“Iroppoi Jirettai” Debuts at #3

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

New from Idolizing St. Anna, Morning Musume’s “Iroppoi Jirettai” debuted at #3 for the July 27 daily Oricon ranking, behind SMAP and a Gundam song by Chemistry.

It would have been nice if they’d made #1 for the day, something they’d achieved with their last single, “Osaka Koi no Uta”. SMAP and Gundam are two long-standing icons of pop culture that haven’t suffered the same decline as Morning Musume, itself a major icon. However, one would have hoped that the handshake lottery for this single would have provoked greater interest among the public. Indeed, Santos points out that some Momusu fans are buying multiple copies as if seeking golden tickets to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory… But that just means the numbers for the single are inflated when considering the actual number of people buying the single.

With the help of 20/20 hindsight, I can see a few problems now.

First, a lottery places the cart before the horse: you have to buy the freakin’ single before you can even consider the possibility of shaking hands with Morning Musume at a stadium. So if you’re a casual fan, it’s much easier to resist the lure of the single if all you really want to do is meet the idols behind “Love Machine” and “Koi no Dance Site.”

Second, and I hate to say this yet again, but casual fans want the idols behind “Love Machine” and “Koi no Dance Site” – and none of these girls are it. If they want the idols behind “Happy Summer Wedding” and “The Peace!”, all they’d have is Yossi. For the people who loved the biggest singles and have bailed on the group since – and there are hundreds of thousands of them, based on sales figures – their idea of Morning Musume is outdated by several years and they have no idea who these new girls are, even if they are aware of the changes made.

I could be wrong, but I’d bet if you put the 2000 10-nin line-up for a handshake event with no lottery, just show up at some stadium for the day, it’d be a huge event and sell tons of singles. What the hell, they should have done it when the Early Singles were re-released at the beginning of the year.

Third, I’m wondering if the addition of Kusumi Koharu is actually a drawback and not an attraction for casual fans. After all, she’s the latest line-up change in a group that’s become notorious for its line-up changes. For a casual fan who couldn’t recite the order (and sometimes the date) for every member’s joining and/or graduating from Morning Musume, this is just another new face in a sew of new faces. The similarity to Goto Maki’s situation and all the hype about being the miracle girl doesn’t mean anything to them.

Fourth, sales for Morning Musume’s singles – and for other Hello! Project artists – would be helped if they started including DVD singles with their CD singles. For idols, who rely on their looks and personalities as much as their singing, the PVs are an important factor for how they make their songs popular. At the moment, Hello! Project sells separately the DVDs of their most popular performers’ PVs, but that just ends up being a way to milk the hardcore fans for more money.

I’ve seen this view expressed on the MM-BBS and my own buying habits confirm this: if DVD singles were packaged with the first editions of Hello! Project singles, including Morning Musume, the slight bump in price and the likely increased sales would more than offset the revenue lost from selling the DVDs on their own.

On the bright side, Matsuura Aya’s next single will be released with a DVD of the PV. I’ll be picking it up just to encourage the practice, and hopefully by the end of the year this’ll be as regular a practice for Zetima as it seems to be for Avex and their girl groups.

Speaking of Avex, today is the day – July 27, 2005! – dream’s new mini-album comes out and I’m more excited about this, despite being a more expensive item, than the Morning Musume single with its faint promise of a golden ticket. The dream album comes with a DVD, by the way, which further proves my point. It also helps that I’d never be able to make the Momusu handshake event in the first place…

The bottom line is, while the factors behind the new single – new miracle girl added to the line-up, special lottery to meet the girls – is designed to boost interest with the fan base, it’s actually designed to encourage the more hardcore, dedicated elements of the fan base and offers nothing to the fans who’d stopped listening to Morning Musume three, four years ago. I’ve seen this happen in the comics industry time and again, and it’s disheartening to see it with a favorite Jpop group.

If anything, I’d say that the name Morning Musume is something of a burden on the current line-up. It gives them immediate brand-name recognition but that recognition works against them with the broader market even as it continues to enchant the more dedicated fans. If they were working under a different name, if they gave up the Morning Musume name altogether and just said, Here are ten talented young ladies who sing and dance, maybe they’d be given a fairer shake. (And maybe they’d not be so elevated as to hold a lottery for handshake events, instead just holding the handshake events and thanking God for every fan who’s interested enough to show up…)

I know it’s not going to happen – and it actually goes against the stated reason for Morning Musume as a farm team by which idols are developed and placed into new units… However, Morning Musume has never felt like a farm team more than a flagship (I know, I’m mixing metaphors here) leading the Hello! Project. Now, though, the farm team analogy has overtaken the flagship model, as other parts of Hello! Project slowly outshine the group that started the collective.

And don’t get me wrong, Hello! Project can do things right in the idol market still. Berryz Koubo, to use the best example, have the novelty value to at least pique the interest of a fickle public (the same public which “knows” Morning Musume but only from its glory years), as well as a stable line-up (no changes, despite promises to do so at the start of the group’s formation) and some very catchy songs (some people even claim Berryz gets all the best songs in the H!P stable). As a result, they surprised people with a relatively strong Oricon standing for “Special Generation” this spring. They’re seen as up-and-comers, so their up would be better encouraged by people who want to be in on a new thing, especially if the music speaks to them.

And God, I haven’t even discussed the actual song yet, have I? Well, it’s a catchy enough number, loud and brash at its best, cloying when it tries to be sexy (the whispering at the beginning does not work for me). It’s not as good as “Osaka Koi no Uta”, but it’s a solid enough Latin pop kind of number. I’m waiting to see the PV before I decide how much I like it.

Well, we’ll see how the weekly sales wind up. Maybe they’ll have more consistent sales across the week and make #1 after all. But I’m not holding my breath.