H!P (de)Evolves Yet Again: The Other ‘Half of it’

Permit me a small freak-out post, even though you and I both know that everything is going to be fine.

I suppose ‘evolution’ is the word I want. But this is starting to be more than I can handle. I’m not trying to pick on AKB (although I suspect it will come across that way), but that is not a format I want for H!P. It’s not what H!P is. If H!P becomes a giant, unstable idol factory in which every group can just be shuffled at will and auditions don’t mean anything and groups that have worked hard get unceremoniously split up or the group name just suddenly disappears-

Let me explain a bit less dramatically.

This might be jumping the gun, but this whole Country Girls fiasco feels like the beginning of something I don’t want.

They’ve spent two years slowly phasing out Tsunku and his influence: he was politely asked to step down from producing (said so in his own book) and other writers came in, beginning a cycle of non-stop triple a-sides; We’ve said good bye to the last of the girls directly chosen by him and mentored by him, as there’s no more Golden-Era Musume and no more H!P kids, and I doubt he has any say in auditions anymore; now suddenly every group just randomly gets new members, when it used to be a Momusu thing.

I understand Tsunku wants to be with his family and he seems happy and all, but I don’t know (and neither do you) if he’s happy with what they’re doing to his creation. Obviously I haven’t always liked his decisions, or his songs, but I can’t deny that he created something I dearly love.

H!P, as I know it, consists of at least five groups of girls, who all have distinct styles of performing, who come together some times, but are dynamic and interesting on their own. Maybe they shuffle members during concerts, but their main groups don’t change much. The only one that had auditions to add new members was Momusu; sure, Smileage/Angel-may started doing this, but I’m not sure it was  always the plan. Then Country Musume started doing it. Now we really can’t turn back.

These girls were the results of a process: there would be an announcement that the group was looking for new members, then an audition (nowadays the Eggs are allowed to audition for a chance to debut instead of just back-dancing till they’re adults), and then some girls were chosen and we got to watch them struggle and grow into idols.

I thought it was weird when Fujimoto Miki’s solo career was unceremoniously ended to add her to Momusu and (more recently) that Angel-May kept getting new members over and over, but this Country Girls thing is just the dumbest thing I’ve seen since giving Koharu her first solo single.

Yes, that’s what triggered this panic attack.

Country Musume, the supposed originator of the concept, has had a strange history. One of the first generation girls was killed in a car crash just before the group debuted. Then even though Country had their own new members, they kept adding people from the much more recognizable Momusu to the roster. It was always more like a shuffle group than anything else. H!P has never really known what to do with duos or soloists (who aren’t Matsuura Aya – but then, she doesn’t need any help because she’s been completely amazing from the start).

As for their group sound, I think it was supposed to follow their name and be a bit more of a rural sound. Then Ishikawa and Sexy Baby happened and then everything was up in the air (That’s country?? WHICH country!?).

Country Girls, interestingly enough, borrowed on the familiar ‘Country’ moniker to gain some instant recognition. In the beginning it was just a vehicle for Momoko to keep idol-ing; there was no way they’d let her have a completely new group when she was already in her twenties unless she was the ‘general manager’.

What struck me about it though was how she handled herself within the group. She knew exactly how to push the girls forward, letting them tease her or teasing them for example.Rather than crushing them underneath her shadow, she brought them out and tried to teach them.

Compare this to Biyuuden, which seemed so obviously about Rika’s ego that the other two may as well have not been there. I’m not saying they weren’t talented in their own ways: Miyoshi was way, way too good for them and Yui should never have been an idol in the first place. And both sang better than Rika.

This isn’t my gif, but it’s a good example of  their choreography always having Ishikawa in the center.

Also not my gif, but an example of Biyuuden being uncomfortable together for various reasons…

Watching Country Girls in a (semi) recent H!P concert, belting out Dou Datte Ii no (which is an addictive song that I LOVE, despite how blatantly derivative it is, and despite the fact it’s their lowest seller), they seemed like a real group for the first time since the whole ‘Country’ concept emerged. I knew Momo would have to go eventually, I just had no idea they would retire the group.

I mean, let’s be honest here: the group is gone now, isn’t it? They said Ozeki Mai and Yamaki Risa will return now and then, school permitting, but that is hardly the same. What will the other three do?

Apparently GET SHUFFLED.

This doesn’t sound like something any of the girls had any input about at all. It sounds like company nonsense. It is a stupid, stupid idea.

I don’t mean that it’s not going to work out – obviously H!P will soldier on and if it’s really a huge problem it will never be attempted again. I just think it’s really dumb.

Adding to Juice=Juice just infuriates me. They’ve been together nearly a decade. It’s one thing to do this within a year or two of debuting, but six years into things? They were about to have the first world tour in the history of H!P! They have gotten steadily better every single year to the point that I look forward to their performances every time they show up in H!P concerts. They do not need any help. They do not need new blood. I realize they reacted really well, compared to Momusu, but what else can they do?

Adding to Angel-may? Well, what else is new? Even Ayaka was like, “Eh, we do this every few months. Don’t ya’ll even worry about it!” The members all seemed to just take it in stride. It was actually a relief after the awkward, awkward Momusu addition.

Ayaka, in a blog post about it, said something like, “I don’t know what they’re going to do in a group of gorillas like us.” and based on basically every time I’ve seen the group together, I kinda see what she meant.

Seeing Morisato Chi-chan added to Momusu just about killed me. Nobody wanted it, least of all her. Mizuki was trying so hard to smile and be welcoming, but both of them knew that it was ridiculous. Mizuki didn’t know how to “console” her and Chi-chan probably couldn’t get her head straight.

When the other girls saw that the company had just lumped on another member they couldn’t even comment. They were just relieved Mizuki wasn’t announcing her graduation. The whole thing was so bloody awkward (announcement gifs not mine; from here).

Mizuki was holding back tears for most of it. Instead of saying things like, “oh we’ll do our best” she mourned the loss of the H!P she’d loved; she said that once Momoko graduated, it would never be the same.

Amen to that, riida.

Apparently this is our 14th generation. After NOT EVEN A YEAR with our 13th.
And with no audition, no ceremony, no warning.
And she doesn’t even want to be there!!

I’m not blaming her at all. In fact, I felt for her so much!

She was rejected for the 12th gen of Momusu, so she kept working and finally debuted with the legendary (albeit frightening) Momoko in a brand new (ish) group. She poured her heart into Country Girls and now she is losing Momoko AND regular work with her group and she’s separated from her fellow members; they won’t see each other for work as often and the group they built together may just fade into obscurity.

So what has she been doing all this time? What was it all for? Now she’s just another girl in a large group with firmly established leads and has to learn about a million complex dance routines so she can be ready for the next tour (because Momusu tours all year long).

Then right after this awkward transition, she has to sit there in all the 20th anniversary celebrations like, “Yeah, I just was forcibly placed here a couple months ago…I really can’t say or do much of anything here.” That must have been desperately lonely.

Maybe it was an honour? I hope she felt something about it. She must have, considering she auditioned for Momusu in the first place.

Let’s not even go into the senpai-kouhai divide she now must navigate; wasn’t she top tier in Country Girls (a 1st generation member) and now, despite her experience and established fan-base, she’s the lowest of all the kouhai?

And why?
Money, I’m assuming. One less group to promote.

Or because the group only existed for Momoko?

Did people only like it for Momoko?

Or is it because they want to make H!P into an idol-factory? The AKB method of constant auditions and an ever rotating cycle of girls might work for them, but that isn’t what H!P is. That’s what this is really about for me. Chi-chan will adjust, as will the other transfers. Besides, she’s still touring with Country Girls (apparently they celebrated their 3 year anniversary with some lives recently), and they seem to be setting her up as a future ace in Momusu. And why not? She’s gorgeous, just the right kind of boring, and a good singer.

Here’s the thing…

One of the main things I love about H!P is that it’s never too large to care about. Even if you only like one group, that group will stay small enough that you know who they are and when a new member comes in, you can see her growth.

Groups shouldn’t just hover in idol-purgatory forever. I know Berryz is apparently in hiatus, and other groups like Pucchi Moni never formally retired, but this was completely unnecessary. Country Girls could just add some Eggs, couldn’t they? Why would you split them among the three most popular groups when their group was DOING JUST FINE? I realize that two of them are have decided to pursue school before their careers, but how do we know that they always planned that or if they were pressured in some way because this “new format” for H!P was in the works all along?

I mean, did I miss something? Did people hate Country Girls?? I thought they were doing really well!

I felt like this when S/mileage just ended without warning and Angel-may emerged; I thought, “But what happens to the S/mileage name? Did the group morph from S/mileage to Angel-may or something?” Why was that necessary!?

Weird, weird stuff is happening.

I know, I know; things like this have happened before. MagiKat reminded us in this awesome post that H!P has gone through massive changes like this before and a lot of people rage-quit over it. I’m sure there was much of the same kind of ruckus online during the exodus of the Elder Club or the resurrection of Tanpopo and Pucchi Moni and so forth. All of those changes that seemed so extreme at the time worked out just fine.

So I realize I’m being a bit dramatic, especially since Country Girls was hardly my favourite. I also have no idea what their plans are in terms of group activities, if any. It was the same with S/mileage: I never got into their music, minus a few songs here and there, but I was almost always sympathetic when something changed for them. I simply don’t understand.

I guess I can get behind periodic new auditions for every single H!P group (within reason – could we keep it to once a year, please?); after all, I want these groups to last as long as possible. But I cannot get behind the factory concept or that all the groups will be shuffled around every couple of years so the girls can “grow”.

I mean, H!P groups tend to balance very well with girls that are good singers, or good dancers, or who have distinct and delightful personalities. Once they establish their group dynamics they just shine. Look at how much more amazing Momusu was when they really focused on getting along with each other; their performances became that much stronger.

At least now we finally have a new audition show, ala Asayan.

I realize that I am overreacting. I realize everything will be fine. Just don’t change too much, ok, H!P?

Ne? ^_^’

I feel so old.


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