Looking Forward to 2006

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Having spent the first half of this month looking back at 2005, I felt a bit drained and out of it. Making a pomo hash out of a Pink Panther cartoon may be part of it. But then I realized: what’s there to look forward to in 2006? What am I anticipating, that’s going to keep Jpop fresh for me?

Well, here’s five things that immediately came to mind…

The ascendancy of the H!P Kids. Last year showed that Berryz Koubo was getting way more love from the powers-that-be at Hello! Project than most all of the other established, older units. This year’s likely to be more of the same with not only Berryz but also C-Ute getting a great deal of attention and releases. I’m thinking this’ll be especially clear if they do shuffles this year, with more H!P Kids taking part in it. (It’s too much to hope for a proper shuffle line-up after the last two years, so that didn’t make the list.)

It’s not that I like seeing the older units get shafted – far from it, I wanna see more of Melon Kinenbi and Country Musume in 2006 (and I don’t mean Cyborg Shibata 4, though that’d be nice too). But the Kids have been training for years and it’s pretty damn cool that they’re finally coming into their own. Berryz blazed the way, but even C-Ute seem to be heading somewhere in the near future.

I’m also anticipating the first solo Berryz photobook – probably Miyabi, but if it’s Momoko I’ll buy multiple copies.

In case you haven’t noticed, Berryz became my H!P unit of choice in 2005, and that’s because they had a consistency the other groups didn’t have. Viyuden and W had their undeniable peaks, but there are also some disappointments from them I’d rather not think about. So while W’s upcoming single is eagerly awaited, I’m also feeling some mild trepidation. As for Morning Musume, they’ve been solid but not outstanding; for me the group’s last peak was 15-nin Musume from a couple years back.

That said, there is something about Momusu I’m anticipating eagerly…

Miki’s graduation from Morning Musume. No announcement of this yet – and who knows, it may not materialize – but dammit, each time I think about it, the more it seems an injustice that needs to be finally corrected. Which doesn’t mean Miki’s time in Morning Musume was wrong, by any means – if anything, she’s a big part of why I love 15-nin Morning Musume and Otome Gumi. But she’s the one most deserving of a graduation from the current line-up and certainly the most ready to go solo – because, you now, she had a solo career before it was taken away from her.

To quote a crappy movie, "Fair’s fair."

I’m not sure where Morning Musume’s heading at this point, though. Part of me thinks they won’t let go of Miki just yet because they can’t afford to. Will there be more auditions this year? Is anything going to come out of that Kansai audition I’d heard about? Will there be more than one graduation this year, or none at all? There needs to be a push for the individual members to stand out more, especially the ones with vocal potential but not enough attention – I’m thinking Risa and Makoto, actually. (I’m surprised to be typing Makoto’s name just now, but what the heck.) They need to step up and show their idol abilities – not just singing, but pushing their idol persona more and being more visible as individuals. They’ve been in the background too long and need to step up if the group’s going to thrive again.

We can’t leave it all to Koharu, after all.

Maria’s debut. I’ll stop whining about Zone’s breakup once Maria makes their official debut next month. Though I’ll keep complaining about Tomoka getting shafted. I wanna see a stylish and hard-rocking PV, lots of appearances on music shows, a photobook or two, and lots of media coverage. I wanna be able to root for certain girls as my favorite member, and not just Maiko. (Though of course, Maiko will be the first among equals.) I want a new band to grab me the way Hinoi Team did last year, and Maria looks like they’re it.  (Though Harenchi Punch may fill that bill, as well.)

I’m hopeful. While there were no close-ups or solo shots for any of the girls – not even Maiko – the girls of Maria do look cute in their Santa get-up for this holiday DVD from Studio Runtime. And they seem to get along quite well. And did I mention they look cute in the Santa outfits? I like the striped stockings especially.

And while I don’t look forward to anything from them, I need to include this screencap of Maria’s Studio Runtime colleagues, Bon’z, who were also part of the DVD. First, the name sucks. Second, sexy Santa costumes on women does not mean it works for men the same way… Here, it looks just… disturbing.

Really, they didn’t need to show this much leg. But at least none of them seem to be wearing striped stockings.

And though I didn’t bother for pictures with these, they’re also quite important to a happy 2006…

The return of Rip Slyme. Their first new single in over a year is supposed to hit stores next week. Halcali’s return was excellent but a bit surprising in the style change both musically and image-wise. Teriyaki Boyz gave us two-fifths of Rip Slyme. Now it’s time for the five to come back with their usual style and wit.

The return of 5-nin SweetS. I wanted to root for 3-nin SweetS, but the return of 5-nin SweetS with the next single means we’ve got Aya back and that can only be a good thing. Aya’s the best young singer in Jpop that I know of, a superstar in the making – get her together with Suzuki Airi and let them conquer the world. But what I most want is a great big emotional song as powerful as "Mienai Tsubasa". I want to fall in love with SweetS again, and I know they’re capable of it.

And now that I think about it, I also expect the first solo SweetS photobooks to come out this year, as well as a new group photobook. The choice for the first solos are obvious, Aya and Haruna, though perhaps they’ll all get one. That’d be nice.

Having said all that, what are you folks looking forward to this year? The new Momusu album? More  faux naughtiness from Hasebe Yu? Hard Gay’s inevitable run for Prime Minister of Japan?

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14 Responses to “Looking Forward to 2006”
  1. k2c says:

    I’m not going to sit here and say Miki doesn’t deserve some solo work. However, if she were to totally break away from Morning Musume, how would it go on? I know you did mention it, but I don’t see MM having all that much appeal without Miki. Maybe if Kusumi wasn’t a loveable dunce, then I’d agree Miki should get the graduation nod. If they build Kusumi up over the first half of the year, then maybe they graduate Miki early 2007, having a solo song somewhere in this period. It’d be similar to how Natsumi graduated; I just hope Miki doesn’t copy other people’s work when she is out D:

  2. Wapiko says:

    Morning Musume’s demise, actually. I want Tsunku to realize he’s fucked up and have it bite him in the ass hard.

    I suppose I’m looking far more forward to Kyushima Misachi’s upcoming new single and album, all scheduled to be released before April. She’s an excellent newcomer with a deep, strong voice and a lot of potential.

    And I want the return of Nakabayashi May. ;_;

  3. Japonaliya says:

    2005 for MM/H!P was a rollercoaster ride for me. 2 of my top 5 all-time MM singles were released back to back. Osaka, and Irropoi…I was actually in Tokyo as IJ hit # 1 last summer…so great memories. However, the last 2 singles, and a few before the above SUCKED BIG TIME!!! I think Tsunku sould give us 1, maybe 2 MM singles per year that are REALLY good, and not just churn them out. (I know some will say those other singles were good..but I base my likes on good, hum able songs, since mature lyrics are not Tsuku’s forte) and the others weren’t…Berryz are adorable, and I love watching Momoko strut around, putting her hand to her chest as she sings… However, some of Berryz stuff is a bit too imature for my tastes.
    The absolute worst thing over the past year (maybe year and 1/2) was all the graduations… I really can’t understand why Rika, Maki, Tsuji & Kago can’t be in MM..AND do solo stuff?? They were in all sorts of spin-offs at the same time (Tanpopo, Minimoni, Country M etc) Even with W’s popularity, can anyone deny that MM has slid very much downhill in just a few short years since the 4th gen. version? My first attended live MM concert was one of Maki’s last, and still had many of the other org. and early members. I also saw them in 2003 in Tokyo, just after Maki left, and Shabondama was released. Now, I am trying to get tickets for either the MM Spring or Summer tour when tix are avail. but I know it won’t be the same……..

  4. Japonaliya says:

    Oh I forgot to mention the other grads…Kaori, Mari (well, not exactly graduated..) Who else am I forgetting, as there have been so many..?

  5. S says:

    Sheesh Wapi, why so bitter?

    Mine is simple. I’m looking forward to Wapiko being proven wrong. 🙂

  6. Wapiko says:

    They’re fizzling out. If it’s not this year, it’ll be sometime by 2008.

  7. Chuck says:

    They still have a long way to fizzle. Morning Musume is vastly more popular than any other idol group. While their sales are decreasing, the ratio of MM’s sales to other idol groups’ doesn’t seem to be that much lower from what I’ve seen (ain’t done a full statistical analysis, but you know). There’s less difference in sales between Morning Musume’s “Iroppoi Jirettai” (81k) and Ai Otsuka’s “Neko ni Fuusen” (112k) than between Morning Musume’s “Osaka Koi no Uta” (59k) and Hinoi Team’s “Night of Fire” (18k). If Morning Musume dissolves, that must be a very bad sign for everyone else.

    Anyway, though, I do look forward to seeing Morning Musume’s future. Like I was saying, however it goes, it should be very interesting to watch this year. Probably the thing I’ll enjoy most, though, is something I don’t even know about yet. I guess since I’m not in touch with Japanese culture, the best things usually come as a surprise to me.

  8. k2c:

    I’m wondering if Momusu is stronger as a group in this line-up BECAUSE they’re not as strong as potential solo performers. Which isn’t to say that they’re as good as the original 10-nin Musume – I’d say they weren’t – but rather working off a different dynamic and should be considered in that dynamic’s light. This is something concerning me as I return to the Chokkan 2 Close-Up entries and try to figure out each member’s contribution to the team and why it would matter….

    At any rate, if that’s the case, losing Mikitty or even Takitty (but not both at the same time) wouldn’t be as traumatic to the group. I actually have faith in Risa stepping up to the plate and filling a vacuum.

    Oh, and I love your description of Koharu as a “lovable dunce”.

    Wapiko:

    Hm… Do I sense the start of a MM deathpool? And how are your feelings on the rest of H!P, just out of curiosity?

    Japonaliya:

    I’d agree that the graduations and departures from the past couple of years – Nacche all the way to Rika – were pretty devastating for the group. That said, I think several of those who moved on are better off outside of MM since they shine in their new units much more – namely, Rika in Viyuden and Tsuji & Kago in W. Less sure about Nacche and Kaori and Mari, though. (Again, fourth gen prove themselves the best gen yet.)

    Chuck:

    Great point about MM’s position among other girl groups. However, didn’t Otsuka Ai sell a million copies each of her first two full-length albums? I don’t think any H!P act has come close to those numbers in years.

  9. Chuck says:

    I didn’t mean that Morning Musume is actually competition for Ai. They’re really not. I was just trying to put it into perspective. They’re in a completely different league than the entire rest of their industry — nobody is even competing against them. If Morning Musume can’t make it with figures like that, it sounds like Asuka Hinoi may as well just sign up at McDonalds right now.

    Incidentally, Happy Mari’s Birthday! (Just noticed it when I was about to submit.)

  10. crs says:

    Ray & Wapiko – Re: deathpool. Put me down for $50 on December 15, 2006. Although MM dissolving without some huge scandal would kind of be like Johnny’s getting rid of SMAP–I honestly think someone would have to die first.

    Also, how are we defining the jpop idol? Are they singers who also branch out into dramas, movies, radio, talk shows, etc., are they defined by their pop sound and sometimes bizarre dance routines? Because I think that you could argue that it’s not that the idol sector has declined, but that the definition has expanded greatly, where it’s possible to be an idol and still have an R&B-influenced or hip-hop inspired sound. If so, it’s hard to argue that idol sales are really falling. For example, Koda Kumi: just because she has a sexier image than nearly every jpop idol, does that mean that her marketing, the demographic considerations when selecting songs, the emphasis on fashion, looks, the choreographed quality of her performances, is any different from MM? Also, I would say that BoA is an idol, although I think the way her skills were cultivated is distinctly Korean/American. Ayumi Hamasaki may control many aspects of her persona, but that only gives a sense of marketable ‘authenticity’ to an idol framework. And really, how are the ‘m-flo loves’ that different from shuffle groups? Looking only at how the sales of H!P have declined, or how many singles are sold by SweetS, is misleading. Although you might be able to make a distinction between the “traditional” and newer models of idols, I think it would obscure their very real similarities.

  11. Wapiko says:

    What do you mean by “deathpool”, exactly? Maybe it’s just because it’s still early morning, but I’m not sure I understand =X

    My feelings on the rest H!P are pretty much likewise, though I will admit to still being a fan of Gocchin. I used to love everything Ayaya did until after her 3rd album, when she was given boring ballads to prove how “mature” she’s become. (Hell, give me WILD ayaya anyday…*dies*)

    It’s basically that I used to like them, but now I don’t really care if I listen or not anymore. Morning Musume I do still download (I LOVED all of the Chokkan 2 single, in fact) but I don’t keep up on them near as much as I used to. I realize it’s an everchanging group, but I’d been a fan since 2001 and there are just some constants in the group I knew would graduate/leave one day, but I didn’t want to think about it. I think it probably all started with Minimoni turning into Bling Moni (at least, that accentuated my hate for Tsunku) but my disinterest become more prominent after Mari submitted her resignation. I’ll be the first to say the idol world is stupid for having the unspoken rule about being single. Sure the girls are supposed to appear chaste and not taken, but honestly….the fan has little to no chance of ever meeting her and having a conversation face to face, let have sex with her.

    …and it’s still not the afternoon. =_=

  12. Beth says:

    5-nin SweetS = super exciting omgicantwait (haa.. for me, at least) Sure, I rooted for 3-nin, but it’s just not the same without Aki and Aya (I literally ran around the house yelling and sqeeling when I found out that they’d be back with their next single. oh yes).

  13. Wapiko says:

    crs – ahhh, that kind of deathpool. XD

  14. crs:

    I definitely prefer the broader definition of Jpop idol that you write about. I find it interesting that the examples you draw out of more updated idol styles are all solo artists – we can include Otsuka Ai and Amuro Namie – and not groups like dream, Morning Musume, or Max.

    So it’s not be the end of the Jpop idol but its evolution – but in evolving, is it currently abandoning the girl group model that had a winning run from Onyanko Club to Wink to Speed to Golden Age Momusu? I’m not into the boy bands, but they don’t seem to suffer the same way – certainly, SMAP seem as solid as ever.

    I don’t think all the girl groups suffer from being traditional in their presentation – dream certainly does a good job of looking hipper and more up-to-date than most H!P acts, as do SweetS and Hinoi Team. I get the sense there’s something more here, but what exactly I’m not sure…

    Beth:

    The very thought of 5-nin SweetS is actually stirring me out of my Berryz-centric view and having me watch the Penty 5’s PVs and listen to their singles again… Just today I was explaining to a friend the semiotic complexity of the Bounceback-song PVs; she was amused, and didn’t dismiss it as reading too much into it.

    And To Everyone in General:

    Should I start an H!P / Momusu Deathpool? I don’t think they’re going to die any time soon, but I’ve always had a thing for morbid humor, so…