PART TWO: The Stagnation Situation
After about two years of Platinum generation, with their slowly declining sales and lack of television presence, it seemed like every post about Momusu involved the word ‘stagnation’. The O.Gs were almost always onscreen when Momusu got to appear and as a result, the concept of the Golden Age became a topic of endless, heated debate. This is also the first time I ever encountered the concept of ‘rage-quitting’ a fandom: “They are just so bad that I am QUITTING them dammit!!.
Never mind all the changes that had happened two years ago and how lightning quick O.Gs had graduated or just exited (it was hard to catch your breath after Abe Natsumi graduated); Never mind the unprecedented move of having Chinese members in Momusu, or the fact that long-time shows had ended and new shows had taken their places; Never mind how H!P was slowly condensing, splitting into Elder Club and WonderfulheartsLand only to have a massive Elder Club exodus in only a couple years; Never mind how very different concerts became when there wasn’t that strong emphasis on variety anymore and how each girl had to step up her game.
Nope. All that mattered was Momusu was the same as it was a year ago, and let’s not forget the looming juggernaut of the emerging AKB48!
What was Itsumo Genki, Momusu-Supporter, to do? Was it really that bad? Let’s take a look at some of the things that I can remember people hating about the Platinum era.
Haromoni@ wasn’t as good as Hello Morning!
This show followed directly on the heels of Hello Morning, the Momusu-led H!P centric variety show that most people associate with the Golden Age. There had been sketches, performances, games, and recurring characters that let each member try her hand at variety. There was so much creativity involved and even though it was starting to lose steam towards the last episode, no one wanted to give it up.
Now we had an uninspired show in which the girls wandered around talking to a puppet and then were confined to a studio to do boring memory games or watch VTRs and ‘react’. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but nobody bothered subbing much of it. I watched an ep or two and it’s the kind of show that doesn’t cater to new fans at all – you really have to already know the girls to care about any of it. Contrast this with AKBingo, where they were doing hilarious nonsense like sliding into flour and getting ‘pie-ed’ in the face and HaromoniNoBudget will lose every time.
Line distribution became a ‘thing’, at least with us international fans.
Once again I must preface this with: I never read forums (I find them overwhelming – where do you even start when a page is already 102,897,364 posts in!??) in English and I can’t read them in Japanese so this is based on what I was reading in English blogs at the time. People got discouraged, myself included, because they weren’t used to Momusu being Winky-Ai-Koharu and their back-ups. It’s not as if the other girls couldn’t sing! After Linlin’s startling performance in ‘Ame no Furenai…’ it became a source of rage that such a wonderful talent wasn’t being utilized. The songs written for Platinum Gen needed strong vocals and here was a voice with power and passion – what the HELL, man!!?
Junjun and Linlin were criminally underused.
This is a touchy subject, isn’t it? There was much discussion as to why they weren’t heard in singles much and why they weren’t allowed to speak much in television, and a lot of it was assumed to be racism. I simply don’t know enough about Japanese/Chinese relations to comment.
I get that initially they couldn’t speak Japanese very well, but towards the end they were able to make themselves understood, so why not let them speak a little more? Junjun always spoke up and made herself known and Linlin used every opportunity to sing her heart out and make us ache to hear more of her.
Despite all the debate among us Western fans, I have never heard them speak ill of their time in Momusu. JunLin constantly refers to their fellow members as “good girls” who were kind to them; since they both now live in China (as far as I’m aware) and are no longer involved with the company, there’s really no reason for them to lie about this. Given their unique situations, plus the fact that these two didn’t get along at first the other members really became family. Junjun thought Linlin was “fake” and it annoyed her and Linlin thought Junjun was “spoiled” and didn’t understand what her problem was. Eventually they managed to understand each other and make peace, but since they didn’t immediately bond, they must have had to rely on their senpai a lot more than most new members might.
If you watch the Yorosen (which I didn’t talk about because it’s an H!P show, not specifically for Momusu) in which the girls are told to write letters to their future selves, Junjun writes about how much she loves the others and how she wants to always remember their time and it MAKES EVERYONE CRY! Linlin and Takahashi (TAKALIN FTW!!) became like sisters. Michishige recalled how Junjun was always supportive of her, even though she clashed with her a lot. IT MADE HER CRY to the point that she had to stop talking about it. Niigaki always seemed touched by how much they loved the group. Even stone-cold Winky, in her grad messages to JunLin said similar things: Linlin was never afraid to run up and be sweet to her, even when she was clearly in a bad mood and all the other members had left her alone; Junjun was always a comforting presence who made her feel at home (AND IT MADE HER CRY).
So even if the Japanese public didn’t want to hear these two, the members embraced them enough that they have nothing but good to say about them. At least we had that.
Each single sounded the same; wasn’t as funky/interesting/inventive/fun as Golden Era singles.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. There was a lot of synth in this generation and the songs did stick to certain formulas, particularly with line-distribution. I thought the B-sides were often a lot more interesting than the singles. It started to feel like Tsunku could do whatever he wanted with the B-sides as long as the company had their chosen leads for the singles. Hell, we don’t even have B-sides anymore. We were spoiled! Aki Urara, or Yowamushi, or Tomo, or the splendid Aisare Sugiru Koto wa Nai no yo still blow my mind.
I suppose you could argue that because the vocal level was so high and the songs became more challenging, they just weren’t as easy, or fun to sing along to. People relentlessly compared everything new with something from the Golden Era and it was never as “inventive”, “fun”, “complex” etc.
I think this technically started earlier than Platinum, but it’s true that they rarely, if ever, left the studio and there were always three pv standards: dance-shot, close-up, sit-and-stare. Even if they tried to be clever or have some concept, people were just never impressed. Also, the choreography wasn’t as iconic as something like Renai Revolution or The Peace and got progressively harder for fans to mimic (little did they know that Robo-musume-formation was coming).
Concert costumes. Full-stop.
Ugh. The horror. The enormous-bows-and-tutu-side-fros era…oh, man. Need I even elaborate?
I mean, LOOK at this!!
My exact caption for this one from that post was: “Look! A birthday cake ate a box of crazy-hats and THREW UP ON THESE THREE!”
“My favourite personality isn’t there!” coupled with, “No one has any personality anymore!”
Ooh, this was probably the biggest one. Despite, Yossy’s absence, I argued long and hard for years about how much I love these members (with two notable exceptions), so we’ll all just have to agree to disagree or we’ll go in circles. Granted, I didn’t “grow up” with Mini-moni, Tanpopo etc. and they were already transitioning into Platinum when I became a fan, so I don’t have the same kind of attachment. There was still tons of subtitled history available back then and it was easy to start out a fan of the Golden Era and be disappointed with where they were in the present, compared to back then.
It was hard to passionate about a group in which every member was some variation of cute/genki and bland. The general feeling was that there was no longer any balance of personality. In Golden Era Momusu, there were quite a few different characters to choose from and in Platinum the emphasis wasn’t on variety anymore, hence every girl seemed to play it safe with cute and variations of genki.
To claim NO personality is subjective though. For example, I will NEVER like Winky or Koharu as performers, but they are frequently cited as favourites in this line-up. More than one person has said that these two were the only things keeping them with the group or the girls who got them into idols in the first place.
I will never understand this. Defending Winky on any grounds, or telling me of Koharu’s addictive magnetism as a performer, is futile. I will never like either of them. I felt the same before Platinum Era and the over-exposure only exacerbated my annoyance. I guess it must be the same for those who rage-quit because of “boring” members.
There was rampant nostalgia for the O.Gs and it made everybody expect variations of Yaguchi Mari or Kago Ai etc. again and anything else just wasn’t good enough. Many people, if they did stay, only paid attention to one specific member and these sorts of fans abandoned the group itself and would only check in randomly to check up on said member.
There were no graduations or auditions for three years, hence ‘stagnation’.
This word was used the most when bloggers would talk about why they were leaving the Momusu camp and it just made me dig in my heels even more when I talked about Platinum members. It seemed to be in every single blog post I read back then, if they deigned to write about Momusu at all. I started to see it as a euphemism for, “I’m bored without (whichever member)” or “they aren’t changing fast enough”. (gif from alwaysai on tumblr)
To ‘stagnate’ means to stop developing. There was even a rumour around this time that Tsunku had drunkenly confessed to some friend in the industry that he felt stuck with Momusu now and he had no idea what to do with them. The creation of ‘Dream Morning Musume’ seemed to verify this. People got really freaked out. Cashing in on all that hysterical nostalgia seemed to highlight everything people didn’t like about the current members.
Whatever your opinion on their personalities, the Japanese public was discovering AKB48 around this time: an air-tight, gravure heavy, multiple member marketing machine of a group. They were new, younger, accessible (at least in the beginning) in a way that Momusu wasn’t, and they had an actual variety show! Oh, and the most irresistible thing in the world: a DREAM. By comparison Momusu had a boring non-entity of a late-night show and older, bland members who were simply riding along on the coattails of their senpai and their legacy. People wanted more of the same from them, and AKB had the constant auditions and variety emphasis Momusu was missing.
Nothing can exist for a decade without any mistakes, slip-ups, or periods in which growth seems to slow. I don’t know why there were no graduations for three years, or auditions, but I would argue strongly against this idea of ‘stagnation’. They definitely developed during this time, paving the way for the formation-heavy chic of Robo-musume, but it wasn’t in the manner some fans wanted.
It’s never easy to be in transition. Platinum Gen probably had it the worst in all of Momusu history: they’d been rocked by several scandals (Mari, Kago, Miki, need I go on?), many popular members had left in very quick succession, Takahashi wasn’t sure how to lead (and definitely didn’t want to), and their singles and pvs became formulaic, sticking to a safe fan-friendly (Japanese fan anyway) formula. They didn’t get to go on t.v much anymore and places that used to welcome them (Utaban for example) now shunned them unless the O.Gs sat in front.
So if this era was so sad, why do I argue that they didn’t stagnate? Why are people thinking about it with nostalgia now and talking about how amazing it was? And really, how did it change everything?
We’ll explore that in our final instalment. Again, please let me know in the comments if I missed any crucial thing that caused the rage-quitting of so many bloggers. I love hearing people’s impressions of this era. Platinum Gen is definitely one of those eras that everyone has an opinion about…but please, don’t bother defending Winky.
It’s not happening.