Morning Musume Turns 20 and Everybody’s Celebrating

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.

A Life of a Tokyo Girl According to Perfume

Perfume’s new single is… Good, but the group has put out far better singles. Yasutaka Nakata, too, has released more interesting songs from this past year or so. Keeping up with today’s trends, his productions have foregone words for entirely musical hooks for the chorus. He’s much more showy in “Nanimono” with him splicing the voice of featured singer Kenshi Yonezu like his older material. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “Harajuku Iyahoi” goes with a more hard-hitting center while writing a fun, silly shout-out like her other strong songs.

The “Tokyo Girl” music video tries to channel the listlessness expressed in the song to mixed results. Anonymous people run through the night streets of Tokyo without a clear direction to search for something in guidance of some shining crest. It’s basically a generic EDM video from a group whose visuals are far from a generic EDM video.

All that said, I’ve been listening to “Tokyo Girl” a lot since I started watching Tokyo Tarareba Musume, the manga-turned-drama series that commissioned “Tokyo Girl” as its theme song. The single sounds exclusive for such a show: a group of three 30-somethings in Tokyo tries to stave off loneliness by finding the right boyfriend in the big city. While the episodes are mostly silly with humor really fit for the manga format, the more serious moments opens the floor to explore what a woman might want out of her life as she hits 30.

While the beat of “Tokyo Girl” treads along the motions compared to their other singles, the song’s energy isn’t necessarily a bad fit as the backdrop of the drama series. The three friends’ situations are supposed to be examples of what happens if you spend your entire 20s wondering what you could and should have done but never quite redeeming those regrets. Such a life of unfulfilled daydreams should sound like a question mark.

The show saves the song for the end credits. The song’s booming drums nicely cues the cliffhangers, either a wrap-up of a cat-and-mouse chase or a discovery of a new information about a character. The purpose of Perfume’s single, then, is less to boost excitement for something new than carry on a subject’s curiosity. Like any good drama, it leaves an underlining feeling like something is afoot in a never-ending search. In a way, it’s a vibe fit for a Perfume song.

“The song touches on that feeling of getting distant from your original goals by getting distracted by being too busy, or that moment you notice, ‘hey this isn’t what I wanted to do,’” Kashiyuka said in conversation about the single during Perfume’s radio show.

She points out how the title of Tokyo Girl doesn’t have to refer only to people originally from the country’s capital. Perfume themselves moved to the city from Hiroshima when they were teens to pursue music. And the single connects a lot with young fans in transition who’s currently trying to claim Tokyo as their new home.

“The song made me want to work harder like you three who fulfilled your dreams after moving here,” one fan wrote on the radio show’s message board. She apparently moved to Tokyo for college for hopes of a more exciting life, but she shared how she’s disappointed at the lack of progress her life has taken since.

It’s easy to dismiss Nakata for the passiveness of “Tokyo Girl.” Perhaps there are a dozen of more inspirational Perfume songs to turn to. But I don’t listen to “Tokyo Girl” for a full high, just enough to feel OK. With its synth-pop beat less like a firework than a few crackles, the music feels more honest as a song to accompany a rather normal life of casual highs and modest lows.