Longevity has been the main selling point for Morning Musume this past year since the idol franchise celebrated its 20th year anniversary. Two decades is certainly a feat: a half-hour TV special for the big anniversary prepared a chart pointing out how the past reigning idol groups lasted a decade at the best. Mo-Musu may have outlasted the lifespan of popular units before them, though it also begs a new question: does it bring any good for idol groups to remain active for that long?
The members of Mo-Musu, past and present, touch upon this question to an extent in Hatachi no Morning Musume, the group’s latest mini album commemorating 20 years in the industry. Out of the eight tracks, “Endless Home” interacts most directly with time past. One of the founding members Natsumi Abe joins current names Mizuki Fukumura and Sakura Oda for the song. But rather than touch upon typical teenage romancing, Abe reflects on her transition from youth into adulthood.
“Suddenly a musume became a mother,” Abe sings with bewilderment in the chorus of “Endless Home.” The wordplay in that particular line expands Abe’s own reflection into a broader retrospective of the whole franchise. (The lyric sheet finds an added period, the group’s signature punctuation, after not only musume but also “mother.”) The main faces representing the idol group remain eternally youthful. But time doesn’t stop for Mo-Musu. Many of its graduates have become grown entertainers or, like Abe, entered motherhood; some are even both.
“Endless Home” taps into an emotional well only afforded by a group that has withstood so many years of change. And the self-reference within the song also pulls directly from Morning Musume’s own catalog. While a line using “Furusato” hits, well, home, a wink at their indie debut “Ai no Tane,” or “seed of love,” hits the most sentimental.
“Ai no Tane” got re-recorded with Abe as well as her other first generation mates, and the revisit digs a bit deeper than just cleaning up sound. The song keeps the same lyrics intact: “Let’s ride the wind / and shine brighter / I want to spread my seeds of love,” the chorus goes. Fast forward 20 years, those words land in a present where the group’s wish bore fruit with the franchise serving as a home and a support system to now nine generations of members.
The retrospective makes room to tip its hat to those other various generations of Morning Musume, and the new songs also give way to meta-commentary. “We Are Leaders! ~Leader-ttenomo Tsuraimono~” indulges fan nostalgia by gathering all nine head members from its history. Each member reviews what they brought to the table through a tongue-in-cheek performance. But the song also provides a discussion space between the alumni to open up about the stresses behind leading one of the country’s biggest idol groups.
The most poignant remark from “We Are Leaders!” comes from the current top name, Mizuki Fukumura, who sums up the state of the group as it celebrates two decades in the industry. “The weight of 20 years / I might lose to pressure,” she sings. No matter how strong the former members left the group’s legacy in tact, as a various few from the older generation also reflect in “Tane wa Tsubasa (Wings of Seed),” it all depends on the next wave to pull through. The rest of the 2018 lineup commits to carry on tradition in “Gosenfuno Tasuki,” though they admit it only becomes more demanding as the franchise turns another year older.
Legacy becomes a prized accomplishment through the lens of Morning Musume, a group with so much to reflect and fall back on. However, it also becomes a unique challenge that no idol group has lived long enough to face. That half-hour TV special ended with Tsunku, the chief producer behind Morning Musume, acknowledging the importance of the newest generation and the responsibility they’ve inherited. Hatachi no Morning Musume shows a sliver of that appreciation as well. Rather than the group purely indulging in back history, the mini album makes time to start a dialog between Morning Musume members past and present for a current state of affairs.