Once upon a time, namely 1997, Japanese music star Tsunku held a TV contest to find a singer for the, now defunct, band Sharan Q. However, he saw so much potential in the other five finalists, he gave them a challenge: Record a single, and if it could sell 50,000 copies in five days, then the girls would be a group. They managed it in four – and so Abe Natsume, Aya Ishiguro, Iida Kaori, Yuko Nakazawa, and Asuka Fukuda became the first Generation of Morning Musume, one of Japan’s most loved revolving-door idolu group.
But the sad truth is this – Morning Musume is on it’s last legs. And it may not be long before the group is dead for good.
For those unaware, Morning Musume is one of the most prolific J-Pop groups in the last two decades. The group is often referred to as a revolving-door group, meaning that when some of women want to leave, due to wanting to try solo careers, going back to school, or simply to retire from the business, they can do so without disbanding. Instead, when the group starts getting too small, auditions are held for another generation, which brings fresh life and talent into the group. There’s a lot more about Morning Musume’s history, and Hello!Project in general, but for the sake of space, I’ll save it for another day.
But it has been a long time since 1997, and in total 32 women have joined the ranks of this mega-group. In the last year, or so, however, Morning Musume has lost 4 members, including fan-darling Takahashi Ai, and has gained 8 new members, most under the age of 15, and many of them new to the industry as a whole. Never, in the history of this group, has that ever been attempted. Why? It’s desperate. And it’s a sign that they’re just not as popular as they used to be (especially since they haven’t been at number 1 in a loooong time)
The golden era of this group is now past, and most arguably the top-dog of the Japanese pop chart is probably AKB48 or Scandal. Not to say that Morning Musume hasn’t had it’s moment, and now these groups need theirs and it’s the natural order of the music world. Make it big, get overshadowed, and fade quietly into obscurity. But when the group starts trying everything to hold on, especially when it’s a group this beloved, it’s kind of sad.
To be fair, the graduations that occurred were necessary; JunJun and LinLin, the two Chinese members of the group, reportedly couldn’t get their visas renewed, Kamei Eri was sick, and Ai herself had been in the group for almost a decade, depending on how you count it. But the fact that Tsunku is trying to fill the void as fast as he can with young, fresh faces, just seems like he’s trying so hard not to let the group die off just yet by putting in as many people as possible. Another group in the Hello!Project family, S/milage, has been losing members at an alarming rate, and C-ute lost quite a few about 3 or 4 years back. It kind of makes it feel like they’re all leaving before the other shoe falls, and I am sure I’m not the only one who feels nervous about the future of this group.
I resent people who say that Morning Musume is just a cash cow, like all J-Pop girl groups. In fact, I resent people who say J-Pop is just a way to milk money out of these hardworking singers and dancers period. J-Pop, and K-Pop for that matter, are super strict with their expectations, so it’s not easy to rise to the ranks of J-Pop super stardom, and those who do work super hard to get there. I’m not a fan of AKB48 at all, but I respect that it wasn’t an over-night sensation kind-of- deal and that they did genuinely put in a lot of time and effort getting their act together. So what’s at stake here is not just a money-making machine, it’s a piece of J-Pop history…either that, or I am being way too dramatic.
I hope I am wrong. I would be SO HAPPY to be wrong. I love this group – I love their music, their creativity, the group members (except Aika…another day), the shows and interviews they do, and even the crazy costumes they wear. If Morning Musume were to disband in the next few years I would be heart-broken. But the omens are there, and it’s looking bad, so fans of this major musical sensation are just going to have to wait and see.