Revisiting an Oldie From a New Generation

Many have categorized oldies as songs that have a certain flair to them and have something memorable. Spice Girl’s “Wannabe”, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are a few songs that qualify as oldies.

Japan has a plenitude of oldies too. Each decade presents a distinct set of tunes and genres that capture the attention of many. But sometimes, an oldie might be considered “too old” by the newer generations as the musical arrangement or even the vocals are outdated. That leaves one question: How can people today enjoy a very popular oldie from an older decade like the 1970s? The answer is simple, just reinvent it with today’s sounds and fresh faces.

That isImage and video hosting by TinyPic what exactly Pink Babies is all about. Called the sister group of the legendary idol duo Pink Lady from the 1970s, Pink Babies cover a lot of lovable tunes from the duo and the 70s. Pink Babies formed in 2013 with several girls. The lineup has changed over the years, as one of the members pointed out to me on Sunday during the handshake event, as the current roster has ten girls. These girls cover popular tunes as well as unknown stuff from albums and b-sides.

Pink Babies released their first cover single, “Nagisa no Sinbad”, in the summer of 2015, first at Jan Expo and then at Tokyo Idol Festival. I actually picked up a copy that was signed by Aina at TIF. The group continues to release singles at least once a year while performing at small festivals and venues within Tokyo.

The group went around to various cities in Japan to perform and hold events at various malls to celebrate the release of their second single. One of the spots they visited was the Parco Shopping Mall in the heart of Nagoya’s shopping district. The event had three parts: a mini-live, handshakes, and then photo ops. In order to participate in the later two events, you had to buy their new single beforehand or on the day.

As it was mall event, the stage area was pretty small. The crowd was pretty small too as around 30 people showed up for the mini-live. A small percentage of the crowd were people who were passing by. These lives are a bit up-close and personal as the distance between the stage and the crowd are a few meters. Heck, I had a great view from my spot despite the speakers being in the way as I was a couple of meters away.

The mini-live started on time with the girls performing these songs:Image and video hosting by TinyPic

  1. SOS
  2. MC
  3. Dou ni mo Tomaranai (Rio O., Chinatsu, Aina, Sara)
  4. Kuruwasetai no (Mayu, Rio S., Kotono, Saho, Yui)
  5. Hoshi Kara Kita Futari (Mayu, Aina, Yui, Sara, Chinatsu)
  6. Catch Lip (Kotono, Saho, Rio O., Rio S., Yukari)
  7. MC
  8. Southpaw
  9. MC
  10. UFO

Pink Babies are pretty good in terms of being an idol group. They have mediocre vocals but have an array of girls that have their own appeal. However, my only concern about the group is “how” they perform each song. Even though Pink Lady had unforgettable performances, the group did have outfits and dance movements that were considered maybe too risque. They frequently showcased their legs (and body) as they wore tight spandex outfits with very short skirts or no bottoms. Pink Lady also had dance movements that center around their legs.

I don’t know iImage and video hosting by TinyPicf it was a positive or a negative for the duo as they were 18 years old when Mie and Kei started to perform. However, I wasn’t really satisfied when I first saw Pink Babies performing such songs at the Tokyo Idol Festival two years ago. I felt like the stuff they were performing was a bit too much or risqué for these girls. The group was then composed of girls between 12-16 years old, singing and dancing almost like their big sisters some forty years ago. I just felt weirded out seeing such young girls publically performing dances that were more suitable for late high school to college girls. But, that is the nature of the Japanese idol industry and the argument about “what dances, outfits, and songs are too much for idols” could be saved for another day. I am just relieved after seeing the mini-live on Sunday that the group has mellowed out and matured a bit where singing and performing Pink Lady songs wouldn’t be bothersome.

The handshake was after the mini-live. You could shake hands and have a 30-second conversation with each member if you bought a CD. I felt like I had more time with each girl compared to past events with other idol groups as I could talk about many things with the members. When the handshake event finished, then it was time for a photo-op. Depending on how many CDs you bought, you could get a picture with a member. Or, you would play a game where someone would pull out a slip of paper that contained one of various photo-op Image and video hosting by TinyPicoptions. The options were: a two-short or three-shot miniature Polaroid, a 30-second minute video with your favorite member, a group shot with all the members, and etc. I took my chances and picked from the box. I got a chance to take a miniature Polaroid with two of the members. So, I picked Nagoya native Rio O (or Ohrio) and Chinatsu (because she told me her favorite princess is Belle, just like mine).

Like I said before, Pink Babies isn’t a bad group.  They are worth checking out if you like to listen to covers of oldies, if you a fan of Pink Lady or old Jpop tunes, and/or like idol groups. I love them and have learned much more about Pink Lady’s songs, especially my new favorite song “Catch Lip”, from this cute group.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Club That Started It All

(Originally Written on April 5, 2015)

onyankoclub

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?

akikoikuina

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!)