Interview with the Otaku Owls

Otaku Owls. From left to right: Krissie, Catherine, Abbie~kins and Mico

Describing themselves as four girls who dance to J-Pop and K-Pop on YouTube, Mico (MilkyMico – Blue Owl), Abbie~kins (xSlushpuppi3x – Pink Owl), Catherine (NitsuGatcha – Red Owl) and Krissie (KrissieeeR – Purple Owl) make up the Otaku Owls. This quirky dance quartet have performed at the Midlands, Birmingham and Manchester MCM Expos, building up a significant following on YouTube. This October will see them perform at the London MCM Expo for the first time.

With each member originally having uploaded their own dance videos on YouTube, they first performed together at the Midlands Expo in February, with a line-up that included Mico, Abbie~kins, Krissie, and Caramel. Catherine joined after meeting and performing with the group at the Birmingham MCM Expo in April (“Our group became complete with Catherine,” declared Abbie~kins). With former member Caramel having left in September, the Otaku Owls are now going ahead as a group of four.

I had a chat with them about how they got together, what got them dancing to J-Pop/K-Pop and what tips they would offer to anyone else wanting to start out. They also revealed the origin of their “weebish” name, shared some of the struggles they’ve had to deal with and talked about the effort it takes to performing in public.

Overly chatty, the Otaku Owls’ answers to questions would occasionally veer off into a completely different direction. With the interview going on longer than expected, I was concerned about taking up their time, yet they turned out to be incredibly courteous and appeared to be more worried about taking up my time!

Shalimar: Because you’re all in different parts of the UK, how exactly did you all meet up?

Mico: Basically there’s a Facebook group where there’s loads of J-Pop and K-Pop dancers. Someone suggested [meeting at the Midlands Expo] and dancing together on stage. We did, and we enjoyed it so much that we actually became really close and started meeting up more often and kept going to conventions together.

Shalimar: So who put the call out first?

Abbie~kins: That might have been me actually! I posted, “Oh, is anybody going to the [Midlands] Expo?” Obviously these guys replied – well, Catherine wasn’t in it at the time. We all decided, “Hey, why don’t we perform in the masquerade just for fun?” And then we did. We had so much fun. So we decided, “Let’s do it again.” Then we became a proper group! We got really close to each other and now we’re like best friends!

Mico: At first we all did slightly different areas. So Abbie was more into Anime stuff, and I was more into idols, and Cath and Krissie both do K-Pop. We had to try and get the balance between everything. Now, because we’ve been listening to each other’s stuff, it’s been really interesting.

Shalimar: Why the name Otaku Owls?

Abbie~kins: Only me and Krissie really know this. Basically we didn’t know it was going to be announced or anything and we did think it was a one-off thing. So we thought, “Quick, we need a name! Think of the most weebish thing possible!” So we picked the Otaku Owls (laughs). It ended up sticking! 

Shalimar: You picked that name on the day of the Midlands Expo?

Abbie~kins: Like a few days before, because we needed a name.

Krissie: But I swear Mico didn’t actually know we were being called Otaku Owls. And on the day, she was like, “What!?”

Abbie~kins: She didn’t! And then we got on the stage!

Mico: Only when we were about to go on stage, it’s like, “the Otaku Owls!” I had no idea what was going on… it was really funny! We did consider changing our name at one point. It was something like Velvet Sparkles…? Velvet Charms…?

Abbie~kins, Krissie and Mico: Vanilla Charms!

Krissie: If it was that we’d all be Charms instead of Owls! But that didn’t happen!

Shalimar: What was it that got you into dancing to Asian pop music in the first place? How did you get into it?

Mico: Basically I was really into Anime when I was younger! I started off doing Hare Hare Yukai after that first came out. I really enjoyed it, but then I found idols shortly after, so I started doing loads of idol dances and then I just kept doing it for years.

Abbie~kins: I accidentally clicked on a video on YouTube. It was a ‘How to draw a Manga’ video. It was a suggestion on a random Xbox video. I’m a bit of a gamer girl! I was like, “Oh, what’s this?” If I had never clicked that I would never have discovered this culture. Then the Beckii Cruel documentary came on TV and I suddenly realised, “Wow, people dance to all this!” Recently Mico got me into idols.

Catherine: I kinda got into it the same way Abbie did. One day I saw Beckii’s documentary. I just thought, “If she can do it, I can do it too.” I gradually got into Korean pop music and I just love dancing altogether really.

Krissie: Well I used to do street dance with my sister and my cousin for a few years, but then I had to quit because school started to get really important. Then a year or so afterwards, my sister actually sent me a video of a Girls Generation song, and I really liked it. It was the song Oh!. They’re like my favourite band. Then I found out that people actually make their own covers to the song. Because I used to do dance I wanted to get back into it, so I thought, “Hmm, this is new, I might as well do that.” And it was really fun!

Shalimar: Now I notice that you have a colour scheme going on…  

Krissie: It’s amazing. I love it so much!

Shalimar: Was this inspired by Morning Musume? 

Mico: Yep!

Abbie~kins: Yes (laughs)!

Mico: I’m obsessed with them!

Catherine: I didn’t think it was!

Abbie~kins: Oh it was! Mico suggested it and we were all like, “Yeah!” But I don’t think everyone realised at the time that it was based on them.

Krissie: I didn’t agree on this! I just thought we’d all look cool with different colours! I did not-

Abbie~kins: Oh, I knew!

Mico: I knew because I was obsessed, so I just thought, “Oh, I’ll sneak that in.”

Abbie~kins: We could never agree on a colour because we’ve all very different personalities. Like I’m very, very, very, very girly and I like pink. Mico wanted to be blue because Reina Tanaka, her favourite idol, [wears] blue. Krissie and Catherine just kinda picked.

Krissie: I was originally going to be green, but the website we ordered from didn’t have green in stock, so I just kind of changed to purple at the last minute! (laughs) I’m actually glad, ’cause I love purple more than green.

Shalimar: I find it interesting that some of you have only just found that out!

Abbie~kins: We’re a bit random really. When we talk on Facebook we miss most of it because we type so much.

Catherine: We always talk, every single day.

Abbie~kins: We Skype and Facebook-talk a lot.

Mico: Every time we try to arrange something we always go off-topic and then it takes us weeks to do anything now.

Shalimar: Given what Mico just said, I’m now worried as to what you’ll be doing at the London MCM Expo! 

Mico: Oh no, we’re sorted!

Abbie~kins: We’ve got that sorted! We had a day and we sat down; we were like, “We have to only talk about London!”

Catherine: And so we did it in one whole night!

Abbie~kins: Woo!

Krissie: Oh yeah!

Shalimar: What do your parents/family think about what you do? Are they supportive?

Krissie: Well my family are actually really supportive of what I do. My sister mostly helps me with videos. She helps me with filming ideas and outfits. My mum is really supportive too. She really encourages me and she’s really proud! She knows that I enjoy it, so she just goes along with it.

Catherine: I’m not really sure how to explain it. I don’t think [my mum] is as supportive as the rest of the group’s parents, because I think she wants me to work more on my schoolwork and stuff. I don’t think she minds me travelling around England, but I don’t think she’s too keen on the idea of paying all the time for me travelling, going places and performing. I think she’s okay with me dancing, but she’s a bit cautious sometimes.

Abbie~kins: My mum, she doesn’t really get it, but she’s really supportive (laughs). She’s trying her best to understand it and it can be frustrating at times, but she really supports me, and she let the girls come around for two days. She lets me go to all these places, even though it does cost a lot of money, as I am the highest up in the country. She buys me all these outfits; obviously I have to earn the money by ironing and stuff. When she was on the phone to [the Otaku Owls’] mums she was saying how it’s great that we all have a hobby like this rather than most people our age. This is why I get bullied, because I’m not like most people my age, because I do stuff that I want to do because I think it’s fun… and I wear pigtails (laughs). That’s something weird!

Shalimar: Actually, the whole bullying and ‘people-making-fun’ of you thing-

Mico: I used to get that in high school, but now I’m in sixth form people just don’t actually care, so it’s wonderful.

Krissie: Yeah, same with me.

Abbie~kins: People just hate the fact that I do something different. This is why I love these guys so much! These guys are my best friends! They’re the ones who are actually there for me. Whenever I go to Expos, and these guys can tell you-

Krissie: So many people come up to you.

Catherine: Oh yeah, it’s so weird. It’s as if she’s actually famous! She’s quite popular and it’s kind of unbelievable.

Abbie~kins: The only thing that really keeps me going is my friends.

Shalimar: What about your family Mico?

Mico: I danced a lot in my room, and this was before Beckii Cruel appeared. When my mum found out about Beckii, she was like, “Why don’t you upload?” I said, “I already get picked on enough.” I didn’t want to make it even worse. She took me to Japan Expo and then she started supporting my J-Pop obsession. She doesn’t really mind that I upload now. So long as I’m not uploading videos while I’ve got exams and everything she’s alright.

Shalimar: When you were at the Birmingham Expo, you won Best Performance!

Mico: Catherine’s mum rang her when she was on stage!

Abbie~kins: It was really funny!

Catherine: While we won, my mum rang me while we were on the stage and I had to tell her to get lost!

(Everyone laughs)

Abbie~kins: She was like, “Mam, I’m on stage.” She said, “Mam,” because that’s her cute accent.

Catherine: Because I’m Welsh! Leave me alone!

Abbie~kins: She’s so cute!

The Otaku Owls Birmingham Expo performance:

Shalimar: How did it feel when you won?

Abbie~kins: Oh my gosh, we all screamed!

Catherine: I had no idea it was a competition. I thought we were just performing. It was my first time ever going to an Expo and it was my first time performing with these guys and I just got so confused when they said, “Otaku Owls,” and everybody started screaming.

Abbie~kins: It was so awesome.

Shalimar: Surprised at Catherine’s response; given that was the first Expo you’d been to, how did you find out about it?

Catherine: I saw on this J-Pop/K-Pop dance page the Otaku Owls saying if they want anyone to perform with them. So I just volunteered. I didn’t even know what was happening. Then they told me about it and I had to beg my mum to drag me to Birmingham and that’s when everything began. That’s how I found out about MCM Expos.

Shalimar: There are some videos on your YouTube channels where you’re actually performing outside in full view of the public. There’s some where you’re at a park. There’s one where Catherine’s at a train station-

Catherine: (laughs) That was very embarrassing! There were a lot of people around at the time… yeah.

Shalimar: The other one that I thought was brave was Mico in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Abbie~kins: That was so cool.

Mico: Oh! I usually film on my own, but because I was in France my mum wouldn’t leave me, so she sat there with me. It took me two days to film that because it kept raining, then this person ran up to me to try and get me to go to some club and he couldn’t speak very good English. He came up to me with a leaflet and went, “I disturb you!” I was like, “Oh, thank you!” (laughs) Then some kids interrupted me – my mum yelled at them.

Krissie: Oh, kids!

Mico: It was a lot of effort, but I really enjoyed it. I had to do Seishun Collection in France. It meant a lot to me there.

Abbie~kins: Dancing in public is really hard, because some people don’t understand and they’re quite rude. Some people walk in front of the camera, which is understandable, but you do have to start again after those kinds of things and it can be annoying. It can be embarrassing the first couple of times you do it.

Catherine: It’s frustrating having to redo your dance after you’ve done it and tried very hard the first time. If somebody comes along and spoils it then you have to do it again, then it just gets confusing and annoying.

Mico: For my last one, I was filming at Arley Hall, and because I was wearing Lolita fashion all these old people kept interrupting me halfway through and asking if I was Alice in Wonderland!

Krissie: (laughs) Oh that’s cute!

Mico: I was like, “Let me finish!”

Abbie~kins: It’s worth it in the end.

Krissie: This is why I never dance in public unless I’m with you guys, because I just get too scared.

Shalimar: Kinda went off on a tangent!

(They all start apologising!) 

Shalimar: It’s fine! The actual question I was going to ask was, with the exception of the London MCM Expo, if there was anywhere in the world you would like to perform, where would it be, and to what track?

Krissie: Oh my God… such a hard question.

Mico: Japan Expo in Paris, because I got to see Morning Musume perform there and that stage means a lot to me. Because of my whole obsession with the year I got to go to France to see them, it would have to be Seishun Collection by Morning Musume, because that was the one that they performed. I’d love to be able to do it on the stage where they did it.

Abbie~kins: I would want to perform in Japan and I would want to dance to (pauses for thought) I don’t know! I think I would just do any Hello! Project song, any Berrz Koubou song, because I adore that group.

Mico: I’ll join you!

Abbie~kins: Yes, you should join me (laughs)!

Catherine: As for me, I would really love to perform in Seoul, Korea, doing a song by Teen Top, because they’re my favourite Korean pop group ever and I’m in love with them!

Krissie: (laughs) You’re too obsessed with them!

Catherine: I had to mention it – I had to!

Krissie: This is hard. I probably would say Korea too, because I just really love Girls Generation! They’re like the first K-Pop group I ever found out about and they’re my favourite now, so any song by them would make me happy.

Shalimar: As well as the positive comments on YouTube, some people offer genuine constructive criticism and then there are the few negative ones. How do you deal with them?

Mico: Obviously I do take the negative ones and try and think about them. If it’s just to say, “Oh you’re so ugly,” I don’t really mind. They do bother me sometimes, but if I’m still getting nice comments I won’t get upset, I’ll just try and improve so I won’t get as many negative comments.

Abbie~kins: For me, I don’t see the point on focusing on all these negative comments. For every negative comment, I get another 50 nice comments! So it’s like, what’s the point? And most of the nasty comments that I get are from anonymous people on Tumblr. Most of them aren’t even about my dancing anyway. They’re just, “Oh, you look ugly.” I don’t care, because I have fun doing what I do, I have supporters and I don’t need some anonymous person telling me that I look horrible! I have to deal with it if I want to carry on doing this. You have to be a strong person to upload dance and singing videos on YouTube, because you are going to get hate. The only way you can get around that is to just man-up and listen to all your amazing people that actually take the time out of their day to watch your videos, subscribe and message you.

Catherine: In my opinion you should expect hate. If you’re going to upload a video on YouTube, you can’t expect the whole world to love it.

Abbie~kins: Yeah, exactly!

Catherine: I dance because I like to dance! I put it on YouTube so I can personally watch it back again and I just have a big K-Pop fandom! If I get hate, I get hate; then I deal with it.

Krissie: Well when I used to get negative comments and stuff, I used to really take them to heart, because I wasn’t as strong-minded as these guys, so it’s just really nice having supportive family and friends behind you to help you get through it. Now I just don’t really care. Just like Abbie said, you’ll get loads of nice comments for every negative one, so I just tend to ignore them.

Shalimar: Given the recent ‘graduation’ of Caramel, are the Otaku Owls open to any new members?

Mico: If we found someone who was right for the group and we all got along with them and we thought they would do really well, then yeah. Otherwise we wouldn’t want to add someone who people would argue about.

Abbie~kins: We nearly added someone before, but then we ended up in a bit of an argument and we realised, this isn’t going to be good. Even though we all made up, we were like, “If we add this person then it’s going to go wrong.” We didn’t want to do that because we’re such a close group of friends and we didn’t want to ruin that.

Catherine: It all started with us just being friends from the Internet and then just meeting up once. Then it got really strange, because we just got so close! I’ve never had friends as close as this, even though we live so far away.

Abbie~kins: Whenever we see each other we start screaming. Then when we have to leave, I always cry.

Mico: After our Manchester performance, I didn’t know that we were going to meet each other again in the summer, so I started crying so much. Then we saw each other again ten days later!

Shalimar: So the Otaku Owls are going forward as a group of four, but you would be open to a fifth member in the future?

Abbie~kins: Not right now though.

Mico: Not right now, no.

Abbie~kins: Only if we all knew them really well and we knew that they would be good in this group. Because in this group, it does take a lot of effort, more than people know about, more than people see. We all take so long to decide things, because we’ve got everybody’s opinion. We can’t fight with each other; if we fight with each other then it’s not going to work. We have to compromise, but a lot of people can’t do that.

Shalimar: Now if you could give one tip to anyone that’s starting out, what would it be?

Krissie: If you want to start dancing and actually make videos, you really have to be dedicated to do it. You can’t just half-ass it. If you really want to do this then you have to put a lot of effort in and show everyone that you really want to do this. It’s good to have supportive people around you, because if you get negative comments like I did you just won’t be able to handle them, because you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into, ’cause YouTube’s a big wide place!

Catherine: I’m not really sure how to give tips as you say. But if this is any help to anyone, they should always learn from mirrored videos! I think people should only dance to a song if they really like the song or the group. If you’re dancing to a song that you don’t actually like, but you’re doing it for views and because it’s popular, then I feel no passion or dedication to it. So I say, learn from videos that you like and dance to songs you like.

Abbie~kins: Well, I do get people coming to me about this. You just have to go for it! There’s no other thing to do but just go for it. You’re going to make mistakes, everybody does, but you always improve. You just keep improving and doing your best and you’re going get the support of people around you. You can’t listen to the negative comments. If you’re not enjoying it then there’s no point to it, because you have to work hard. Like Mico; because of the age she’s at she has to do a lot of schoolwork and she has to plan her whole life around this thing, which is really hard. So you have to be properly dedicated to it. You can’t just decide to upload a video and then another six months later because you feel like you have to. You should just do it if you love it.

Mico: Mine’s a bit of a mix. My issue with dancing is I never used to watch myself. So I’d just jump around and be crazy. I wouldn’t bother with how awful I looked. I actually film my practices now so I can watch back and see where I’m messing up so I can redo it. I always try to plan my outfits to suit the song and see if I can hyper [my dog Suki] up, so she starts dancing. She’s got fans!

Shalimar: So from the sound of it, just watch yourself back before uploading? 

Catherine: Oh yeah, definitely do that. Practice as much as you can.

Krissie: Or just practice in a mirror, that’s fine, but a full-length mirror.

Shalimar: Any final words?

Abbie~kins: YES!

Krissie: Ooh, go on then!

Abbie~kins: Thank you everybody who’s supported us. Thank you so much for that, because you’ve got no idea how much it actually means to us. It really does get me through the school day. We all love you guys so much and we hope you keep watching us because we’re just going to do our very best.

Krissie: What Abbie said!

Catherine: Yeah, me too!

Krissie: It’s just amazing all the support that we’re getting. I thought it would just be a one-off thing, I had no idea all of this would happen and I’m just so glad and… thanks!

Mico: When we had the first performance I only knew Abbie~kins, I didn’t know Krissie. But then I didn’t imagine that they’d be like staying at my house and everything, so it’s really weird.

Abbie~kins: I know, it’s mad, because after that performance I seriously thought they’d never want to have anything to do with me again!

(Everyone laughs)

Abbie~kins: I did though! Because I’m quite a bit younger than you guys. Then as soon as we got home we were like… (makes an ecstatic high pitched noise).

Catherine: I really hope that we get far in the future, like… maybe saying performing in Japan is a bit far…

Mico: Yeah, it’s a dream.

Catherine: But I hope we improve and I really want to get somewhere with this. It’s like my biggest dream at the moment.

Abbie~kins: It would be so much fun – it would just be amazing!

Catherine: We’re really serious about it as well; we actually have conversations about it.

Abbie~kins: Oh-oh-oh, sneak preview, sneak preview! We can probably tell you this now, but we actually have our own song. Shall we say the name?

Catherine, Krissie and Mico: Yeah!

Abbie~kins: It’s called Tomodachi Dreaming.

Catherine: TOMODACHI!

Abbie~kins: Yeah, we’ve got that coming up and we’re really excited because we’ve been trying so hard with that. We’ve written all the lyrics ourselves in Japanese!

Catherine: Oh God!

Thank you to the Otaku Owls for taking the time out for the interview. If you’d like to see more of their videos then you can visit their YouTube channel, or you can follow them on their Facebook page. The Otaku Owls will be performing at the London MCM Expo on the Totally Cosplay stage on Saturday 27th October from 11:30am.

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