Viyuden’s “Ai ~Suite Room~”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

[Note: All comments by Ray in normal font, all comments by Sami in bold.]

For me, Viyuden either runs hot or cold. I was uninterested by their first single, blown away by the second and third singles, then found myself uninterested by the two singles after that. While it isn’t a single, the PV for “Ai ~Suite Room~” has me interested in the group again, if only because the video is so damn adorable. The song itself is catchy if a tad generic – the girls’ vocals help a great deal to make it a little more distinctive – and all they do in the PV is pose for a mirror, play with fruit, and have a pillow fight.

And funny enough, that was all I really needed. What sets this apart from the fourth and fifth single, I can’t say exactly since I’ll admit giving those singles so little attention. But this PV was just too much fun, too light-hearted, too adorable to resist.

Erika looks great, of course. Along with Melon Kinenbi’s Masae, the hottest woman in H!P.

Yui surprises me. She actually looks hot, and even kawaii, in this PV.

And of course, Rika looks lovely as ever. That womanly glow of being an H!P Unit leader is still wonderful to behold. She used to be Tsunku’s secret weapon and now I think she’s become one of the leading lights of Hello! Project. Viyuden is now getting almost as much play on Hello! Morning as Morning Musume, and along with Berryz seems to be the true future of Hello! Project. (W would’ve been included in that list, if it wasn’t for Smokey’s scandal.)

So the question I want to start off with, Sami, is: does Viyuden deserve to be at the forefront of H!P? Are they an example of style over substance and, even if so, is that really a bad thing in Jpop?

I think it depends on who you were to ask; as a girl, personally, I find that they’re a good balance of style and substance, which could result in a good level of success for them if they get marketed properly, focusing on that aspect. They aren’t just eye candy, they are fashion icons and offer catchy tunes to boot.

But I don’t think style over substance (to a certain extent) is that unacceptable in JPop. Much of the initial appeal of JPop is that it’s mindless bubbly music that sticks in your head, and in most cases, is sung by one or several kawaii girls. It’s almost something of a prerequisite, which is why artists like Utada Hikaru and Nobuchika Eri come to surprise in many cases, because they put substance well above style.

…but Rika’s just so cuuuuuuute!

While on the subject of style, there’s one thing I wanted to mention about style in this particular video: it confuses me. The video seems like something of a sleepover party despite being during the day, yet the girls are dressed like they’re ready to go to a wedding or something. If they started out in normal clothes or PJ’s and ended up this glamorous at the end, it would have made sense in the context of the video, as well as standing as a symbol of the transformation most H!P girls go through from the days of auditioning to long afterwards.

But that’s my only picky gripe with the video. It’s so cuuuuuuute, I can’t get upset with it for being somewhat mindless.

So do I think Viyuden deserves a place at the forefront of H!P with all the established artists? I do. They’ve proven themselves on various levels as a very formidable idol group and they’ve got the potential to do a lot, I think.

Now, Ray, you mentioned running hot and cold with the group. What exactly is it that impesses or charms you at times, and what is it that drives you away or bores you at other times? Also, where do you think Viyuden ought to stand among the ranks of H!P?

Oddly enough, I think it’s the songs themselves that determine whether or not I’m in the mood for Viyuden. I was actually not a Rika fan when Viyuden first formed and so was predisposed to not like “Koi no Nukegara” (also, I was in the middle of a huge move). “Kaccho Ii Ze” blew me away, though – like Berryz Koubo and “Special Generation”, it was too good to resist and made me re-assess the unit and their music. In the case of Berryz, I realized all their singles were great. With Viyuden, the high points grabbed me or slowly worked their way into my consciousness – I initially didn’t like “Ajisai Ai Ai Monogatari” but when I found myself humming it, I knew I was hooked.

That said, I think I’m actually more forgiving of Berryz than Viyuden in terms of singles. I remember “Hitorijime” and “Kurenai no Kisestsu” being okay songs but, since they didn’t wow me the way “Kaccho Ii Ze” and “Ajisai” did, I moved along without giving them more of a chance. In contrast, I wasn’t thrilled by the more kiddie sounds of Berryz’s singles at the end of 2005 but since I was enthralled by Berryz in general and watched the PVs over and over, the songs had a chance to grow on me and now I think they’re great. I guess it’s a case of fandom being a war of attrition on one’s harsher judgments…

But yeah, I had high standards for Viyuden and expected to be consistently wowed in the way their best singles managed. When I didn’t, I just moved along and found something else to watch and listen to. The same approach applies to W as well, now that I think of it – between “Robokiss” and “Miss Love Tantei” was just months of wasteland to me. Is this fair to Viyuden and W? Of course not. But nobody said being a fan is fair.

As for the question of whether Viyuden deserves (or perhaps put it into quotes as “deserves”) to be at the forefront of H!P…

Well… again it has nothing to do with fairness and has everything to do with what the powers that be thinks is most marketable. I find it interesting that H!P’s management has decided in the past couple years to invest their resources most heavily in newly-formed groups built from established H!P talent (Viyuden and W are basically Momusu fourth gen legacies, Berryz Koubo is the culmination of the H!P Kids training) rather than older talent who’ve had literally years to prove themselves (Nakazawa Yuko, Melon Kinenbi, Country Musume) but have apparently been found wanting. It’s a wise move, since this wave of newer units have the whiff of novelty but also been trained in the H!P stable for years – the best of both worlds.

However, let’s face it, those older acts were hosed. They’re still allowed to cater to their fan base (concerts and fan club DVDs), but there’s no faith in letting them build on that base with new singles and PVs. It’s good business, it reflects the Jpop market’s jungle cunning, but as a fan of the older groups – especially Melon Kinenbi – I do feel a bit gypped. I think the Melons could do just as well on Hello! Morning and they’re even expected to carry their own musical (as opposed to Viyuden piggybacking on Momusu’s musical). So why aren’t they more prominent, why don’t they get new singles?

Which isn’t exactly the fault of Viyuden (or W or Berryz), but there’s a clear pecking order that emerged in 2005 – privileging some units at the expense of others – and I’m a fan who feels my loyalties being tugged in different directions. With their more glamorous image, Viyuden have become a replacement Melon Kinenbi, when really there’s room for both units in the limelight. And releasing great singles.

As for the setting of the PV: it doesn’t strike me as a sleepover exactly, but that the girls booked a fancy hotel room and decided to take full advantage of it. So they’re getting room service – a super continental breakfast, based on this screencap – and then jump on the beds and goof off in front of the mirror.

I’d like to imagine that they get completely shnockered on mimosas as the day passes and by dinnertime they’re ordering in wine coolers with their filet mignons and confessing things they shouldn’t. (“I always loved Yossi.” “You too? She’s so dreamy!”) By nine PM or so they’re crawling over each other on the shag carpet and whispering, “I hear this is what Ayaya does to Mikitty” or “I call this move The Nakazawa,” in each other’s ears.

In the morning they’re stumbling around with hangovers, filled with regret and hazy memories. There’s vomit in one of the fruit bowls, slight rips on their dresses, and they can’t even look each other in the eye. Yui runs into the bathroom and breaks down in tears.

Now that would be a great alternate version of the PV.

Or a great inspiration for another fanfic generator…and…man, that little tale is just going to haunt me now. Moving on…

As far as Viyuden’s music goes, I was a bit slow to get hooked at first as well. I’d listen to some songs, think they were nice but not outstanding, and go back to mindlessly looping “Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari” or “Do It! Now”. The funny thing is, it was “Ajisai Ai Ai Monogatari” that was their first song I fell in love with—it was just so different, with a bit of a traditional Japanese sound in parts. This came after hearing “Hitorijime”, which fell into the category of “nice but not outstanding”. It was “Ajisai Ai Ai Monogatari” that first really stood out to me, and it did so on the first listen.

It’s funny you should mention Berryz, because I still find myself fighting myself over whether or not I should spend any time on them. I like some songs, like “Special Generation”, but the kiddie songs haven’t grown on me yet. Part of my brain is telling me they never will and I should just move on to what I already know I like, and another part is telling me to give them a chance. I find that with a lot of new artists, there usually is some period of internal strife where I try to figure out what exactly I think of a group. I don’t want to get misled to becoming interested in an artist based solely on image when in reality, no matter how much I try to fool myself, I actually don’t like their music. On the flip side, I don’t want to get interested in someone’s music if I couldn’t stand their image or persona, because I couldn’t feel like a true fan if I liked the music but disliked the person making it.

This is where Viyuden is a bit lucky, I think. There isn’t much not to like about their image, and with a variety of styles of music (but not so varied that some people would be put off), there’s probably at least one Viyuden song for everyone.

There are always going to be groups that hit a soft spot of yours, and others that have to work harder for your affection. In fact, that also goes for almost anything considered entertainment: games, movies, even books. There are always going to be raging Harry Potter fans that are disappointed by or angry at the newest entry in the series, saying the series can never be as good as it was before book X. There are always going to be people who think Sony’s newest gadget is trash, and they’ll take their old Super Nintendo, thank you very much. Likewise, there are always going to be the people who eat up anything Koda Kumi puts out, but who turn around and say Ayumi Hamasaki has sucked since the release of her fourth album. It’s all a part of fandom in general.

The unusual nature of “Ajisai” is definitely what makes it so catchy, though apparently I was more resistant to it than you. Perhaps because it’s such an atypical H!P song…?

You write about how there isn’t much not to like about Viyuden’s image, and yet that seems a lukewarm response. What is there to like about them, that makes them stand out? The individual parts are engaging, and yet does it add up to more than the sum of their parts? Unlike Berryz and W, I’m still not as sure as I want to be in Viyuden’s case.

The initial fear when Viyuden formed was that it was “just” Rika plus two backup singers – that is, one of the most charming members of Momusu but also one of its least vocally talented, with two non-entities (at the time) to make sure her bad singing isn’t all that obvious.

Thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case. Rika, like W’s Tsuji, knows how to work with her weaknesses as a singer, turn them into strengths, and has a great idol persona (again like Tsuji) that makes her a fan favorite. Meanwhile, Erika and Yui have emerged as worthy idols in their own right, Yui especially so because of her breasts. (A solo DVD and photobook isn’t anything to sneeze at, after all.)

I personally don’t see the appeal of Yui’s rack, though perhaps it’s because I haven’t looked at them enough. Maybe I should actually watch Idoll at some point and see where it takes me…

More to the point, the chemistry of Viyuden does seem to be there, there’s a cameraderie that appears quite genuine – helped in no small part by having Rika as a leader, someone who can both crack the whip but also is an accessible first-among-equals. But it seems a bit too casual at times, the girls don’t seem to work their image so hard because it seems “naturally” feminine and girl-next-door.

Which may be the point. In terms of idol personae the Viyuden girls are all variations of the girl-next-door type of image. Rika’s been downplaying her airheaded Charmy persona for something more sophisticated but still engaging. She’s actually seen as an introspective, self-aware teen in the Viyuden short film! And she makes it believable! In contrast, Yui is the temperamental genky tomboy with a hot bod, and Erika’s the cool-headed slightly boho artistic type.

Which of course explains why I like Erika so much…

Sometimes these different types are played up to good effect, other times they aren’t. I’m not sure if it’s played as well as it could be in this PV – but if it was overdone, it wouldn’t seem so natural, so casually… innate? Like the girls are just being themselves and the fact that they happen to be idols isn’t as important? At times, that ease of comfort seems to be valued by Viyuden as much as anything else – not out of laziness, I should stress, but out of a clear marketing intent. Whether or not that’s a good decision is debatable.

Rika is a strong leader in this respect, though: she knows the importance of having a distinct idol persona (her roots in the fourth gen played a big role) and hopefully she’ll continue to stress this through the group. The one thing that could sink Viyuden as idols is if they were merely an undifferentiated trio of glamour girls – but with Rika at the helm, that would be difficult if not impossible.

All that said, I think that’s part of why Viyuden so easily drops into and out of my admittedly short attention span. There’s so much charm and glamour and eyecandy, which makes it easy to get sucked in.

But at the same time it’s so low-key – it doesn’t scream for my attention the way the more obvious machinations of a W or Berryz does, nor is the glamourpushed in your face as it is with Avex acts such as SweetS and dream – and so it’s easy to get distracted. Even when I didn’t like W’s singles, I’d watch their PVs a few times just to enjoy Tsuji and Kago being Tsuji and Kago. That’s less of an enticement with Rika, Yui, and Erika – though perhaps if I liked Yui’s boobs more, my opinion’d be different.

So what’s your take on Erika and Yui as individual idols? Do Viyuden have enough chemistry as a group, do you think they play up their idol-ness enough? As an idol group, do you see any particular strengths or weaknesses?

I must say, Erika and Yui stand out more as individuals in a group more than I ever expected they could in Rika’s shadow. I was also initially expecting Viyuden to simply be “Rika and those other two girls they stuck with her” and to uphold the connotation that bears, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of three individuals being themselves while still cohesively blending together into a single unit.

Part of that, I suppose, is because of the fantastic way Rika handles the group and the role she plays in it. Despite 1) her strong Charmy persona, 2) her history in Morning Musume as a member of what many consider to be Momusu’s most crucial generation, and 3) being the group’s leader, she manages not to overpower the other members and create the feeling that it’s just “Rika and company” instead of “Rika, Erika, and Yui”. She allows the other members exist.

At the same time, she doesn’t contain herself to the point of not being Rika any more. It’s actually quite a delicate balance, I think.

I definitely think Viyuden has enough chemistry as a group…

…and I also think they play up to their “idol-ness” enough. Enough for Viyuden.

You mentioned the “girl-next-door” quality that Viyuden has, and that’s what I think is most appealing about their image. Naturally they’ll appeal to men, but they also seem so normal while clearly being strong idols at the same time, which I think is vital to appeal to the average Japanese teenage/tweenage girl. They’re relatable, but not so much that a girl wouldn’t feel right looking up to them. Now if only they’d get marketed properly…

Along with this “girl-next-door” quality is the oneness they have—the “cameraderie” as you put it. I think this also plays a role in their appeal. I see them in this video goofing off, and it makes me wish I could reach through the screen and join them. Not very many groups can establish that sort of feeling with viewers, especially H!P groups with a female viewer.

In fact, to someone not in the know, I feel like the whole video could very well have just been an especially well-made home video of a few girls who decided to have a “girls day in” and karaoke at the camera at the same time. It’s just that accessible in my eyes.

……and Yui’s breasts don’t exclusively make her “especially” anything!

I need to actually watch Yui’s DVD now, to see if I can prove the integral role her rack plays in her popularity… among male fans, at least…

You make an interesting point about how the PV could be seen as a homemade video of girls goofing off. That said, who’d be taking the pictures when we see all three of them? The bellboy? Tsunku? Nakazawa, waiting for her chance? Ayaya and Mikitty visiting from the next suite over? Or perhaps one of the H!P Kids as an indentured servant?

You also bring up an interesting point about Viyuden’s appeal to female fans and how that ties into their understated idol image. Do you think Viyuden is the group most likely to appeal to casual female listeners? If anyone can strike a balance between the hardcore H!P fan base and a potential female audience, could it be this trio? Morning Musume’s got the wota stigma in a big way, W and Berryz may be seen as too kid-oriented (though both often try to work against that)…

How do you think Viyuden should be marketed, given this girls-next-door model? We’ll be tackling their new PV next, but is that what you had in mind, or more PVs like this? Maintain a variety of styles and narratives that can accommodate the girl-next-door vibe? I think it’s actually more difficult to properly market such an understated idol image, at least not without verging on boredom on a frequent basis.

We certainly agree on Rika’s skills as a leader – and it reflects in her other work for H!P as well, including her duties on Hello! Morning and her stint with Def. Diva. On the one hand, it’s odd to consider that Rika has emerged in such a prominent role in the H!P firmament, given her vocal talents and the way she’s been teased in the past for her Charmy excesses. On the other hand, she seemed to always have been a secret weapon for Tsunku – a key player in the shuffles, a member of more units than just about any other Musume past or present – so this blossoming seems natural in that light.

Is Rika then the quintessential idol, or at least the quintessential H!P idol? Not too great in singing, but bursting with charm and personality? The ordinary girl turned into an object of worship by the great pop factory? And is that a triumph of style over substance, to return to something we started with earlier? (Which, I agree, is not a bad thing in the Jpop world and perhaps even expected.)

Who would be filming the video? Kago. It’s not like there’s much else for her to do lately.

Anyway, I do feel that out of all the active H!P units, Viyuden probably does have the strongest chance of expanding from the typical H!P fan demographic, in part because of what I’ve already discussed about their potential appeal to female fans and in part because of the reputations of the other groups, as you mentioned. Why I’m so hung up on marketing is because of H!P’s management as of late, which has been focusing more on existing fans than netting new ones. In fact, I think there was a discussion about this on a forum somewhere…

But regardless, Viyuden shouldn’t be marketed solely as eye candy, something that the new single has me a little bit worried about, given the cover art and the wardrobe in the dance portions of the video. (Slips?) I had mixed feeling about their newest single overall, though the song itself was fine. I think this video, Ai ~Suite Room~, is on the right track.

Rika’s definitely a crucial strength to the group, despite her vocal weakness. (Erika and Yui do make up for that.) I think Rika’s presence actually helped me to get into the group as well as the music, as though it made me feel more comfortable just because she was there, because of her personality. So as an individual idol, Rika is a case of style over substance, but as a member of Viyuden, she adds extra “zeal” to the group and makes it easier to open up to the two unfamiliar faces. At least, that’s how I look at it.

At the same time, Rika’s success, and for that matter, W’s (scandal aside), reminds me of Yossi. She’s definitely my favorite Momusu and probably my favorite H!P member all together, yet no one ever gives her much credit, focusing instead on the other 4th gen members. She certainly has the personality, and I’ve always liked her voice whenever it can actually be heard, yet she get’s way less attention than the less-vocally-adept Rika. Is it just the kawaii factor? Rika simply gets more attention just because she’s adorable Rika? I suppose this could come full circle back to Yui’s breasts, falling on general male appeal in relation to success. Another reason H!P needs to broaden its horizons.

I definitely think this video is a step in the right direction. Men can watch it for the eye candy and come up with interesting “scenarios” as you have, Ray, and at the same time, girls can watch it and not feel creeped out in doing so, seeing three girls they may wish they could have as friends and just goof off with, or at least, admiring the girls for their personalities and style.

I can see Viyuden becoming a strong player in the field of H!P units, well beyond their present place of semi-importance. While previous videos like “Kacchoiize! Japan” initially had me thinking they’d just be “another one of those groups”, they seem to be turning things around for the better. Between the two-thirds vocal talent, the genki girl-next-door personalities, the style, and the variety of catchy tunes, I think Viyuden could hit H!P’s next big homerun.

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One Response to “Viyuden’s “Ai ~Suite Room~””
  1. kk says:

    On the yossui thing, I am a long time fan of mm, and actually there was a strong push for yossui back in last 2001 and into early 2002. She if you can remember back then was a tomboy for sure but she still was rather feminine and kinda an airhead, which i think is somewhat more obvious when you watch her in pucchimoni, on utaban and even their hey hey hey apperences.
    And then the fat blob monster took over. She seemingly lost her confidence and basicly started back at zero, she later become more confident but completely changed her image and she became this kinda extreme butch dyke character which im sorry to say is not very marketable except perhaps to lesbian or the bi-curious. Now thats shes slimmed down and becoming more feminine people are again taking more notice of her, but I think shes just actually letting her own character shine through, or reverting back to the old school yossui before the fat blob monster took over.

    Personally with in 4th gen there was one good singer (aibbon), one decent singer (tsuji) was somewhat ok singer (yoshizawa) and then a horrible singer (rika). Tsuji, Kago, and later Rika were always attention whores who stuck out, while yoshizawa has a strong persona she never really stuck out too much after she got fat (well in a way she did but not in the good way) But Ill always be a rika apologist.