SweetS’ “On the Way” PV

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I’ve been trying to make myself like the new SweetS song, "On the Way ~Yakusoku no Basho e~", and quite frankly I can’t. It’s mellow and bland, lacking the energy and passion and hooks of earlier singles. Regular readers know that my favorite SweetS singles are the earliest, but I’ve grown to enjoy the ones that have followed: while "Sky" and "Countdown" may not have the same power as "Lolita Strawberry in Summer" or "Love Like Candy Floss", they were still dynamic songs that were catchy after prolonged exposure.

This may be the case for "On the Way" but if so I’m still not feeling it. The song is too generic, the midtempo beat is pleasant without being memorable. And I get the sense the people behind SweetS are afraid that this line-up doesn’t have the vocal chops they need – the vocals seem more buried beneath the instrumentation than usual, and Haruna doesn’t have any stand out moments the way she did in "Mienai Tsubasa", the one recent single that made me believe SweetS can regain their initial greatness. She’s capable of carrying a song and making you feel it – but here she doesn’t have much to work with. Mai and Miori just blend into the pleasant blandness with their own lines, and it all adds up to one huge missed opportunity.

Despite such an unfortunate single, the video is itself a happy eyeful of under-fifteen goodness. So we can be thankful for that much…

The video starts with the girls, standing, head bowed, getting into character. Once again, Haruna lost the bet on who’d wear short shorts for this PV. (A bet she seems to lose quite frequently…) The outfits are strikingly… tough-looking. Heavy on the black, hair looking a little disheveled. They look like Little Biker Gals, ready to hop on the back of a Harley and go on a poker run with considerably-older boyfriends.

In a way, it compliments the photos on the actual CD – there they look like models at the end of a very long, very demanding photo shoot. Haruna looks very badass, Mai and Haruna look very distressed, and none of them look like they’d had enough to eat that day. (The inside-sleeve photo of Miori is almost heartbreaking, she’s like a step away from UNICEF poster child in that shot.)

All of which stresses the idea that these girls are more grown-up. No more of that pomo-rorikon vibe from the SweetS mini-album and definitely not the schoolgirl vibe of Keep On Movin’. And with the two oldest members preparing for high school entrance exams (high school already? where has all the time gone?), I guess the powers-that-be decided to make the girls look more aggressively… well, not adult, exactly, but less underage. Which is an interesting sleight-of-hand, at the very least.

In silhouette, they start to clap. There are flashes of light and moments of frozen shots, again invoking the idea of a photo shoot – which is a shame, because it doesn’t add much to the PV and was used to much better effect in "Love Raspberry Juice".

Haruna. Still the perfect idol, as far as I’m concerned… Aya has the better pipes and a killer smile, but Haruna has the confidence and range of moods down pat. She can project sultry as well as vulnerable and sunny, her charisma is more multi-dimensional for an idol. In a group of very careerist young ladies, she seems the most focused, the most ready to become a star.

And if she dyed her hair blonde again, she could conquer the world.

Miori – looking great in the PV, though those fingerless arm-length gloves are a bit puzzling.

And Mai – the one with the Nabokovan bloom and my second favorite of the group. Like Miori, she smiles her way through the entire dance sequence, though on them it doesn’t hurt at all. There are times when it seems a bit too Broadway hoofer, all that grinning, but these are girls who’re happy to be doing what they’re doing, so who can blame them.

Cut to a set where the girls are looking far from excited – but are dressed considerably less butch.

If anything, it looks like it’s supposed to be an abstraction of a typical girl’s bedroom. A very messy abstraction, but we won’t get into that. (At one point, Mai picks up a shoe as if to ask, "What’s this doing here?" My thoughts exactly.)

That said, one has to wonder about some of the aesthetic decisions behind this PV: it’s very bare bones, which works fine in the dance sequences but in these scenes seems a bit… I don’t know… cheap? Like they can’t even afford walls or something. 

Here’s something we’re seeing, now that the girls have let go of the whole U15 stigma: blatant shots of their midriffs. (At least it’s not like Hinoi Team, who wave their hind quarters at the camera in their PVs…) This doesn’t do much but emphasize that the girls need to eat a little more, get some meat on their bones… Or maybe it’s Pentry promoting their biker babe line? At any rate, if this is pandering, just call me Ling Ling.

And here’s Miori’s torso, too! Less in need of a cheeseburger but some fries would probably help. She shows the most skin in this PV but that doesn’t seem to have changed her sunny disposition any. I wouldn’t have expected her to be the one revving up the sex appeal in a PV – actually, she’d strike me as the least likely – but she did have that one move in "Mienai Tsubasa", too, so maybe I just need to rethink her role.

The dance moves in the PV are solid – and it’s nice to see the girls take turns at the center… It’d be nice to actually see a dance shot version of the PV, the girls all move well together, and this is one of the few times where a dance shot version would be worth watching all the way through.

Perhaps my favorite shot of the PV – a nice reminder that SweetS is essentially a five-member group, that Aki and Aya aren’t being forgotten, not even for the six months of their hiatus. On the CD, a picture of the two is included as well.

And then the shadows disappear under the flash of lights as the girls strike another set of poses.

This is new for a SweetS PV: kneeling dance moves.

Really, I should feel guilty…

… But what the heck. I’m sure the audience goes crazy when they do this live.

Now we see butch-Haruna staring into a light…

That shines on her now-smiling face. So either it’s the sun coming out or she really likes police interrogations after an all-nighter with the Hell’s Angels.

The light also makes it way to that cluttered set where the girls were all mopey…

More than anything else, this reminds me of the PV for "Ai Araba It’s All Right", where the sun comes out after an apparent all-night pajama party. Except with 80% fewer idol girls. And the girls in Momusu were in a house that had walls.

And, unfortunately, we do not see the SweetS girls in their sleepwear. I figure Mai to be a T-shirt and shorts type, Miori in traditional pink check pajamas, and Haruna experimenting with silk teddies. (Like none of you have spent hours thinking about this… and drawing sketches…)

The "Ai Araba" PV suffers from the classic Momusu pitfall of minna-lag – that is, the attempt to give a semblance of fair screen time to all the girls resulting in a kind of waiting game for your favorite to pop up. This was epitomized by the seig-heil line-up of the girls in their jammies, with the camera tracking past all fifteen of them.

Here, the SweetS girls have to contend with not having nearly enough idols around. It’s apparent that part of the PV’s theme is a sense of loss, of something missing in their lives – that something being Aya and Aki, of course.

And that abstraction of a girl’s bedroom definitely needs to be cleaned. And could use some walls. This is a whole lot less like the sun dawning on the girls than a bright spotlight flickering on.

More midriff shots, distracting me from my criticisms…

I like 3-nin SweetS. They may be missing their biggest vocal powerhouse but there’s still talent and charm to spare. If 3-nin SweetS feels a little like Haruna & Company, it’s only a residue from SweetS in general being Aya & Haruna & Company. Mai and Miori handle themselves great in this PV, and with any luck they’ll get more attention in future singles and PVs as well.

And here’s an interesting close to the PV – the girls are standing… 

The road appears underneath their feet in a dark cloudy sky…

And finally, a light bursts through the clouds. What does it mean exactly? Are the girls now on the way? The people who made this PV can afford some rudimentary CG effects but not a couple of walls for the bedroom scene?

I wish I liked this song more. And I specifically mean the song – the PV, the line-up, the choreography, even the borrowing from 15-nin Momusu, all of that worked for me. I truly and honestly hope that 3-nin SweetS will do at least one more single – 3rd Xmas doesn’t count – and that it’s a powerful, upbeat song like "Mienai Tsubasa".

These girls deserve much better.

They at least deserved walls in their make-believe bedroom.