During the resurrection of the Selective Hearing Roundtable I invited a guest writer to give his point of view on the “Morning Musume is a sinking ship” argument. This person happens to be a walking encyclopedia of Hello! Project knowledge so I figured he would be a great person to give an alternative point of view.

The guest in question is Slack from the JPH!P forum. He sent me a rather long response so instead of placing his response in the original article I decided he deserved his own post. I would like to mention that the commentary below is the opinion of Slack and does not necessarily reflect those of the Selective Hearing staff.

A Sinking Ship?

Morning Musume Only You Group Photo

The idea that Morning Musume is a “sinking ship” is not a new one. I’ve heard the same kind of doomsday predictions throughout my seven years as a Morning Musume fan. And really, doomsday predictions are exactly what they are–the irrational ramblings of someone dissatisfied with reality. But if you really believe them, I’m here to offer a reality check as well as share with you what Morning Musume means to me.

Doomsday?

Doomsday predictions for Morning Musume don’t just happen every once in a while. Every single change in lineup, shift in style, or decreasing sales figure makes some people complain and proclaim that it’s the end of Morning Musume. In other words, it’s a near-constant stream of complaints. The number of changes in 2011 and early 2012 has been higher than in most years, so the high number of recent complaints and doomsday proclamations just reflects this. But they’re not any different than ones I’ve heard over and over for years. So in hopes of preventing some of them, I want to go over some of the more common reasons for proclaiming the end of Morning Musume.

Lineup Changes

Whenever a prominent member graduates, I’ve always heard something like “The group can’t survive without her!”. If that were really the case, Morning Musume would have died a dozen times by now. Yet they’re still here and we’re still talking about them. The fact is, graduation is a necessary thing. These girls can’t be idols forever; they all get older and eventually want to move on with their lives. While graduation allows old members to move on, it also clears space for new girls to be given opportunities. For example, I believe that if Abe Natsumi, Goto Maki, Ishikawa Rika, and Fujimoto Miki had never graduated, then someone like Kamei Eri would never have gotten the opportunities to become as popular as she did.

Whenever new members join, the complaint is always something like “they’re too young!” as if recruiting young members was a new or uncommon occurrance. In reality, Morning Musume has always added young members. Literally every single one of each of the first nine generations had at least one member that was between 12 and 14 years old. The one exception is when Kudou Haruka was added at age 11, but she turned 12 within a month. Even then as the youngest new member ever, Kudou is also one of the most mentally mature new members ever. So you’d be wrong to think that the new members are significantly younger than they ever were.

So what is really happening when people complain about lineup changes, declare they are no longer fans and predict the death of Morning Musume? I think that it’s just because their favorite may be leaving and they don’t want to put in the effort to learn about newer members. And yes, it does take some effort now to learn about them since Morning Musume isn’t constantly on TV anymore. But instead of constant TV appearances, we now have sources like personal blogs, Twitter, and live web shows. While these may require more knowledge of the Japanese language than watching variety TV shows, I feel it’s worth the effort to see a young girl, who could be the next Takahashi Ai or Ishikawa Rika, grow up and reach her full potential.

And speaking of Takahashi Ai, I know from experience that she was not always as universally loved and admired as she seems to be now. When I was just becoming a fan of Morning Musume, a popular mean-spirited name for her was “troll”. She was widely considered to be boring and without personality. Even then, people constantly complained about her getting more solo lines than their favorite members. Nearly seven years later, she graduated as the longest-serving group leader and one of the most beloved members ever. Watching her grow and change over the years took a lot of patience, and I even consider her to be the member most synonymous with “Morning Musume”. But even though she’s already graduated, I love Morning Musume more than ever.

Musical Styles

Whenever the group changes its musical style, there’s always some people who hate it and say something like “This is the worst single they’ve ever done! They should have stuck to the style they had before!”. What these people forget is that their musical taste is a subjective choice and not objective fact.

Morning Musume is probably one of the most versatile idol groups ever. Slow ballads, funky disco, big band, kids’ show theme song, ska, eurobeat, and rock are just a few of the musical styles they’ve worked in. Their musical style is all over the map and can change rapidly from single to single. Even within a given single, a B-side song (such as “Sono Bamen de Bibiccha Ikenai jan!”) can be the complete opposite of the A-side (“Resonant Blue”). It is my belief that even though several singles in a row can follow a musical trend, this shouldn’t be confused for what Morning Musume’s style is. In fact, I’d say that the group doesn’t have any single style that it has to adhere to. So if you don’t like their current single, try to have some patience; they may just do something next time that you absolutely love.

As an aside, should you decide you can’t wait that long or have been disappointed too many times in a row, then maybe you should just move on. I’ll be the first to admit that Morning Musume isn’t for everyone and it might just not be for you. Just move on and don’t be an ass to those who still are fans and just want to enjoy what they enjoy. You don’t have to try to convince everyone else they’re wrong and you’re right.

CD Sales

Whenever downward trending sales figures are released, many hold them up as objective proof that Morning Musume is nearing death. I have some major problems with this.

First of all, sales figures throughout the entire Japanese music industry are trending downward. This affects every artist in Japan, including Morning Musume. While the gross numbers of sales may be decreasing, Morning Musume has NEVER released a single that failed to reach the Oricon weekly top 10. (Muten Musume doesn’t count.) There’s no sign that this pattern will change in the near future.

Second, I can say with 100% certainty that CD sales are not the main source of income for Morning Musume or Hello! Project in general. Just because these figures are readily available to overseas fans, it’s a popular mistake to use CD sales figures as proof of impending doom. What overseas fans don’t see is that sales of concert tickets and merchandise easily make up the bulk of Hello! Project’s income. Morning Musume can charge over $60 a ticket and still fill concert halls twice a day for tours that go for weeks. Add to that the fact that many devoted fans buy tour merchandise, and it’s pretty clear that the profit made on a CD is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Fans

I’ve seen many overseas fans lament over how the Japanese fanbase seems to have been reduced to a group exclusively made up of middle-aged single guys. In my recent experience in Japan, I can’t deny that while that description fits many of the fans in the audience, it doesn’t account for all of them by any means.
While I was waiting in the lobby of a theater in Shibuya for a concert to start, there was a mother standing in line in front of me with her two young daughters. These little girls couldn’t have been older than 10. All three of them were so excited to be there and were chatting enthusiastically about Hello! Project. While watching this scene, it struck me that these little girls with their mother would fondly remember sharing their common love of Hello! Project. That’s when I realized that as long as there were fans like this mother and her children, Morning Musume would have a bright future.

But overseas fans don’t hear about these kinds of fans, just as they don’t see the full concert halls, the constantly crowded merchandise stands, or the Hello! Project shops that sell almost nothing but official photos for 150 to 2,000 yen each. They might see all these photos show up on some online picture board, but it hardly registers that for each one, a fan somewhere must have bought it, scanned it, and shared it with them. Many don’t bother keeping up with members’ blogs, radio shows, web streams, or TV shows. Most haven’t experienced the energy and excitement of being at one of their concerts. In other words, many overseas fans lack the patience, perspective, or experience to know what Morning Musume really is, and instead call it a “sinking ship”.

What is Morning Musume?

In my second year as a fan, I saw my favorite member graduate. If I decided back then to stop supporting Morning Musume as a fan, I wouldn’t have seen 11 more members join, seen them live in concert, gotten their autographs, shaken their hands, or seen 9 members leave. To me, Morning Musume is not just a group, it’s a proud tradition. It’s unpredictable, interesting, and exciting.

It’s versatile, capable of being cute or cool, sexy or silly, can perform in countless musical styles, and is comfortable acting or doing comedy. It’s bigger than any single member or even any single lineup of members. It’s an unbroken lineage of senior members teaching their juniors to be top-level performers. Morning Musume is a phoenix burnt in the fires of members’ graduations and reborn in the promise of new members’ potential.

What I want you to take away from this is that Morning Musume is more solid than most people give them credit for. Even if they don’t have the same broad popularity they once did, they’ve gotten to the point where they don’t need it to survive. More than just surviving, Morning Musume is thriving and all signs point to them going on the offensive. Personally, I’m excited and optimistic to see what the future holds for Morning Musume. I hope that after reading this, so will you.