Morning Musume’s Upcoming Single

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Finally listened to a radio rip of Morning Musume’s upcoming single, “Osaka Koi no Uta”. I like what I hear – it’s better than the last two singles combined, in my opinion. In both cases, especially “The Manpower!”, the vocals were quite strong – it was the actual songs which left me disenchanted. “Namida” was very pretty sounding but too limp and stilted. “The Manpower!” was frenetic in a mostly good way but also too goofy and overworked at times. “Osaka” is fast-paced and even Euro-funky, again with strong vocals by the leads.

That said, other Hello! Project acts have had better songs this year: Viyuden’s “Kaccho Ii Ze! Japan” is my favorite of 2005 to date, with Melon Kinenbi’s “Nikutai wa Shojiki na Eros” a close second (and the best reason so far to love Ohtani Masae as a vocalist). Third – and I hate to admit it – would be Berryz Koubo’s “Special Generation”, which is catchier and more dynamic than “Osaka”.

The singles from my favorite H!P acts – Musume, W, and Matsuura Aya – haven’t been so strong this year. W’s “Koi no Fugue” seems like a minor mis-step, given the quality of their first three singles (especially “Robokiss”, a song I don’t grow tired of). Ayaya seems to be doing only slow, mature songs now, and losing the musical verve and energy that we still see in her CMs.

H!P has grown less and less Musume-centric and it looks like they’re reaching a critical point soon. Iida’s graduation concert was a constant mix-and-match of past H!P songs performed by different line-ups of singers, something signaled by the super-shuffle group of 2004, the all-inclusive Hello! Project All-Stars. In the concert, the old subgroups (Tanpopo, Petit Moni, Minimoni) had their best songs revived by new line-ups (often with Berryz or H!P Kids), and other hits strongly identified with particular artists were turned into productions with the entire H!P cast, as seen by “The Peace!” and Ayaya’s “Yeah! Meccha Holiday”. The point is less and less about the particular artist than about the collective of Hello! Project.

On the one hand, this assures the longevity of Hello! Project. With the various debuts of 2004 – in order, Berryz Koubo, W, Nochiura Natsumi (who look like they’ll be doing a second single and even a tour), and Viyuden – even Morning Musume can now disappear and H!P will have a relatively formidable line-up. In a very real sense, that was the point of Morning Musume: it started as a way to train new idols so they can move on to other work, and most all of the graduates have done precisely that. Further, all Musume graduates with music careers have stayed in the Hello! Project collective as soloists or in new units. On a more obvious level, Hello! Project Kids is a breeding ground for very young, new talent – it’s led to Aa!, Zyx, and best of all Berryz.

On the other hand, I am attached to certain artists doing certain songs, to having favorite groups retain their musical identity. I like to think of Jpop in terms of marketing as well as music, of an entire package that considers all aspects of entertainment instead of vilifying the business side and glorifying the artistic. It’s pop music, after all! But that also means identifying with a brand and being faithful to that brand. For me, Tanpopo is a brand defined by the Iida-Mari-Kago-Rika line-up – anyone else can sing “Koi wo Shichaimashita” but that song is theirs. And if they have a chance to sing it, I want to hear them and not some other group or some other line-up. And I become very, very disappointed if they don’t.

And such disappointment is bad business, of course. Almost as bad as churning out bad songs for struggling groups.