10 Years of Morning Musume: An Introduction

Filed in American Wota 1.0

It’s been ten years and thirty-three singles – yes, I count “Ai no Tane” – and almost two dozen members in the group. When you consider that Morning Musume started out as a consolation prize to five losers, that’s a pretty good record to hold. What I want to do – a little bit at a time, perhaps taking this entire tenth anniversary year to handle it – is to look at each of the PVs for Morning Musume’s singles and examine not only the videos individually, but what they may have to say about a grander narrative – an overall arc – for the group.

The notion of a grand narrative in Morning Musume’s promotional videos may strike some as wishful thinking or delusional navel-gazing (the navel in this case being Iida’s in “Renai Revolution 21”, I hope). I’m not sure if there is one, actually – but there are definite phases that the PVs go through, distinct messages that recur throughout the ten years or that define a particular era in the group. Such patterns may even help to explain certain questions fans have had… Like why there seemed to be no budget for most MM videos from the end of 2004 to present – the minimalism served a purpose, I now see. Or how each generation changed the dynamic of the group, especially third through fifth.

Originally, this project was just supposed to be a monstrously long examination of “Love Machine”. But as I thought about that particular piece over the years, I realized that it needed to be foregrounded with what went before. Then I realized that what followed could be just as interesting, if one assumes the group didn’t creatively wither and die after the Golden Age. And so from the lopsided Momusu center that is the legend of “Love Machine”, a desire to see the group’s PV career emerged.

The early years is an era I’m particularly fond of, as one of my first H!P purchases was a DVD with the first ten PVs and behind-the-scenes footage from Pinch Runner. While some fans focus on the Golden Age or on the most recent releases, I was lucky enough to familiarize myself with the very beginning of the group, to develop a fondness for members who had long since disappeared from the collective (most notably my favorite all-time Musume, Ayappe), and provide a benchmark by which everything that followed could be measured.

What I find interesting is that the early years of Morning Musume does have an implicit meta-narrative, a structure that should be familiar to any lover of literature. So when I think of the early years now, I keep thinking of Albert Finney of all people – mostly because he starred in the adaptation of that classic Henry Fielding novel, Tom Jones. (Not to be mistaken with that other Tom Jones, who is his own sexy beast and does the best version of “Kiss” ever, even better than Prince’s original.) Like Tom Jones, the early PVs of Morning Musume tell the story of town and country: to be more precise, it moves from country to town and back, and in doing so provides a good deal of edification and instruction. And a seemingly innocent hero (or heroine) finds herself transformed by the experience, only to find her original values reinforced instead of being demolished by the cruelty of our harsh world.

It would be a stretch to call the first seven PVs of Morning Musume an expansive video bildungsroman – but I don’t think it’s entirely uncalled for, either. Intended or not, the early years of Morning Musume tells a story with traditional metaphors that make these first seven PVs almost archetypal. If I keep repeating that line by the time we get to “Go Girl! Koi no Victory”, though, you can be rest assured that I’ve either gone insane or am completely full of shit.

The early years of Momusu have some of my absolute favorite singles – “Manatsu no Kousen” remains highly underrated – as well as my absolute least favorite in their ten years together. But I discovered that even “Furusato” benefits and at least becomes more comprehensible, if not enjoyable, from taking the approach I’ve chosen.

When I’m finished with this project, I doubt I’ll have laid down the definitive word on Morning Musume, their videos, or anything else. Rather, I just want to contribute another way of looking at the group as an ever-evolving expression of a particular pop-cult sensibility. Morning Musume reflected their moments in pop history and at their peak actually shaped those moments indelibly.

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6 Responses to “10 Years of Morning Musume: An Introduction”
  1. Drunk Nanpa says:

    I’ve been reading you for over a year now, and you’re the man. I don’t know how anyone could function without the basic structure that Momusu provides. Keep on with the 10th ann. post. I’m looking forward to when you get to Tanaka Reina and the Sexy Boy video…

  2. Sarah says:

    I am really looking forward to reading the posts in this series. 🙂

  3. Wu-san says:

    dammit, sarah beat me to it XD

    don’t work youself too hard k 😛

  4. jinryuichi says:

    Sounds good. I’m very much interested to read about the earlier singles. Especially Ai no Tane, Daite and Manatsu… ^_^

  5. This kind of perspective has long been needed and has finally arrived. Maybe now some of the newbies like myself can be properly instructed, wota-style, as to the deep cultural underpinnings of the Morning Musume phenomenon.

  6. Japonaliya says:

    Today I watched the massive 4 DVD H!P LIVE BOX .
    My overall op is that disc 3 is the best. Now this is not a review, but some comments. I think the reason MM music, esp the singles has been so inconsistent is that Tsunku has just too many projects to write for. When MM was at their peek 99-2003, there were less full-fledged other H!P acts compared to now.
    BUT..when Tunku is on…he is the best, and the trifecta release of Yes Nudo, My Asia, and Aruiteru, not to mention Morning Curry,, shows he hasn’t lost his stuff. In fact Sexy 8 may be the best MM CDA since no.6
    BUT…MY main reason for writing this is the intro of the new member…no ..not the chop suey girls, little miss
    Mitsui Aika…..so pedolicious, she is like the huge parfaits at Fujiya!!