In Which H!P has (de)evolved


As always, nowadays, this is all a matter of perspective. It’s not as if H!P’s quality, or lackthereof, hasn’t been discussed at length, by far more intelligent people than myself. But these are just some things that I’ve thought about recently.

I’ll be the first to admit that I look at all things H!P with rose-coloured glasses. For example, I love Momusu, no matter the line-up. I will defend them forever, simply because their music makes me so unconditionally happy. But even I know that H!P is no longer taking any risks, nor are they hiring girls that don’t fit a very specific image. When watching the Hello! Project 2011 Winter ~Kangei Shinsen Matsuri~ concert I honestly couldn’t get over it.

Let me explain.

We ordered the concert in Blu-Ray and watched both versions. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my brother, particularly for one moment.

(Paraphrased)

Me: “You know what, I know Reina will get a solo, but as long as Niigaki gets one, I think I’ll be ok.”

Bro: “What would you want her to sing?”

Me: “…Hmmm…you know, I’m not sure.”

Not ONE NUMBER LATER Niigaki appears and does Boogie Train. Oh hell yes, my friend, she up and murdered Boogie Train ’03. If you’re familiar with Fujimoto Miki’s single, and Mame’s general pwn when it comes to performing, then I really shouldn’t have to explain why this made me so very happy. I love Mame so much… For the most part, the solos were pretty well chosen. Maasa performing Matsuura’s The Bigaku, for example, was something I would have never thought of, but LOVED.

This was the first concert performance of C-ute’s Kiss Me Aishiteru and BK’s Heroine ni Narou kai. They rocked it. Seriously. They were so intense and I wasn’t expecting them to be. As far as I know, this was before the singles were actually released. Everyone looked like they were having a blast. There was Takahashi announcing her graduation, the 9th gen being nervous and adorable, and FREAKIN’ YUUKO SAMA!!!!

Overall, it was an awesome concert experience – both concerts were strong in their own ways. I just had one odd problem.

As overjoyed as I was to hear songs like Dekoboto Seventeen and Suki Suki Beam, it made me stop in my tracks for a moment. Sure, it’s fantastic to hear those again. It’s just…not the same and not for the reasons you’d think. Some of the solos/song choices were perfect (Shige singing Nee? just made me laugh so much because it’s horribly wrong and horribly right at the same time), but some of them just made me kinda sad.

My biggest example is what they gave to Shin Mini Moni in the A concert: freakin’ T&C Bomber’s Gatamekira.

No.

Just…NO!

This is not just because they are too young to know or appreciate the group who sang the original, because they are too young to understand the subject matter and because they aren’t anywhere near strong enough singers to give it ANY oomph (not without Linlin anyway). Those are important factors but for me it was more that a song like that is just…NOT Mini Moni. It’s not even SHIN Mini Moni.

It’s just…where did that choice come from??

THIS is T&C Bomber – formerly known as Taiyou to Ciscomoon.

They were formed from the ASAYAN auditions, already had careers (gymnast, Chinese singer etc) before the group, trained in America before recording and specialized in sultry, jazzy, vocal-heavy songs that were a smidge more adult than anything else in H!P’s history (Goto does not count in this case). Songs like Everyday, Everywhere and Magic of Love take my damn breath away.

THIS is their pv for Gatamekira.

THIS is Yossha’s review of their first album (because Yossha is the one who made me check them out in the first place to discover the pwn).

You know what Mini Moni is? Shin Mini Moni – ANY damn version of Mini Moni?

THIS! Young, short cuties, singing a ridiculous, but catchy song about penguins (PenPen Kyoudai RULES. Best. Performance. Ever. I’m not even a big Mini Moni fan and I freakin’ loved every moment of it). WHY? Because they CAN! Because even if you’re small, you can do great things. You can even make a song about hamsters getting married or how something is definitely cake. Oh, it’s CAKE!

Mini Moni was about innocence, wasn’t it? Innocent love. Growing up. Learning things. Loving cake. You know.

It was never about SPENDING THE NIGHT TOGETHER!!!

This is not a morality thing. I’m not saying, “oh dirty! think of the children!” My point is more that it just made no sense. Giving that group a song of that style, with those lyrics, when they are a group that normally sings about Strawberry Pie…

I just don’t get it. Why revive the groups if you’re going to completely ignore their entire history? Why not give that one to the new Aa!? Even when Airiri was NINE she was singing about having a lover.

Moments like that didn’t make me sad because the girls did badly. They’re not horrible singers or anything. In fact, they did ok for such an odd turn. It made me sad because it’s so dangerous for H!P to comb through their old song catalogue some times. Some songs should just retire, not because they aren’t amazing, classic songs, but because H!P just isn’t the same place anymore.

There isn’t a place for T&C Bomber songs, with the exception of maybe Marui Taiyou. Some of Matsuura’s old songs work and some of them don’t, because no one has the same power that she does. And if you’re going to do a Nacchi song, DON’T give it to Brat. Hagiwara doing Koi no Telephone Goal just made me miss Nacchi. So much so that afterwards we put on an older concert and watched the original. In fact, we did that with a few songs.

Again, I’m not saying there is no talent anymore, I’m saying there is a certain kind of talent and it isn’t the kind that comes anywhere close to what it used to. Inaba Atsuko and Maeda Yuuki’s singing Magic of Love is epic in a way that you just don’t see anymore. Takahashi seems to be able to pull off any style, but she won’t be here much longer and I think they rely entirely too much on her talent, Tsunku and the group. Shige mentioned it in a recent interview: there were many things they were able to do because Ai is there, but once she leaves, they need to be able to do those things without relying on her.

I don’t think it’s fair just to blame the girls for this stuff. It’s too easy to just write them off and say, “well, no one is talented”. How about Tsunku? He has far too much control. One man doing almost everything for twelve years or so is BOUND to repeat himself. Not only that, but he has stripped away everyone who is over the age of 24, the only exception being Takahashi and she’s leaving soon. Now and then he might wake up and decide some group gets to be more adult, but he needs to stick to a certain kind of ‘more adult’. Remember Tsunku: you chose a more innocent image, rather than edgy-Avex-type image. If you do get all sexy, it at least attempts to be subtle or tongue-in-cheek. You just don’t do a blatant “hey boy, I want to have sex! TONIGHT!” song anymore without disguising it a little. You can’t. You don’t have any adults anymore (again – some exceptions, but very few).

See this? This made no sense, just like Mini Moni doing Gatamekira. It’s a group called Sexy ADULT-jan and you’ve got two grade-school kids singing about an adult loneliness. Miki doesn’t buy it either. It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong. But little Oatbag has NO idea why she’s there. And Murakami works it, but trust me, she didn’t understand it either. I get that this is a thing in Japan, but again, the only reason it was done is because you had Miki in there. Remember when they went on Utaban and Ishibashi was like, “Do you two even know what you’re singing?”

H!P is only for idol pop now. Songs that jumped all over the place like Souda! We Are Alive or pvs like the one for Hyokkori Hyoutanjima won’t happen. PVs like Gatamekira, never mind SONGS like it, won’t or probably shouldn’t happen. If they’re going to go ‘mature’ it’s going to happen within the constraints they put on themselves.

The company has a formula they are comfortable with and they don’t deviate anymore. That and they keep hiring the same type of girl every time. Is this only because they have less money? Or do they have a fair amount of money, but just don’t want to risk losing any? Is their fanbase so fragile that stepping out of line even a bit will lose them? Is Tsunku actually trying to get them to do different styles, hire different girls, but his hands are tied? Or is he resting on his piles of money and just throwing a random tune out here and there without thinking about it? Is he looking up from the crack-bucket now and then and just picking a girl at random, or is he genuinely trying to find talent? And do we even really want to see something like the “real” version of AKB48’s Beginner, where our H!P girls are viciously mowed down one-by-one or bleeding and screaming?

Actually…hrm…

Anyway…

It makes me wonder: does more money really give a company more freedom to experiment, or does it just confine them to a profitable status-quo?

I watched Maeda Atsuko’s debut pv Flower. They don’t even show her singing; no trace of a dance shot. It’s a sort of mini drama involving a younger sister, a road trip, a sick relative. It made me weep. It made me weep and I don’t even know why. I only paid attention to Maeda at first because she reminded me of Nacchi and Kamei. I have no emotional attachment to her at all. And yet I was moved. On the other hand, I see a pv like Seishun Collection and manage to get choked up because I love the girls. The visuals don’t wow me or make me think, but I love the group and the music makes me happy.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe the reason I keep defending H!P is because even though they aren’t allowed to step too far out of line, never given too much to experiment with, I still feel such love for the groups. I don’t like everyone (obviously), but I like watching them work within those constraints. I like seeing them give life to things that could be so terrible. I even like it when they don’t succeed, because I know how hard they work.

I guess I’m not sure what my point here is. H!P has definitely become a different place, but not just because they got rid of all their old talent, every trace of that infamous Golden Era (that everyone attributes to Momusu, forgetting that Heike Michiyo, Melon Kinenbi, Bomber etc were also kicking ass before the kidz took over). They changed everything about it. It’s not really about music anymore. It’s about that one image: that one kind of idol, that one kind of voice. Does it make you happy, or does it make you impatient?

People talk about giving up H!P like they’re giving up their childhoods or “growing up”. There are things about the direction they are moving that frustrate me, but the main factor for me is that still enjoy the music. If it ever stops making me happy, then I’ll stop listening. H!P isn’t what you remember, but it’s still a pretty awesome place. We criticize because we love, right?

Until then, de-evolution or not, I’ll be here.

PS: Flower really is beautiful. You should check it out.

~Isilie

17 thoughts on “In Which H!P has (de)evolved

  1. Interesting you didn’t like Gatamekira. I thought it was freaking awesome and the final proof that Myamoto Karin should be given something important to do. That girl can sing.

    “H!P is only for idol pop now” Why? Variety is the spice of life. I think it’s great these girls get to do something different from time to time and that they dig out some of the older songs in the catalogue. I like how the shuffle groups give us a fresh takes on older songs.

    “How about Tsunku? He has far too much control.” I think the madman has far less power than you think he does. I see him more as a scapegoat, a man who gets blamed for everything wrong in H!P. Wanna blame someone? Blame Naoki Yamazaki, the head of UP-Front.

    I personally found Maeda Atsuko’s debut to be incredibly boring. But then again I have that opinion about most of AKB, with the exception of Itano Tomomi (Not hating, just personal taste)

    Reading this, it seems to me that maybe you are losing your fandom (correct me if I’m wrong). I find this to be sad, as for me personally 2011 has been a very exciting year for H!P.

    1. Ok: 2011 has definitely been exciting. I agree. And I assure you, I’m not losing my fandom. I find the deeper I love H!P the more freedom I feel to look at it critically and disagree with certain aspects of it. And yes, forgive me, I was using Tsunku as a scape-goat, but only because I had no idea who else to point a finger at. Naoki Yamazaki, eh? I will look into this more.Yes – the members of Shin Mini Moni can sing. I didn’t mean to suggest that they can’t. I would love to see more from them. Penpen Kyoudai convinced me of that.. And I didn’t mean to suggest that H!P should never shuffle. And when I said, “H!P is only for idol pop” I was merely stating a fact. I was stating how things are, not how they should be. I would love for H!P to be more adventurous than they are now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it, or enjoy it as it is.

      I guess I wasn’t very clear. I think my main point was just that H!P has evolved into a place that is very young and so hearing old songs like Gatamekira, that were originally sung by adults in an adult style etc just felt odd to me. It probably always will. I didn’t mean to suggest no one should be ambitious, but I do think this choice was too ambitious. I hope this post didn’t alienate you. Even if I don’t agree with some things, I haven’t fallen out of love with H!P.

  2. I for the most part find covers of the old songs hard to watch for pretty much the same reason. I’ll sit there and watching and/or listening to it and can’t help but think, “This is okay, but the original was so much better! Not to say they’re all bad, though. A Mame cover of Boogie Train sounds awesome, and I agree that Sayu’s cover of Ne~e was actually pretty good.

    As for H!P being a bit cautious as of late, I can’t help but think it’s a bit reactionary compared to the massive success of AKB48. Along the lines of if they can keep giving the core fans what they want or expect they can keep them from jumping ship. Back when they were the only show in town it didn’t really matter if a single or two alienated a few fans, there really wasn’t any other place to go.

    Also, I have to agree with TommyVD about Tsunku’s true influence in H!P. Of course he’s the figurehead of the management, so it makes sense that he’s going to be publicly held accountable, and I’m sure he does have a very large influence in everything that happens, but he still works under people in UpFront. I’m sure that everything major has to get the approval of the higher ups, from singles to what girls pass the auditions. I also imagine those higher-ups push their ideas down as well, and it’s not like someone is going to openly ignore the directions of their boss.

    1. Yeah, I do understand. I have the unfortunate habit of always using Tsunku as my scapegoat. I suppose I should rethink that compulsion though. It seems people really take issue with that and I acknowledge that he isn’t the only person making any decision. Think how it must SUCK if he has a really cool idea for Momusu (for example) but the higher-ups reject it every time. *shakes head* And will we ever know?

      And about the covers: it really does make you miss the older members, eh? I don’t hate H!P covers at all. In fact, that made this concert extra exciting. I just think that T&C Bomber was a little too ambitious for Mini Moni to do. And not because they are bad singers (far from it), but because the song choice just didn’t make sense to me.

  3. You made a great point about the song choices for the younger ones. And I agree with you that H!P is indeed going in a different direction. But I think that it might be for the better. I think he realizes that people are focusing more on the image of their idol these days more than anything. Just look at AKB. All of the girls are pretty much a cookie cut out of the same thing. And I won’t use the charts as proof (we all know those are rigged) but based on viewer ratings of their shows and the shows they appear on (recently hosted MTV awards) we can assume that this is whats popular. I think Tsunku sees that so he’s going in that direction. At the same time I still think he’s staying true to “old H!P” by the fact that he picked girls around the age of 12. By picking girls this young for Morning Musume he’s allowing his fans the privilege of watching their idols grow up the same way he did with our beloved 5th and 6th generation. We had ten wonderful years of Gaki and Ai-chan and I think he’s hoping for ten more with this generation. I personally think Riho was an EXCELLENT choice. But Tsunku is also taking a chance by choosing them becuase this love for the new generation can only grow with time. Time that Momusu’s depleting fandom might not have.

    I even think Tsunku is preparing for this. He’s having 2nd generation auditions for S/mileage maybe in hopes that this fresh group will last a decade or so? Only if they stay at the average ripe age of 15 though. IDK if yuuka and friends will be able to sing Yume Miru 15 at age 20….

    1. Oh I agree. And I don’t think that all these little ones are bad, exactly. I wasn’t saying that this is NOT how things should be, I was saying that this is how things ARE. It IS a place with just teenagers and children now. And that is why the really adult stuff feels a bit out of place for me. I really never thought of that – but you know what? You’re probably right. Ultimately it’s about what the fans want, eh? I wonder if they’ll change the name of that one? Yume Miru…when I was fifteen?? You think he’ll change the group enough that it will always be around 15?

  4. I really did enjoy this post. I enjoy most of your posts, of course, but this one really evoked a strong emotional response in me. I started typing my reply here… and then it ended up being over 500 words. I’ve moved it over to my blog, and I’d love it if you’d take a look. (http://peachusagi.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/in-which-i-respond-to-isilie-and-reaffirm-myself-as-a-hp-fan/)

    To tack on what I couldn’t say in my blog: I appreciate you as a writer, laugh at your picspams, and think that you’re an all around great addition to the blogosphere. Keep posting, and keep loving H!P!

  5. Just because H!P isn’t dominating the charts it’s rigged. Funny what this fandom has turned into. It’s really time to close shop. Japan doesn’t care anymore. Time to be realistic about it.

  6. Man, that concert stunk. The only one that really nailed their song, I felt, was Ai-san during her solo. She was gorgeous, graceful, and so sincere I swear I saw a tear fall at one point. Although it may just have been all the glitter.

    But it felt like everyone else was just thrown together and hastily performed. Like they weren’t given two days to rehearse.

    I had really hoped that the revival of the Shuffles was going to be wonderful, but Tsunku has proved me wrong yet again. What’s with all the terrible song choices, man!? And now it seems as though he’s dropped them all together. These groups could be amazing, you know. And it really seemed that that’s the direction they were going to take. So sad that it turned out differently.

  7. ALSO. Murr (from Int’l Wota) and I formally request that you show up in the international wota chatroom, #wotachat, some time. (By that we mean “PLEASE SHOW UP OMG OMG OMG IT’D BE SOOOO FUN. 😀 “)

  8. Gatamekira was initially one of the B-sides of the original ZYX group which was Yaguchi + a bunch of kids though, and that was a while ago.

      1. No, I know. I just meant that you said that it was weird seeing it performed by such different people from Taiyou to Ciscomoon which prompted me to point out that it had happened before.

      2. Well, it wasn’t so much the different people as it was specifically Mini Moni. And at least in ZYX they had Yaguchi to sorta guide things along.

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