Come to the Dark Side, JT-GC…

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

I’m enough of a Morning Musume fan that I keep a Technorati RSS Feed tracking any blog mentions of the group. Once in a while I find some interesting news, mostly it’s fans putting up pictures or providing personal playlists… One odd site seemed to be ripping off H!P information verbatim from wiki.theppn. But sometimes I find a blog that’s got interesting things to say – in English – about Jpop in general, if not Morning Musume in particular. Thus, I stumbled upon I’m bad at naming things, where new blogger JT-GC is trying to hone his Japanese language skills by watching variety shows.

Now that is inspired learning, if ever I’ve heard of it. And, if he keeps up with the blog, the source of very interesting reading.

At any rate, JT-GC got his hands on some Minimoni appearances on Utaban and grew intrigued. JT-GC thinks he doesn’t like the music of Minimoni and Morning Musume, but watching an episode of Hello! Morning has left him intrigued about new member Kusumi Koharu. In his most recent entry, Morning Musume – The Dark Side?, he ponders on whether or not he should get sucked into the world of Morning Musume – though he definitely wants to know more about W. He also describes my writing about Koharu as being “less like crazed fanboy-ish banter and more like…sportscasting, actually”. Which I think is a compliment, and certainly made me laugh.

Anyway, here’s some words directed to JT-GC to help him make his decision:

Dear JT-GC:

Fear is a good thing. It means you’re entering unfamiliar, even uncomfortable territory – and that means you’re going to learn something whether you like it or not. (Fear is also a good indicator that you’re about to place yourself in harm’s way, but we won’t get into that.)

You can’t avoid the dark side: Morning Musume are a nexus of Japanese popular culture. Besides once dominating the Japanese music charts, they’ve been involved in the Olympics, a recruitment drive for the Self-Defense Forces, raising ecological awareness, and encouraging tourism. They have their own sports events and futsal team. They’ve had their songs turned into a punk medley praising masturbation. And not only do Morning Musume have their own television show, Hello! Morning, members of the group have splintered into other musical units and have proliferated across Japanese media – television, movies, musicals… Even members who’ve long ago left the fold make it to the news once in a while, as the magnificent Ishiguro Aya proves.

Admittedly, learning the lore of Morning Musume can be frustrating: seven generations of auditions for a total of twenty-two members. That’s the first thing you need to keep clear in your head, but there’s so much more to follow: the sub groups and the shuffle groups and the scandals (at least two in the past year). As it stands, looking further into W – a.k.a. Tsujikago, a.k.a. Tsuji Nozomi and Kago Ai – will drag you into Momusu to some degree, as they’re two of Momusu’s most beloved members (and from the best damn generation of Morning Musume, but that’s something you’ll have to discover on your own).

You’ve already been attracted to the dramatic developments of Koharu, the appeal of seeing members work to become idols. Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of drama can happen when you throw a bunch of teenage girls together and force them to dress up in penguin suits. Once you learn who the members are, which ones are talented at what (because some are better singers than dancers, some are better comedians, and some are just too damn cute to ignore, whatever their talents may be), and who’s friends with whom, you’ll begin to read behind the facade, to enter what I call the Kremlinology of Morning Musume phase. That’s when the real fun starts… And when the dark side overwhelms you completely. (Insert evil laughter here, if you must.)

And once you’ve got Morning Musume clear in your head, you’ve got the rest of the Hello! Project – other groups in the same collective that Morning Musume initiated, from Melon Kinenbi to the just-announced C-ute. I’ve only recently got over my own fear of getting sucked into Berryz Koubo, but I’m happier for it now that I’m almost able to tell them apart.

As for the music – some of it is very, very good, and very little of it sounds like Minimoni. (Except Minimoni, of course.) The whole of Hello! Project covers a pretty wide range of musical styles, given that one man has created most all the songs. If you give Morning Musume’s singles a fair chance and an open mind, I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find at least several songs you’ll like.

If you need information, check out the Wiki or join the Morning Musume BBS – there’s lots of smart fans there who can be highly critical of Morning Musume’s faults as well as praise the group’s strengths. And if you want to download Musume clips, I’d recommend three bit torrent sites: Hello Pro (a.k.a. Casper), Hello! Tracker, and Jpopsuki’s tracker.

Learning about Morning Musume in particular and Hello! Project in general can only bring you unimagined benefits. Personally, I’ve learned to flirt with my wife’s friend by learning the right phrases from “Shabondama”… And really, who can put a price on that?

– Ray

P.S. – If you decide to avoid Morning Musume after all, maybe you should give SweetS a try. They’re much less relevant to Japanese pop culture, but they’re adorable and talented.

I don’t know if I’ve brought JT-GC to the dark side or sent him screaming far, far away. Either way, my work here is done.