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.
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.
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??
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?
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.