J-Pop Sunday – Morning Musume

Following on from our last instalment of J-Pop Sunday we’re sticking with the cute and catchy theme with one of the biggest acts in Japanese pop history: Morning Musume.

The current Morning Musume line up.

Quick Guide:
Act Name: Morning Musume (モーニング娘)
Years Active: 1997 – Present
Genre: Pop
Notable Singles: “Morning Coffee” (1998), “ Daite Hold on me!” (抱いてHOLD ON ME!)(1998), “Love Machine” (1999) “I Wish” (2000), “Ren’ai Revolution 21” (恋愛レボリューション21) (2000), “Sexy Boy (Soyokaze ni Yorisotte)” (SEXY BOY 〜そよ風に寄り添って〜)(2006), “Aruiteru” (歩いてる)(2006), “Help me!!” (2013)
Current Number of Group Members: 11
Total Number of Group Members: 39

Morning Musume is pretty much the epitome of manufactured idol groups so before we get into Morning Musume itself we’re going to have to quickly explain how pop idol groups in Japan typically work. The system is simple: Young girls audition to join a group; if successful they’ll perform with the group for a few years until they’re a little bit older when they will typically “Graduate” onto other projects – such as a solo career, a related sub-group, an acting career or even modelling. Using this system Morning Musume has been able to constantly keep itself fresh. Of course it’s not just Morning Musume that uses this system, groups associated with Morning Musume in famed producer Tsunku’s “Hello! Project” – such as Berryz Kobu (Berryz工房) or ° C-ute – also use this system as well as rival idol groups AKB48, Momoiro Clover Z and 9nine.

Now, onto Morning Musume themselves: The original five members started as individual runners up on a TV talent contest back in 1997. Although the girls failed to win the competition they caught the attention of record producer and songwriter Tsunku who set the girls a challenge: With his help the girls were tasked to make a demo single and sell 50,000 copies of it within five days’ worth of promotional events. If they were successful then Tsunku would offer them a contract. The girls accepted Tsunku’s challenge and hit the road to promote their single that November. You can probably figure out what happened next: The girls hit their target of 50,000 sales and managed to do so within only four of the five days. Morning Musume was born and the following January the girls released their first official single: Morning Coffee. (モーニングコーヒー)

“Morning Coffee”: Morning Musume’s first single.

Now, normally at this point in a J-Pop Sunday column I would do a brief run through of the act’s activities in chronological order, however, in the case of Morning Musume it’s pretty unremarkable: New members join and other members leave every year or so all the while a steady string of singles and albums flow out. Instead, I’d like you to take a look at a promotional video for Morning Musume’s next single “Brainstorming” and take a note of how different things feel compared to “Morning Coffee”:

“Brainstorming” will be Morning Musume’s 53th single. It’s released next month.

Hard to believe it’s the same group. Well, technically, it’s not. The last of the original Morning Musume members left in 2005. However the stark contrast between the two songs highlights the gradual change in sound and presentation Morning Musume has undergone over its’ 15 year history, moving away from a somewhat mature look and sound of early releases such as “Morning Coffee” and their first #1 single “Daite Hold on me!” (抱いてHOLD ON ME!) towards a more youthful and energetic style coupled with an increase in synthesisers in newer singles such as “Brainstorming” and “Help me!!”. Of course, it’s natural for change to occur; it’s not the 90’s anymore – kids these days don’t know what Pogs are – the market has evolved and Morning Musume, still under the care of Tsunku’s, has adapted in order to survive.

I’ll leave you with one last song of theirs from 2006: “SEXY BOY (Soyokaze ni yorisotte)” (SEXY BOY 〜そよ風に寄り添って〜) is one of my favourite Morning Musume singles and I feel it’s a interesting example to demonstrate the mid-point in the evolution of Morning: The look of the group is closer to that of early Morning Musume, however, the music and dance routine is closer to that or the Morning Musume we see today.

“SEXY BOY” will have the lyrics “Sekushii! Ue! Ue!” stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

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