Thoughts on Goto Maki Leaving Hello! Project

Filed in American Wota 2.0

I must admit, a part of me is secretly hoping that the reports have got it wrong and that Gocchin has signed up, not with a new music label, but S1 or Moodyz or even SOD Create. That would provide a nice ironic twist to her recent image makeover…

At any rate, I haven’t been a fan of Goto Maki in a long while – well before she tried to Koda Kumi-fy her image – so I’m not exactly mourning her departure from Hello! Project as a fan. However, she’s been one of the central figures in H!P since her debut with “Love Machine” – most credit her as a key part of that landmark single’s success – so her decision still manages to affect me deeply. So some quick thoughts on the matter…

The Golden Age Momusu are growing up. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there have been so many scandals involving Golden Age Momusu in the past several years: Nacchi’s plagiarism and year-long exile, Mari being Friday’d and leaving Momusu, the whole mess of Kago smoking and messing around with an older man, Tsuji getting pregnant, Mikitty getting Friday’d and pulling a Yagu, Iida getting pregnant. (Okay, Mikitty isn’t Golden Age but she was part of the fourth gen auditions…) You can argue that all these cases were about young women breaking free from the authority figure in their lives, trying out new experiences or means of expressions – and getting caught because they were in the idol spotlight.

Most of the women in Hello! Project first joined as teenage girls, and grew up under H!P and UFA’s aegis. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that as they mature, some will seek to leave H!P. Some idols did it at an earlier stage, such as Maiha from Berryz Koubo. And some have entered situations where their grown-up impulses have clashed too visibly with the expectations of the in loco parentis impulses of UFA. (Megukami was one of those examples, as well.) It’s admirable, then, that Goto Maki seems to have chosen her exit, not due to scandal (like most, I’m not buying the Yuuki excuse), but as a commercial decision. Nothing personal, strictly business. As opposed to all that silly ass-shaking, this strikes me as a truly adult decision by a mature young woman making her own way in the world.

It’s actually quite telling that in most every scandal – except Nacchi’s – there were strong suspicions that these women intended to get caught, that they wanted an excuse to leave either Morning Musume in particular or Hello! Project in general. So fans had a strong sense of dissatisfaction in these idols’ lives – they knew what these idols have to go through, the strict rules on their private lives and the grueling schedules they keep. Which brings up my next point…

For older members, remaining in H!P is a case of diminishing returns. For just about every member of H!P who was around for the Golden Age, being a member of H!P hasn’t been as beneficial as it once was. This is especially the case for Morning Musume members: everyone up to fourth gen knows what it was like to be superstars and they’ve seen the profile of Momusu drop slowly but surely over the past six years. Those who graduated have moved on to other work, but nothing that compares to the glory years of “Love Machine” and “Happy Summer Wedding” and “The Peace!”.

Because the curve up was so steep, the descent from such popularity can make you feel like a has-been even when you have an audience of tens of thousands. Tens of thousands doesn’t compare to millions, after all. It may make you want to find something more fulfilling in your life – true love, perhaps, or even starting a family. Get out while you’re still young. Kago, Tsuji, and Iida seem to fit this.

Then there’s the path of least resistance. If you enjoy the work you’re doing and can make peace with the downward turn – which takes some maturity and perspective, I’d argue – then you continue working for the company. This takes ambition and focus, but also a sense of the harsh realities of the geinou world and one’s place in it. Yuko, Nacchi, Kei, and Mari all fit this category comfortably. The fact that they were around from the beginning or near it, that they were familiar with idol life before the Golden Age, contributes to this attitude, I would think.

Gocchin, on the other hand, has always struck me as intensely careerist and likely believes she can have a much larger – and broader – audience than she has now under Hello! Project. It doesn’t help that one of the girls she beat out in the third gen audition has become a leading diva, as popular among women as men for the strong sexuality in her image. Gocchin mimicked the sexuality, sure, but instead of looking empowering it seemed mildly ridiculous in the context of H!P. It gave her a brief bump in sales… but not nearly enough. So marketing-wise, the new slutty Gocchin had the sum effect of encouraging the fantasies of her hardcore wota fan base. So if this was indeed a decision she endorsed creatively, an expression of herself as an artist, it didn’t give her the larger audience of casual music listeners that she once had (and which now belonged to Ku-chin).

On a slight tangent, I do wonder about the remaining fourth gen members and which way they’ll sway. Yossie strikes me as a company woman at heart, and in my opinion is already being rewarded well with Ongaku Gatas – better than Kei or Mari, at any rate. As for Rika… she’s a careerist, like Gocchin, and second only to Gocchin in how cannily she’s handled herself. However, she also has clear limitations as a performer – she is not as vocally gifted as Goto Maki, but she’s been able to make the most out of what she has. There’s clear evidence that she knows how ridiculous the pop idol life can be, but seems satisfied with what it provides her.

Keep in mind, I don’t blame Gocchin for leaving and I certainly do not blame those in H!P who’ve decided to stick around for sticking around. This is a case of balancing one’s self-awareness and comfort level with the demands of the market they inhabit. Gocchin is one of the only ones who could make this break from H!P believably and succeed. Which reminds me…

Ayaya is now in the catbird seat. She’s the other major solo artist of H!P, and now the only one. And she hasn’t been doing too well, but she’s still the biggest name they’ve got. At this point, she can’t help but consider what her own options would be if she fled the H!P coop and sought out a new label. Truthfully, I think she has an even better chance – she’s as careerist as Gocchin, she’s more visible than Gocchin thanks to all her CMs as well as Sukeban Deka, and she’s also much more talented in my opinion. I’ve heard people who don’t like H!P single out Ayaya begrudgingly as someone they could like.

And sad as it sounds, I can’t think of anyone else right now who can make the leap to another music label in a beneficial way. I can think of several who could move on into comedy and perhaps even acting, as well as several more who could become very successful gravure idols (junior or otherwise). But that says more about the kind of talents H!P grooms than anything else.

Expect even more focus on H!P Kids and Eggs in the coming months. Marketing wise, Gocchin’s departure is exactly why the H!P Kids and Eggs were created in the first place: to supplant the older generation and keep the business going. Of course, the new Morning Musume line-up will continue to get plenty of attention: it’s led by a generation that’s long been overlooked and finally has a chance to prove themselves, and the generations that followed still have a freshness and energy that make them as novel as the H!P Kids (who actually predate sixth gen, now that I think of it).

The idol world values youthfulness and novelty above many other things, including talent and innovation. That is not a bad thing necessarily, and it does not preclude the display of talent and some measure of innovation. H!P has many great songs and many great performers. But when push comes to shove, the people behind Hello! Project know who their core audience is and what their audience wants. They try to expand that audience when possible, but the limited success front has made them focus even more on pleasing who they already have. (As always, the comparison to the American comics direct market comes to mind.)

It’s a harsh dose of reality, but certainly one that fans of idols have to face now and again. H!P is not going anywhere soon – I think they’re no longer on the decline, but refining the product they have for the audience they’ve got. Some of the members fit this model better than others, and those that don’t have to adapt or get the fuck outta dodge. With that in mind, Gocchin could not have chosen a better time to leave…

Wait, I take that back. She could have left three or four years earlier and made more of a splash by doing so. (Same with Ayaya, though I don’t think she’s actually leaving.) But what’s done is done, and I wish Goto Maki only the best as she moves forward in her career.

Postscript: I forgot Nacchi and that driving incident a little while ago! Well, it just adds to my overall theory of the older Musumes growing up. After all, who among us hasn’t banged up a car or two in our youth?

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2 Responses to “Thoughts on Goto Maki Leaving Hello! Project”
  1. wu-san says:

    This might sound ridiculous but, I always thought Nacchi would be the one to crash something, as the idea of her driving seems beyond good reasoning lol. but bless her, she didn’t kill anyone.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing everything back down to earth for a little while, its depressing lol. But seriously, sometimes we just turn off from the reality. It’s getting harder to like or accept the reality in recent times though, just coz so much crap has happened in a short space of time.

    oh well 😛

  2. Gocchin has been a non-factor for quite some time. I always admired her talent, but it has never been a good fit with the team structure of H!P. The younger groups — C-ute, Berryz and Tsunku’s other satellite projects — are surging past Maki and everyone else for that matter, and Tsunku is churning out the hits for them. Note that Suzuki in C-ute just jackhammered “Farewell Love Song” in C-ute’s thunderous spring concert. Goto never made much of that song. Suzuki, a gift from heaven as far as I’m concerned, is the top soloist in all of H!P right now in my view. I gatge to see any talen leave, but this time is OK. At least she was in the July 29 reunion set on “The Peace” and “Dekkai.”

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