Rainbow 7 Sales and Being a Morning Musume Fan

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Appropriately enough, Morning Musume’s latest album, Rainbow7, places seventh in its first week on the Oricon charts with sales of 35,672 copies. Their last album sold 51,736 copies in its first week with a total of 73,333 in sales. I have serious doubts that Rainbow 7 will even break 50,000 copies total… In short, CD sales continue to plummet for Hello! Project’s flagship group.

I’ve covered this ground before, and I’m not seeing a Jpop apocalypse in this. Certainly, I’m not thinking Morning Musume or Hello! Project is going to fold up anytime soon. There’s too many other profit revenues besides CD sales – concert tours and various events, the photobooks of the bustier and/or more popular girls.

And unless I’m missing something (which is likely), Morning Musume are still the best selling girl group around. (Though Zone put in strong posthumous sales for E, now that I think of it… But I’d argue those are special circumstances.) dream and certainly the newer girl groups such as SweetS and Berryz Koubo have a fraction of Momusu’s sales even now. Speed is long gone, Max have also withered in popularity. All of which says more about how pathetic sales are for girl groups, as opposed to solo female artists like Koda Kumi and Otsuka Ai… or boy bands, for that matter. Compare Momusu to their boy band equivalent, SMAP, whose sales are still quite healthy.

Morning Musume can continue to have sales slide with minimum risk to the overall financial picture, but for how much longer? And to what effect? I think about Pink Lady and how they’d been performing in the decades since their popularity was at its peak, below the mainstream cultural radar but still beloved by a small coterie of fans. For that matter, I think of bands – especially the hair metal bands of the 1980s – who are still around and touring, doing their most popular songs for fans. Is this the fate of Momusu?

And how does this make us feel as fans outside of Japan? Is there anything odd about being a fan of a pop phenomenon whose sell-by date is rapidly growing rancid?

To turn it around somewhat, consider this scenario: you meet somebody from Japan and want to talk to them about L’Arc en Ciel or Otsuka Ai or Orange Range… and all they want to talk about is how much they love Quiet Riot and Ratt, how they still pick up every new album from these groups, and post on forums and read blogs about the latest going-ons of these relics.

You may think these people are way out on a fucking limb. Or at the very least, they’re quaint and amusing for being so out-of-touch with what’s currently popular in our culture. And I’m hazarding a guess here, but most Japanese people would probably feel something similar if they met H!P fans overseas. Not the 2ch folks who’re also still devoted to H!P – no, those’d be like the guys at the Ratt concert who still remember the first time they saw the band back in high school and still think the band fucking rawk. But it’s pretty clear the mainstream of Japanese culture has moved past H!P and will find it strange that people who shouldn’t even know Morning Musume in the first place are so distraught because Kago Ai’s been Friday’d.

This intrigues me because it makes me feel… doubly marginalized? Not only am I interested in the pop music of another culture – which itself is kind of odd to most Americans (we’re philistines in that sense) – but the music I like is itself marginalized within that other culture.

I’m sure there are Japanese fans of klezmer music out there who can sympathize.

The natural reaction is a knee-jerk, “I don’t care what others think, I like what I like.” I’m old enough to have lost any investment in appearing cool, and am quite vocal about being out-of-touch with American youth culture (at least its music and television).

But is that a sufficient answer? I suspect not… After all, there’s also the implicit judgment – not only are you not cool, your interest links you in the public imagination to some stereotypes that you may not want to be linked to. Lightstick-waving salarymen who’re too obsessed with girls young enough to be their daughters; Japanese fans who are geeky and socially maladjusted and had never gotten laid.

This only brings home to me how much liking Hello! Project is like reading superhero comics in America. Of course, this is something I’d compare, having been a rabid fanboy for many years before my relatively recent conversion to Jpop otaku. The milieu (superheroes as pop culture icons, Japanese popular culture in general) is considered okay by the general populace, but to be specifically interested – or even worse, especially devoted – to these specific manifestations (i.e., superhero comics and Hello! Project) is seen as kind of odd, certainly not cool, and perhaps indicating a certain emotional or psychological immaturity.

I long ago developed a thick skin to being a fanboy. I have no problem sitting somewhere in public and reading a stack of comics in public. If I’m thought a bit deficient for it, I can live with that. I actually prefer that to having somebody tell me they have a copy of Spawn #1 at home in a plastic bag and it must be worth a lot of money now.

So I have a similarly thick skin to my H!P otaku-ness. I like it, I’ll listen to it on my headphones, watch videos and share it with friends.

Except. When I deal with Japanese people I don’t know well (which was frequent enough when I worked in Waikiki last year), I’m not going to mention how much I love Kago Ai and know the words to “Love Machine”. With H!P, what’s merely strange and inscrutable to a clueless American has different connotations to Japanese folks who have a better understanding of its context. Again, we return to that Japanese Ratt fan example.

I don’t want these strangers to get the wrong impression of me – or rather, I don’t want them to make that automatic connection based on my musical tastes, no matter how correct those associations may be. I’ll mention SMAP and Matsuken and Koda Kumi if the topic of music or geinou comes up with somebody from Japan, but it’ll take some work to get me talking about Momusu or SweetS. (That said, once you get me started, you can’t shut me up. So that’s probably for the best)

Which all means that on some level, it does matter to me what people think, as horrible and as practical as it is to admit. I want some control over the perceptions people have of me, good and bad. I don’t mind having my fondness for young teen idols known, or that I listen to music that’s stereotyped as over-cheerful, saccharine, and soulless. But there’s apparently a limit of some sort, though an odd line in the sand for me to choose.

“Yes, I’m a Momoko fan – I adore her to death. But please don’t think I’m like the lightstick-waving middle-aged men you see at Berryz concerts. I’m not like them at all. But yes, I do call Momoko my future second wife. That’s different.”

The contradiction’s odd, isn’t it? I’m trying to wrap my head around it and I think it’s the different between having a quirk – even a borderline perverse quirk such as my Berryz love (some of you will drop the “borderline” in that description) – and being categorized as a certain type (i.e., middle-aged lightstick guys). The quirk is something I can own and embrace because it’s me – but to turn it into a type, no matter how correct that categorization can be, makes the quirk different. Less individual, perhaps. Easier to dismiss, certainly. Easier to make broad generalizations that may actually be unfair. And robbing that quirk of its special meaning to me, though how exactly is difficult to articulate.

In that sense, perhaps being doubly marginalized by being an overseas H!P fan isn’t such a bad thing. I’d love to know what others think about this – surely, I’m not the only one who’s felt this strange frisson at times, this cognitive dissonance for my fandom. So do you just ignore this strange context, or do you embrace it, or do you try to figure out how it fits into why you remain an H!P fan?

Specific aspects of popular culture always demand its own subculture, its own language and hierarchies and internal logics. (There’s a reason Ratt and Quiet Riot are still touring decades after they’ve become obsolete to most of the world.) Being an H!P fan – outside of Japan and at this stage of the collective’s history – is no different in that sense. But by being so marginal and un-cool and self-selecting, perhaps it’s easier for individuals to define the terms of that specific cultural context. To have more fun with it, or at least to have the experience feel more personal, more absorbing a choice.

We can potentially imbue H!P and our fandom with meanings and contexts that were never thought of by Japanese culture or Japanese fans. That should be exciting in itself. (And yeah, that’s the mad scientist in me talking. The mad social scientist.)

Most of the Western World doesn’t know Hello! Project exists, most of Japan just doesn’t care H!P still exists, so we’re going to love it even more for those reasons. It’s more ours because it’s doubly refused in our specific context. Because I’ll remain an H!P fan no matter what, and it’s because the music often makes me feel good and I’m very much attached to several of the idols in the Tsunku family. As postmodern and mediated and marketed as it is, these attachments matter to me and I’m not going to let them go anytime soon.

That said,as I wrote this, I had a chance to finally listen to Rainbow 7. On first listen, I didn’t particularly like it. As far as Chokkan 3 goes, both Chokkan 1 and 2 are better; Joshi 2 is considerably better than Joshi 3. That Pink song was too annoying, I had to hit the fast forward on it. The eighth and ninth tracks were okay, especially “Purple Wind”. The singles hold up, though – I’m even liking “The Manpower” more than before. But none of the non-single tracks particularly grabbed me; it’ll take time to like this album.

In contrast, I love the radio rip I heard of the next single, “Sexy Boy” whatever whatever. It actually doesn’t sound very different from the non-single material on Rainbow 7 except it’s more… focused? Tighter in production values, more catchy overall. But that may just be my singles-oriented bias talking.

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9 Responses to “Rainbow 7 Sales and Being a Morning Musume Fan”
  1. Tsuji_Eriku says:

    I’m gonna have to say that I loved Rainbow Pink….so desu ne…I can feel you on the point you made about liking this stuff but feeling as though you somehow aren’t the same as those light stick waiving salarymen. I joke all the time wth my Jpop friends telling them not to lump Tsuji in with the rest of the otaku scum. lol…It used to bug me alot (being lumped in with the rest of the nerds/light stick waiving salarymen) the more I think about it though I can’t come up with a good argument against the perception. I do however love to bring up the fact that at least I have had/have girlfriends & that should automatically give me a pass haha. I am having the most fun I have had in a long time & I owe it all to my love for jpop. Yeah I do keep it on the under from certain folks only because I know they wouldn’t understand or take it the wrong way ESPECIALLY my interest in any underage idols. Ja.

  2. Steve Harrison says:

    I totally agree…as much as I hate to admit it. MM is on a slide..I think thought that it is a perception enhanced by Tsunku’s own lack of focus.The only filler song I like on this album is the ballad Mushoku. MM voices really shine. In fact the only song I really liked on no. 6 was Koe, another ballad.

    Though, if you listen to even the early successful MM albums, there is a lot of crap filler on them also. However, the overall image of MM was bolstered by great singles, one after another.
    I can’t even remember a bad MM single until after Shabondama. Except for Osaka and Irropoi, IMO the best MM singles since Do it Now, the others for various reasons either sounded to kiddish, or annoying.

    It’s a shame that I just got into SweetS when they to seem to have also taked a dive..GOD knows why? They had the best run of singles of any group I can remember after the Beatles!! I sort of like them better as cute 12 year olds, like Berryz, but even now approching the old age of 15, their songs continue to astound me.
    I sure hope they will continue to produce good songs in spite of the fact that no one here in the States, even in big Japanese stores like Kinokuniya has heard of them!
    Otherwise, I will have to cry in my Sapporo while watching MM dvds circ. 2001-2003, and watch the orginal Lolita Strawberry in Summer performance at the A-Nation 2003 concert over and over again, remembering the time when 5 little punk 12 year olds (approx) seduced me to tears….

  3. Alice says:

    I seriously think I’m hitting my limit as a Morning Musume fan. I’ll keep following them on TV appearances (mostly for my love of konkon) but I can’t stand the music much any more. The only tracks I liked on Rainbow 7 were the singles. As for the new single, I never thought there would be a song that I like less than “Chokkan 2”.

  4. Deb O'naire says:

    hehe. dead on with the fandom!
    I must admit that to everyone I encounter that isnt japanese, I fly my H!P freak flag high, but when it comes to japanese , espeically potential friends I feel like I must hide this fact, but only at first. I will talk about other things in popular culture and then I just pounce on them with the Momosu. With the local folks I’m “the cool girl who likes japanese music” but to my japanese friends I’m “the cool girl who dorkily likes hello project”. It appears this is the one flaw I have in my “coolness”. But on the same token, I laugh should they sya they listen to KORN, do people still listen to KORN? I’m just as evil.

  5. S says:

    You think Pink Lady, I think Wink, who couldn’t sell more than 10,000 of their last two singles and only reached 92nd and 62nd place on Oricon with them.

    Though I do agree with you in not seeing doom and gloom with the recent low sales. MM is the flagship group, and still the highest-selling one. Before they get canned, all the other groups have to go as well. Even though some have stopped releasing music, the fact that they’re still employed in the H!P stable is a good sign. They just focus on other things for now.

    As long as they still remain (relatively) in the spotlight, they’re not going anywhere. Sales aren’t completely indicative of popularity. Hard Gay barely sold 7,000 copies of his single, which I found odd considering how allegedly popular he is. Some portion of sales are lost to music downloads and CD rental stores, and people don’t have to buy an artist’s music releases to know and like them.

    I don’t want to start making assumptions here, but overseas H!P fans aren’t indicative of Japanese H!P fans. Also, they get to go to concerts and partake in way more of the non-music side of H!P, while we can only sit here and dream. πŸ™

    And regarding revealing personal fandom to Japanese vs. non-Japanese: I’m more introverted so I don’t have much of a sample size of people I’ve told, but I have found it to be true. Various Japanese people I know have asked me if I listen to any Japanese music, and I completely omitted H!P each time even though it’s my main source for music. In a sense I don’t care what others think about what I listen to, yet I still hide it. You nailed it, though, with your not wanting Japanese people to associate you with what they know of the fandom. I’d rather they get to know me as a weirdo because of how I act and what I say, not because of how they think I’d act based on what I listen to.

    I’m too young to follow your Quiet Riot and Ratt analogies, but thinking of comparable ones, I wouldn’t think they were insane, nor “quaint and amusing for being so out-of-touch with what’s currently popular in our culture.” I’d think it’s cool that they could stick with a group for so long despite that group’s loss of mainstream popularity. As long as they’re having fun being a fan, I’m not going to make any judgements regarding what they’re listening to.

    I loved Rainbow 7. I’ll leave it at that. πŸ™‚
    Also, there’s no such thing as Chokkan 3. The album contains a remix of Chokkan 2, that’s all. πŸ˜›

  6. jossie says:

    yay! finally! when will the pv comes out?

  7. crs says:

    the same thing is true about not mentioning that you like certain types of Japanese music for me and Japanese rock. in my case though, it’s not really because of associations with pre-existing fandoms. it’s more because the average Japanese kid has no idea who alicenine and an cafe and kagrra, are.

    they know BoA and Koda Kumi and m-flo, but even with bands that were more popular in the ’90s/early ’00s like GLAY and L’Arc~en~Ciel, the reaction of kids is sort of, “meh. they’re a little weird, huh?” That is, if they even know them. it seems like the iPod revolution didn’t really have the same effect in Japan as it did in the States. here it seems like more and more people of all ages just listen to whatever the hell they want, regardless of radioplay, publicity, and so on. niche music is so accessible now, and hey, no one has to know if you’re rocking out on your iPod to the soundtrack from The Breakfast Club or whatever. it’s definitely about personal style–like that old indie rock joke about only liking bands no one else has ever heard of for status.

    whereas in Japan, niche genres (whether or not they have loli-overtones) are still kind of a sign of strangeness/loserishness, especially with the set of kids currently in middle school. that goes for VK and for female idol pop, I think. boy idols, on the other hand, never really seem to go out of style. I wonder why. >.

  8. Steve:

    You don’t consider “Hyokkori Houtan Jima” a bad single? Just curious, since it’s generally reviled by the MM fans I know.

    S:

    I didn’t realize Wink did so poorly at the end. All I ever read about is how wildly popular they were at the height of their game.

    crs:

    That’s odd, I was under the impression L’Arc en Ciel were wildly popular, I didn’t realize they were considered a niche genre group as well. Are there any rock groups in Japan that are huge mainstream successes?

  9. Steve Harrison says:

    I thought it was “cute”. There was actually one part of the song I really liked the phrasing. BUT…remember, this was a special single release, not written by Tsunku, so in a way, it doesn’t count..