Hello! Project’s Kouhaku Medley

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I’ll be watching Kouhaku tonight on local channel KIKU – again, Hawaii lags behind the rest of the world with its New Year celebrating – but I’d downloaded the Hello! Project clips yesterday and watched them repeatedly. To say this reminded me of why I love Jpop may be a slight exaggeration… but only a slight one.

On the one hand, it would’ve been great if Kouhaku had a stronger line-up – well, a line-up that catered more to my demands (i.e., a Zone re-union, SweetS, Halcali)… but you can’t always get what you want. On the other hand, what I wanted most of all delivered the goods in a huge way… as well as confirmed some of my suspicions on original 10-nin Morning Musume versus current 10-nin Musume. 

The H!P medley began with the strongest single performance, Ayaya’s "Ki ga Tsukeba Anata". Vocally, she was in top form and seemed to be having a great time.

That said, why the hell didn’t she do one of her older songs? What was the point of that poll if we weren’t going to hear at least "Yeah! Meccha Holiday"?

Admittedly, this was my favorite part of Ayaya’s performance: the arrival of H!P Kids.

Here’s C-Ute… Chisato in the foreground, Erika behind her, but I’m not sure on the others.

And Berryz! Momoko, Risako, Saki, Miyabi.

Here’s another shot of Berryz, just because.

It must be nice being a soloist in H!P because there’s an unending supply of backup singers if you ever need them. If not the Kids, then Country Musume or Melon Kinenbi or whatever non-ex-Musume is getting the shaft at the moment…

Admittedly, here I was just hoping for a better shot of Momoko dancing…

And Risako enters the shot…

At least I can rest easy, knowing Berryz Koubo will make their proper debut on Kouhaku next year.

And don’t the girls look great in their outfits? Ayaya looks okay – a bit poufy, but we all know she’s got a quick costume change coming up, so that’s okay. That said, I can’t help but think she looks like some kind of big, New Zealand bird of some sort…

Saki always looks happy when she performs. And Erika doesn’t stand out in a freakish manner tonight, which is a very good thing – I guess the other girls are finally getting their doses of puberty, too.

Now this is a great shot – that said, I now know what Ayaya looks like: a human kiwi bird.

Wow, Miyabi looks so great in this picture! And so does Maimi.

Ayaya should be proud of herself. She’s proven why she’s the single most valuable member of Hello! Project with her singing ability, her personality, and her popularity. Granted, none of this will likely convince her to give up all those ballads and the attempt to be a mature talent. But tonight, at least, she wears that mantle well.

And then the giant cartoon characters invade the stage.

Here’s something to think about: at roughly the same age as Miyabi and Momoko, Gocchin was striking provocative poses as the hot lead vocal of Morning Musume.

In contrast, the girls of Berryz – at about the same age – are still hoisting around balloons and dancing around a big inflatable silver ball.

This could be Tribute To The Big Shiny Ball, a variation on May Day celebrations.

I’m pretty sure that’s Maimi in the front, but I could be wrong. 

At any rate, it was when I was watching the Kids dancing with the big cartoon characters and circling the silver ball that I could feel why a young girl would want to be an idol.

I mean, the idol lifestyle is grueling, and not something to be taken lightly. Beyond that, the remuneration for Japanese idols doesn’t seem nearly as fair as for American performers of similar stature…

But to get a chance to dance in Kouhaku, to be a partof this national tradition? There’s something that strikes me as intensely emotionally satisfying about this, not just personally but in knowing one plays a role in something so much bigger than any one idol group.

This is a really nice shot of Momoko and Saki, by the way.

Ayaya keeps singing away – really, this performance could have segued to another Ayaya song and made cuter use of the H!P Kids…

… Like, say, "Yeah! Meccha Holiday". Would it have been so hard to segue into that song?

The camera pulls back, and the pageantry of this performance is breathtaking! Okay, maybe not, but I’m biased because of all my favorite Berryz and C-Utes there. Speaking of which, I didn’t notice Airi. She has to be there, the numbers indicate it – but I can’t figure out which gir
l in pink.

And so ends Ayaya’s solo segment of the medley. Watching the clip repeatedly, what strikes me now is that hers was the most commanding presence of the night, and the most assured performance. Everyone else is energetic and excited and happy, but she seems most comfortable on the stage, singing and winning over the audience. But then, she had the most camera time and a song that didn’t require lots of jumping around on her part.

Ayaya’s solo performance ends with Chisato and Momoko in the front…

That’s Maimi and Maasa behind them, and I think I see Miyabi behind Maimi…

Momoko hasn’t had the growth spurt of the other girls, has she? She’s taller than Saki, but not much more. Maybe it’ll happen later on in her teens. Or maybe she can steal some of Erika’s hormones.

The lights dim and it’s time for the Def. Diva performance…

Nacchi comes out from one side, returning to Kouhaku after being unable to attend last year.

She looks in fine form tonight, and is pretty solid vocally.

Then Gocchin arrives from the other side.

She also sounds strong vocally.

Rika enters the stage last… and she sounds… um…

She looks very pretty tonight. Never mind the vocals, she seems to be having a lot of fun tonight.

Gocchin’s presence makes me think of the set to the "Yokohama Shinkirou" PV – giant pinball and all.

Ayaya’s shed her fowl outfit for the more drum majorette-y look of the Divas…

And the pinball apparently went tilt at this point.

I still don’t like this single all that much. The talent behind it is great, I can understand how it’s catchy… but it doesn’t grab me.

Which is funny, because here’s the young lady behind Hello! Project’s two catchiest songs of the year. It’s a shame Viyuden wasn’t allowed to perform either "Aijisai" or "Kaccho Ii Ze" tonight – the latter especially could have won a crowd over.

The girls retreat from the stage…

And this is where it really begins.

Yuko, Kei, and Iida emerge on one side…

How long has it been since Yuko’s been on Kouhaku?

And on the other side, Tsuji, Mari, and Aibon…

Three-fourths of the original Minimoni, as I immediately thought. And this is something about the original 10-nin line-up of Morning Musume that the current 10-nin line-up doesn’t have at all – that cross-current with other successes in Hello! Project’s history. You can almost put together any two or three members of the original 10-nin and have a memory of previous H!P greatness conjured.

The six run behind the giant balloon where Berryz and C-Utes were dancing around just minutes ago…

There’s a pause…

A sudden boom -

And behind the balloon, the girls striking the glamour pose resplendent of "Love Machine".

This is the point where I felt chills. This isn’t quite 10-nin Musume, of course – Yossi is waiting in the wings –  but it’s like watching the return of something historic.

Iida does her opening stunned whatever-the-hell-that-sound is. It always struck me as an odd way to begin the song, but it’s become so entrenched – it wouldn’t be "Love Machine" without it.

"Disco!" It’s interesting, but it looks like Gocchin has loosened up a little when it’s time to perform this song. She doesn’t seem as serious as she usually does when on-stage. She’s usually so focused and intense, and here it’s like she’s allowing herself to relax.

Ahh, two-thirds of the original Tanpopo. I miss Aya – it would’ve been nice to’ve seen her return for this, more so than Sayaka and Asuka. Mari sounded a bit off with her first line, but was much better right after this. I guess being out of practice can do that to you.

Kei! Yes! She seems to be basking in the spotlight, and dammit she deserves it.

And that shoving part which always confuses me.

Two-thirds
of the original Petit Moni. Vocally, they sound great – but they should, they’re two of the best voices in the group.

And for those familiar with the song, we know what to expect…

Tsuji bursts in for the "Ja nai!"

This seems a bit childish for Tsuji now. She’s bloomed into a mature young lady with a killer sense of humor. Here, it seems blunted – but hey, somebody had to do that line. She was the best choice, all things considered. And even here, she shows how she can make her weaknesses work for her – not a very demanding solo line, but one that allows for spunkiness. Compared to Eri’s own take later in the song, she’s a positive superstar in that respect.

Mari – having fun and being charming as always. After a rough year, I’m sure she thought she’d never be on the Kouhaku stage again. But then, the same could be said of a few others in the group.

It’s a shame there was no way to fit in a Sexy Beam somewhere… I would’ve completely lost it for her if she did. 

Yuko and Nacchi, two of the three remaining original Musume. Nacchi’s voice is in great form for both her songs, and Yuko still packs the sensual punch into her own lines.

That said, there’s just a touch of Cruella De Vil in Yuko’s demeanor tonight. 

She’s a woman on fire – or with a bit of firewater in her. One gets the sense that she wants to bathe in the blood of H!P Kids, or at least skin 101 of them to make her new idol pelt. (It’s not like anybody will miss the Eggs…)

And Kago! Wow, she looks great tonight and her solo lines are solid as always. The heavy furs seems to suit her well, as does that weird bow in her hair.

When she flashes this smile, I’m reminded of why Kago’s one of my all-time H!P favorites (16-and-over division).

"Akarui…" 

".. Mirai!"

"Love Machine" has always struck me as an essentially sad song, and this two word line always hits me like a brick for some reason. It’s like the disco classic "Last Dance": a fear of missed chances and an uncertain future, cloaked in body-grinding bravado. When you think about it, it’s about a girl trying to find love in the middle of national and personal economic crisis. No wonder it caught on with the Japanese public when it did.

My future is bright: it’s a declaration of strength at a time of weakness. Along with the strange economic / erotic innuendo, those parts stick with me more than the "Wow wow wow wow" and "Yeah yeah yeah yeah". 

Look at them! Just… wow. Tears came to my eyes, seeing them like this.

Sure, nostalgia factors into it. But a great performance is a great performance, and 10-nin knew how to deliver back in the day.

That said, Rika is a stark reminder: several of these girls have moved on to better things. Better things for them, at least. As glad as I am to see her with her old Musume mates, I know Rika best belongs as the leader of Viyuden, just as Tsujikago are best off in W. These girls had their moments in Morning Musume, but they truly shine in their current units.

Here’s Iida preparing to rush the stage…

Hand shaping the L, singing "Wow wow wow wow!"

The original 10-nin (minus one) look like they’re having great fun – all of them! (Yuko, scarily so.)

There is an energy, a talent, and a professionalism here that reminds me: these girls deserved to be huge when they were. They had strong personalities, enthusiasm, and that unpinnable factor that just made them superstars.

Having said that some girls are better off in their current units, others are in limbo… It’s possible to at least debate on the solo careers of Gocchin and Nacchi, the leads at the group’s peak. But the solo careers of Yuko and Iida seem niche-driven and mostly ignored, while Mari and Kei simply don’t perform anymore, which is a shame.

Here’s Yuko again, a flurry of furry action. Definitely the most animated of the old 10-nin, probably making the best of a rare occasion.

From behind, the new 10-nin Musumes arrive, clad in red and white.

The new 10-nin now take over the song, and it starts off great with Yossi.

It’s unfortunate that I’m playing Gun right now, because the outfits on the new 10-nin mostly reminds me of the saloon whores in that game.

As a result, the girls could have easily segued into "Lady Marmalade" and actually looked right for it.

The three vocal powerhouses of the current 10-nin Musume: Mikitty (who does too little, unfortunately), Reina, and Takitty.

Eri does her "Ja nai!" here… Takitty looks like she’s about to do "The Peace!"

I usually like Eri, but this was just… off. Maybe because Tsuji did it earlier in the song, but what look
ed kind of silly with Tsuji just looks pathetically whiny with Eri.

And then it’s Sayumi’s solo line… what? She didn’t embarass herself, but she didn’t stand out vocally, by any means.

That said, look at that outfit! She is absolutely gorgeous here! That hat is just…scrumptious!

Seriously, the hat has a wonderfully festive feel to it, a cross between the "Love Machine" furs and the look of second gen Tanpopo, with its retro Brit glamour.

Despite still looking way too blonde, Makoto is in fine form tonight. She does her line justice, but Reina… why does she sound so cartoony tonight? It just doesn’t sound as good as my favorite Reina performances.

But her smile is enchanting.

Eri looks great here, playing kawaii instead of pouty. Her line though, is another reminder of how much the new 10-nin pales to the original vocally.

Of the current 10-nin Musume, Yossi is the only one whose vocals matches up to the original 10-nin Musume. Oh, wait – she is one of the original 10-nin Musume. She handles Yuko’s lines with true smoldering sensuality, and her voice has a richness which stands out in this part of the performance.

Takitty, looking like an ostrich dipped in red paint. Perhaps it’s an antipodean-themed night for the costumers? Vocally, she’s strong as always – but why didn’t Mikitty get a solo line, especially if they’ve given lines to Eri and Sayu?

The original 10-nin have shed their furs and look lovely in the dresses beneath.

Gaki-san looking quite cute here…

As does Koharu! Again, a reminder of why these girls bother to be idols in the first place. Could she have been watching Kouhaku last year and imagined herself in this position?

Not enough love for Mikitty tonight. But as faras I’m concerned, there’s not enough love for Mikitty until she gets her solo career back. Which hopefully will be the case if / when she graduates this year.

"Voulez se couchez avec moi – ce soir?"

Konno looks like she’s enjoying herself – or passing a stone – but again, another reminder that the vocal firepower of the current 10-nin so obviously doesn’t match up to the Golden Age girls.

I must say, I actually liked the W / Morning Musume performance at last year’s Kouhaku better than this year’s performance overall. Which is odd, but if you factor out the original 10-nin Musume doing "Love Machine" – and the presence of H!P Kids in adorable pink and blue – what’s left isn’t nearly as strong as what they did last year.

The original 10-nin Musume "Love Machine" provides a ridiculously unfair advantage, of course. But the current line-up were made to do "Ai Araba" and even "Namida", and they were positively hypnotic. Here, they’re extras in comparison to their senpai.

Reina and Nacchi doing the "Love Love Love Machine" part… one is tempted to see it as a passing along of a legacy, but I’ll have to resist that.

Reina’s talented, but she’s nothing like Nacchi – which isn’t meant as a slight to either person. But Reina’s the scrapper, Nacchi’s the girl next door. And best as I can tell, Reina’s never stolen any poetry. (Okay, cheap shot. Sorry.)

And besides, Reina would have to be the Gocchin equivalent, if you want to draw analogies between the two 10-nins. That’s just so obvious.

Kago and Iida! Iida looks so lovely here, cutting her hair was a great idea when she left Momusu.

Gocchin – gotta love her no matter what. If it wasn’t for her, would "Love Machine" have been conceivable as the hit it became? Would Morning Musume have been the same? Sometimes – in my most bored, otaku-obsessed moments – I wonder about the alternate universes if, say, Koda Kumi was the ace of the third gen, or if Mikitty made it into dream.

Takitty as the next Gocchin? No, actually, she’d be the Nacchi equivalent of the new 10-nin.

Wait, lemme sort this out in my head. Nacchi = Takitty, Reina = Gocchin, Yuko = Mikitty, Rika = Sayumi, Iida = Konno, Mari = Yossi, Tsuji = Koharu, Kei = Risa, Yossi = Makoto, Kago = Eri.

I’m not convinced by the last three, but what the heck. Everything else is pretty much defensible. Later on I’ll do the same thing for original 10-nin and the Wu-Tang Clan. 

I have to say, Sayumi’s hat completely rocks. Of all the fashion statements in tonight’s medley, she had the absolute finest.

Makoto and Mari as another pair?

Well, one is blonder than she needs to be, which may have been taken from the other one’s example…

Somehow, 19-nin Musume isn’t as awesome as original 10-nin Musume. The sheer number, the pageantry of H!P history… well, it seems diluted at this number. Which is odd. I’m so tempted to just say original 10-nin completely overwhelms current 10-nin… but that’s not true. Sayu is the glamour girl of the evening, Reina  has a strong presence (though her vocals didn’t have to be so cloying) and Mikitty wasn’t given nearly enough this time. The curre
nt 10-nin has a lot going for it…

But "Love Machine" isn’t their song. Maybe it’s about owning a song, of making it your own. Watching the original 10-nin was exciting, viscerally powerful, because this was their song, this was when they ruled Japanese pop music and made an unforgettable song about lustful hope in the face of economic hardship. For them, there’s a vitality and history – for the current 10-nin, it’s a popular song that they do because it’s expected of them.

It’s the difference between living history and respecting its legacy, I think.

The lights go on and the H!P Kids and cartoon characters run up the side stages, making this like a two-thirds H!P All-Stars kind of affair…

Tsuji…

Kago…

Rika… Yeah, fourth gen was definitely the best generation of Morning Musume. Ever.

If I was an H!P Kid, I’d definitely be steering clear of Yuko this night. That said, a pelt made up of Chisato, Miyabi, Erika, and various others may suit Yuko just fine, afterall…

It’s hard to keep track of the interactions at this point, and apparently bedlam ensues on the stage. Well, not really, but it would’ve been cool if some punches were thrown suddenly. And Reina’s legs here… well, that whole Gun thing comes to mind again. And why’s Koharu leaping back there like that?

And another classic pairing: Ishiyoshi! Someday they should sing a duet together, a love song of some sort, like "Mister Moonlight" but dirtier. But only after Ayaya and Mikitty do their own duet.

This may seem superfluous, but what the heck – I’ll take as much Berryz as I can get.

One can imagine the rest of H!P – the Melons, Country Musume, Ayaka – watching this at home and thinking, "I would’ve danced if they asked me…"

I like this cartoon character, the jaws go well with the bow tie. I’m assuming that’s Yurina to the left, and she looks great. Maasa is over to the right, I think…

Here, 19-nin look great, dancing together… I like how Sayumi in her big-ass hat and poufy dress manages to stand out…

That said, tears still come when I watch this clip – I don’t think it’ll ever grow old for me, the way the H!P All-Stars PV still hasn’t grown old. And the reason is simple: here’s a culmination of idol history, a tribute to years of effort and talent, all of which has become quite valuable to me as a fan. (And to show it’s not just otaku-ness, I still cry at the end of Alan Moore’s "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", too.) Whatever direction Morning Musume’s taken over the years, these moments are a powerful reminder of what the upcoming generation will have to live up to. It’s a moment when the legend shines through all the individual talent and the sum is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

Though to be bitchy, that "more than the sum of its parts" argument is a lot easier when you’ve got the Golden Age Musume in your ranks. 

So will this lead to anything further? Will the original 10-nin – with or without Yossi (but really, with should be the only option) do something, maybe release a single or something? It’d be nice to think that, and I’d be one of the first to buy it – but I doubt the Japanese public in general would want it. And without that much of a support it’d just be a reminder of how far H!P has fallen in the past five years.

Much as I love this reunion, I think I can wait for the ten-year anniversary of Morning Musume before I see such an event again. This was a very special performance on a very special night, but I don’t think they can milk it for much more without tainting that special-ness.

That said, I’d love to be proven wrong.

This caught me by surprise: Koharu has the last word. It should have been Mari, right?

Still, I’m glad Koharu had this moment to shine – looking forward with Morning Musume, and not just back to its glorious past. Though Kei right behind her is a sore reminder of what happens if Tsunku just doesn’t want to do anything with you post-graduation.

So next year, who’ll be in Kouhaku? I’m hoping for Morning Musume, Berryz Koubo, and the new one-time "solo group" of Gokamattou (Gocchin, Kago, Ayaya, Mikitty). And the year after that, the 10th anniversary with the return of Ayappe and Sayaka!

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8 Responses to “Hello! Project’s Kouhaku Medley”
  1. Alice says:

    I thought this was great. I’ve really been getting burned out on Love Machine lately (do they need to perform it in every goddamn concert?) but this definitely seemed appropriate. I totally screamed when Mari first appeared on stage, and I couldn’t help feeling bad because performing in Morning Musume suits her moreso than I think anyone else in the current generation.

  2. niji says:

    Koru getting the last line of a Kouhaku performance is creepier than Tsunku glaring at you with a wide smile on his gorilla face. Something must have happened between Koru and the gorilla behind the scenes.

    Anyways, Shine, Brie, Polaris and Heart all look uber-cute. That’s nothing new though. That C-ute loli in the foremost front after Ayaya’s Ki ga Tsukeba Anata performance also looks way kawaii. I still can’t figure out her name though, or the names of all other C-ute members besides QT for that matter.

    (Heheh… I said loli…)

  3. Freya says:

    Yes, I completely agree, this performance was amazing!

    Btw, I think you got the °C-ute members wrong. At least two of them!
    The ones performing as background dancers are Erika, Chisato, Megumi and Mai ^_^

  4. Menno says:

    Can’t wait to see your Morning Musume Wu Tang Clan comparison, who would be the Old Dirty Basterd (Mikitty).

    Btw, where you said Chisato you mean Mai and Maimi = Megumi. It’s not that difficult.

  5. Freya and Menno:

    Thanks for the corrections! And to make it worse, I’ve been calling Mai “Chisato” and Chisato “Mai” for months now… I’m still feeling my way around most of C-Ute, I need to work on getting all the names and faces matched correctly.

    I also still don’t know the members of dream besides Yu and Kana, but that’s a whole other story.

  6. Menno says:

    You’ll get into trouble with °C-ute, I just found out that that they got new member, one of the Eggs, Arihara Kanna.

  7. jordi says:

    hey someone had to say something about the poetry. Even by celebrity standards it was quite stupid : (what when your fans eat up anything you write)

  8. Menno:

    I saw the news and thought the same thing. That said, an actual C-Ute single and PV will go a long way to speeding up my learning curve…