Her other work includes TV, radio, film, web and magazine appearances as well as some fashion design.
As a model, rock singer and fashion icon, Rei’s fan-base is large and varied. She has tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram. She is known for the contrast between her distinctive beauty and dark, outspoken personality. Although fierce in her words, Rei easily becomes afraid. Her charisma, complex character and tendency to speak frankly about her hates and anxieties sets her apart from other celebrities her own age. This has made her especially popular with young female fans.
- 1 Junior Idol and Gravure Modelling
- 2 Other Early Activity
- 3 Rei Kuromiya in Brats
- 4 MissID 2015
- 5 Trillion Starlights
- 6 Rei Kuromiya in Ladybaby
- 7 Fashion Work
- 8 Other Work
- 9 How to say Rei Kuromiya
Junior Idol and Gravure Modelling
Rei started her entertainment career as a junior gravure idol at 8 years old. A gravure idol poses for magazines, photobooks and DVDs, mostly in swimwear. This is a controversial career for a child but it is legal in Japan since there is no nudity. It can be an effective route to become a popular adult idol. Her elder sister Aya Kuromiya also did some gravure work, but was less active than Rei (Aya is two years older than Rei and was born 28th November 1998).
Rei’s first photoshoots were in August 2009 and she released her first few titles with smaller agencies (Drop and Ramune). However, still in the summer of 2009 she joined a larger talent agency Bambina Pro, and she has remained with this same agency until the present day (although she is now under the Charm Pro banner, part of the same agency).
Her natural attractiveness and skill as a model, as well as her distinctive personality helped her become the agency’s most popular talent. From 2009 until 2016 she released over 80 titles, at first under the name Rei, later with her full name Rei Kuromiya. In March 2016 she released her last major gravure work. By this time her other activities (Ladybaby, Brats, TV and fashion work) had become the main focus of her career.
Recent Gravure Modelling
Rei still occasionally does gravure photoshoots for magazines. For example, Rei and Rie of Ladybaby appeared in Weekly Playboy March 2017. Also in late December 2016, Rei competed in the Sakidol Ace Survival Season 6 competition from Young Jump magazine. There was a small gravure shoot for the magazine. Readers could vote for their favourite girl by buying the magazine. Viewers could also cast votes when the entrants broadcast on the Showroom streaming site. The result was controversial. Rei and the other leading competitor had votes for their final stream discounted because they overran a little. Rei came third, and won a small piece in a later magazine.
Other Early Activity
Rei Kuromiya’s talent agency support other activities apart from gravure work. Members also audition for TV/advertising work, film roles, fashion shoots etc. At 10, Rei appeared on TV Tokyo’s Piramekino as a child judge on a comedy show. She made her first appearances in fashion magazines: JS-Girl in 2012, and Kera in 2013. She was also a regular model (in ordinary clothes) at “photoshoot meetings” open to the public.
Rei Kuromiya in Brats
In August 2011 Rei formed a rock band called Brats with three other members, with the help of her talent agency. Rei (10) became the vocalist and her sister Aya (12) took the bass. Seira Goto (12) played guitar, and a girl known as Maria (10) was on drums.
The members had no musical experience so they spent a year learning their instruments before their first gig in July 2012. Since then they have performed regularly as a legitimate band, touring live-houses of Tokyo, Nagoya and around, lining up alongside adult bands. They won a battle of the bands competition at the Azumabashi Festival, performed in the famous Club Quattro in Shibuya, got to the final stage of the Road to NAON competition and have appeared at the Shimokitazawa Film festival.
In late 2015, they collaborated with the long-established Tokyo band Urbangarde on the song 14-year-old Disease, the final song of their first period. Around this time Rei’s talent agency, who don’t typically manage bands, decided to hand over the reins to new management. There was a break in activity before they started again at the end of 2016 as “reborn” Brats. They now play all new songs and a have a heavier somewhat grunge style.
There have been some lineup changes (see full article for details) but Rei and sister Aya remain in the band. They now have Hinako on guitar and a regular support drummer, known only by his twitter name Piroshiki. From late 2016 to spring 2018 the reborn Brats have released Ainikoiyo (Come see me), Nonai Shyoko Game (Brain Erasure Game) a live version of Pain, and a video for Kimarigoto (Rules).
In September 2017, Rei announced that she had developed acute laryngitis, a condition brought on from her singing, and had to take a break from singing or risk damaging her voice. Rei had hinted that she had throat problems as far back as December 2016. Brats cancelled their upcoming gigs but vowed to return when Rei was better. In March 2018 they resumed activity and have an increasingly busy schedule. Their first album is planned for release in summer 2018.
MissID is a annual idol contest organised by the publishing house Kodansha (most well known for their manga comics). Unlike similar contests MissID tries to find an idol who breaks the mould in some way, for example by having an unusual look or personality or hobbies. The winners of this competition get to appear in a MissID photobook and other events. More importantly the recognition opens doors to other work in the entertainment industry
In 2014, Rei Kuromiya entered the competition hoping to win MissID 2015. As a cute 13-year-old gravure model with a fierce tongue she was well suited for the contest. Her mentor was fashion designer Kanae Higashi. There were 2714 postal entrants, from which she was selected as one of the 51 semi-finalists.
The public judged the semi-final stage. Entrants gained votes in several ways:
- a video promoting themselves as the next MissID, where the number of views counted towards votes.
- a set of MissID photos for sale, where the number of sales counted towards votes.
- a twitter voting button.
- a discussion board with the public, where the number of posts counted towards votes.
Rei’s entry page is still online although the photos and discussion board are no longer available. In her video she chose to wear a school swimsuit and play one of her Brats songs on electric guitar (unplugged). This was extremely popular, causing some disquiet (due to her age) but also admiration at her skill and confidence. In recent years there have been several very similar videos.
Rei took first place on Twitter and third place on Youtube. She was in the top 10 on photo sales, but her discussion board ranking was lower. She ranked in 5th place for the semi-finals, which allowed her to enter the finals.
The finalists were all interviewed by the judging panel. The judges gave their final opinions and decided the winners. Rei received considerable praise with most of the judges impressed by her defiance and beauty. Competition organiser Tsukasa Kobayashi described her as “part beautiful anime girl, part Sid Vicious“.
The final Grand-Prix joint-winners were Rie Kaneko and Shizu Mizuno. Rei Kuromiya was the runner-up and received the prize MissID 2015. Rei would go on to work with Rie Kaneko in Ladybaby and also became a friend to Shizu Mizuno. She also met her favourite singer Oomori Seiko, one of the judges that year, with whom she would later collaborate for Ladybaby.
N.B. Rei has gained some notoriety for giving the middle finger to audiences. It was during the MissID competition that she began to do this, possibly influenced by the work of mentor Kanae Higashi or winner Shizu Mizuno.
In the months after her MissID success, Rei participated in various post-competition events. One was the MissID Festival in December 2014, where she announced a collaboration with Trillion Starlights, an 80’s-themed independent design and music studio. Rei would play the persona of character Rei Hoshino and sing on various tracks produced by the studio.
From April 2015 until January 2016, Rei released two CD singles (Love Ran Ran, and Seven) and a limited edition vinyl LP (COSMIC STARLIGHTS) under the label. She sang on a total of six tracks, using a kawaii anime vocal style, quite different from her Ladybaby or Brats work. Several tracks can be previewed on the Trillion Starlights soundcloud page.
The collaboration ended in early 2016. By this time Rei’s new unit Ladybaby had become enormously popular and she was unable to continue with this smaller project.
Rei Kuromiya in Ladybaby
In early 2015, there was a meeting between the MissID organisers (representing Rei Kuromiya and Rie Kaneko), Clearstone (a cosplay manufacturer) and Richard Magerey, a cross-dressing performer known as Ladybeard. They decided to form an idol unit called Ladybaby to promote Clearstone’s costumes, featuring Rei, Rie and Ladybeard.
Their first single and music video was a kawaii metal track called Nippon Manju, released in July 2015. Although initially envisioned as a relatively small project, the video went viral gaining millions of views within days. It currently has over 20 million views.
Ladybaby started performing at events around Japan to increasing audiences. In October 2015, on the back of their huge international success they also had a short “world tour”. They performed their first solo show in New York, appeared at the Hyper Japan Christmas event in London, and also performed at gigs in Los Angeles and Cologne, Germany. Also in October they went to Malaysia for the WebTVAsia Awards 2015, where they were awarded the Breakout Artiste of the Year award. In November they appeared at the Youtube Fanfest Japan. a gathering of the biggest names on Youtube.
Follow up Singles and Split
Their second single Age-Age Money ~ochin gin dai sakusen~ (usually just called A-ge A-ge Money) was released January 2016. It did not achieve the same level of viral success of the first single, but was still very popular. This was followed up with another single Renge Chance! in April 2016. They also recorded the theme for a Chinese phone game, Shounen Yuusha-dan.
On 15th April 2016 they had their first solo gig in Japan, the last event they performed as a trio. The band announced a “hiatus” and on August 1st they further announced that Ladybeard was no longer in the group. Ladybeard claimed that he was unable to agree a contract with the parties, then signed a contract with a larger company and started an almost identical unit (which folded after this one track).
Continuing Work as a Duo
By this time Rei Kuromiya and Rie Kaneko were firm friends. Also, despite the comedy nature of their material, they had demonstrated they were skillful singers. So Ladybaby continued as a duo and renamed themselves The Idol formerly known as Ladybaby (echoing the name change by Prince). They secured a contract with King Records (the company behind AKB48), and restarted activity in September 2016.
Their first single as a duo was Sanpai! Gosyuin Girl, released November 2016. The track was fairly similar to their previous material, with metal guitars and male death vocals in the mix. However, in the other two tracks on the single and in their later work, these aspects became less prominent. Their next single was Pelo, released April 2017. Unusually, all three tracks on this single were released in full on Youtube.
Of particular interest is their April 2017 track Lady Baby Blue, which was written for Rei and Rie by well-known singer-songwriter Oomori Seiko, who met the them as a judge in MissID. This gentle rock ballad marked a change from the frenetic sound of their earlier work. Their audience has also changed: at first they had an international fan base similar to those who like Babymetal. By this point the majority of their fans were Japanese women their own age, drawn to Rei and Rie’s strong personalities and friendship.
Final Single and Split
In Autumn 2017, Ladybaby became very active, promoting their newest single Pinky Pinky (a reference to a pinky promise). They performed a series of release events and announced a Japan tour. However, the demanding schedule made Rei’s throat problems worse, until she had problems singing during some events. On advice from a doctor Rei quit singing for Brats in September 2017. However, she continued with events with Ladybaby until their “one-man” live on 28th October 2017.
On 17th November 2017, Rei announced that she was leaving Ladybaby. She explained that she had to take a break from singing due to her throat condition, and upon thinking about it she felt she did not want to continue to be an idol since she wanted to enjoy more freedom.
Breakdown of Friendship with Rie Kaneko
In late summer 2017 it appeared there was a split between Rei Kuromiya and Rie Kaneko and that they were no longer friends. They had been openly intimate in public and on social media for months. But in August 2017 they suddenly completely stopped mentioning each other. In live events they were openly distant, most notably in their Lady Baby Blue track which normally ended up with the girls hugging, but now they stood at opposite ends of the stage and did not look at each other.
Whilst most people sympathised with Rei’s throat condition, Rie made no mention of her partner on her social media – entirely out of character with their earlier friendship. At the Pinky Pinky release event in Toyosu Rei was reduced to tears because of her struggle to sing. They had been lip syncing in other events but this time Rie chose to sing normally and Rei could not keep up. The breakdown in friendship was officially confirmed in a talk show in February 2018 with Rei and the creator of Ladybaby, and it seems that this was the main reason that Rei left Ladybaby.
Rei was one of the most well-known models of fashion designer Kanae Higashi. Kanae was Rei’s mentor in MissID and in Rei cites her as a great influence. Kanae creates elaborately decorated knitwear dresses, sometimes with motifs of Christianity, sometimes with idol or child-like elements. Rabbits often feature, leading to Kanae’s nickname Usagi Kanae (Rabbit Kanae).
In October 2014 when she was 13, Rei first appeared wearing Kanae’s clothing in photographs & video clips as part of an installation in Shibuya Parco department store. The video was subsequently released, titled fubby, which Kanae explained is short for “fuck you baby”. In January 2015, after Rei and Rie Kaneko had won in MissID, Kanae released a video with the pair called Escape Dream for her 2015 SS collection. Rei and Rie wore the collection on the catwalk in a fashion show in July 2015, which made the international fashion press.
In October 2015, Rei starred in a short film by Kanae Higashi, called Heavy Shabby Girl (article about Kanae’s work and this film), which was released in independent cinemas. Oomori Seiko wrote the film’s title track, Gekiteki Joy! Before-After. Rei also featured in the follow up My Doll Filter two years later. Kanae also designed the clothes for Brats’ 14-year old Disease video, several of the Ladybaby stage costumes, as well as the clothes for TV show Nadarezaka Rock.
In September 2017 Rei Kuromiya started a crowdfunding project to start her own fashion brand. She was supported by Village Vanguard, a well-know chain of stores selling books and general goods targeted at a youth market. Rei planned to raised 1M yen (approx $9000). She reached that target withing a few days and eventually raised 2.35M yen (approx $21000). The brand will release Rei’s clothes in Spring / Summer 2018.
Other Fashion Work
Rei has also modelled for Ladybaby founder company Clearstone. She features on the box of several Tokimeki Graffiti cosplay outfits. She modelled/acted in the promotional videos for their “everyday” schoolwear range. Rei has also modelled for clothing brand Pink House.
During her time with Ladybaby, Rei Kuromiya helped present a TV show called Nadarezaka Rock (なだれ坂ロック). The show is led by Mikiti Honmono, gay idol and choreographer to Ladybaby (as well as many other idols). Rie Kaneko also presents. The three have known each other for several years and Rei has often said that Mikiti is a true friend. The show featured idol interviews and performances, with Rei and Rie typically asking cheeky questions and Mikiti moderating. They held occasional live events with Ladybaby and idols featured from the show.
Rei has had interviews and features in various magazines throughout her career, especially since the formation of Ladybaby and the reborn Brats. Although Rei speaks only a little English, there are an increasing number of interviews translated into English.
How to say Rei Kuromiya
In Japanese, Rei Kuromiya is written 黒宮れい, and spoken kuromiya rei. There is a very slight emphasis on the ro, and the Rs (especially in rei) can sound quite close to Ls. When speaking in Japanese, you would usually say Rei-chan or Kuromiya Rei-chan. The word chan is an honorific to express endearment, which is normal when speaking to girls and young women. The honorific chan is left out when the name is written in English with the surname last.