Shuffle Groups Are Back!

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Hello! Project will definitely have shuffle groups this year – and even better, the limited edition of the CD single will feature a new mini-photobook.

Since 2000, the Hello! Project collective created one-time “shuffle groups” every summer that mixed and matched the membership of various H!P units. So a soloist and a couple of Morning Musume and a Coconut Musume and a Melon Kinenbi would all get together on one song in a previously never-seen combination of talent. The shuffle groups were built on themes – colors (2000), summer festivals (2001), shiawase / happiness (2002), and elements (2003) – and featured three groups of varying sizes. For the first three years, it was yet another way for H!P members to compete: the singles were sold separately to see who had the best numbers. In 2003, all three singles were released on one CD.

As a rule of thumb, graduated members of Morning Musume did not participate in the shuffles. And since the introduction of fourth gen, Kago Ai has always been in the smallest of the shuffle groups and Tsuji Nozomi has always been in the largest. This isn’t a rule, but after three years it sure feels like one.

You got all that? Good. Moving forward, in 2004 there were no shuffle groups that summer… but at the end of the year all members of Hello! Project participated in H.P. All Stars with its single “All For One and One For All”. When the CD came out, it was branded the 2004 shuffle group. The theme was apparently schools, as each unit was given its own school uniform for their PV and live performances. Berryz Koubou were particularly striking in lederhosen-like suspenders and shorts, while Melon Kinenbi looked tough in their zip-up jackets.

Since it was a special all-inclusive shuffle group, H.P. All Stars was also a celebration of Hello! Project’s history. The PV begins with the remaining original members of Morning Musume, Yuko and Iida and Nacche, then introduces in chronological order the additions to Hello! Project from second gen all the way to Viyuden. For those who believe part of the attraction of H!P is its history – not only of the collective but also the personal histories of favorite members, watching them grow and move into new aspects of idol life – this was particularly effecting. Seeing fourth gen altogether again – Yossi, Rika, Aibon, Nono – would make me think of what they were like when they joined in 2000 and seeing how far they’ve come with W and Viyuden (and now, with Yossi heading Morning Musume proper). And as I noted before, the few solo lines also gave an idea of the pecking order in the H!P firmament.

The first edition of the H.P. All Stars CD single came with a glorious mini-yearbook. This H!P yearbook had group and individual photos for all 46 current members of H!P. It’s a very cute and surprisingly useful guide book, as it’s possible to watch the videos and place names to faces. (Even better, the names are in both Japanese and English.) It’s possible to watch any recent H!P video and finally figure out who’s who – not a big problem for Morning Musume, but I had a hard time (still do) of sorting through Berryz Koubou and didn’t know the names of Country Musume or Melon Kinenbi until I began using the yearbook (mostly because I didn’t care at the time).

As should be evident by now, the shuffle groups are true Jpop arcana, you have to be deep into H!P to appreciate them. If it was confusing for non-fans to know who’s in Morning Musume at any given moment or to even remember Melon Kinenbi exists, keeping track of the shuffle groups could be ridiculously confusing… if you bother to give a damn in the first place. (The fact that they’re only one-off groups may make that beside the point – if you like Sexy 8’s “Shiawase Desu Ka” you really just need to enjoy the song and PV and don’t have to worry about any future releases from them.) The photobooks are a good guide for those who wish to learn more about H!P, and a reward for the faithful fans who can’t get enough of the girls, so I’m glad to see they’ll be repeating it this year. (It’s better than the trading cards that have been included in first print H!P CDs for a long while.)

As for the theme of this year’s shuffle theme, there’s nothing definite yet. (Well, nothing I can confirm, at any rate.) And the line-up is still unclear. Will Momusu graduates be barred again? That would mean no Nacche, Iida, Kago, Tsuji, or Rika – four of whom are very popular members of H!P. (It also sets aside the question of Kago and Tsuji’s placement.) Will the youngest members of H!P be included, Hello! Project Kids and Berryz Koubou? Talk on the boards assume that Berryz will be included (they’re doing too well to ignore) while H!P Kids won’t. Will Koharu be included? Not likely, as in the past recent Momusu inductess would wait out the shuffle while still training for their performance debut. Personally, I wanna see Risako of Berryz, Reina of Momusu, and Erika from Viyuden get special attention. (As always, any H!P event is a chance to root for one’s favorites.)

And what kind of songs will this year’s shuffle be? My favorite shuffle group was Salt 5’s unexpected rap single, “Get Up! Rapper” – with Nacche, Aibon, Makoto, and soloists Matsuura Aya and Maeda Yuki – so it’d be nice to hear more testing of limits. Tsunku tried his hand at pop-punk with last year’s Otome Gumi single, and the shuffles would be a good place to try again.

I’m excited about this and will likely get two copies for the sake of the photobook. And while this may seem like a flurry of changes and shifts, it isn’t – it’s a return to H!P stability and tradition.