WTF S/mileage Auditions?

If there was one unit within Hello! Project which I thought didn’t need changing, it was S/mileage. I’m not saying they’ve been managed in a flawless style (hacking everyone’s hair off for Shortcut was a big no-no), but to me, they somehow provided a template of how the other groups within Hello! Project should be managed.

So why the hell are they holding auditions for a 5th member, and at that, why with an age range of 13-18?

Let’s back track a little… S/mileage was formed two years ago by tsunku, just after the idol collective had had a serious shake up, and what was followed by Morning Musume’s most successful period since Yossie and Mikitty departed. A year and 4 Indies singles later, under much less favourable conditions (e.g. declining single sales from all groups), S/mileage made a successful debut. Unlike other Hello! Project units, they’ve managed to maintain fairly stable sales, with each single selling 17-20k copies in the first week of charting. For an idol group, this isn’t bad at all, and in some cases their singles have outsold Berryz Kobo and C-ute, and have left Mano Erina very far behind.

The girls also have a definitive style in their music, PVs and costumes. It’s the epitome of “KAWAII“: energetic songs, cute mini skirts and playful PVs. They have a clear theme, much like EmoMusume did, and unlike, say, C-ute.

And talking about C-ute, here comes the dilemma which S/mileage will one day face: they’re not going to stay cute and youthful forever. C-ute’s plan was to try some new things – sexy outfits, mature songs and fast paced, energetic dance routines. However, they’d then produce something like Momoiro Sparkling, which is probably very confusing to any mainstream fan base trying to follow them – pick a formula and stick to it! Like S/mileage.

You might say that adding a new member to S/mileage is a good idea then, to keep the group youthful. However, why the heck have they put an age range on the auditions which is two years older than the oldest member? Not that I can imagine they’ll add anyone older than Dawa… More to the point, why try and “fix” something that isn’t broken. S/mileage are the last Hello! Project unit which needs a new member or some kind of big change. ManoEri needs some serious investment in her career, followed by someone who can keep C-ute in one direction and then someone who can promote Berryz Kobo properly. I’m also wondering how one new member will disturb the dynamic of the 4 girls who spent ages as Eggs, and a year in preparation for their mainstream debut. Maybe tsunku feels they’ve got too complacent and are taking their success for granted (which I doubt). Or maybe one of S/mileage members is unhappy and/or thinking of leaving (as they’re all getting to High School age)? I doubt that, but it wouldn’t be unheard of.

I have a feeling it’s all about publicity however. Morning Musume may not be the most popular idol group at the moment, but whenever “auditions” are mentioned, they begin to trend on Twitter and member’s blogs are bumped up on ranking sites. I also wonder if tsunku is once again trying to replenish his Egg stocks and maybe he’s not getting the right kind of girls audition for Morning Musume. Maybe he’ll even switch some girls around between the S/mileage and Morning Musume auditions. Who knows what Hello! Project and Up Front Agency are thinking any more? I find the whole situation bizarre and unnecessary. It’s a publicity stunt which could wreck a decent Hello! Project unit.

OriUp’d Vol. 4

After taking a couple weeks off – I’m back. Last week’s top 5:

  1. Passpo – Shoujo Hikou (42,706)
  2. MBLAQ – Your Luv (40,281)
  3. THE ALFEE – Let It Go (23,0108)
  4. Jang Keun Suk – Let me cry (22,707)
  5. Shoujo Jidai – MR. TAXI / Run Devil Run (20,623)

Narrow sales margins between first and second, but really well done to Passpo, who have broken a couple of records with their debut #1.

This week has been the first in a while where we’re looking at the possibility of a top 10 full of new entries. Battling at the top are, also, three very different acts.

Male idol group Kanjani8 come back with the second of the trio of singles they’ll be releasing this summer, “My Home“. A gentle rocky number, with a nice guitar solo in the middle. The PV is pretty generic, switching between the boys doing DIY poorly in a house and them playing instruments and singing the song. JE fans will probably bump this to number 1.

BUMP OF CHICKEN are back with “Smile“, a simple acoustic number. It’s quite a nice track, and quite different to what we here in this half of the Oricon. I do love the screaming of “aaaaah” and any song with a key change at the end has to be epic. PV pretty bland – shots of cartoon like sketches.

French Kiss make sure the 48 franchise also has an entry this week with “Kakko Warui I love you“, an up-beat pop number being used as the theme to anime “SKET Dance“… not my favourite single this week, but none the less, selling well. PV is just dance shot + close up. I’m feeling pretty indifferent towards this.

Other entries include double a-sides from aiko and Tokyo Jihen, more anisong from UVERWORLD (CORE PRIDE for Ao no Exorcist) and May’n (Scarlet Ballet for Hidan no Aria).

May’n’s latest entry sounds slightly like they’re trying to turn her into Nana Mizuki. Stay true to your style May’n, you’re epic in your own way (although her PV does rock).

My favourite entry this week has to be Yuu Kikkawa‘s “Kikkake wa you” which has been stuck between 10-12 position, but I’ll save that for another post, but even if you’re not a Hello! Project fan at the moment, it’s really worth a listen as the B-sides are also really good.

So this week, amongst the boring PVs, I’ll leave you with a gem – Tokyo Jihen‘s “Onna no ko wa Daredemo“. I’m not a big fan of their style of music, but they’re PV is definitely the most interesting of the week!

Morning Musume Announces 10th Audition

Wow, this came out of the blue. Tsunku has announced that Morning Musume will now be accepting applicants for the 10th generation audition starting from today and ending on June 13th.

The theme of the new generation is “Genkijirushi” which my dictionary tells me means “Promising“. Looking back however, names are meaningless to a generation. Wasn’t Koharu supposed to be the Miracle? Miracle for her own solo career in Kirarin Revolution maybe, but not so much for Morning Musume. The age range is also very slim: 12 – 15 years it’s probably one of the most specific yet.

This announcement could be the prelude to something a little more ominous, however. Could another of the older members be graduating before the end of the year? Either that or the amount Ai‘s being paid is going to support two new members and excessive promoting alone (which I actually wouldn’t doubt). I would not at all be surprised if we saw Aika being the leader of Momusu within two years, as the new wash of talent being recruited and new style will definitely lead to Gaki, Reina and even possibly the “forever young” Sayu looking out of place with a bunch of under 16s.

But, the news isn’t all bad. New members wouldn’t have been put into the group unless the 9th generation were proving popular – right? Either something is going terribly wrong at Hello! Project HQ or tsunku thinks enough has already been done for the girls to attract new fans. Also, many fans have noticed the depletion in the stock of Eggs lately. Personally, I’ve never had much time for the Eggs, except for the MilkyWay girls. When they hatch, they can produce some excellent talent (S/mileage, ManoEri, V-U-DEN, Lin Lin), however, watching an Egg be incubated is sometimes a slow and monotonous process. Maybe it’s a secret ploy to get another Egg into H!P to stop a particular girl from leaving? Who knows?

I do wonder how the 9th generation will feel about this however. They were probably looking forward to being the juniors for a little bit longer, and instead, it looks like they could possibly be mentors with less than a year of experience. I would imagine that it will push them to really up their game and stand out. For me, Zukki (Kanon Suzuki) with her hilarious behaviour and Riho (Riho Sayashi) have done this alone. Riho is being branded the next Ai-chan, which we can see from her extraordinary dance skills. The problem is, none of the 9th generation have those exceptional vocal abilities that Ai-chan has. Out of the remaining members, Gaki and Reina are the only girls who have very, very good singing voices, but neither compare to Ai-chan.

All the same, I’m keeping my eyes open, as I suspect at the Summer Hello! Project concert we may hear another “shock” announcement from Gaki, Sayu or Reina.

Any chance they’ll let Mogi in this time?

You’re still my #1 Mogi! Speaking of age range, Mogi wouldn’t have been accepted by last years standards? I wonder how young the mysterious 6th girl who dropped out was? Maybe they felt that the ender 12s were too young?

Anywho, I’ll look forward to the current unfolding events from Hello! Project. They know how to keep me interested.

C-ute – Momoiro Sparkling

I’m a little confused by C-ute. Their last few singles have shown a move towards a more mature image, yet all of a sudden, they come out with fluffy, ubeat “Momoiro Sparkling“.

To be honest, from the reactions people were having to the song, I was expecting it to be a regression of the girls, but instead, I was nicely surprised. A bright, airy summer PV, traditional H!P backing vocals (it sounds like tsunku and Atsuko Inaba although as her contract with UFA has ended it probably isn’t) and… equal line distribution – in C-ute?! For me it’s always been a fact of life that C-ute was the Airi and Maimi show, but to see and hear so much of Nakky, Chisa and MaiMai is great!

As people have said, this single is a bit of a departure from their previous singles. Since Dance de BAKOON! C-ute have been pushing hard towards a sexier image, which really worked for them. But, although I can understand many fans’ disappointment, I’m glad that they can still put Maimai in some dungaree shorts, let the girls play with water-guns and inflatable balls and still pull it off. I think all the girls are wearing fantastic costume choices, and those killer heels still give all 5 girls an element of maturity. I especially love Chiasato in this PV. She’s really starting to stand out, in a very good way, in C-ute – and her hair and outfit are adorable.

For once, the main problem with this song isn’t the PV, the vocals, the balance or even the arrangement of the song. It’s that the song just isn’t very catchy. The chorus just doesn’t draw you in enough, there are no real hooks to the song, making the track forgettable.

Overall though, I love this PV, and the song does grow on you. H!P have seemed to perfect the “budget PV” (although I’d ask for your money back for those pink CGI bubbles) and regardless of making comparisons to other groups it’s a cracking effort from C-ute, going in a different direction to their usual one.

Verbal – Visionair

“DUPH DUPH DUPH”

This sounds like the noise which sometimes comes through my walls at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning, while I bang in response on the wall and threaten under my breath to play Kirarin Revolution with my speakers pressed against the wall at 7 a.m. for revenge (not that I ever will…). To say that heavy drum and bass and hip-hop in general aren’t my kind of thing is an honest statement. There are a few artists I really like (Eminem, B.o.B. etc.) but if I had to chose a genre outside of East Asian music to listen to all night, this wouldn’t be it.

So when VERBAL announced his new solo project, dropped names like Lil’ Wayne, I did cringe slightly at the prospect of another TERIYAKI Boyz style sound. I’m a big fan of m-flo, the act which has probably got VERBAL most of his recognition, but TERIYAKI Boyz is still a little too far out of my comfort zone.

The main pull to some people in trying this album, both in the East and West, are the heavy weights who VERBAL has convinced to feature on his tracks. Nicky Minaj (or rather a sample of Nicki Minaj), Lil Wayne and Drake are the main US pulls, while Namie Amuro also stars on the albums feature track, the addictive, “BLACK OUT“. There’s also a Jay-Z sample used in “BALL and BOUNCE“. Other things you’d expect from this type of album are also true – it’s heavily auto tuned and contains a large amount of, what has been described as “Jungle/drum and bass/dub step” but to me is mostly unpleasant noise.

But name dropping aside, what’s the album like? There’s certainly an East meets West feel to this. Surprisingly or not, I found most the tracks I love to be those where VERBAL has been given a free reign and hasn’t been constrained by a “collaboration”. “I CAN’T HELP MYSELF“, one of my favourite tracks, has a very retro 80’s/90s new wave feel to it, while “FALL OUT feat. Shunya“, released as a digital single before the album is probably my favourite track, sounding like another new wave crash with sweet male vocals and VERBALs elite rap skills. It says something about my taste when the tracks I find a heavily like are those with a more Eastern influence. However, to say that the other tracks are strictly “Western” is completely untrue. VERBAL has created his own style with a mash of styles from the traditional hip-hop (CHANGE CHANGE feat. Nicki Minaj) rock outfits like the Transplants (LIAR feat. MADEMOISELLE YULIA), RnB (YOU ARE) and still has elements of his J-Pop stylings – there are also tracks like “NOTHING” which make no sense to the album at all… Whether you like the random variety or see this as an uncalculated mess is down to you.

So, overall, I have mixed feelings about this album. Yes, there are a few tracks that sound worthy of being blasted from the idiot boy racer’s car while you sit next to him at the lights (STOMP DEM ROACH), but there are also those tracks which you could easily listen to all day long. However, as for the flow of the album, or even the concept of the album, I feel something is lacking. To me, it almost seems like an epitaph of “look what kind of shit I could do” – without a real target audience, or direction.

So overall, definitely worth a listen, but I think VERBAL has a little way to go before really breaking out into the mainstream with his elicit style.

  1. VISION IN THE AIR
  2. BLACK OUT feat. Lil Wayne & Namie Amuro
  3. I CAN’T HELP MYSELF
  4. BALL N BOUNCE
  5. DOPE BOY FRESH
  6. Fall Out feat. SHUNYA
  7. HEY MISTER feat. Minami (CREAM)
  8. I WANT IT ALL
  9. CHANGE CHANGE feat. Nicki Minaj
  10. STOMP DEM ROACH
  11. LIAR feat. MADEMOSELLE YULIA
  12. YOU ARE
  13. I SEE YOU
  14. NOTHING
  15. Some Other Place feat. Drake

Oh and my favourite line, from I can’t help myself, “X-Men, Magneto, Let me go”… WTF?