Hoo boy. I think this article might get me some negative comments, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and really wanted to put this out there.
First off, before I even start, let me preface with this: I like Takahashi Ai. I think she’s beautiful, insanely talented, and quite possibly the best vocalist Morning Musume has ever had (maybe topped by Gotou Maki, but it’s a close one). It has been a joy watching her grow from a 14-year-old with serious potential to the amazing powerhouse she is now. However, I’m ecstatic that she is graduating and can’t wait for her to be out of the group. How can this be?
Let’s look at what Morning Musume is. Momusu was created as a group of losers, the rejects of a contest they failed to win. How ironic, then, that winner Heike Michiyo had little success whereas Morning Musume would become one of the most popular girl groups in history. The 5 girls that lost had to work their butts off, selling singles in the street, promoting themselves, just to get their debut released. Of course, all that hard work was soon pushed to the side with the introduction of the true concept of Morning Musume: New girls coming in, and soon, girls going out.
The generations that joined after first generation were a mixed bag, some girls that needed very little polish, others that took a while to carve out their niche in the group. This became something of a theme for Morning Musume – taking girls, and transforming them into stars. With 4th generation we got a girl who shouldn’t have passed the audition, but was added anyway (Tsuji Nozomi). We got more of that with 5th generation, with Konno Asami. Many of the girls that got in were not the best, but would find their place in the group as they became the idols we love today.
Takahashi Ai was a wonderful choice for Morning Musume, because quite frankly, 5th generation was ROUGH at first. Niigaki Risa, who is an amazing singer now, was awful at 12 (watch her audition if you don’t believe me). Konno Asami was added out of pity and it was a miracle she got as good as she did. Ogawa Makoto stood out as being great in the audition, but somehow never stood out in the group. Ai was different – Ai was good right from the get go, beautiful, a good dancer, and a wonderful singer.
As the group progressed, it was only natural that she became one of the leading ladies, especially as old favorites and former center girls graduated. Goto Maki, Abe Natsumi and the like left big shoes to fill for vocals, and Ai, along with a few others like 6th gen additions Tanaka Reina and Fujimoto Miki, became the vocalists that songs started to rely on. Once Miki was out, well… This is where things started to go wrong for me.
The thing is, Morning Musume has been about plain girls, turned into stars. Once Ai became the main focus of the group, I feel like they lost that. Generations joined, but the girls never bloomed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Ai for the trainwreck that was Kusumi Koharu, but 8th generation was never utilized. The star of almost every song was Ai. It was her carrying the chorus, her with the knockout solo lines, her in the center position, her, her, her.
Ai was wonderful. Ai did nothing wrong. But through her mere presence alone, the sound of Morning Musume changed. The concept of the group even changed, remaining stagnant and increasingly boring as years passed with no new girls. They didn’t need them, they had Ai! Ai could be the star!
It was at that point that, for the first time, my interest in the group declined, and it stayed that way for a long time. When they announced 9th generation, it was the first time my interest was really piqued in years, besides the occasional decent single. Then I was disappointed again, because after only 1 single, the new girls were already pushed to the back so they could focus on… Who else, Ai.
So, when Ai’s graduation was announced, I was ecstatic. Not because I don’t like her, or her voice, or anything, but because I see this as Morning Musume, about to reclaim what was so great about Morning Musume.
I can listen to any old group if I want to hear the same thing over and over. But Morning Musume had always had singles that were different, fun, and with new girls to grow attached to and love. With Ai in the group, the things I loved so much fell by the wayside.
Now that she will be out of the group, maybe we will get to see the new girls actually shine. Once 10th generation joins, there will be a lot of fresh blood, and less of a chance that it will be all about one main girl.
Ai, I love you, and you would be a fantastic solo artist. But I can’t wait to see what will come after you graduate.