Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Morning Musume rapidly gaining female fans; popular columnist Inuyama Kamiko explains their appeal


Morning Musume’s “counterattack” continues. After becoming a social phenomenon during their “Golden Era” around the year 2000, they had a period of less media appearances but they nevertheless kept going, focusing on live performances and continuously improving their vocal and dance abilities. Now their hard work is starting to pay off thanks to their high-quality performances combining the EDM genre and formation dancing. In 2013, they had three consecutive singles take the no. 1 spot on Oricon. Simultaneously their fanbase has been growing larger while celebrities and artists of other genres have publicly announced being a fan of the group. We asked popular columnist and author of “Make Bijo“, Inuyama Kamiko, to tell us about the appeal of Morning Musume from a woman’s viewpoint, and about the mindset of a female fan of idols.




―― Can you tell us how you first got interested in Morning Musume?
Inuyama: Back when I got my big break in my late teens, I was just casually singing their songs in karaoke and I was never really that aware of what they were doing. Then at some point I happened to come across “One・Two・Three” on YouTube and I was surprised by how cool and high level their dancing was. The singing was good, too, as was the song. I got hooked on it and I must’ve listened to it over 50 times, and then I went out and bought the CD. I couldn’t help but share it with everyone on Twitter, who in turn also shared it with others. It feels like the group is being reassessed by a lot of people.

―― What’s the most appealing thing about Morning Musume for you?
Inuyama: For girls to like other girls, rather than just cuteness they have to have something cool about them as well. With Morning Musume, their dances are really cool. The formation dance in “Help me!!” was awesome. Also, the electro sound they have now is not only cool, but also very Tsunku♂-like. They’re all good songs.
Also, I’m drawn to their long history. I also like manga and I have an otaku personality, so finding out about both the highs and the lows in their history is fun, and learning about how hard all of the girls until now have worked is part of what makes them interesting as well.

―― Whereas enjoying AKB48 is about “cheering on girls who are in development“, for H!P it’s more like you’re cheering on “professional idols“, right?
Inuyama: I can’t speak for any other idols groups, but the idols in H!P are worked hard from the moment they start. They’re brought up as professionals. The footage from their dance lessons seems relentless and the senpai are always watching over their kouhai. Of course I suspect the members have fights about things, but to me it feels like the atmosphere among the members is carefree and not strained at all. If you ask me, I think that might be because Tsunku♂ is producing them not as “products” but as “people, and he sincerely wishes for them all to become happy.
Inuyama: As for AKB48, there was that news some time ago about how Sashihara said something along the lines of “our audience is older men — our singing and dancing doesn’t need to be that good.” I think what she’s saying is correct but on the other hand, I think H!P’s opposite approach is correct, too. Idol groups having completely different ways of doing things is what makes it really interesting.

―― Past members included, do you have a member you especially like?
Inuyama: At first it was Ichii Sayaka. After that, in order… Goto Maki, Yoshizawa Hitomi, and right now it’s Kudo Haruka. I like the girls who appear boyish but are actually also really beautiful. They’re like the protagonists in shoujo manga… they’re usually acting all tomboy-ish, but every now and then they’ll show a really womanly, sweet side. I admire them. Also, I really like Michishige Sayumi and I always liked the recent graduate Tanaka Reina. For me, the two top of Tanaka and Michishige was incredible. Tanaka served as their center for the longest time… she is really eye-catching. I constantly found myself just focusing on watching her. It makes me go “ah, so this is the power of a center girl.

―― Are there any common traits among women who like idols?
Inuyama: The fact that I can now say “I like H!P” is because of my new way of looking at them, or rather because I’m not trying to compete with them anymore. Back when Momusu was first popular I was the same age as them, so it was difficult for me to cheer them on. I knew they were cute and everything but because we had our ages in common, it somehow made me not want to recognize that. But now at this age the only thing I have in common with them is my gender. Now when I see a cute girl like that, I can genuinely say “aww, she’s so cute!” So age could be one of those common factors. Also, I think women who like idols also have an affinity for sub-cultures. I mentioned how I enjoy learning out about their 10+ year story — it could be that many women who like idols also like books and manga.

―― The cuteness aspect — is it the same kind of feeling as if you were looking at your own younger sisters?
Inuyama: When I’m watching them I think to myself “I would’ve wanted to be that cute when I was in my teens” and when I see them carrying out my “dream life“, it allows me to let go of my past self. So rather than my younger sisters, it’s more of an admiration for them. When I watch them, it’s no longer my 31-year-old self; it feels like I’m back to being the same age as them. For people who in their student days got the appeal of idols but didn’t want to admit it to themselves, people with regrets like “I would’ve wanted a life of sparkles and glitter like that“, people who despised cool or sexy girls, thinking of themselves as somehow inferior — for people like that who have grown up and who can now finally freely admit that they like idols, it might be something that allows them to feel like they’re reliving their youth.

―― Do you think some women might be against their boyfriends being idol fans?
Inuyama: It depends on the person of course, but I think boys who are idol fans will also be supportive of their partner’s work. As a matter of fact, up until my mid-twenties my boyfriend was an idol fan and it made me jealous. But as you get older, it actually becomes quite comforting. I mean, the act of cheering on people is a really positive thing. It’s not something everyone is capable of doing.

―― Right now the group is in their EDM phase. Do you have any hopes as to what kind of style they should try next?
Inuyama: I want Tsunku♂ to decide what is best for the group musically… but something I would like to see is a graceful, adult-like song. Right now the girls are full of this young and fresh energy, but in the past Morning Musume have had these grown-up songs about women who have been cheated on and so on. I’d like to see the current members trying out that kind of style, too.

―― While their media exposure has grown, I think the general public doesn’t know all the members’ individual personalities yet. Could you talk about the members and their points of interest one by one?
Inuyama: Sure, but it’s just going to be my personal opinion…
This has been introduced on TV quite thoroughly already, but there’s the ad-lib dancing of Ishida Ayumi and Sayashi Riho. Their appeal is in how they demonstrate just how good idols can really be at dancing. Looks-wise — and this is something that holds true for girls like Sayashi and the members of Juice=Juice — I appreciate how they make you feel like the “huge eyes boom” has ended. For the past ten years or so it’s been popular to go and get your eyes done to make them look bigger, but I think the fact that H!P is now drawing attention to the cuteness of girls with single eyelids or partial double eyelids is really giving a lot of courage to many girls. I had a complex about my partial double eyelids as well, but after seeing those girls, it allowed me to start using just a little bit less eye makeup myself.
And the thing I want all the first-timers to see is the beauty of Kudo Haruka. She has a husky voice and she’s very boyish, but her face is that of a first-class beauty. When I first saw “Renai Hunter”, I got so excited as I was going “what’s with the cuteness of this girl?!
And speaking of beautiful girls, the gap between Ikuta Erina’s gentle beauty and her strange character is great!

―― You mentioned that you also like Michishige.
Inuyama: Her tenure in the group has been a very moving one for me. When Momusu was falling into obscurity, she alone was appearing on all those TV shows as this “poison-tongued narcissist.” Her being able to do was the result of her working hard on her talking skills. But that kind of character gets you lots and lots of fierce bashing. I don’t think it’s something you would be able to withstand just for a simple wish of wanting to be famous. I now get to appear on TV a little bit myself, but if I say even the slightest thing that someone finds a bit unpleasant, there will be a succession of “die you ugly bitch” messages. (laughs) I think the fact that she was able stand that kind of thing was because she was doing it for her love of the group. “Even if they make me into a bad guy, I’ll do my best for the group.” She was like the heel in pro wrestling. When I think about her great efforts for the sake of the group, I can’t help but cry. And then when Morning Musume was finally starting to gain popularity again as they were appearing on “Shabekuri 007″ this summer, it looked like a little bit of that huge burden she had been carrying had finally been lifted off her shoulders. She looked almost like the Virgin  Mary. I just wept in front of the TV.

Her looks are perfect, too. She looks like a doll even without makeup, and her body is just erotic! She’s someone many girls strive to be, and her inner strength is something that gives me energy. The person who first made me think “I can get this happy just because of an idol!?” was Michishige.

―― How about Zukki (Suzuki Kanon)?
Inuyama: Zukki is great! There’s all these news about her being chubby, but she’s incredibly charming and she has the smile of an angel. It’s like she purifies my soul. I’m sure she must know about the kinds of things that are being said about her, but even then she keeps on smiling and that’s something I don’t think not everyone can do. That’s something that makes people who see her become fans of hers. Gaining and losing weight during puberty is not something that’s exclusive only to her, so I do feel angry about her being made fun of for it so much… but at the same time I feel that she’s also loved on the internet and that she’s definitely spreading the name of Morning Musume. When you consider her ability of even converting her antis into fans, Zukki might just be the member with the most potential in the group.

―― What do you think about the newest addition to the group, Oda Sakura?
Inuyama: I still keep being moved by her skill as a singer. She only debuted with “Help Me!!” but she’s already getting many solo parts and passages where she sings at the top of her voice. It feels good to listen to. I think it’s obvious she was a choice Tsunku♂ made to perfect the group even futher. The singing has changed noticeably for the better since she joined the group.

―― And how about the member who is getting noticed for her unusual personality, Sato Masaki?
Inuyama: She… really is a weird one to say the least. (laughs) I think H!P is quite strict when it comes to the hierarchy of members, but she just completely ignores it, even playing around with Tanaka Reina like she was her younger sister. It’s exciting because you never know what kind of trouble she might cause next. She’s like a puppy. She has the cuteness of how, even if she does something mischievous, you’ll just think “oh, the puppy’s feeling playful again” and you’ll want to pet her.

―― And the two subleaders?
Inuyama: Iikubo likes manga and especially “Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken“, so I feel an affinity with her. Even as someone who knows it’ll never actually happen, I’ve found myself thinking “…me and her might actually make pretty good friends.” This is something that’s really appealing about her.
Fukumura is someone with a long history in H!P and her presence in the ever-changing lineup of Musume is reassuring. Her face is so soothing, too, and if I was a man, she’s the member I’d want to be my girlfriend the most. I want her to beat me at Taiko no Tatsujin.

―― Among the graduated members there are some who have caused scandals, and there have in the past been members who have even quit the group due to a scandal. As a female fan, how do you feel about those things?
Inuyama: These things become scandals because the girls are idols, but I think if you have a group of girls in their teens and twenties, it’s pretty much impossible to entirely prevent scandals. Even if the person herself decides “I won’t cause a scandal!“, falling in love is not something you can control yourself… I actually think any member who doesn’t cause a scandal is someone who must have the willpower of a superwoman! Conversely, I don’t want people to think badly of someone just because they’ve fallen in love. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman myself that I can understand not only the feeling of someone thinking “she’s betrayed her fans“, but also “you can’t fight your own feelings“… At the end of the day, I just want them to be happy.

―― Is there anything you wish the current Morning Musume would do?
Inuyama: I just want for them to be in an environment where they don’t get hurt and where they can carefreely continue to enjoy singing and dancing. If I can enjoy seeing their smiles in their PV’s and music program appearances, that’s enough for me. I will in turn support them by actually going out and buying their CD’s. I’m still a new fan, but being an adult fan of theirs I think that’s the least I can do.

―― Lastly, is there a member who you think might turn into a “Make Bijo(“loser beauty“, title of Inuyama’s book) when they’re older?
Inuyama: As I really hope that none of them ever will… I’m going to say “no there isn’t!” They’ll all lead happy lives! Well, that’s not to say that “loser beauties” themselves can’t become happy though…








2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I think she means girls that are pretty, but never find love.

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