It’s been a while since the staff of Selective Hearing has gathered in one place for the common good of starting a fight. There really wasn’t much to fight about until lately. What we are about to talk about is a contentious issue among fans of Morning Musume and it was inspired by an article at Nandake called Set Adrift in an Idol Sea.

In that article there was a small blurb about what Tenkei thought about Morning Musume.

I’ve made plenty of references to ‘when Morning Musume was popular.’ And that’s because they’re not anymore. I used to be quite the momusu fan, but the past couple of years these girls have just fallen off. And earlier this year, on September 30th, 2011, the once great and iconic Idol group Morning Musume officially died. With the graduation of long time member and then current captain, Takahashi Ai, the group is just simply no more.

For me the group ceased to be truly important after Tsunku decided to graduate all the personality in the group (my last tie to momusu Kamei Eri and foreign funny girls JunJun and LinLin), but I could at least still acknowledge their potential staying power. But now, without Takahashi’s vocals, I find the group desperately clinging onto their twilight. The group is nigh unrecognizable to the lineup that made them so famous and popular years ago and I’m not sure how much longer it can really last on the shoulders of Tanaka Reina’s vocal talents and Michishige Sayumi’s character. I’m sorry momusu loyalists, but the ship is sinking, either get in the lifeboats or go down with it.

Pyoko Pyoko Ultra

It’s the last part of Tenkei’s statement that will probably get a lot of Momusu fans all riled up and that’s what we’ll be discussing throughout this article.

Please remember that the following are the opinions of the staff and guest contributors. If you don’t agree with them and would like to comment be mature enough to leave the fanboy/fangirl bullshit at home and try to contribute something meaningful to the discussion. The administrator reserves the right to moderate any comments that will incite a pointless flame war. You potential idiots from the peanut gallery out there have been warned.

The participants in this discussion are myself, Paul, Kuro, Maliciel, Chiima and Hiro.

Morning Musume: Sinking like the Titanic or restocking for another run at domination?

Paul

I don’t think it’s time to bring in Celine Dion just yet. These are just a few points I could come up with from the top of my head. Feel free to argue against or with some of these points to start a discussion 😛

For:

  • Morning Musume still sells a lot of goods/concerts, and they seem to have a somewhat loyal fanbase (due to the power of wotaness and Kool-Aid)
  • Morning Musume changes their music style from time to time, to make their music less one-sided
  • The MM fans I know usually have a bias against AKB, and won’t turn over any time soon. Not sure if it’s that with most current fans

Against:

  • AKB48000 has undoubtedly become more popular, and they don’t seem to get less popular for a while
  • Morning Musume seem to have gotten less popular

Kuro

To be honest, they have been sinking but the only reason IMHO that they can stay afloat is primarily the wide fan base beyond Japan and not fighting AKB with their own strength. By doing this, they can hold onto the fans that have stayed or come aboard because it is uniquely them.

Then, again we can refer back to the jumping ship aspect that people who can’t stale groups will move because they are new. I can’t say it will get better because it probably won’t but there is a chance that they can get lightning in a bottle to get another set of fans outside of Japan.

Maliciel

The ship is sinking, MM is dead has been a trope in overseas MM fandom for years, and I think it’d be wise to take all doomsayers with a grain of salt. Ever since the release of Love Machine, the sales for MM has been dropping steadily, and now sits at a decent level of 42~k. Of course the last Ai grad single showed a significant spike in sales, but that is to be expected.

TBH, I don’t think the ship is yet to ‘go Titanic’. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not going to sink any time soon, unless something really pisses off the fans, or something. It’s clear that the only thing that keeps MM afloat at the moment (and for the past 2 years at least, since their last #1) are the wota. It’s definitely not mass public appeal. Aichan was around for a really long time, so of course there is the feeling that maybe MM cannot go on without her. But to be honest, I don’t think her departure will impact MM in the long run at all. At this point most of the fans are there for the group, and while some fans might stop supporting MM because of Aichan leaving, I don’t think it will make that much of a dent.

Tsunku has always selected decent people (except Aika) into the main group, so I don’t think the group itself will have any problems skill-wise. But Pyoko kinda sucks. Lol. And I think Kuro’s vastly overstating the impact of foreign fans.

Chiima

As a Morning Musume Noob, I could basically jump in and say ‘HALT! Morning Musume is not a sinking ship! Forsooth!’, however for that to happen, I would have to be living under a rock, and that I do not.

Morning Musume’s ship is surely sinking, quite slowly, though we don’t need to get the lifeboats yet unless something really bad happens that will annoy both the Japanese and International wota and fans into bailing and swimming (or doggy paddling) for their lives. However, what probably keeps this ship afloat is the girls themselves. They have an incredible amount of personality (barring a few) in the group, as well as the girls all being fabulous performers who don’t lip synch during all their performances unlike certain groups do, and it’s the sales from their concerts wich I think keep the group running, so with that, they’re safe for now.

But mostly, I find that it’s their concerts, loyal fans and the international wota’s who keep this ship afloat. Or maybe it’s just a bunch of mermaids, you never know.

Greg

I am probably one of the old guard of Morning Musume fans having started at the end of Yossie’s tenure of leader & going backwards & forwards through each generation after. Most probably are aware that I appreciate the youthful exuberance that the 4th generation brought (along with introducing the hotness that is Ishikawa Rika), but when it comes down to musicality I favor 1st to 3rd generation the most.

That makes me (& others like me) a rare breed who want talent over presentation. I go as far as to say sacrifice your core fan base to rebuild the brand into something credible again. That’s why it pains me to see this current crop of Musume’s (especially the 10th generation) being wasted on crap gimmicks like chicken suits.

Indeed the ship is sinking. It’s not close to capsizing but we’re getting close to a tipping point with the departure of the “old ladies” such as Niigaki Risa and maybe within a year or two Tanaka Reina & Michishige Sayumi. With Risa’s departure the vocal quality of the group has dropped into an area where there is a total lack of low end (with maybe the exception of Kudou) in the ranks.

What does that mean music wise? A hell of a lot of squeak and super cutesy songs that will give S/Mileage a run for their money. Forget any of those popular Emo Musume songs. The current crop of girls can’t convincingly pull that material off. Ballads? Maybe, but I sense a lot of auto-tune to keep everyone in key until they mature as singers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll give whatever Morming Musme is shilling a listen. Especially if Sayu is steering Momusu into calmer waters. But c’mon Momusu fans, don’t kid yourselves into thinking that this group is even capable of doing anything spectacular at this point in their shelf life. Much like sports teams who are in the rebuilding phase of their existence, this group is going to either suck big time or get real lucky & strike gold every 3rd or 4th single until they get more consistent.

To the overseas fans, I think you are over valuing your worth to the cause. Do you all really think that your mass purchases actually make a dent in sales compared to the millions (& millions) of home grown wota in Japan who can easily go to any store at a whim and clear out the shelves if they choose to do so? Not that it’s actually happening these days, but you get my point.

At this point in time UFA probably just sees overseas fans as cash cows to throw a bone to when the sales in Japan aren’t so hot. A niche market they can use as a backup to help hype up sales in their homeland. Personally I have no problem with being used in this manner, but maybe some of you won’t see the glass as half-full when it comes to that statement.

Yes it is those who have been loyal to Morning Musume for many years that are keeping the group’s rubber dinghy afloat as they are slowly being torpedoed by AKB48’s battleships. The question is when will those fans reach their threshold before even they go, “What the fuck is this?” and bail.

Hiro

Like many idol groups, Morning Musume is able to sustain their existence due to their loyal fan base. Although their sales haven’t been strong recently, they may be maintaining their profitability through their concert attendance, fan club events, and merchandise sales. What I am wondering though, is how much of the fan base will stick around once Niigaki graduates, and how many will remain once Michishige and Tanaka graduate.

From 2001 (Nakazawa graduation) to 2006 (Konno/Ogawa graduations), the group was consistently losing average and total sales until they reached the level they are currently at, which is hovering around 42k-55k per release. I have noted events relevant to the group with the almighty asterisk. I don’t believe there can be one single reason why the numbers started to dwindle, but one could come up with a number of theories based on the information below. The data below has been compiled from sales figures listed on generasia.

2001 – 3 releases/2,181,700 sold/727,233 average *Nakazawa leaves, 5th Gen starts
2002 – 3 releases/982,772 sold/327,591 average *Goto leaves
2003 – 4 releases/577,679 sold/144,420 average *Yasuda leaves, 6th Gen starts
2004 – 4 releases/353,285 sold/88,321 average * Abe, Tsuji, Kago leave; last 100k release
2005 – 4 releases/261,826 sold/65,456 average *Iida, Yaguchi, Ishikawa leave; Kusumi starts
2006 – 3 releases/151,520 sold/50,507 average * Konno, Ogawa leave
2007 – 4 releases/203,848 sold/50,962 average * Yoshizawa, Fujimoto leave; Mitsui, JunJun, LinLin start
2008 – 2 releases/102,016 sold/51,008 average
2009 – 4 releases/219,803 sold/54,951 average * Last #1
2010 – 3 releases/127,305 sold/42,435 average * Kamei, JunJun, LinLin leave
2011 – 3 releases/137,450 sold/45,817 average *Takahashi leaves; 9th Gen starts
2012 – 10th Gen starts; Niigaki to leave

Whether or not Morning Musume is a sinking ship or not is not something that can be answered by fans or critics, as both will show biases when looking at the different factors. Only the higher ups within the UFA/H!P organization know how much revenue the group is bringing to the table and how successful they really are.

Regardless, I cannot believe that the group’s management is too happy with the stagnant music sales, as no marketing or sales team should be. The entry point into idol fandom usually begins with the purchase of a CD single or album, or the viewing of a PV, which leads to that transaction. Only after that first transaction will merchandise and concert ticket sales be possibly realized from that new fan. If numbers are going down, a safe assumption is that they might be losing some old fans or not gaining new fans. I don’t honestly believe that one would think all is well in Pleasantville.

After much thought, I’m going to say that the boat isn’t sinking, but I do question whether that boat will ever come back to shore. To me, it’s not about Morning Musume vs. AKB48, as that is an unfair comparison. Morning Musume’s true rivals are the other non-48 family idol groups. I’m talking Idoling!!! , SUPER☆GiRLS, Momoiro Clover Z, PASSPO☆, and Fairies. Those are the groups who are hungry and fighting to be as successful as they can be. The management at UFA should take notice and not relax thinking they are the definitive #2 idol group of Japan. I may delve into this subject in a future entry, but my research points to the fact that Morning Musume may not even be #2.

The key to a turn-around lies in securing new listeners and having them become Morning Musume fans rather than Momoiro Clover Z or Fairies fans. This is a difficult task due to the lack of Morning Musume (and Hello! Project, for that matter) in the Japanese media. I see very little of Momusu on Japanese TV or on Japanese magazine covers, while I see more of other non-AKB idol groups. With the general unfamiliarity of the ninth and tenth generation members with non-Momusu fans, an important goal should be to increase their visibility.

Personally, I wish for Morning Musume to do better than their current state. I know the girls work hard, and I want that hard work to be rewarded with greater success. Although their music hasn’t interested me for a while, I’m open-minded enough to know that at anytime they could release something I really like. I hope that one day soon, the young ninth and tenth generation members will be crying tears of happiness at their first Oricon #1 hit single.

Paul

I didn’t expect my bullet lists to get into the post because they were only an attempt to start a discussion, so I will try to collect my thoughts a little more.

One of the main issues people seem to have with Morning Musume nowadays is the high level of cuteness in the Pyokopyoko Ultra PV. While I can understand why some people wouldn’t like that PV, I don’t think that itself is reason enough for MM to sink. Firstly, There are still people that likes the single, and secondly MM usually switch styles. After all, Only You weren’t that many songs ago, and Tsunku have also said that Renai Hunter will be a cool one. So when it comes to songs and line-ups I would say we just have to wait and see what happens!

Another reason that I have heard some times is that it is difficult to recognize the group anymore with the big changes that have happened to the group recently. I would say this is a quite decent argument because to me idol groups are all about the girls (from the fans’ point of view).

I must admit that I haven’t learned all the members from 10 generation yet, and after MM have been through such a stable lineup as it has for such a long while it does take some effort to learn about the members than if the group changes more gradually, and if there was more TV promotion. It is easy to see how this can get frustrating.

With that said, I would also like to point out how different persons probably think of periods differently. For instance is Love Machine – 2005 considered by many as the Golden Era, while I personally (a really new fan) prefer the panda-lineup. I think what kind of song style you prefer from Morning Musume partly depends on when you joined the fanbase. 9th gen is undoubtedly the future for Morning Musume. There is only so long before the remaining 6th gen and Aika graduates. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because 9th gen is quite talented, and they will also learn from their seniors before they are left to fend for themselves.

One of concerns I do have, however, is that they seem to be catering more towards existing fans than they do on gaining new ones. This may be false because I guess Pyokopoyko Ultra is targeted more towards really young children, but I am thinking earlier H!P had a lot of funny TV Shows, but now they mostly have HPT (along with various TV series and movies). Don’t get me wrong. I love HPT, but it’s only interesting for persons that already have an interest in the girls. I find it unlikely that it will attract any new fans on its own.

To sum things up:

A lot of people don’t like the current style Morning Musume have taken in their music, but that is not that big a deal because one of the good things with Morning Musume is that they keep changing styles, so I expect them go back to being a more mature group as their new members gets older.

I also think that because 9th and 10th gen are learning from the current members, who again learned from their seniors, they will be more than capable of taking over the group when it is finally their turn for it, and that which members and styles a fan prefers depends on when he/she became a member, so that the opinions they have of Morning Musume now might change later on.

Because of this I expect Morning Musume to keep living on as they have done until now, and it will be really interesting to see how the group goes on without 6th gen and Aika!

Greg

I just want to commend the other staff for taking pot shots at Aika. Good job! =)

And that concludes this discussion. Perhaps we have a bit of ring rust due to not having done a group post in so long but it’s all good. Hopefully you have found the viewpoints of the various participating members enlightening and informative.