The Country Girls/H!P Shake-up

We now know the results of the Country Girls/KSS Divestment Draft of 2017: ANGERME gets CG member Musubu Funaki and KSS member Ayano Kawamura; Morning Musume gets CG member Chisaki Morito; Juice=Juice gets CG member Nanami Yanagawa and KSS member Danbara Ruru. KSS member Reina Ichioka will lead a new group with members to be determined at a future date. That’s a whole lotta shakin’-up going on, even by H!P standards.

Of course, this was all set in motion by the confluence of two unusual events: the decision to debut the three older, talented KSS members so as not to lose them, and the decision to make Country Girls a part-time group by cutting the activities of Risa Yamaki and Mai Ozeki to off-school times only for the purpose of letting them concentrate on their studies. It’s all very bizarre, yet here we are.

My first reaction was that a shake-up might not be the worst thing for the Hello! Project, and after the announcements, I feel pretty much the same. I was praying that Ruru would be put into MM’17, but that clearly was never in the cards, despite the fact that they need her voice more than any other group. I was not expecting Juice=Juice to take on any new members, as they’re the red-headed step child of H!P, so seeing Ruru go there kind of pissed me off at first. Upon reflection, I’m hoping that the decision to add girls to J=J signals a renewed commitment to the group, and that they will get strong songs more often than once every two years or so, as well as greater promotion in general. J=J was already one of the most talented vocal groups in an industry that values singing chops less and less, and adding Ruru to the fold makes them a powerhouse in this regard. I’m guardedly excited to see what they do with all of this talent.

Most people seem to think that MM’17 is the perfect spot for Chisaki, although her reaction to joining MM suggests she doesn’t agree, or at least not yet. Not knowing much (okay, anything) about most KSS girls, I don’t have an opinion on that, but from what I can gather, she’s another all-dance, no-sing idol. In other words, exactly what MM doesn’t need. Look, they’re about to lose one of their stronger singers when Kudo leaves in a couple of months, and who knows how long Sato’s back is going to allow her to continue to perform at this level. They’ve lost two of their better singers, Kanon and Riho, in the last year-and-a-half already. Can we push some of the tin-ears out and replace them with decent singers for a change? I’m not asking for a Mariah Carey here– a Tsuji Nozomi would be wonderful. My hope is for more MM graduations in general, because they’re just too big for the venues they play these days, but I’d really like to see a move back toward MM as a singing group more so than a dancing group.

I’m most worried about ANGERME, though, and the effect this will have on what appears to be a great group dynamic. They remind me of Golden Era Morning Musume in the way that everyone seems to really enjoy working together. Of all the H!P groups, ANGERME does the best job of featuring the most members, and adding two more girls will necessarily make that more difficult. My biggest concern, though, is spreading H!P’s best group too thin and turning it into another mega-group. I get that idol mega-groups aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, nor will H!P exist without one, but do they really need two? I don’t need two, but I’m not exactly their target audience, either. Up-Front has done everything right with ANGERME– taking what was a middling idol group with mostly a cult following in S/mileage and turning it into one of the more successful J-girl groups without a 48 or 46 in their name – and I’d hate to see it pissed away by growing it too much, too quickly. On the positive side, Funaki and Kawamura are walking into the most finely tuned H!P machine, which sets them up for success. Chisaki, on the other hand…

Can we talk about that video? Let’s watch it, first (go to 5:01 if the video doesn’t start there automatically) :

Well, at least that wasn’t the least bit awkward, was it? Jesus, neither Mizuki nor Chisaki looked like they wanted any part of this arrangement. They’re both petrified and neither has any idea how to react. Chisaki, at least, has an excuse: her entire life has been thrown into flux. The group she helped build from nothing into a fairly successful idol project has been mostly taken from her, including all of her mates that she worked and broke sweat with in pursuit of the same goal. All gone now, and she’s being pushed into a new group, with new girls and a new culture, all of which she has had no part in building. And she’s on her own. The other girls at least had one of their mates to lean on. Mizuki, though, has no excuse. She’s a seasoned pro of nine years, and leader of one of the most storied idol groups in Japanese music history. I’ve heard some say that nobody told her what she was there for, but I see no indication of that in the video or in any translation of the conversation I’ve read.

(To be fair, the conversation does make Mizuki look better, but she has to comport herself better in this situation. If ever there was a moment when being the leader carried a responsibility, this was it, and I think she kind of blew it.)

Oh, and Reina Ichioka’s new group. I’m intrigued, and I’m interested to see if they hold open auditions specifically for the group, or if they just stock it with KSS girls. How many members will there be? What style of music will they perform? What silly name will they give them? I’m looking forward to that as much as anything, because it’s the fun part of all of this. Nothing is being upended or tampered with. It’s just a new idol group from Hello! Project, and what’s not to like about that?

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