IM Roundtable: Morning Musume In Transition
I find it interesting that we three staff members have very different relationships in regards to Morning Musume: a current fan, a disillusioned fan, and a non-fan. As a result, we each bring something different to the news of two older members graduating and the group being practically reborn in the space of eighteen months.
So to start with: I’m the disillusioned fan. I first got into Morning Musume at the time of Natsumi Abe’s graduation at the start of 2004 – though I discovered them years earlier, when I visited their store in Hawaii in 2001. The duo of Kago Ai and Tsuji Nozomi graduated soon after Nacchi, and my interest in the group began to fade after that. There were some great singles that followed, but the H!P Kids were coming into their own as Berryz and C-ute and other units like W and Viyuden were just more interesting to me than the flagship. For some reason, “Resonant Blue” was the last straw for me as a fan: I remember promises of a new Morning Musume but I just wasn’t interested, and from that point on I couldn’t tell you the singles released or what they sounded like. I’d try them out once in a while, be unimpressed, and forget about it immediately.
Which is funny, since I think that’s when Chiima’s own fandom first started…
I actually got into Morning Musume during the middle/late 2009, so before “Kimagure Princess” was released, and before Koharu’s graduation. I am the current fan of Morning Musume, and got into them during 2009 thanks to watching Kirarin Revolution, which made me a Koharu Kusumi fan. Since then I have enjoyed what the group has brought, with a few exceptions. In fact, whilst it was Koharu who “led” me to Morning Musume, it was Niigaki Risa who gave me a reason to continue the fandom after Koharu left. That is why she means so much to me, and why I am so sad that she is leaving Morning Musume now. Whilst it is so sad that Aika is leaving too, Niigaki Risa is, for me, a lot more important, and means more to me. But, with their graduations, Morning Musume are creating a new era.
It is this era of Morning Musume that I am anticipating. There are only two OG members left now, Michishige Sayumi and Tanaka Reina, and eight fresh faces who are the inevitable future of the group.
When I think about it I think I actually came across Morning Musume originally back when I was getting into Jpop back in 1999. Utada Hikaru was the artist that I fell completely in love with and led to me trying to find other Jpop artists that I liked. Being 1999 or even into 2000, though, the selection was slim. The female artists I remember that you could find easily that I can remember were Utada Hikaru, Hamasaki Ayumi, Amuro Namie, SPEED, MAX and Morning Musume. As I was not as accustomed to hearing Japanese, the nasal tones in voices like Ayumi and Morning Musume completely turned me off of them immediately.
In years since I have off and on given MM a try, but outside of liking a couple of songs here and there I just have not gained any real interest in the group, though the voices are not to blame anymore. It is hard to ignore that MM is a big part of the international wota fandom so I end up knowing some things from that, but it has failed to pique my interest in the group. I do sympathize with the fans that are losing a favorite member from the group though, as I do know what that is like.
I guess that’s why I am so happy that the new generations came along, because I gained more favourites – losing your favourite member is tough, so if it wasn’t for the fact that I like Ikuta Erina or Iikubo Haruna, I do think that I would lose some sort of interest in Morning Musume. I love their music, but I do also like rooting for my favourite members, and that is what gets people into these sorts of groups – the members. The music isn’t always the best, so it isn’t the music that will get the interest of a fan, but the members themselves, and that is what is ultimately losing Morning Musume their fans, because the members they know and love are leaving.
And with the graduation of Niigaki Risa and Mitsui Aika, there will only be two OG members left to hold the torch of the old Morning Musume. Because I came in towards the new era, I am probably more accepting – but really, what does it mean to have these two graduate, especially Niigaki Risa? Some people could be pessimistic towards it, thinking that it is finally the end of Morning Musume, or others could be very optimistic, and think that a new era is beginning. Well, recently I have been unsure about where Morning Musume stood, until I watched the Ultra Smart USB concert. I was so impressed by the new members when they performed, and I realised that I had hope for this new generation, the generation that would soon shoulder Morning Musume and its future. Whilst I was unsure at first, I am now certain that, despite their ages, these girls can help Morning Musume along and keep the group going.
I don’t know whether or not the group will be as popular as it used to be again, but I do think that Morning Musume will continue. These girls, though still rather untrained and new to everything, are learning and growing and becoming better.
I think that Niigaki Risa and Mitsui Aika leaving now is a good thing – this means that the new members have to grow more and take responsibility, rather than play and act like children. They are going to be given more to do, and will have higher expectations from their peers. They won’t be able to go to the older members soon and ask for help, because soon all of the OG members will be gone. We only have Reina and Sayumi now, but who knows how long they will stay in Morning Musume? I do like to think that UFA will keep them in for another two years, because Fukumura is only fifteen and still too inexperienced to be a leader, but you never know what UFA will pull out of their sleeve next.
[At this point in the roundtable, two things happened: news broke of the audition for eleventh gen, and we added a new staffer to IM who'll also take part in the roundtable, Serenyty of Happy Disco. So with that in mind...]
Graduations and auditions have always been times where I’d be willing to try out Morning Musume again, sort of take their temperature and see if I still give a damn. This is part of what kept me going from Tsujikago’s departure up to “Kanashimi Twilight”, actually. I guess I’m a sucker for the pageantry of line-up changes that had defined Mornin Musume through much of its existence. After all, the line-up kept changing during their Golden Era: from “Love Machine” to “The Peace!”, the line-up changed for each new single except “I WISH” / “Renai Revolution 21″.
Having said that, I guess it’s not a surprise that I dropped completely out of Morning Musume fandom during that long stable run of nine members. When Koharu’s graduation was announced, I was intrigued – but it didn’t help much, since that meant there was only one member left in the group that I liked. (That’d be Sayumi.) I was desperately waiting for new blood to enter the picture, and it kept being put off… But when it finally happened, it happened big.
I won’t go over the details, but in the last year and a half, the changes have been coming fast and furious, to the point where the Morning Musume of today is barely recognizable from the Morning Musume of 2010. Let it sink in: of that stable nine-member team, only two are left (Sayumi and Reina), with eight new members added in two sets of auditions. That’s a pretty fucking audacious move. And lucky for me, I’ve found members in the new gens that I’ve taken a hankering to – Riho and especially Haruka. I care about Morning Musume again, in a huge way. The percentage of members I like has gone up considerably, since most all the new girls have something appealing about them.
Now, the music still leaves me cold… that said, I don’t focus on Jpop idols for music primarily, but for the eyecandy. Morning Musume’s singles have been hit-and-miss for me since the end of the Golden Era. I think I like maybe one out of every three or four singles from “Mister Moonlight” to “Kanaishimi Twilight”, and instead focused on the idols being idols in their own idolly ways. Sooner or later there’ll be a song I love, and in the meanwhile the songs from Nuevo Musume have been mildly entertaining and even better when set to video.
As far as the graduations that have just happened, I have to say: personally, I’m glad to see them go. Emphasis on “personally”. I understand that both of them have their fans and supporters, and that it hurts to see them move on. But I never took much of a liking to Risa – though I’ll admit she bloomed beautifully after puberty – and Aika… Well, I first adored her when she debuted, but after that she just became tedious from what little I saw of her. She undoubtedly had the best rack of the 9-nin line-up, but that can only take you so far in the idol world. As long as Sayumi stayed on board, I was fine with any of the other older members going. Matter of fact, I think Winky should start thinking solo career already…
And now…! Now it turns out that a new set of auditions has been announced at Gaki and Aika’s graduation concert, which initially left me stunned and going “What the fuck” out loud to no one in particular. I enjoyed the way all these changes have panned out, I am absolutely overjoyed that Sayumi is now in charge of eight new little Musumes, and I’ll even accept Winky hanging around a little longer though I’d tired of her shtick a long time ago. But a new set of members so soon? Before the ninth and tenth gens are completely settled in? I was all for these changes, but even this development was giving me a wota whiplash…
Until I realized: what Tsunku is probably looking for is his new Ace. I think only one, maybe two members will be added this time, and it’ll be a Gocchin or Koharu kind of star-in-the-making. (Or at least they’ll push this new gen as such.) That, I hope, will complete this new Morning Musume line-up for the moment and maybe even make me care about the music as much as the eyecandy again.
Now, let’s turn this over to Allyson so she can play catch-up and share her own thoughts on all that’s happening.
I find it personally interesting to read the responses that the other staffers have already written, and quickly I’m going to write where I come from as an idol fan. I started off my idol fandom actually discovering the H!P Kids early 2008 or so and this grew into liking Morning Musume, right around the time that Resonant Blue came out. For a while I preferred Berryz Koubou, but I grew to prefer Morning Musume. My favorite idol of all time is still Ishikawa Rika of the 4th generation so I still feel pretty strongly for what I view as the Golden Era of Morning Musume, even though I never experienced that first hand. The current era of Morning Musume had never been my favorite to begin with, so it was never really hard to pull away and follow other idol groups when I disliked what was happening in Morning Musume.
That being said, I was actually a pretty big fan of Mitsui Aika’s. I can’t really describe WHY I loved her but love her I did. So personally as a fan I’ll be sad to see her go. However, I do think objectively that these two graduations aren’t a bad idea. Like Ray said, graduations and auditions are a huge part of what makes Morning Musume the group they are and has really kept my interest. I think that the stable nine-member line-up was in hindsight not the best idea ever because I do think some fans got complacent. In the golden era of Morning Musume the line-up was hardly the same from single to single, and that’s the Morning Musume most people know.
Music plays a weird part because I love idol music but I honestly don’t care about singing skill when it comes to choosing my favorite idols. So with the current members I really do like Ikuta Erina and Ishida Ayumi, but the music has left me cold recently, especially “Pyoko Pyoko Ultra”. I do enjoy quite a bit of classic H!P music and current idol music, but Morning Musume has left me uninterested. “Renai Hunter” was a step up from “Pyoko Pyoko Ultra”, but pretty much anything would be for me.
Now that the auditions have been announced, I do think that this will be a good thing for the group. I can see Reina and Sayumi sticking around for a bit longer and then graduating, which I think would be a good thing. Management so far seems to be focusing a lot on the ninth and tenth generations, which means that they’re hopefully trying to look to the future instead of trying to hold onto the fact that Morning Musume used to be a top idol group (though you know they’re still going to do “Love Machine” at every concert performance ever).
Still, despite the fact I think that these graduations and auditions are a good move for Morning Musume and I do like some of these new members, I really can’t get myself excited about Morning Musume right now. Maybe it’s the music, maybe the PVs, maybe the fact that I prefer most other idol groups. Currently in Hello! Project I’ve found a lot to like in the second generation S/mileage girls and I see a big future for them. Still, I do think that Morning Musume is trying to move in a good direction.
So let me ask Serenyty and Thennary: what would it take to re-ignite – or ignite in the first place – an interest in this new Morning Musume? Better music, better videos, more involvement in variety or comedy shows that show off their idolness? Or is it simply not possible for you to be more interested?
And does the Morning Musume legacy have an impact on how you see them? That is, if the eight new girls of ninth and tenth gen were introduced to you as simply a new idol unit, no H!P affiliation, would you be reacting to them any differently?
Considering the other groups out there – especially the new underage acts like Dream5 and Prizmmy☆ – I don’t know if I’d give these eight girls as much of a chance if they weren’t Morning Musume. I’ve always argued that the legacy can be something of a burden – but it also gives me an easier way into caring for them, even after my time away from MM. I already feel like I “know” them by just being in MM and having that particular path laid before them. Does that make sense?
Hm, these are some very interesting questions! I think that in general if the song/PV quality improves consistently I’ll take more of an interest. Actually, when “Maji Desu ka Ska” came out and ninth generation Morning Musume was introduced I was very much interested and I was predicting that MM would hit a new stride. However, since then I haven’t been a big fan of any of the singles or PVs and I gained a bigger interest in S/mileage because I had more fun with the songs, PVs and in general I liked the personalities of the girls better when I watched videos of them. However, that could be because I sought out S/mileage even more. So I think the improvement in songs and PVs would have to happen first.
As to whether the group being Morning Musume makes any difference, I think it does and it’s a double edged sword. On the one hand I think I give them more of a chance because they have that history. So I’ll almost automatically take a listen to a Morning Musume single, but I don’t necessarily do that to every new idol group out there. On the other hand, I think I have a bit of a higher standard for Morning Musume because they do have a history, so everything has to compare to the Golden Era. It’s a bit unfair, but part of the deal with having the name of Morning Musume.
Honestly the only reason I gave the latest two girl groups I have gotten into, NMB48 and Happiness, a chance was because both had a member that was related to a Johnny’s boy. But even then that is not enough to always get me to like a group as Flower also has a member with a brother in Johnny’s but I do not care too much for that group as I see it as being too similar to Happiness.
I think if the ninth and tenth gen girls were introduced as their own group I would be more willing to give them a chance. But again, keeping my interest would be hard as I do not see them offering anything much different from other girl groups. And it is a rare thing for a girl group to catch and retain my interest.
I decided to check out the latest PVs from Morning Musume for this to see if my heart could be swayed but it looks like it is staying where it is. While I did like “Renai Hunter”, “Pyoko Pyoko Ultra” terrifies me. One thing I like about idol groups is watching the group grow, which includes their sound/music, and I do not get that sense with MM as they seem to be all over the place. While NMB48 is similar to MM with their group set-up and more of a rotating membership, I can at least still know when they release a single it will not seem to want to appeal to a different audience than the single before it, which is how I feel about the drastic difference between “Renai Hunter” and “Pyoko Pyoko Ultra”.
MM is going to have to figure out what their audience is first off, before I’ll think about trying to follow them. But I will more likely become a fan of some of the more member-static H!P groups, like C-ute or Berryz Kobou, than MM, as I prefer my groups to mostly keep the same members, like SPEED, ZONE, DiVA and Wonder Girls. NMB48 has been the only exception but they are also new so I have followed them since the first generation, which I believe makes a difference. So perhaps for MM I needed to know them from the start to be a fan.
But the ever-changing music pattern, regardless of their audience, is why I like Morning Musume so much right now! I enjoyed “Pyoko”, I absolutely adored the silliness of it, and then suddenly the mature sound of “Renai Hunter” – it keeps me quite entertained. Yes, it’s a personal taste, I know, but it is how I like Morning Musume. I guess that’s why I was never able to attach myself to AKB48 that much, because they stayed constant with their music, it all sounds the same to me. Then again, I guess I am just one of those weird fans.
It’s also the change that I like about Morning Musume, too – I know that people like stable line-ups, but as Ray said previously, it was the ever-changing girls that got people interested. When I first got into Morning Musume, the group was beginning to take their change again with the first graduation being Koharu’s. After that everyone else graduated, leaving only Sayumi and Reina to lead the way for the new members. And now, with more members being added at some point this year, I have become excited for Morning Musume. In fact, I am extremely excited for the new generation – with this change, the ninth and tenth generation members will go through a lot of changes themselves, such as becoming more responsible and more grown up. They will soon be leading Morning Musume themselves, and with only two older members, two adults if you will, in charge of the group, they will need all the help they can get from the 9ki and 10ki, regardless of their ages. It’s pretty much up to these two younger generations to guide Morning Musume already, and to guide the eventual 11ki.
It’s an exciting time for Morning Musume, and I look forward to the girls who audition for this group. However, it does make me wonder how much time Sayu and Reina have left in the group. I don’t think that they will go in the next year, because Fukumura is still too young and inexperienced to become Morning Musume’s leader, but I don’t think that either of them will surpass two more years either. However, I am really excited for Morning Musume’s constant change right now.
I would actually love to see Sayumi last a lot longer than two years, maybe become the Nakazawa Yuko of this new era of Musumes. (Or maybe the Shinoda Mariko, depending on how she approaches it.) If anything, Sayu strikes me as being the most canny carreerist from the stable nine line-up – she’s up there with Goto Maki and Ishikawa Rika in that respect, and I mean that as a compliment. It would be wonderful seeing her mature into the grand dame of Morning Musume and leave her mark on many generations to come. (And frankly, I don’t like the idea of anybody assuming leadership who doesn’t have at least five years experience under their belt.)
So to wrap things up, any final thoughts or hopeful wishes for the new Morning Musume? I already started it out with my hopes for Sayumi, so I I’ll continue by saying that I hope Miyamoto Karin does indeed join with the eleventh gen – though it wouldn’t pain me too much if she doesn’t – and that new subunits are established to better promote the girls individually. No going back to the well with Minimoni 5.0 or Tanpopo 7.0 or whatever, either. This really does feel like a fresh enough break from the past that they can be more inventive this time around.
Musically, I’d love to finally hear a new Morning Musume single that will grab me and make me love this group on that level again. Not a new “Love Machine”, that was lightning in a bottle. I imagine something in the mold of “Ambitious!” or “Chokkan 2″ – ridiculously catchy and dynamic and fun. Though I guess that can be said of recent singles and they didn’t click for me, so maybe I’m just fickle.
Also, I really wanna see a lot more bikini photobooks for Riho and Haruka. Like, quarterly releases. With an occasional T-back thrown into the mix.
I would also love to see Sayumi last longer than two years, even Reina, however I would also love for new singers to be established who aren’t Reina, Riho, or Sayumi. I hope for the future of Morning Musume the line distribution becomes better – they can’t rely on Reina and the still-developing Riho for major lines now, can they?
And I am with Ray on new subunits – I don’t like the constant updates of old subunits that are no longer available. UFA need to modernise themselves rather than sticking their feet into the past, and let the girls have their own groups and create their own mark within Hello! Project. And, regarding these auditions, I am kind of rooting for a girl who goes by the name of Cuca – I wouldn’t mind Karin in, but honestly, people talk about her so much that I also don’t want her in, because she seems to be the sort I wouldn’t fawn over. However, she can sing, so if Tsunku is looking for a singer, then I think that Karin would be the right choice, because Lord, we all know that Morning Musume needs a great singer like Haruka.
Even though I am not a fan I still wish the group well. As I mentioned they were one of the few artists I first gave a listen to when first getting into Jpop and seeing that they have lasted for so long it would be strange not to have MM around anymore.
Though I think they need better music if they want to start selling better, and perhaps getting more exposure on TV would help as well.
I think Sayumi could actually last and do well with the rest of the girls, especially since we know that she likes idols. I also have fairly high hopes for Fukumura Mizuki lasting a long while; she feels like even though she’s quiet, she could do a great job of leading Morning Musume when Sayumi actually leaves.
About new subunits, yes yes yes. I actually was slightly alienated as a fan when they pulled out Zoku v-u-den because v-u-den is my group of choice and I don’t think that the members in Zoku v-u-den fit. New subunits, however, would be a really fun idea.
Musically, Morning Musume has been so hit-and-miss with me in the past few years that I just want consistency. I personally adore “Onna to Otoko no Lullaby Game” and “Maji Desu Ka Ska” and I’m lukewarm with just about everything else. I know that musical taste is subjective, but I think most people agree that current Morning Musume is not their peak, music-wise. I’d even go so far and suggest that they should try having other songwriters that aren’t Tsunku, a least for a few singles.