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By Alex Brotman, Holly Kolodziejczak, and Jack Blazkiewicz
If you're familiar with the world of J-pop at all, chances are that you've heard of Morning Musume. However, in-depth information on this phenomenal and unique group is not necessarily readily available in the western world. English-language sites with real, useful information are few and far between, so if you want information on Morning Musume (or most other J-pop artists for that matter), you'll need to bust out your Japanese to English translating tools and start digging. Here at Animefringe, we discovered that we had more than one Morning Musume fan in our ranks, and that none of us had as much information as we wanted. In that light, a few of us decided venture out in search of more, and to try to compile it into a comprehensive article to share with all of you.
Let's begin at the beginning. Morning Musume came into being in 1997. The original Morning Musume was only 5 members; Yuuko Nakazawa, Natsumi Abe, Kaori Iida, Aya Ishiguro, and Asuka Fukuda. At that time, Tsunku was the vocalist for J-pop group Sharan Q. He held auditions for rock vocalists on the popular TV show, Asayan. The auditions were basically a contest in which the winners would be the next big thing in pop music, kind of like Star Search. Those original 5 women were the losing group in the Asayan auditions. Even though they didn't win, their performance caught Tsunku's eye, and the rest is history.
The girls practiced vocal and dance lessons day and night at a temple before their big debut. Sometimes, they were so busy that they could only sleep for 3 hours a night. In order to get the support of a record company, the girls were challenged to sell 50,000 cds in no more than 5 days. In order to meet their goal, they contacted friends and family directly to help them; they went into numerous cd stores and radio stations and out onto the street corners to promote themselves and try to sell their cds. They met the 50,000 mark on the 4th day. That first cd single was called "Ai no Tane".
In January of 1998, the girls released their first single under the name Morning Musume. That single was entitled "Morning Coffee", and it made its way all the way up to number six on the Japanese pop charts. Shortly after that, Morning Musume added three new members to its ranks; Kei Yasuda, Mari Yaguchi, and Sayaka Ichii join to bring the member tally to eight. In May of 1998, MoMusu's second single, "Summer Night Town", climbs to number four on the J-pop charts. July of that same year brings the release of the first MoMusu album, "First Time" (which goes to #4 on the album charts), and the first concert tour, which lasts for 47 days. In September of 1998, Morning Musume's third single, "Hold On Me", finally makes it to number one on the J-pop charts.
In January of 1999, one year after the release of their first single, original member Asuka Fukuda (the youngest at the time at age 13) leaves the group in order to continue her schooling. When she leaves, MoMusu membership drops to 7. In February, the fourth single, "Seishun no Hikari" is released and goes up to number two on the charts. In March, Morning Musume embarks on their very first national tour of Japan. The tour consists of 19 performances in a total of 7 cities and lasts for almost one month. May of 1999 brings us the 5th single, "Manatsu no Kousen" which reaches the number three slot on the charts. Two months later in July, we get the sixth single, "Furusato", which only gets to number 5 on the charts. July of 1999 also marks the release of their second album, "Second Morning", which reaches #3 on the charts. In the following month, Goto Maki joins Morning Musume, bringing the tally back up to eight members. In September of 1999, the seventh single, "LOVE Machine", is their first to sell over one million copies and is number one on the J-pop charts for three solid weeks.
In January of 2000, two years after their debut single, original member Aya Ishiguro leaves the group to marry Shinya of J-rock group Luna Sea, bringing group membership back down to seven. In that same month, the 8th single, "Koi no Dance Site", debuts and reaches number two. In March, MoMusu's 3rd album, "3rd Love Paradise", is released. Three new members, Rika Ishikawa, Hitomi Yoshizawa, and Nozomi Tsuji, are planned to be added in April of 2000. However, in a last minute decision, Tsunku decides to add Ai Kago as well. These four new members bring the total group tally up to eleven. In May the 9th single, "Happy Summer Wedding", is released and Morning Musume tops the charts once again. Less than a week later, second generation member Sayaka Ichii "graduates" the group in order to pursue her solo career. The 10th single, "I WISH", is released in September 2000 and also climbs to number one. "Renai Revolution 21" comes out in December 2000 and is the 11th single, but is not as successful as the two preceding.
In the first month of 2001, MoMusu's 4th album, "MORNING MUSUME Best Hit" is released. It hits number one on the album charts and sales exceed 2.9 million copies. In March, the group embarks on another tour, called "Live Revolution Spring". The tour consists of 21 performances in 7 cities and also lasts for almost one month. The day after the tour ends, group leader Yuuko Nakazawa "graduates" to concentrate on her solo career. When she leaves, core member Kaori Iida takes over as leader, and second-generation member Kei Yasuda is appointed "sub leader". Total membership at this point is nine. August 2001 brings MoMusu 4 very young new members; Asami Konno (14), Ai Takahashi (14), Makoto Ogawa (13), and Risa Niigaki, who is the youngest MoMusu to date at age 12. Morning Musume is now thirteen members strong.
Late summer and fall of 2001 are very active. Single #12, "The*Peace", is released in July. "Mr. Moonlight Ai no Big Band" is #13 and is released with huge success in October. February of 2002 brings us the 14th and newest single, "Souda! We're ALIVE!" At the time this article was written, this single sits at #4 on the J-pop charts.
Morning Musume has come a long way since it's beginning. Of the original five members, only two currently remain; they are Abe Natsumi and Iida Kaori. Membership is currently in its 5th generation with Ogawa Makoto, Asami Konno, Ai Takahashi, and Niigaki Risa. A total of seventeen girls have been members in MoMusu over the years, and four have left, or "graduated", since the beginning.
The way that MoMusu works seems to be unique in the music industry. Less like an actual group and more like a sort of musical "troupe", Morning Musume functions as a sort of school, or launch pad, for young female performers to begin their career. This style seems to be exclusive to Morning Musume, although the entertainment industry of Japan has a somewhat similar style for creating new groups. Groups like SMAP and V6 were formed by the industry in this manner. However, the concept of a group actually having members pass through and "graduate" to smaller groups or solo careers is something one only sees in Morning Musume, apparently.
Not only do members graduate out to smaller groups and solo careers, but there is also a significant number of Morning Musume spin-off groups. In 1998, Tanpopo is formed. Pucchi Moni comes about in 1999. Coconuts Musume and Mini Moni are born in 2000. Three shuffle groups are formed; they are called 3-Nin Matsuri, 7-Nin Matsuri, and 10-Nin Matsuri. And there are more - Country Musume and Tsunku Family, just to name a couple. Yuuko Nakazawa, Sayaka Ichii, and Goto Maki have all launched successful solo careers from the Morning Musume launch pad.
Throughout their now 4-year career, Morning Musume has released 14 hit singles and 4 widely popular albums. It seems like MoMusu is golden. There have also been several hugely popular music videos featuring the whole troupe, as well as scads of videos and DVDs. MoMusu members have also been featured in movies, TV dramas, photo books, a PS2 game, and on variety shows. Morning Musume is wildly popular in Japan, especially among young girls. The sheer amount of merchandise is incredible; post cards, calendars, photo albums, key chains, trading cards, notebooks, and schedule books, just to name a few things. The group even appeared at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Morning Musume is simply unstoppable. With a new single coming out just a few short weeks ago, and the group currently 13 members strong, it doesn't look like Morning Musume is going anywhere any time soon.