Friday, June 17, 2011

[translation] ~article~ "The Morning Musume of 2007-2011: Before Being Appreciated Later On"

credits to kurikaesu.haru of hello-online.
hontou ni arigato gozaimasu!

This is an essay wrote by Tomi Abe on the site "Koi Hana"
It is a long one, but I tell you this is worth to read. And not just "worth", this is the one I have read so far that describes Morning Musume the best, even it is only mostly about Takahashi Ai's era, it is splendidly written.

Please do read and have fun.

The Morning Musume of 2007-2011: Before Being Appreciated Later On

Part 1

What time can be identified as that of the Morning Musume boom? When asked that, most people will probably think of “Love Machine" and the several years after it. As for when that boom ended, it's hard to tell since the mass media also has a tendency to prematurely write it off as already over, as they do with everything else. It certainly wasn't in these last few years. Perhaps, earlier. And then, if one were to speak of the current Morning Musume, then certainly they are viewed with the premise “the boom is over,” even while possessing members who are blessed with charming individuality and abundant talent. In evaluating the essentials, Hana [the reviewer] disregards that premise. For idols, it is not a serious handicap.

I am not coming from a well-informed standpoint about Morning Musume. I also do not have any particular emotional attachment. Although I have a basic knowledge of them to the point that I can match their faces to their names, for the past 6 or 7 years I generally have not been keeping up with them and wasn't aware if anyone had joined the group. Because I'm writing from that stance, Morning Musume's long-time supporters and critics will probably start saying, “why now, after all this time,” so I ask them to excuse me in advance.

The start line is the middle of last year. I happened to watch a music program. On that program, I heard Takahashi Ai and Tanaka Reina sing solo. Unguarded, I was attacked with a skillfullness beyond what I had previously assumed. Furthermore, after that, I watched the music video for “Nanchatte Ren'ai” on a video site and could not believe my eyes. I thought, “So they've become a group that can perform in such an enchanting way.” Then, after I finished watching, for me it was a very valuable experience of welcoming this group―I was struck with a miserable sense of loss, of having missed the period which can be designated as their true peak.

“Nanchatte Ren'ai” was released in August 2009 as their 40th single. Although it's a pretty song woven into a heartrending melody, it's not settled in safety, and the sprinting and uplifting feeling of the hook is prominent through the insertion of rap. Frankly, rap done by idols is often just something to suffer through, but in this song, the rap is entwined very well with the melody and fits in well with the tune. The overall composition is also done skillfully. While being bold, the build-up of the unfaltering rhythm can be heard at once until the very end. Like air that has cleared up after a cold wintry wind, a lonely and beautiful reverberation remains. It's just that, in stiff comparison, the sound is excessively sparse. This is where it departs from my taste.

The choreography for this song is also excellent. It is so impressive that it's unforgettable after watching it just once. I'm not one to only watch videos, so I bought the CD, but even that came with a “Dance Shot Ver.” clip that is many times more impressive than the normal version.

Thereafter, listening to their work and watching their music videos from the past few years with an open mind, I started discovering fascinating pieces of music. The album, “10 MY ME,“ is exceptionally completed to perfection. Each and every song is filled with individuality and the expression of the melody is flawless.

Speaking without reservations, there are many songs at a disadvantage because of the title. A while after I started checking out their songs came the release of “Onna to Otoko no Lullaby Game." From this, what anyone would be reminded of are the duet songs from the end of the Showa era which just could not be sung with a sober face. Won't people who overcome the hurdle of such a harsh-sounding title and say, “Ok, let's listen,“ be held back considerably? When trying to listen to it, it is highly toxic. It is that well-done.

Tsunku's lyrics are basically very straightforward. They don't have a sense of being riddled with poetic metaphors just for show. I don't know whether or not he has his own sensibility of not wanting to put on airs and expressing things in a roundabout way, but I think that there a lot of people who would say that they want him to write in a more indirect way.

However, these sort of lyrics, even though they don't strike home with the source of the sound, when sung in concert, stick with a sharpness and carry a certain weight to them.

Beyond the musical composition, what should be appreciated is the ability of the members to perform. There is the dance with a high degree of difficulty and tightly controlled synchronization. And then the live singing while doing an aggressive dance. I recognize that this group does not lipsync in concert, and going by that premise, the singing ability of several of the members is considerably stable. People who can sing while in the middle of an intense and complex dance choreography are a rare sight among idols. To cite an idol as a comparable object of worship might be impossible. Perhaps because of the choreography, there's quite a lot of strain put on their throat, but when it comes to voice quality, the majority of the members have a penetrating power and their singing voices come out very well. This is a huge weapon at concerts. At the very least, their singing is not to be made light of. They are assuredly singers through and through.

It is apparent from watching past concert DVDs that Takahashi is given a large role as a result of her established reputation as a very capable singer and her background in ballet. For example, now, when a fan says, “Momusu's songs and dances are at a high level,“ perhaps the grounds for his assertion are, first and foremost, her [Takahashi's] power of expression. Her performance has no sense of the idol-like “I'm doing it exactly as I was told“ attitude, like from an obedient employee. Beyond firmly assimilating the lyrics and dance moves, she expresses them. At a glance, she looks like the honor student type, but she might unexpectedly be the type that is intensely stubborn until she properly grasps something.

However, that same Takahashi Ai has been the leader from 2007 up until now, and I wonder just how many people in the world have started paying attention to Morning Musume. She will graduate from Morning Musume this fall. Knowing this, even writing about her is shadowed by a tinge of emptiness. This is what it means to be too late.

Part 2

That the Takahashi Ai-led Morning Musume has accomplished remarkable growth is perhaps because that's all they're building on. In an environment where the audience's reaction comes back directly to them, if for years they compete in earnest without getting too comfortable with each other, then naturally their ability to concentrate, their way of expression, and their way of singing will improve.

Be that as it may, of course I had yet to see it for myself, so I tried going to a concert. For the sake of the members' approaching graduation, with the humidity at the venue somewhat high, although even a newcomer like me was overwhelmed with the atmosphere, not a single flaw in the performance could be seen. It was easy to see that this is a perfectly trained and highly competent group. Their dancing skill is a given, but there were also times when a member's voice was sustained to a surprising degree, and the execution was even better than the original. (This is deemed by some as the most momentous part.) With regard to the MC, there are probably various criteria for judging its quality, but Michishige Sayumi's selection of words to insert here and there was exquisite and kept it entertaining.

As for Tanaka Reina, who is in charge of main vocals along with Takahashi Ai, she was evidently calm and composed even during the parts where it was difficult to get the rhythm and pauses in the music. At any rate, they are strong at performing. If only there was a farsighted view, almost as though to look for the one person who's different in the scene. Through that sort of focus that has no special stance, the idea of being motivated and exerting oneself is not delivered. The method of keeping one's own pace in sync with the rest is not mastered unless one adjusts to what is seen and heard--to one's surroundings (or, the surroundings adjust to one).

Although for idols the appeal “I'll do my best with all I've got” has become a universal indulgence, the members seldom use it. Rather, they don't want to. They operate on the premise “doing one's best is a given.” Even if they can use tears as a weapon, they seriously stand firm so as not to cry. (Well, seeing that is even more touching, though.) As for why they keep to that sort of style, more than having a high pride, it is probably because they have faith that the fans that are present understand them. That's the impression I got from the concert that I watched.

Kamei Eri, Junjun, and Linlin graduated at the end of 2010, 4 members joined at the beginning of 2011, and it has been decided that Takahashi Ai will graduate in the fall. Furthermore, a new member audition has been announced. What will become of the group, what will happen to their singing strength as a whole after losing the voice of Takahashi Ai, who carries a great deal of weight, I have no idea. Perhaps someone who demonstrates an ability to exceed expectations with the parts entrusted to her will emerge. I don't know who will take this form, so I want to watch over this baton of command. Personally, I am anticipating an onslaught of Niigaki Risa and Michishige Sayumi, who both seem to have potential that has yet to be brought out.

A few days ago, I also tried going to the Spring Tour. On top of it being the first tour for the new members, it must have been difficult to coordinate because of the earthquake, but on that pretext, strangely, one did not have to exert too much effort to watch it. Even if only a little, I was able to watch comfortably. Next time, if all goes smoothly, the performance of each and every song will probably become a “Presentation” and increase in importance.

The tour is still ongoing, so I can't write her name and the song title yet, but this time, the most thrilling part was the spectacle of a new member, who possesses a distinguished dancing ability, dancing with two senior members. That left me wide-eyed in surprise. Even the people around me (who also forgot that this is a song that they usually dance along to) were left dumbfounded and gazing at the scene halfway through. I think that while that kind of member is growing up well without illness, injury, or scandal, Morning Musume can continue to be defensible even while being verbally attacked.

Simply, even if Morning Musume continues for how many more years from now, the merit of the activities of the girls of these years [2007-2011], during what can be considered a severe and adverse era, will not be lost. The day when they are finally given due recognition will eventually come. Then, people will miss them: “Actually, they were amazing, huh?” This while being told “too late” by the fans.

Although the members will probably not be at all delighted at being appreciated only after the fact, it is a little hard to think that the circumstances surrounding them at this time will suddenly change for the better.

What people look for in idols is varied. If there are people who say, “It's fine for idols to show only smiling and crying faces,” there are also people who say, “I don't want singing and dancing ability in an idol.” Be that as it may, as a singer, actress, and talent, it is natural to have the mentality of wanting to be “the real thing” when coming into contact with colleagues at work. Behaving faithfully to that mentality and raising the bar without pride or conceit, the members of the current Morning Musume look quite charming.


Since getting back into checking out Morning Musume once again, I'd been entertaining a naïve question. I would think that after the boom ended, it is typical for the members' motivation to lower and for the quality of the performances to decline, but for some reason, that was not the case and they improved instead. As previously stated, if they build on experience, they will improve. However, even with that, if there's no strong motivation, they won't continue. Why do they preserve that motivation?

It's probably because there exist fans who continue to demand high-quality staging. For the fans who have continued to watch the 2007-2011 Morning Musume led by Takahashi Ai (who continues to be the leader), they do so not because they are blindly enthusiastic and clinging on to the Golden Era, nor do they do it out of pity because the boom has ended. Isn't it because they simply and genuinely want to see their beloved members' excellent performance? That's why, for their part, strangely without getting spoiled, the members have been diligently raising the quality. As for the fans, they have come this far having bought into that true merit and personality and having supported them without worrying about media trends or feeling timid about having a sense for a title with questionable marketability. As for me, in that same regard, I will take it upon myself to make a conjecture. Being limited to that kind of fan, the true value of 2007-2011 Morning Musume will probably spread by word of mouth.

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