Loving All the Musume…

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

In a display of great timing, Chris H asks a question whose answer changed just yesterday:

On the topic of favourite musume-members; I remembered some weeks or so ago reading a post (by you, Ray) that mentioned something about a MM-member that you hadn’t liked from the begining, but that had grown on you.
So the question is; are there any members (past or present) that you’ve never end up liking?
For me; the few ones that had something about them that made me not get into them instantly, I’ve eventually atleast end up liking them (and e.g. Iida really grew on me eventually).

Chris is referring to Miki Fujimoto, whose date with an effeminate actor made me reconsider my opinion of her and write about how the sixth generation of Morning Musume required time to win me over. Tanaka Reina won me over quickly with her Futarigoto episodes (the Kago Ai imitation, the cooking, the headstand) and her sheer talent. More recently, Kamei Eri’s wacky Eric Kamezou for the H!P shill sequences on Hello! Morning was funny enough to be endearing.

As for Mikitty, it seemed – to me, at least, and I could be way off – that she was relaxing more and accepting her role in Morning Musume. Beyond that, I knew Utaban’s Ishibashi had a soft spot for her and I saw more footage of her with Matsuura Aya that made her much more likeable. The first time I watched Mikitty’s Alo-Hello last year, I had to turn it off because I found her annoying and narcissistic. Last month I tried to watch it again and this time found her charming and goofy. (“Goofy” being, in my world, a term of endearment and often attractiveness.)

The last member of sixth gen – and Momusu in general – that I didn’t like was Michishige Sayumi. To me, at least, she was uninteresting in her egotism (as opposed to, say, Yuko and Rika, who poke fun at themselves in that regard) and not very talented. As a new fan of Momusu, I didn’t like what I’d seen of her – I immediately think of the lie detector test on Utaban where she admitted to thinking she was the cutest girl in the group, or the painfully sung opening lines on Otome Gumi’s “Yuujyou ~Kokoro No Busu Niwa Naranee~” – and didn’t feel she added much to the group.

If anything, she struck me as a typical self-infatuated teenage girl who happens to be in a national spotlight. That said, being part of the most recent generation there wasn’t as much about her – or Reina and Eri – to watch or listen to than there was of the other girls. It would take time to see how she grew into her role and judge from there.

My opinion of Sayumi changed yesterday when I watched this week’s Hello! Morning. She was funny when she worked the chimes, judging Rika’s mimickry versus Tsuji’s. But she really caught my attention when she posed with handcuffs during the comedy skit featuring Rika and Yossi. I’m not going to get into the details, but even a semi-cute girl with handcuffs is enough to set my heart a-thumping.

Especially if dressed up like a policewoman.

Seriously, though, I had been warming up to Sayumi recently and it surprised me a little. Part of it is seeing the current membership of Momusu go through such radical changes in such a short amount of time and feeling sympathetic for all the girls enduring this. Part of it was seeing other girls auditioning to join Morning Musume and realizing Sayumi was better than some of them. Part of it is seeing her interact with the others and noticing she sometimes brings a charming diffidence to the mix, not just brattiness and vanity. (Which may have always been the case, I must admit, but I never cared to notice.) And part of it is that she’s maturing into an attractive young woman; I noted in an earlier post how good she looked in the new PV. I doubt she’ll ever be one of my favorites, but I can see her growing into someone I’ll look forward to watching and maybe even listening to.

This is one of the very best things about Morning Musume for me. If Tsunku believes in second chances and giving unlikely girls a chance to shine, the Hello! Project media machinery – with their weekly TV show, short documentaries, musicals, photobooks, and everything else – gives you plenty of chances and plenty of different reasons to like each girl. Setting aside singing ability, I’ve developed a fondness for different Musume girls based on many other criteria, such as being funny, being an underdog, having a healthy appetite, showing off your competitive streak, flirting with Gackt, being in drag, wearing an animal costume, being a helpful senpai to the younger girls, letting puberty set in, wearing a cowboy hat… and, oh yeah, wearing a swimsuit.

Let’s consider each in further detail.

Being funny. Hello! Morning has plenty of chances to show how funny the girls can be. I even remember Iida telling the newly-inducted fifth gen in a 2001 episode that it’s an important part of being in Morning Musume. Some have a strong comedic gift, such as Yossi and Kago and Makoto, while others have to work harder for it (Takitty and Konno, for instance). But if someone can make you laugh, they can’t be all bad, can they? At least you know they’re not taking themselves too seriously.

Being an underdog. Tsuji and Konno were chosen for Morning Musume for their heart and spirit, not for singing and dancing ability. This may not make sense in other parts of the music industry, but in the Hello! Project it actually makes these two girls in particular endearing.

Having a healthy appetite. Too often one gets a sense that young women in the media are over-conscious of their appearance, that some starve themselves just to look good for the camera. The girls of Morning Musume aren’t like that – they drool over food, they’ll compete for a chance to eat something tasty, and sometimes they’ll even cry if they’re deprived of it. Tsuji is the best example of the last point, though we saw Rika do the same in this week’s Hello! Morning. At any rate, it makes the girls more accessible when they show they get hungry and appreciate good food just like anybody else.

Showing off your competitive streak. It’s pretty cool to see an aggressive side come out in girls who’re supposed to be revered for more dainty, feminine behavior. Watch any of the sports festivals – or for that matter, the eating competitions – and you’ll get a clear sense of the whole “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” thing. It’s even better when a little bit (but not too much) of smack talking is involved. There’s a series of jankenpyon competitions that show off the girls’ competitive sides to great effect – even when it’s something as silly as rock-paper-scissors.

Flirting with Gackt. This really only applies to Kago, but I first realized how special she was when, at twelve years old, she made a grown man – an idol in his own right, a musical genius and someone four hundred years older than Kago (or so he claimed) – speechless on a “date” arranged for them by Pop Jam. This also made me realize how sexy Gackt is, since he handled the situation with great humor and charisma.

Being in drag. Dressing up as a man is pretty common among the Musume, but the first time I really noticed Yossi was when I saw the “Mr. Moonlight” PV and realized how magnificent she was as a guy courting Makoto. She was so good at it, so confident and commanding, it was breathtaking.

Wearing an animal costume. This goes to being cute – but also to being open to looking foolish. Kago and Tsuji in those clumsy dinosaur suits, Goto Maki in a penguin outfit – how can you not love these girls for agreeing to such silliness? That said, I find myself oddly unaffected when any of the girls dress up as dogs. Sayumi, Takitty, and Mari have all done so in recent episodes and it’s nowhere near as good as Gomaki Penguin or even Gomaki Sparrow. Reina in the panda outfit, however, was too adorable for words.

Being a helpful senpai to the younger girls. Given the wide range of age and experience in Hello! Project, it’s always nice to see the older or more experienced girls helping out the newer ones. I think of the whole Yoroshiku Senpai documentary series, where the future members of Berryz Koubou spent time with the Musume girls and others to learn about being an idol.

Letting puberty set in. To me, Risa was completely expendable… and then I saw her give up the pigtails and grow a little, her face filling in and maturing, and realized she was great after all. The benefit of having young girls join Hello! Project is watching them grow up and develop whatever skills they have. It’s one reason why graduations are so emotional for me, even though I know most of the Momusu graduates aren’t leaving H!P. You look at Kago when she first joined, for example, see how she changed over the years and all she’s gone through, and the graduation becomes a commemoration of what she’s gone through, not just a cynical ploy to milk more cash from H!P fans.

Wearing a cowboy hat. Sayaka wore one in the “Koi no Dance Site” PV, Miki wore one in “Go Girl! Koi no Victory,” Kei wore a fuzzy purple one in “Renai Revolution 21”. I’m not sure why, but the cowboy hat is definitely quite sexy if worn by the right girl in the right video.

Wearing a swimsuit. I liked Konno a lot because she was an underdog and kind of goofy on the Hello Pro News segments, but her photobook made her one of my all-time favorite Musumes for the most shallow reason imaginable – she was smoking hot in a swimsuit. Who’d’ve thunk it, really. Often, I’m not particularly concerned about the swimsuit portions of the photobooks and Alo-Hello DVDs, but sometimes you can’t help but stand up and take notice.

So getting back to Chris’ question: as of right now, no, there aren’t any Musume members I don’t like. Not anymore, not even Koharu, and not Sayumi. Given enough time and enough exposure to the girls, you’ve got to find something to love about each and every one of them. And if not love, at least like a great deal.