In a group like Morning Musume, where people are going in and out at the whims of UFA (or whatever their company/coporation/bosses/slavedrivers are called) every couple of years, there has to be some sort of stabilizing influence. In a place like H!P, which is, let’s face it, completely random in nature, you can’t count on the songs, the dances or the costumes to remain sane. Morning Musume is perpetually caught between their ever-so-slightly-sexy image (Resonant Blue) and their ever-so-genki image (Mikan) and that must be confusing as hell for new members, who tend to be 12-14 years of age (READ: freakin children).
So Tsunku, in one of his occaisonal bursts of genius, decided they should have a leader. Usually this girl is the oldest or the one with the most seniority. As far as I’ve been able to tell, this is the one who looks after the newer members, encouraging them and trying to make them feel welcome; They lead the talk portion of talkshows, depending on the format; They make sure the other members are getting along; They keep spirits up during dance lessons and so on, Etc.
That is, IF they are doing their job right.
So I’ve devoted this post to the best (IMO) leaders (and to a lesser extent, subleaders) Morning Musume has had. In descending order of course – most recent to earliest.
On the Sub-leaders…I’m not certain what they do. I suppose they go behind the leader after a command has been given and say, “You heard what she said. Get in line, bitches!”
Only nicer. Cause not everyone finds adding “bitches” to every sentence as funny as I do.
Yossy said in her Dokyu that Miki as subleader didn’t claim to do anything but, “did her work quietly”. So there is some truth to my theory that they’re seen and not heard. They are the ‘support’, if you will.
Which is kinda nifty.
Again, if the job is done right.
4) Takahashi Ai – This is the current leader. She looks pretty bad-ass in that picture, right? Truthfully, there is almost no one else, with the exception of Nutjob that could be a worse candidate for leader.
Takahashi is a great performer, a wonderful singer and her dancing is exact and intense, no matter what the song. She’s amazingly photogenic and tends to be cute without making you want to throttle her (unlike Winky). However, she’s always nervous when asked to talk about herself or to answer questions about any given thing. She struggles with it, trying to be funny and engaging, but tripping all over herself. It didn’t help matters that when she first arrived she had a heavy accent that she was teased endlessly about. This accent apparently still comes out when she’s surprised or excited.
Because of her shyness on television, people frequently say she has no personality at all.
I’m not sure that is true, although goodness knows, I’ve probably said the same thing.
It’s hard to tell with her, because she’s always so reserved, but it seems that if one could get her talking she’d have so many things to talk passionately about: her singing, her love of Takarazuka, how excited she must be whenever she gets to work with them, how she feels when she’s dancing…
It seems like there’s a great well of passion that she hides. If the way she dances and sings is any indication, she must be quite an interesting woman. In her Futarigoto with Niigaki, she was more interested in eating and then babbling about one world language and how humans are weird rather than having an actual conversation with her fellow Gokkie. She wasn’t reserved at all. It was so nice to see her relaxed, not worrying about the camera or audience.
I think there was a collective gasp of “USOOOOO!!!” when Miki bailed and Takahashi had to step up. I don’t think anyone thought she could do it, including her. And what a time to be pushed into the leader spot! We got Granny (Aika) and the two Chinese girls (I like them, but what the hell, Tsunku??) in one fell swoop and also the exit of Yossy, who everyone seemed to really rely on. This poor girl, who has no idea how to make people listen to her, suddenly had to deal with all this crap??
What’s the first thing she does?
Cuts off her mousy hair and gets a kick-ass (kick-ASS, I don’t care what anyone says) short style.
Then she proceeds to lead these girls, who are all in and around her age, through a major transition period and an expansion into countries they’re never been to.
She’s still leading.
I love this picture. I think it sums her up really well. She’s got her perfomance face on, but there’s a little something more in it now. She’s the kind of leader the girls get behind not because they’re intimidated, or because they feel like she’s reliable enough, but because they understand that she needs them to. She needs them to help her out, as much as she helps them. This way they all work together.
I think a lot of people have commented that Morning Musume feels a lot more ‘welcoming’ now. Everyone is around the same age, so that ridiculous pecking order is, while still an issue, not as much of one.
I like that Takahashi has taken to her role in her own way. She’ll get stronger, you can tell.
And more power to her.
3) Yoshizawa Hitomi – YOSSY! Look at that face. Aside from how gorgeous and kakkoi she is, she’s got the best leader face I’ve ever seen (aside from Yuuko). There’s something laid-back, but intensely reliable about that look. A hint of mischief too. This is a strong woman, in more ways than one.
I think people tend to forget exactly all she went through when she became leader. Much like Takahashi, she became leader because someone bailed (namely Mari, who I’ll get to). More than one of the popular members had left (Abe, Iida and Ishikawa, all fairly quickly) and a new member (nut-job) had just been added. Now more than any of this, people forget that about a year (was it a year?) into her leadership, her brother was killed in an accident.
Just like that.
As far as I can remember, she took one or two days off and then went right back to work.
Just like that.
Now maybe it was purely stubborness in Yossy that made her do it that way. Maybe it was the discomfort of having people worry about her that made her come back so quickly. I think that must be part of it. Yossy has described herself as “stubborn” before and even at her grad concert she said that she couldn’t let herself cry because the others “wouldn’t let her hear the end of it”. More than these things though, I’ve noticed that she has a very strong sense of responsibility. She must have felt how much her fellow members needed her, how much her fans must have worried, how much inconvienience it would cause to cancel a concert on such short notice.
So despite whatever grief was there, must still be there, she decided to sing for her brother, wherever he was. To keep going and doing what she loves.
Now it’s all in how you look at things, but I have always admired her for that. I can deeply understand her resistance to showing weakness infront of cameras, her desire to keep her sadness her own. And I find it amazing that her smile never seemed forced. Not once. She truly rings the joy out of any of the work she has to do.
This sort of joy is infectuous.
Just watch any concert with her and see how the tension and energy rises whenever she is on stage. The ‘Odore Morning Curry’ concert is a good example. The girls are drenched in sweat after maybe four songs. They’re giving it all they’ve got. Because under Yossy’s leadership, it’s all about the audience.
She stated on a Music Fighter that she didn’t care how much they fooled around backstage as long as they focused when the time came to focus. And she held to that. In all the backstage clips I’ve seen of that concert, the girls are frolicking and singing, joking and giggling and being delightful (except Winky). There was such a sense of excitement even though it was relaxed atmosphere.
With the exception of Niigaki, who never fails to be a shimmery ball of genki, everyone eventually seemed to have a moment of tired-half-smile, but Yossy was always on fire.
I mentioned before that everyone seemed to rely on her. Certainly the new members were in awe of her. She’s gorgeous, confident and not afraid to scold if the need arises. Even if she did yell at nut-job a lot (and who wouldn’t really?), she was still bawling when Yossy left, asking her to keep looking after her. Subleader Miki, who basically everyone seemed wary, if not terrified, of was in awe of her too.
Gracious, how I love this woman!!
Other members, past and present, have said how much Yossy supports them. She even sent mail to Aibon during the scandal years, which must have been more than a little awkward. She apparently convinced Nono to stay on the Gatas team when she was thinking of quitting, which caused Nono to write a letter telling her how much she admired Yossy.
If not for her unique voice, for her kakkoii-ness and for her laid-back, yet reliable, personality, Yossy makes for a great leader because of this care. You can’t get away with not caring about the people you lead. She’s not going to sit there and braid your hair, but she will make you stronger for your sake and for the audience’ sake.
Because, quite simply, she loves her job.
And that’s really damn important.
2) Iida Kaori – I always laugh when I think that her last single with Morning Musume was ‘The MANPOWER’, her being the tallest and potentially most powerful Musume ever (with, again, the exception of Yuuko -she is the exception to many generalizations, isn’t she?). When we first meet Kaori, she has long hair and very severe bangs. She also has this problem with spacing out.
All the time.
Sometimes in the middle of a sentence.
Iida has always been her own person, but I love how she evolved into the leader so organically. She seemed very unwilling at first to lead after Yuuko graduated. And who wouldn’t be? Those are some big shoes to fill. However, Iida being the tallest, looked the most like the leader and so began to, very seriously, consider herself so. The first times I saw her actually doing leader type things, like psyching the girls up before a concert and consoling a perpetually crying Tsuji, I sensed a gentle, reliable feeling from her. She was firm, but always soft, somehow.
Each leader has a different sense about them and the one I get from Iida is one of a big sister. You can’t take her too seriously. For one thing, her limbs are so long and occaisonally gangly that it sometimes becomes absurd. She must have slammed people in the face a lot with her mic… And there is also her tendency to space out. In the early days, she just said the oddest things and then smiled like everyone knew what she was talking about (which they didn’t, of course). She took her singing and dancing so seriously that when someone like Miki questioned her, she was shocked into silence.
As classy and lovely as she is, she’s also just a little bit funny.
Hence, the big sister.
You can make fun of her and laugh with her, but when you need her, you can count on her.
The members definitely relied on her, but they also felt comfortable with her. She led the longest, seeing the most member changes of all the leaders so far. Yossy said that right from the beginning, she had everyone call her “Kaori”, rather than “Iida-san” as the senoirity would dictate. Michishige commented at Iida’s graduation (while slowly descending into tears) that Iida’s smile would give her strength everyday. Winky, in the meantime, basically fell apart and couldn’t even speak she was crying so hard. All through her grad, when most of the girls were crying like this, she just smiled her gentle, big-sister smile and assured them that she’d always be watching over them.
So much grace.
She grew into a leader and a very lovely woman.
They gave her roses in her graduation bouquet, which, as Yossy said, “suit her”.
1) Nakazawa Yuuko!
Who doesn’t love Yuuko? Seriously. How can you not adore someone who looks so classy and lovely and yet refers to herself with the rough and manly ‘ore’ rather than a modest ‘atashi’? She was the oldest Musume from the very start and came from an office job into the world of idoling with a hell of a lot of attitude. I think that even if someone else had been willing to be leader, Yuuko would have only had to look at her for the girl to back down and surrender the position. All the work she must have done in those days, with all those egos, varying ages and Kaori’s weird moodiness. Let’s not forget that Tsunku is freakin nuts.
But, as the title says, he does get it right some times. Yuuko was the best choice to lead in the very beginning.
I think everyone was scared of Yuuko at first, with the exception of the original four, but hey, you never know. She’s the kind of woman with a supreme sense of herself; She can accept that she’s the oldest because she knows what her job is really about: singing, which she can definitely do, dancing, which she did with gusto (even towards the end, when she had to keep up with the crazy 4th Generation) and entertaining, which was pretty much cake for her. Such confidence is intimidating. As leader she must have dished out a lot of ‘advice’, which is to say yelled at people a lot. But it was necessary.
Much like Yossy, she wouldn’t give out criticism that wouldn’t help the person out. I’m sure there were mean-spirited moments of jealousy at times (cause she was pushed back much more than she should have been), but in terms of leadership I believe that even if she yelled things in moments of irritation, it was all instructional.
I adore the way the Japanese view things. It’s so interesting. In a special I found, where the girls say goodbye to Yuuko, giving her messages and a musicbox (while bawling), the youngest members Kago and Tsuji both said something along the lines of “thanks, even though you got angry at me a lot, I’ve learned so much from you. I will continue to work hard. Let’s play together when we meet again.”
That sums it up for me.
At that age, they could have easily just dismissed her as some crazed harpie, constantly screaming at them when they were trying so hard. Tsunku has an unfortunate obsession with (freakin) children becoming idols at his whims – Yuuko must have thought, so many times, “I didn’t get into this work to freakin’ babysit!” Even though Tsuji and Kago both could have left it at, “bye and goodluck” they made it clear that they understood her harshness was, at least in part, for their benefit. I’m sure that everyone took all the things that Yuuko taught them onwards.
Even now, she’s still looking after them. Takahashi has said that Yuuko sent her mail, telling her to lead in her own way, rather than trying to imitate Yossy. I find that so wonderful. She didn’t have to do that. She’s not been in Morning Musume for a long time – she could have not bothered, or told just Takahasi exactly what to do. It’s much more effective to let a person find their own footing. I’m sure that is how Yuuko learned to do her job.
However, not afraid to have a good time with her friends.
I’m sure many people helped her out along the way. I’m not trying to put her on a pedestal here. Obviously the girls learned together as they went along, but I think Yuuko made certain that she didn’t lean too much on anyone. No one can do your job for you, ne?
As Yasuda once said, “She can be hard on people, but I think she’s even harder on herself.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as an idol. Yuuko is something a little bit more. I think, perhaps even moreso than Yossy, she is the kind of woman I aspire to be. I may never be as confident as she is. Goodness knows, I’ll never be an idol.
But if I ever have to lead people, I hope I can be this way: when the time comes, I’m not afraid to raise my voice. Even harsh words can help people grow. Sometimes they are the only thing.
I’ve only included those leaders who were officially called Leader. Not co-leaders or sub-leaders, or one of those girls who somehow BELIEVES she’s a leader.
Next post: Subleaders and those who I’m afraid, just don’t count.
Cause in the random world of H!P, as awesome as they may be, some just don’t.