The Best Morning Musume Line-Ups Of All Time?

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I decided a long time ago that the best Morning Musume generation is the fourth one. And the best subgroup ever? Easy, Tanpopo Gen Two – the Johnson, Mari, Kago, and Charmy line-up. But what’s the best line-up of Morning Musume, member for member?

The impending departures of Konnogawa and the 30th single “Ambitious!” got me thinking, and I did a quick tally earlier today: by the time that Ogawa graduates, there would have been fifteen distinct line-ups of Momusu that have released singles. If you count interim line-ups that didn’t release singles – the 16-nin at Kei’s graduation, the 10-nin when Mari left, the 9-nin when Rika left before Koharu officially joined, and the 9-nin when Konno leaves (I’m assuming there’s no final single with Ogawa beyond “Ambitious!”) – that’s a total of nineteen different line-ups, not counting the 8-nin team that will emerge at the end of this summer.

It should be noted that the current 10-nin line-up that’s going to end soon has been the most productive singles-wise, with an astounding four singles released under that formation. In comparison, four line-ups released three singles each, five have released two singles apiece, while five of the line-ups only released one single before a change occurred. That said, four of those five singles were #1’s for the group… but more on that later.

I couldn’t quite narrow it down to a single greatest line-up – though if forced to choose, I know which one I’d run with. However, it became clear to me that there were four very distinct eras when Morning Musume shined. In order of greatness, starting with the very best:

The Golden Age Line-Ups. It’s kind of cheating to put the five line-ups from “Love Machine” to “The Peace!” under one grouping. After all, the 8-nin line-up at the beginning of this era and the 9-nin line-up at the end only share five members. (Ayappe, Sayaka, and Yuko all left, while fourth gen joined midway through at “Happy Summer Wedding”.) However, I’d argue that the constant change in line-ups – four of the five line-ups released only one single, with this 10-nin Musume releasing “I Wish” and “Renai Revolution 21” – was part of what made the Golden Age so powerful, so idiosyncratic, and even so popular. The departure of members was exciting, as was the introduction of new members. There was an energy, a momentum, that was part of having the group constantly change before Japan’s eyes. And it seemed all of Japan was indeed watching at the time.

And for the record, the best line-up of all time – in my opinion – is the original “Love Machine” team, that second 8-nin line-up. As much as I love fourth gen, I’d have given them up to keep Ayappe and Sayaka around for considerably longer. Especially Ayappe – she seemed to have found her groove with “Love Machine” and the decision to leave the group before another single is just heartbreaking to consider now.

After 8-nin, I’d say that the 10-nin of “I Wish” and “RR 21” are second, then the 9-nin of “The Peace!”, the 7-nin of “Koi no Dance Site” and then the 11-nin of “Happy Summer Wedding” – if only because the fourth gen seemed tacked-on vocally, though they were cute as the dickens in the PV. But even talking about these line-ups in such a manner – while they remain distinct, the sense of ongoing evolution and adaptation is so much more a part of this era than the more stable eras that followed, especially when fifth gen joined and right after Gocchin left. I’m not saying a newfound stability is what depleted Momusu – but once the group settled down with fifth gen, Momusu changed, and not always for the better.

That said…

15-nin Line-Up. When I listen to older Momusu songs, these are the ones I gravitate towards: “Shabondama”, “Go Girl! Koi no Victory”, and “Ai Arraba It’s Alright”. To me, at least, they are all astoundingly great singles and the ones that I most enjoy – perhaps even more so than the Golden Age singles, though the Golden Age singles are more satisfying on a thematic and intellectual level.

In some ways, 15-nin Musume should be all wrong. Too many girls, not enough differentiation. This is excessive, it’s how you end up with girls in the group who aren’t as strong at singing or dancing and hope they can hide among the more talented idols, there’s a reason why Tsunku claimed he’d never make Momusu this large again. Further, the new additions of sixth gen seem questionable at first – Mikitty didn’t seem too happy about joining, while Sayumi couldn’t sing. It seemed less like a singing group than a very cute mob, wayward and unwieldy in its size. When I think of minna-lag – that visual jet lag when you wait for all the members to make an appearance in a PV sequence – this is the line-up that comes to mind.

And yet, the musical results are difficult to deny. 15-nin worked, and I’d argue that the downward slide after this point was due in part to the graduation of three of the most popular members of Momusu in the span of six months – Nacchi, Tsuji, and Kago – leading to the depleted momentum and spirit of the group. It took the addition of Koharu and the shake-ups of last spring before Morning Musume found its way again, and only with “Chokkan 2” and now “Ambitious” do they seem completely on track…

Did these singles make the best use of all the girls? I’d say not, though I think “Shabondama” certainly gave it a solid try – and to my mind, succeeded. However, I think this is a case where the solid craft of the singles and the performances by the Momusu girls were a perfect meld. Tsunku has had better songs written for Momusu, but the songs he wrote for 15-nin were distinctive, catchy, and captured a range of emotions (the dramatic overdrive of “Shabondama”, the manic genki-ness of “Victory”, the warmer optimism of “Ai Arraba”) that other line-ups weren’t privileged to express on their singles. If not quite a narrative arc for the line-up, it certainly gestures towards such an arc in a believable manner.

The First 8-nin Line-Up. That would be when all of first gen were still together and second gen were freshly added, covering such classics as “Summer Night Town”, “Daite Hold On Me!”, and “Memory Seishun no Hikari”. This is a different Momusu than many of us are used to, but these singles still hold up ridiculously well – to me, they don’t have the manic energy or pop genius of the Golden Age, but there’s a maturity and subtle dramatic power that the Golden Age lacks for the most part.

The perception has always been that Asuka brought down the group – while vocally talented, she just didn’t fit with the way Momusu was shaping up, and she soon enough departed. That said, I think she actually made an interesting contrast with co-lead Nacchi. There was a sense of balance, and certainly the five originating members were all given a chance to shine in these songs. (It’d take a little longer for the second gen to stand out as distinctly – but hey, with Ayappe there, who cares?)

It’s worth noting that both of the previous 8-nin line-ups are on this favorites list, and I think that’s part of why I’m anticipating the new 8-nin line-up at the end of the summer. Morning Musume has done great with eight members in the past, and I feel they’ll do so again in the very near future. Small enough to be able to easily identify the members, to let the best vocals shine as leads, but also to give plenty of space to other members as well. If there was a joyous excess in the lavish 15-nin line-up, there’s something sleeker and more aggressive about 8-nin.

Morning Musume Otome Gumi. In my early wota days, I started out being biased towards Sakura Gumi because they had the “better” line-up: the future Scandal Moni trio of Nacchi, Kago, and Mari, as well as the talented fourth gen Takitty. In sharp contrast, Otome Gumi seemed to have the cast-offs: Kago’s lesser half, Yossi’s lesser half, the sixth gen vanity case, the soloist forced to join the group, the clumsy tall one, and so on…

However, over time it became clear to me: Otome Gumi were a whole lot more fun. Their songs were catchier, more propulsive, and even more experimental: the punk flavor of “Yuujou” still astounds me a little, while “Ai no Sono” is an aggressively disco number that’s a perfect match to Zyx’s “Fly High”. They also made better PVs than Sakura Gumi: “Ai no Sono” is pure sex appeal distilled into sharpened Jpop tropes, while “Yuujou” was a lot of fun with the black-and-white outfits and the play on models on the runway (and on the run).

I’d also argue that Otome Gumi did a great job of using the talent of the girls in their line-up: Miki is allowed to stand out once again, and of course Reina shines (especially on “Yuujou”). But here’s where we first really see that Tsuji and Charmy could sing within their limitations and still be engaging. And as with Tanpopo and even Salt 5, those ugly ducklings Iida and Makoto come across much better than they did in the larger Morning Musume line-ups. Iida still came across a little clumsy, but she was an undeniable hottie in her outfits and big hats. And Makoto could be both sexy and genki and stand out on her own. Sayumi probably benefited least from Otome Gumi, but even she was given more of a spotlight just by the size of the group.

At this point, I would even argue that there was a second Golden Age at that time, the first six months or so after sixth gen joined: between 15-nin Momusu, Otome Gumi, and the two H!P Kids groups Aa! and Zyx, some of H!P’s most memorable songs ever emerged. But maybe I should save that particular argument for another day.

So, how about all of you out there? Which line-ups have you liked best so far, and why?

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7 Responses to “The Best Morning Musume Line-Ups Of All Time?”
  1. erink says:

    For me it was the RR21 line up. They’ll always be my golden girls.

    The thing is, I honestly don’t see there being any sort of change for the future 8nin. The problem is that they lack the things that made previous girls so great. Vocally, some are weaker. But that is something that can easily be overlooked if they had personality, but they don’t. Fifth gen was the begining of the downhill slide. Konno and Ogawa made a dent with the whole news thing with Yuko, but that never carried on to other performances. Sixth gen just seemed to take an “we’ll its already famous lets just sit back and enjoy it” approach. The girls after fourth never pushed for more like the previous girls did. They seemed to be completely happy ridding on MM. ‘s former glory.

    Koharu. So far she hasn’t done anything. I barely even know if she is on Hello Morning or not. Aside from times when I laugh so hard I cry at her AMAZING answers in magazines, I’ve yet to be impressed. In Ambitious she showed that she improved vocally, and looked good, but nothing beyond that.

  2. Craig says:

    How many people in the Manpower video? Maybe 11 or 12? That’s my fave. because there’s something almost militaristic about it like ‘Yeah here we are. We’re going to take over’ 🙂

  3. Freya says:

    For me, it’ll always be the first 8-nin line-up and then after that up to the early days of Maki. So, Summer Night Town to Koi no Dance Site.

    If both Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site weren’t two of my favorite Momusu singles ever, I could even limit it down to 1st and 2nd gen only.

    My three favorite members are Yuko, Kei and Nacchi, my favorite single is Daite! and simply put, I prefer the mature style over the lively pop style.

    I love all line-ups, though, because all of them have produced great songs, funky dances and all have their own personalities, even though that last part has been lacking somewhat lately.

    That’s why I share your excitement about the new 8-nin line-up, hoping that Tusnku’ll have them release at least one or two singles before new auditions are held.

  4. Julia says:

    I kind of lean towards the two lineups of that stable era – Mr. Moonlight to AS FOR ONE DAY, when the only lineup change was Maki’s graduation. They had some great songs and theirs are the PVs I tend to watch when I want to be reminded of how much I love Momusu.

    “Mr. Moonlight” was a pure classic, which might as well be considered a Golden Age single just for its brilliance, for Yossi’s awesome leads and the terrific PV. And Risa’s line at the beginning was a really great way to start her career with Momusu. Then “Souda! We’re ALIVE!” was a cute and catchy song (some will disagree with me, but I love it) and had an awesome, fun PV. “Do It! Now” seems pretty infectious to me (I get it stuck in my head a lot) and was a good chance for them all to really perform their hearts out and show how terrific they are, and the video was stylish and cool. “Koko ni Iruzee!” was just a completely great song, though I haven’t watched the PV enough to make much of a judgement on it. “Hyokkori Hyoutan-jima” was amusing, had one of those great narrative PVs with fun and wacky characters, and proves itself to be quite catchy after listening to it a couple of times (it gets stuck in my head A LOT). And finally, “AS FOR ONE DAY” showed how much they’d all matured, was haunting and pretty with a lovely PV to match, and gave us a taste of the dramatic and awesome music to come with “Shabondama.” It was a great final single for that lineup, in my opinion.

  5. Beth says:

    My favorite is right after 4th gen joined… if just for Hitomi and Kago and Tsuji. 😀

  6. Steve/Japonaliya says:

    I’m torn between the 4th and 5th gen. The 4th still had Maki, but the 5th added Risa, and it is the gen I saw live in tokyo in 20003. It’s funny thjough..I always thought the early gens. had better singers, but i listened to a very early 4th gen, concert dvd resently, and then a concert dvd around the time of Osaka koi no Uta and that was better!
    I think overall, it’s the SONGS that matter most. Tsunku has been in a real slump lately. I really do like the Osaka/Irropoi bak to backs, but before and after have benn trash IMO. Say what you will, but I doubt if many Momusume fans would have become fans had they just started listening to the 2005 to present singles….
    At least I have my memories on DVD of the night I was swirling in Momusu DNA for aoround 3 hrs…..

  7. Steve/Japonaliya says:

    Oh, thats 2003…unless you want to believe I’m from the future…..
    Now if You really want to know….in the future I live in suburbs of Calisaka. I live on the east side of the bridge that connects old “San Fran” with “Oldsaka” I teach Japlish at the new EDO/Venice Beach Community College. I also teach ancient musicology, esp. the great Eroasian composers of the past inc. Motzart, Beetoven, Lennon/Mcartney, and the greatest of them all, Tsunku (57) who mysteriously vanished in 2026 after having become Prime minister of Japan, and caught having an affair with CEO of Tokyo Dinsney Sea, and formor momusu member Ai Kago who had just turned 38, and they love-child, Tsuji-ko.