Morning Musume 20th Anniversary: Dawn of a Brand New Morning
Morning Musume. has long been regarded as the flagship group of Hello! Project, and rightly so—they are the oldest by name and have a history that exceeds that of most female idol groups in Japan. As the current lineup, Morning Musume.’17, heads towards the group’s 20th anniversary on September 14, there is much anticipation on the future of Morning Musume. as well as the legacy of the past 20 years.
Since its founding in 1997 there have been 41 members of Morning Musume. to date, spanning 14 generations. Fun fact #1: Yuko Nakazawa, the oldest alumni, and Akane Haga, the youngest in the present lineup, are almost three decades apart in age. Despite the huge generational differences though, the Morning Musume. family is a fairly close-knit one. Many graduated members keep in touch with the current members, acting as mentors and often visiting them at important concerts.
Older fans fondly remember the Golden Era, when Morning Musume.’s popularity was at its peak in the early 2000s. In addition to the group becoming a household name, members like Natsumi Abe and Maki Goto were making a reputation for themselves as the aces of their generation. Morning Musume. was arguably revolutionizing the idol industry, setting a precedent for many female idol groups to come.
They created hits in the early years so unforgettable that even now, non-fans would know recognize the group’s old classics. “LOVE Machine”, their all-time best-selling single released in 1999, is still being performed regularly in concerts and on live television today. It forged such a legacy that it’s nothing short of a staple in Morning Musume.’s repertoire. Fun fact #2: Half the members of Morning Musume.’17 weren’t even born when this hit came out!
Of course, with such a multi-generational outfit, it is inevitable that the group dynamics change when members come and go. Some might say the leader carries the group’s image—there have been nine leaders in total, each of them bringing something different under their leadership. Although the eras are not officially defined, many fans regard the early Golden Era as Morning Musume.’s prime. It was followed by the Platinum Era in the late 2000s, which saw a fall in popularity despite the strong cohesion of the members. Nevertheless, Ai Takahashi, the leader for most of that time, was one of the most beloved members in Morning Musume. history and would also go on to have one of the longest tenures at 10 years. The Platinum Era would also see the addition of two Chinese members, Junjun and Linlin, as an effort to bring Morning Musume. to a more global stage.
As the Platinum Era members gradually left one after another, it became clear that a new era was on the rise. The seniors peeled away until only one remained—Sayumi Michishige. The legendary idol was left with a batch of younger girls under her wing, but the beginning of her leadership marked Morning Musume.’s revival. 9th generation member Riho Sayashi also quickly became a breakout ace, helping to pull the group to the top with her polished skills. They climbed back to big success with a significant change in musical style; compared to the soulful ballads of the past, the edgier EDM singles proved to be chart-topping hits. Formation dances became one of their famous traits, featuring in every new music video. Morning Musume. was back on the rise, and they had the sales and the stadium venues to prove it. Determined to distinguish themselves from the past, the group began adding each year as a suffix to their name.
After the powerhouses Michishige and Sayashi graduated, Morning Musume. once again faced the challenge of rebuilding the group. Following the further departure of the second 9th generation member Kanon Suzuki, the 13th generation joined the line-up and a Brand New Morning was declared with their debut. With the graduation of so many seniors and even generation mates, present leader Mizuki Fukumura has been left to carry the flag—but she’s determined to show the world a bigger, bolder Morning Musume. In a surprise move, Country Girls member Chisaki Morito was suddenly added as the sole 14th generation member in 2017.
We’re well moving past the Colorful Era at this point, and heading for a new future with these girls. White has been a significant color featured in costumes and visuals; a direction that soon-to-graduate member Haruka Kudo describes as a way for Morning Musume.’17 to be an blank canvas “dyed” by all the fans. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), new member Morito’s color is white—a sign that accompanies her foreshadowed status as the next ace. Who knows what the future holds? Morning Musume.’17 is charging towards their 21st year, and the fans are certainly in for a fun ride.
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