Thinking Hemispherically About SweetS and Berryz

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about – and listening to – SweetS this past couple weeks. Before that, I spent a good month or so thinking about – and listening to – Berryz Koubo. Yet, I find that when I focus on one, I tend to generally ignore the other. It’s an extension of the Hello! Project versus Avex Trax dichotomy I noted in an earlier post, which makes sense since Berryz are my favorite H!P act and SweetS my favorite Avex act. I even suspect now that my intense love of SweetS was what kept me from seeing the charm of Berryz for so long, that I needed my feelings for SweetS to abate somewhat before I could be open to Berryz goodness.

Having just read Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, the natural conclusion seems to be that each group speaks to a different part of my personality, perhaps even a different hemisphere of my brain. SweetS is more left hemisphere, Berryz Koubo is more right hemisphere. (Though hasn’t hemispheric thinking been discounted to some degree? Who cares, it’s a useful metaphor.)

I don’t think it’s because the girls in each group are fundamentally different from one another. I’d think that if you sent Haruna and Momoko to hang out at the mall together, they’ll likely discover they have more in common than less. So I’d hazard that it’s the groups themselves, the kind of idol groups each is, that puts me in two very distinct frames of mind.

SweetS provokes passion in me, something self-serious and intense… but also intellectual, of all things. When I think of SweetS, they’re a problem waiting to be cracked. Part of it has to do with their history, of course: their images has gone through very clear, decisive shifts, challenging me to rethink SweetS each time. SweetS brings out the theory head in me – the same part of my brain that likes to tease out abstruse literary theories and look for pop-reference clues in my daily media consumption. When I listen to SweetS, I get swept up in the songs’ emotions, even while a part of me is parsing out what these emotions mean, why it has such a powerful hold on me.

Berryz Koubo, on the other hand, makes me feel giddy and goofy, happy to be alive. If I feel intense, intellectual passion for SweetS, for Berryz I feel a kind of unquestioning warmth and affection. With the exception of Maiha’s recent departure, Berryz have remained essentially the same: no shifts in their image or how they present themselves, no intellectual challenges to rethink what Berryz is all about. When I listen to Berryz, I want to sing and dance along, wave my hands in the air and be silly.

If Berryz was a girlfriend, she’d be low maintenance and lots of fun – easy to please, accessible, the kind of person you can let down your guard. Girl-next-door charm, very Mary Ann. By contrast, the theoretical SweetS girlfriend is sophisticated and more calculating, good for clever repartee and thoughtful arguments about big issues – high maintenance in the sense that you’re always on your toes around her, unsure of what she’s thinking, of what you can expect from her, and what she expects of you in turn. So that’s really Ginger, but only if Ginger had taken Method seriously, perhaps even studied under Lee Strasberg.

SweetS makes me want to sketch out a unified theory of the group, a conceptual framework that makes it all "fit". Berryz makes me want to write silly poems to Momoko. And Chinami. And Risako. And Yurina.

Both groups have grown in the past couple of years, of course, but I think they’ve had these – what do we call it? attitudes?  demeanors? conceptual backgrounds? hemispheric personae? – okay, they’ve had these hemispheric personae from the beginning and continue to hold those personae today. Which doesn’t mean the personae are immutable – after all, SweetS had a lapse of silliness with "Countdown" (to mixed effect), which is their most H!P sounding song, while Berryz showed a more mature Avex-y side with "Special Generation" and especially "Nanchuu Koi wo Yatteruu You Know" (to excellent effect).

And I know this ties into each group’s respective collective, and their approach to the girl group idol market. To exagerrate greatly, H!P wants imperfect girls whose imperfections can be played upon and made special; Avex wants girls who project a certain glamour and can prove they have a certain level of performance ability. H!P wants to be cute and winsome, Avex wants to be sexy and stylish. H!P is, in some ways, a more forgiving place for a young idol; Avex is more demanding, but also more au courant.

Does any of this make sense? I’m still sketching it out in my head – both hemispheres of my head, actually – though the groundwork from this dichotomy is something I’ve mentioned time and again in the past. It seems both self-evident and yet… for me, at least… too pat to accept at face value. There’s gotta be more to it than this, somehow. But what exactly, I’m not sure yet.