Boogie Woogie Into Saturday Night with Morning Musume

Woo Hoo!

If you didn’t see, I completely changed the layout of my blog! It was becoming ancient as the background, icons, and the design haven’t been updated for more than eight years.

Check out the new layout and tell me what you think. Is the background too much? Can you read the side menu’s text just fine?

One of my all-time favorite Japanese pop girl group just released their 61st single! Yes, you read it right, 61st! Although, I did talk about their 60th about six months ago. Nevertheless. Morning Musume always impresses their fans with the ability to successfully reinvent themselves for the past 18 years.

Now, the 61st is a Triple A single, with the songs being ‘Tokyo to Iu Katsumi”, “The Vision”, and “Utakata Saturday Night”. I won’t be talking about all three songs as that could be a huge essay that could bore you and that I wasn’t really digging two of the songs from the single.

The only song from this single that really caught my attention was “Utakata Saturday Night”. Maybe it makes me want to break out singing”Macho Macho Man” or some other well-known 70s’ disco hit.  However, these disco pop tunes are one of the charm points of  Morning Musume. These songs compliment the girl group really well, like “LOVE Machine” (1999) and “The Matenrou Show” (2012). Perhaps, it was due to the fact that the mad (and disco-loving) musicians like Tsunku, DANCEMAN, Maisa Tsuno, and others involved with Morning Musume’s disco tunes knew fully well how to successfully reinvent disco for younger audiences. Or they were mad-crazy by messing around with instruments, riffs, and samples to produced well-loved hits?

Who knows?

But, I feel like “Utakata Saturday Night” is a purer disco tunes then “LOVE Machine” or “The Matenrou Show”. Something more akin to The Commodores’ “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” (1981), Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” (1977), and Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979). These songs most definitely had a bass, a guitar, and some sort of a synthesizer. But, they also featured a lot of traditional instruments like trumpets, violins, horns, and others. These songs from the 70s became well-liked due party to the use of these instruments.

“Utakata Saturday Night” had that “wow” factor like those 70s’ hits as it features a prominent funky bass line and a stringed orchestra. That’s right! I was shocked when I read the linear notes to see that there were real strings used in the song, not some synthesizer. The song also features groovy backgrounds vocals akin to Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland”. And you cannot forget the “Utakata” grunts, which were original and far out in their own way, throughout the song.

Some fans were pretty sad that Kanon Suzuki didn’t receive a solo song like previous members did (except Riho Sayashi) on their graduation single. But, “Utakata Saturday Night” fully reflects Kanon’s personality perfectly as it’s fun, funky, upbeat, and eccentric. I don’t know any song that really encapsulates Kanon then this song.

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Musical Reactions: Morning Musume. 15 Wants To Tell You That They’re the “One and Only” with This Tune

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Morning Musume. or even their umbrella group Hello! Project has been impressing fans around the world since their debut eighteen years ago. From the shocking selections of new members from Mr. Producer himself, Tsunku, to their attempts to reach fans overseas with adding members with diverse skills, this Japanese girl pop group tries to keep their fans on the edge by challenging themselves with new goals. This group even has amazed me over the year in terms of their sound as they transitioned quite seamlessly from disco-themed hits like 1999’s “LOVE Machine” to the EDM music that the current line-up is known for.

However, their amazing dance routines and the diversity of the member’s skills isn’t the only things that makes this group astonishing.

This does:

 

The song above is called “One and Only” which is the current opening theme for the music program “J-MELO” on NHK World. One of the things that surprised me when I first listened to the song is that the whole thing is in English, a language that was very challenging for most of the group’s members.

This song feels like it features a lot of Miki Nonoka, a member who is a native speaker of English due to living overseas in the US. That is understandable since Nonoka is an ideal lead for this song due to her English ability. But, what irks me is that it seems like the mixer cranked up the volume on Miki’s vocal track. I feel that during the group chorus, the only person I can hear is Miki as her vocals consume the others. Or maybe I am just imagining things as: (a) I just can’t pick out everyone’s voices just yet (which is unlikely) or (b) since everyone got the same coach to teach them the English pronunciation, each member just have the same vocal style and pronunciation while singing in English. Just wish I could  hear a little more of Kanon Suzuki’s lines. 😦

What makes this song kind of confusing is its identity. Is it a traditional pop song? Or is it an EDM tune? I recently read up on Tsunku’s notes to see what was the song’s style. The only thing he mentioned is the song’s changing keys and the cool guitar riff during the intro. I feel like the guitar riffs are the best part while the generic claps and the EDM-style synthesizer sprinkled here and there are the worst parts. The song doesn’t really need them as the guitar and bright piano got everything covered. I know it’s the current trend for Morning Musume. But seriously, won’t it be nice to take a break from EDM once in awhile? Go traditional!

Some people have complained about the lyrics contents as the words are just plain terrible. For me, I personally don’t care about the lyrics. I am just happy that they are in English and the girls are trying their best to sing them. But, I do think that the dance is a bit whack, especially at 0:03.  Dance moves like that makes you question what was the choreographer thinking when he or she came up with the moves. Did you really want Morning Musume do some mutated dance routine from “Thriller”?

Overall, the song is decent. Will it be a hit? Naaah. Is it decent? Yes if you just ignore the weird dance movements and the annoying EDM instruments that pops up time to time. I wish it featured more members and wasn’t a “Miki Nonoka featuring other members that are supposedly part of this group, whaaaaaaat?” song.

What do you think about Morning Musume’s first English song? Is it good? is it horrendous? Comment below!

 

The Club That Started It All

(Originally Written on April 5, 2015)

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April is the month of new starts, warmer weather (although it raining here), and loads of beautiful cherry blossoms everywhere. it also marks a lot of anniversaries. One of these anniversaries is the 30th birthday of the idol group that started it all. No, not the Mickey Mouse Club, although this club might have got inspired by the MMC by having a large group, its own variety shows, subgroups, and lots of music produced. The club that I am speaking of is Onyanko Club!

Onyanko Club started on April 1, 1985 with eleven teenage girls who successfully passed audition based on singing, looks, and personality on a TV special sponsored by All Night Fuji (You can see one of these “audition” procedures on Youtube ). The girls appeared weekly on their variety show, named “Yuuyake Nyan Nyan”, on Fuji TV. However, two weeks after the debut episode premiered, a scandal broke out that resulted in the dismissal of half the group’s members. First appearing in the tabloid magazine “Shunkan Bunshun”, the scandal became huge news as six members committing a horrible crime in the idol law books; drinking and smoking underage. The girls were immediately fired and the producers of the show hired four more girls to cover the vacancies (Although, one of the suspects, Aki Kihara, was able to come back a few days later).

Trying to bounce back from the scandals, the group released their first single, “Sailor Fuku wo Nugasanaide”, on July 1985. The song became a memorable hit for the group, with many fans forgetting the scandal and remembering more of the words to the song.

For those who don’t speak Japanese, you probably wondering what does “Sailor Fuku wo Nugasanaide” mean. Simply, it means “Don’t Take Off My School Uniform”, sounds a bit perverted right? These perverted song titles and lyrics were written by Yasushi Akimoto. You probably have heard of him or his currently international sensation, AKB48 and the 48 family. Yep, he famous for his weird, sexual lyrics, as Western fans like to put it, even in AKB48 with songs like “Dear my teacher” and “Skirt, Hirari”. Although now, AKB48 doesn’t sing a lot sexual-based lyrics anymore as their latest hit, “Koisuru Fortune Cookie”, offers a kids-friendly, positive vibe about believing in yourself. Like AKB48, Akimoto had the same plans for Onyanko Club as the earlier singles (“Otto Chikan” and “Oyoshi ni Natte TEACHER”) had some of those bizarre scenarios while the later ones were pretty subtle.

Why does Akimoto write these awkward, perverted lyrics in his songs? That was the question that CNN International also had for when they interviewed him a couple of years ago, which you can watch it here (with English subtitles too!). His answer was that is expressing what all school girls fantasize and feel; foolish romance, thinking about their teachers, sex, boys, sex, their futures, their friendships, and, oh, did I mention about sex? Is that what Japanese schoolgirls think about all the time because I don’t remember thinking about some of those things mentioned a lot. Of course, I was thinking a lot of friendships, boys (Backstreet Boys <3), school, and my future. But, not about romancing with my teacher (ew) or sex… I wonder sometimes how exactly does Akimoto get his inspiration.

But back to the subject, Onyanko Club grew more and more as their popularity sky-rocketed. Before long, the group had around 40 members before the its disbanded in 1987. Also, members began to debut as solo artists and in various subgroups to promote the more popular members. The first member to make her solo debut was Sonoko Kawai with the single “Namida no Jasmine LOVE” in September 1985. The single broke the record for the youngest artist ever to have their single reached #1 on the weekly Oricon chart (it would be later been broken by another girl idol group member, Maki Goto, 16 years later).

What makes Onyanko Club so special? Well, it was one of the first major girl idol groups that had more than ten members. Most of the girl groups before Onyanko Club had less than five members with the most popular ones being duos (see Pink Lady and The Peanuts). With an array of different personalities, fans could relate to and/or pick their favorite(s) from the forty or so members. Want to be sexy? Then Shizuka Kudo is your girl. Love cute things? Yukiko Iwai is cute too!

The great thing about the massive membership is that the group didn’t really focus on one or more girls for a long time. Sure, there was leads on the singles but they changed frequently as the lineups changed with members graduating and new people added in. And, at least girl got some sort of exposure, whether it was in singing, variety, acting, public relations, or just standing out on some street corner in Tokyo. People got to know each girl personally in a different way.

Onyanko Club would also served as a model for future girl groups in the future. Hate to say, Tsunku “stole” some pages from Akimoto’s idol group cookbook to make Morning Musume. If you search “Onyanko Club vs. Morning Musume” on Google, there is a lot of fanpages that compare the two with eerily similarities; lineup changes, member graduating, auditions (well, Morning Musume does not do a bikini audition like Onyanko Club did, bummer..), subgroup, and even a roll call song. But, Akimoto would use the blueprints of Onyanko Club to form the 90’s failures, I mean Chiecco, and the super successful group of the new millennium, AKB48. Other producers or companies would be influenced by Akimoto and model their idol groups like Onyanko.

Are these even remotely the same?

Whether or not you think Akimoto is a genius, one thing is true is how much of a mark he left with the idol music industry when he created Onyanko Club. Even though it’s been twenty-eight years since Onyanko Club disbanded, the group is still alive today with former members still prominent in the entertainment industry, the memorable songs that are sung from time to time all over Japan, and how Akimoto created blueprints on how to run a successful but huge idol group. What are your memories or impressions of Onyanko Club?

Bonus Round: What is your favorite ……?

… Onyanko Club song?

This is hard because there are so many good Onyanko Club songs! i think my number favorite is “Alelele”, the b-side to the single “Jaa Ne”. It’s a fast pace and sort-of funky song that features of different vocalizations and a weird key and/or notes. I think the best part is how the guitar used as it races up the scale quickly like a race car. The girls also sound really good in the song with each girl fitting perfectly in their group sections.

Some other great songs are “Watte Shimashita Tamago”. “Natsu no Christmas”, “NO MORE Renai Gokko”, “Koi wa Question”, “Otomegokoro Juugata”, “Taiikukan wa Danceteria”, “Akarui Houkago no Sugoshikata” (with a kickbuut Sanae Jounouchi solo), “STAND UP”, “Ame no Merry Go Round”, “LINDA”, and “Seaside Session”.

… favorite Onyanko Club member?

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My favorite Onyanko member will always be Akiko Ikiuna. Besides being really cute, she had some great songs like “Japanese Girl”, “Mugiwara de Dance”, “Chase Chase Chase”, and “O.ME.DA.TO.U”. And, she didn’t have a bad voice either. Wished that her solo career was longer because she had some great albums and singles during her solo career.

… favorite subgroup?

Ushirogami Hikaretai

That would be Ushirogami Hikaretai! It had Shizuka Kudo, my favorite member Akiko Ikuina, and caterpillar eyebrows girl Makiko (I like her though). I feel like they were the “it” girls of the late 80s as they were cool, good-looking, talented, and powerful. They also had a lot of great songs from their singles and albums. Below is their most famous single, “Anata wo Shiritai”, but you check out their whole entire discography because it was A.MA.Z.ING!!! Like “Toki no Kawa wo Koete” amazing!

How about you? What is your favorite Onyanko Club song, member, and/or subgroup?

(P.S: I am really disappointed that I couldn’t see Sanae Jounouchi this weekend in Kofu, Yamamanashi Prefecture. 😦 I have yet to meet a former Onyanko Club member and that was my chance. Someday, I will!)