H!P, List, Love, Morning Musume

Remembering the Ai-Era


Well, it’s done, the Takahashi Ai era of Momusu (we are calling it an era!!). Now that I have some much needed time away from work, I can  think through how I feel about this. It’s still new for me, so bear with me a little?

Takahashi Ai had to take the reigns from Yossy, the last of the ‘Golden Era’ musumes. She led the group through nearly four years of big moments: their first trip to America, their first (I assume) trip to Paris, their first number one since ‘Aruiteru’ and two major member additions – the Chinese half of our eighth gen and the delightful ninth gen. I’ve read so many blogs saying that under her lead the group ‘stagnated’ (people rely on that word a lot) because the songs all started to sound alike and because the line-up of front-girls never changed. I’ve also read talk that claims because she was such a powerful performer she overshadowed everyone. To paraphrase another blogger (if this is you, tell me and I will credit you properly) “There’s no need to push anyone else to improve. Takahashi will carry everything!”

I don’t think there has ever been a case quite like that in Momusu history. Even in the Goto era we had such powerhouses that it didn’t matter how hard they pushed her – the others kept speaking up and getting in our faces (and that is why Dream Momusu can exist). With the Ai era, I don’t think it was even just that she overshadowed everyone. That was part of it, but I think Momusu was just missing that senpai-kouhai dynamic that was so prevalent before Yossy left. Let’s face it, none of the Gokkies are leader material on first glance. I think that is largely why Momusu became so close and familial. There was such an emphasis on unity, very few line-up changes and much less of an age gap so everyone became comfortable with each other. They were comfortable enough that some OGs mentioned it specifically. Eventually Ai herself commented that Tsunku’s advice was to make it a “close and family-type” group because it would work for her.

Takahashi led the group and then H!P itself through a very strange time. Getting rid of the Elder Club and restructuring H!P back into a place for the younger performers was a huge step. I personally loved this era and after Yossy left I didn’t even know if I would still be a Momusu fan. But I am, perhaps moreso than ever before. I just wanted to reminisce about Takahashi’s lead because I don’t want to write another post about how great, adorable and talented she is and how she will be missed (even though those things are all very true). I wanted to really look at the things that I loved most about it and see what conclusion I can come to.

This ended up quite long, so forgive me.  m (_ _) m

The Resonant Blue Single

Honestly, the first thing I remember about this era is Resonant Blue. I know that Takahashi Ai was leader two singles before that, but Onnani felt like a transitional one. They were finding their lead girls and getting JunLin used to things with complicated choreography. It’s a good song, but I’ve always felt like it was sort-of hanging on to the last one. It doesn’t help that the song had to be messed around with because of Miki’s departure. As a result there is way too much Takahashi in a time when that wasn’t exactly the norm yet. Mikan felt like an experiment: can we genki it up again, or do people still want us to brood?

When I first heard Resonant Blue it was an mp3 from a radio show, so for the first few seconds Winky’s annoying-ass voice interrupted things. I’d broken my rule of never listening to previews because it had been awhile since Mikan and I really wanted to hear something new. I was on the bus, on my way home from class when I first heard it. The sound quality was horrible and honestly I couldn’t make head nor tails of how the verses were structured. But I loved it. It didn’t sound anything like Momusu to me, but at the same time it was so…them.

That is why I use the phrase ‘Resonant-Blue-Style-Insta-Love‘ on this site. Because I’d never really had that experience before. I’d not been that excited about a new Momusu song since I could remember. I was a fairly new fan. I mean, I’d only started really getting into them around the Chokkan2 single and it was going back through their history that made me fall in love. So it sounds strange, even to me that Resonant Blue, a single that seems to be loathsome to so many people, is the first single of theirs to make me feel like that. I wish I could explain it to you better. I just know that I felt a surge of excitement the first time they got to the ‘ne ne dakedo‘ moment and from then on I was hooked. I listened to it over and over and the moment I got the pv I watched that over and over. The only issue I can take with it at this point is how Winky/Nutjob heavy it is. Other than that, I can’t think of anything I don’t like about it.

I loved those costumes. I loved the heavy eye make-up. I loved the black and blue lighting. I loved that choreography and how Kamei suddenly turned into this kick-ass dancer the moment she got onscreen.  I connect with the lyrics and how (to summarize and simplify) it’s not simply a girl getting cheated on or ignored but someone who is just sick of the whole game. I couldn’t think of anything to compare it to. People were saying the song was like Summer Night Town and the pv was like Shabondama. I can see that, but I don’t agree. Summer Night Town has a sort of dazed, brooding quality to it where Resonant Blue is all loneliness and muted anger. It ends in a desperate plea for help rather than a coy ‘I hate you cause I can’t help loving you’. Shabondama’s choreography is almost all straight up flailing rage, where Resonant Blue’s is more contained. There are a few moments of desperation, but most of it is structured, with the rage straining to release itself.

Plus there is no sexy water time in that one. A shame really.

The original video is just a dance-shot, but they released a whole bunch of versions of Resonant Blue that are really interesting, including my favourite version which is a mix of all of them. Still can’t get over that dance-shot though…

More than anything else, it was theirs. I felt like the members actually loved this song. Sure it ushered in the era of the Koharu-Ai-Winky front girls, but it was something really cool that they hadn’t done before. This is the song that started the era for me.

Family Musume

I sound like a bit of a broken record here, but unity just rules. Momusu became completely different. There wasn’t really a feeling of sections: the senpais and the kouhais and then the newer members. Everyone paired off in certain ways, but they seemed to work so well as one. That was probably because of the age difference not being much of a difference. It also could be because JunLin needed everyone to make them feel welcome and help them communicate. It felt like the most important thing to Takahashi was to have one vision of what Morning Musume should be and for everybody to put that forth. The best and worst thing about it is that the sense of rivalry wasn’t there. At least not in the blatant way it was in the past, or in the way it is now with the eight (count em people, EIGHT) newer, younger members. I think it was a good thing simply because we’d never seen a Momusu like that before.

Now you can go on about how “fake” it all is and how they all probably cat around at each other behind the scenes, but I really don’t care. If it was fake, they did a damn good acting job and I really enjoyed it. And girls squabble about stupid things no matter what. It’s to be expected when you spend absurd amounts of time together in a job where your appearance is just about everything. I remember Shige and JJ having arguments about their hairstyles because they had such similar characters. That is clearly a silly thing to argue about, but it didn’t stop them from working together for the group. There is a moment in the Alo Hello dvd where Shige, Winky and Linlin make fruit bouquets. They all have to choose a flower pot – green (?was it green?), yellow or pink. Shige and Winky both want pink so they janken and Winky gets it (and yes, she is really annoying about it). Then Shige turns to Linlin and smiles, setting a hand on her shoulder. Linlin just sighs and says, “Right. I understand.” and takes the green one. I didn’t see this so much as a senpai kouhai moment as a sister indulging a sister.

When I say ‘unity’ or ‘family’ I don’t mean to suggest they never argued or were always happy with each other. I mean the sense that I always got from Takahashi’s members was one of family – Takahashi is very much the mother-hen, with Gaki as the slightly more stern father. They all seemed to be very close. That is why the two graduations – Nutjob’s and the trio of Kamei, JJ and Linlin – took so very long. Breaking apart that nine when they’d been through so much together…(I wept, I’m not gonna lie)

They really had to re-create their own Momusu in the shadows of the OGs. I don’t remember where I read this, but one of the blogs I read mentioned that Momusu moved away from their idol roots and were more focused on performance. Their dancing really stepped up and their music got very uniform and polished. Because it was a group more focused on concerts and performance, the lack of idol personality became much less important. It makes so much sense to me. I would never say there was no personality there, but I agree that it became very music oriented. You don’t realize how many appearances they had in the past. This version of Momusu just didn’t have that anymore. They were never given that chance. You can either dismiss this as “they were all boring” or you can wonder if maybe their focus was just different. If they don’t get to talk well then, dammit they’re gonna perform their asses off!

ZombieZombie mentioned that in the past Momusu’ s performances weren’t very polished (in this awesome post – you should check out part one also, because it mentions that people need to stop comparing them to the OGs and start appreciating what Momusu is and not what it was – THANK you!). That was part of the charm, but that is also why this recent Momusu was so different and so special. They had to step it up, they had to put in that work. Now they are attracting a new generation of fans. Momusu LIVES, baby!

JunLin

New members are one thing, but new members that cannot even speak the language they are meant to perform in-?

The general reaction to this was a supreme wtf.
But also a raised eyebrow.
Cause really, with all the uproar of Yossy leaving and Miki stepping down, can they really handle this?

Answer: YES!

Let’s get this out of the way first: they weren’t exactly treated the way they should have been. I know JJ was harassed into closing her blog and Linlin was lonely and isolated before Momusu. I know that they should have been given a hell of a lot more to do, especially considering Linlin’s vocal ability and JJ’s versatility. I don’t know how much the fandom in Japan embraced them and I know that unfortunately, if you don’t sell you don’t get a lot of opportunity, but the fact remains that they had two talented, dedicated girls who they could have utilized a hell of a lot better. The fact that they wasted that opportunity just makes me sad.

If you want to talk about how bad or good they were first consider how far they came in three years: they studied the language enough to be able to sing, communicate their feelings and create relationships with the members and with fans; they spoke up on variety shows even when it was embarrassing, in a time when people were not really speaking up; they were very young when they came to Japan and leaving your family when you are that young is hard enough without leaving your country itself. The fact that they were able to overcome such things to the extent that they did and work so well in a group with so much history is an incredible achievement.

JJ could be adorably awkward one second and then pouty and sensual the next (hence her shuffle into Zoku Biyuuden). She pulled off the genki just as much as the moodier stuff. Look at her in 321 Breaking out and then watch her in Nanchatte Renai – both looks work. I think she could have done a lot more. A weaker voice never stopped them before –  look at Ishikawa and all the things she got to do. Then there is Linlin who can bring tears to your eyes or bring the house down with those vocals. She is very much the spunky little sister and is one half of my eternal otp Takalin (<3 love them <3). Given the chance I think she could have pulled off some T&C Bomber stuff…And if they did feel like they were getting pushed to the back, they didn’t act resentful about it. Both these girls love the group and the fact that they didn’t have as many fans made them appreciate the ones they did have that much more.

I’m glad that Momusu became such a familial place because if there had been such a sharp divide between the generations, I don’t know if JunLin would have felt as comfortable as they did. When I watched the graduation ceremony with subs for the first time, I was struck by how close the members were to these two and how much they recognized their efforts. I think I was worried that because JunLin hadn’t been in that long and because of the ever present culture/language barriers the messages would be formal and vague. I was also thinking that maybe Kamei would overshadow them in terms of importance. I was pleasantly surprised and touched. When I got to Niigaki’s message I lost it.

She says to Junjun (paraphrased from a HelloFansubs sub): “At first when the two of you joined I had many worries about it but you must have been much more anxious. Leaving your own country, coming all the way to japan…thank you so much. Being together, doing our best together…and having so much love for us…I’m so thankful for it. Even though you’re graduating we’ll always be friends.”

I think that sums it up beautifully.

Concerts I Loved

Resonant Live

This was the first concert that made me sit up and think, “damn, Momusu is BACK!” The set list is practically flawless (with a few exceptions, like Nutjob’s Tantantan song – sorry, except Anataboshi I wasn’t a fan of anything Milky Way) and the pacing is fantastic.  There are some solos but for the most part the group is together. I remember being struck by how much their dancing seemed to improve, or at least how they were trying to highlight it. They brought back numbers like Purple Wind, in which each performer gets her own small solo and Yeah!Aishitai, one of those songs people seem to dislike but I ADORE. I’m sorry, but ever since the Morning Curry tour, TOP followed by that song is the hottest, best thing EVAR!

The costumes (for once) aren’t entirely composed of insane tutus and this is the first concert (that I remember) that started previewing album songs. I think this was the best idea they’ve had in a long time. I have never seen Take off is Now look more fierce than this first performance. I loved Guruguru Jump the first time I heard it because it was made to be performed. Seeing such a goofy song live first gives you a whole new appreciation for it when you hear it on the album. It was so awesome to hear Linlin and JJ for once, not underneath the vocals of others, but right there. And have I mentioned Take off is Now being FIERCE!?

Some (badly interlaced) Caps:

OTP time!!! Takalin being awesome, in awesome costumes.

Take off is Now: debuted in this tour and FIERCELY (it’s a shame about Mame’s dress though)!

LOVETHEMLOVELTHEMLOVETHEM!!!

(The previous caps in almost no way encapsulate how awesome this concert is. They mainly reflect Isilie squee-moments and you should still check it out if these moments don’t appeal to you.)

Platinum 9 Disco

Well I already reviewed it here, so…yeah…it is awesome.

Nine Smile

I don’t know why, but I loved all the promo material for this concert. And it’s funny because the concert itself isn’t as genki as they portray it to be. I found it rather more sophisticated than you’d expect, especially for being Nutjob Kusumi’s graduation. All I mean by this is…well look how colourful the posters are and then compare it with most of the set list…maybe it’s just me…

I haven’t really commented on Nutjob’s grad, even though I had a review post planned, but I was struck by how long the grad ceremony was and how it just fell apart in the middle. Riida had to keep reminding them that the hug-and-cry could happen backstage and not in the middle of the ceremony. I mean, there are eight people to get through! Koharu, stop saying things and listen! It felt so different from the previous grads because rather than a formal, ceremonial approach it felt like the adults had left the kids in charge and there’s an almost amateur feel to it, after such a professional set. They really try and stick to the formula, but because they are all so close they end up taking way too long and crying way too much. And you know what? I loved that. It really brought home how significant the break-up of nine nin Momusu was for them. I’m not trying to down-play Koharu’s role here. She beloved among fans and members alike. For me though, it’s always about the family.

The setlist has a quite a few shuffles, even bringing back the Gumis (Sakura Mankai ftw! They almost never perform that one!) and they have a moving stage (well…part of it rotates a little) that really adds some interesting elements to the songs.

I need to take a moment to mention Kamei Eri and the Kimagure Princess performance.

She is absolutely gorgeous in this number and in this concert. She kept powering up, becoming more beautiful, more confident. I think she might even give energy to the other members who all seem to really get into this song. Towards the end of her tenure, she really loved her concerts. My eyes are drawn to her over and over for her awesome dancing, her joyous smile and the way she belts out her lines. She is playful and beautiful and her singing is oddly deeper and strong. I couldn’t get over it.

Can we also talk about the best costume ever in…EVAR!?

Momusu in gauzy, lacy, confused, loli, cowboy chaps??? Yes please!

Loved these costumes so so SO much. These should have been the main costumes. Who needs those odd, hole-punched pajamas they wore in the pv!

Also loved that these costumes stayed on for Genki+. Man, I love that song. I didn’t hear the harmony that makes the intro so haunting and distinctive though. *sigh*

I’m sure my brother would like me to mention that Rainbow Pink makes a sugary, obnoxious appearance.
It does. If you like it, more power to ya. If, like me, you fast-forward as frantically as you can, then…well I’m right there with you.
But yeah. It’s there. Doesn’t look like we’ll be getting rid of it any time soon.

Takalin ftw!
(I would put that phrase a t-shirt if I could…maybe with a cute animated Takalin-? XD *dorks out*)

PikaPika I also loved, but I already reviewed it here.

There is also Rival Survival, but talking about that would extend this post EVEN MORE, so I will just say: awesome, finally back in Yokohama Arena and HOT COSTUMES.

I want this poster.

To Sum Up: Concerts became a lot more about dancing in the Ai-era, but what remained was an intensity and dedication to engaging the audience. They didn’t have many chances in variety to show their stuff, so concerts were that much more vital. They have some very choreographed numbers and some very free ones and both draw you in. Previous years had a lot more mc moments and running around (mostly because they had bigger stages back then), but I think it’s awesome that even with smaller audiences and much less technical decoration to work with, Momusu pwned their lives.

I guess the common thread with me is that family feeling. Or sisterhood feeling? However you want to word it, there was a distinct sort of bond between the members of the Ai-era Momusu. They really had a lot to go through with a lot of nay-sayers telling them they were no longer relevant. I didn’t see anyone here giving up. In fact, I saw the members loving the group even more, working ever harder for the audiences to keep them entertained and engaged. Whether that worked or not is up to you. For me, I notice that a lot of bloggers say they got into Momusu during this era and I always feel so happy when I read that. They can still pull in new fans, which means even if you think Momusu is now a disaster, there is still something there, pulling people in. That feeling of unity that was so different from any other time, that absence of acute rivalry, was really interesting and I think it was in no small part due to Ai stepping up and being that kind of leader.

A lot will change now. Obviously, without Ai and with all these new kids, they will have to step up and recreate yet again. The dynamics will change, Winky and Riho will probably dominate a great deal of the time and the musical style may be confused for a bit.

But I believe they can do this.
I will be here, loving the group as always and loving this era.

Yoroshiku!

~Isilie

3 thoughts on “Remembering the Ai-Era”

  1. You mentioned how Ai’s Morning Musume was like a family, and that was one of the reasons that I really fell in love with that group. They were always such a delight to watch together, whether performing on stage or goofing off backstage. I’m not such a big fan of inter-group rivalry, just too much drama.

    As a side note about Resonant Blue, I have a few friends that absolutely love that song, yet care for nothing else from Morning Musume. It really is so unique compared to any of their other songs, but you’re completely right that it just “fits.”

    One of the things that I really love about your posts is that I can really get a sense of how much you love the group, the members and the music. It was an absolute pleasure to read, thank you!

  2. I started liking MM just before Resonant blue was released. For some reason I always feel like It was released before Onna ni sachi and Mikan.
    hmmmm.

    There was definately fighting. Between JJ and Koha, JJ and Sayumin and Tanaka and Niigaki (they didn’t talk for a year from like around sept 2010 to sept 2011)

    I know its weird but JunJun is my eteranal Morning Musume favourite and I was disturbed at how little LinLins vocal talents were utilised. She was AMAZING probably one of the best singers EVER in MM and she was at the back.

    I always wonder how it would have been if Fujimoto hadn’t gotten a BF and gapped. I think they would have had an even harder time because she seemed downright mean. At least Ai was always nice, and concerned about others.

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