specter of a fall from grace looming in the back of their minds, as the AKB48 member Sashihara Riho revealed this week, much to the outrage of fans and shock of the public.
According to Tokyohive, Sashihara stated on NTV's "Odoru! Sanma Goten!!" that she believed AKB48's popularity would die down within a couple of years, and that everyone in the entertainment industry needed a special skill to survive with (going the Rina Nakanishi route, perhaps...? I kid, I kid.) And despite the controversy this stirred amongst the studio audience and netizens, one look at the cyclical nature of the J-Pop industry shows that Sashihara's pessimism is not unwarranted, if a little overboard.
After all, what artist or idol has managed to sustain their popularity for more than five years, tops? The typical go-to example of decline in popularity in idoldom is Morning Musume. Despite holding the record of highest overall sales for any female group on the Oricon charts, recent single sales hovered at no more than 40K. Meanwhile, in their Golden Era, the group pulled sales figures of over 100K regularly, quite parallel to AKB48's current success in dominating both the niche idol market and the mainstream Japanese consciousness. Now, the question of why Morning Musume simply fails to attract the public eye is a question that the idol blogosphere has ruminated over plenty of times, with the main theories falling under one of the following under the following categories.
1) People associate the idea of 'Morning Musume' with older, more iconic members
2) More competition
-See AKB48, Passpo, Momoiro Clover, Tokyo Girls Style, not to mention all the slick and polished Korean idols- SNSD, KARA, After School, 4Minute-- the list goes on.
3) The umbrella of 'It's Tsunku/UFA's Fault (TM)'
- He picks too many 'project girls' who don't hit the ground running in terms of singing/dancing/personality
-His songs and lyrics are getting pretty stale
4)The Snowball Effect of waning popularity
-lack of promotion
-lack of money invested into PVs/other promotional activities
Onyanko Club and Pink Lady had reached their expiration date. Meanwhile, today's market is being dominated by at least a dozen groups, from Korean imports to younger, fresher upstarts all vying for the same audience. And of course, UFA's seemingly nonexistent relations with popular music programs aren't helping things much either, as popularity is often directly correlated with exposure.
See for instance, this very unscientific study:
Compare the following songs- very similar, synthy songs that arguably would appeal to the same audience-- all B-list material for both groups. Except that the first was barely promoted at all (with an appearance on Music Japan) while the other was amped up not only by AKB48's inherent popularity, but by multiple TV appearances leading up on popular programs such as Music Station.
Now, here are the sales figures for each:
AKB48- Almost 600K
Morning Musume- barely breaking 30K
Add these factors together and surely, you have a recipe for failure.
|The Momusu of yesteryear|
As we have already seen with elder member graduations, Morning Musume doesn't feel like Morning Musume anymore without its icons. It's not only a tired brand, but an empty one as well. After the recent 9th generation auditions, I feel like my theory is more accurate than ever. The new additions are fresh and cute enough, albeit a tad on the talentless side in terms of vocals. But throw them in with the vets and you're back to square one-- that tired image of the Morning Musume everyone knew and loved-- but not anymore.
I think that they've reached that point in Japan when they can pump out memorial best-of albums every once in a while to acknowledge their legacy, but as long as they keep pushing their tired brand, no one is going to pay attention to them.
|The unrecognizable faces of today's|
That said, Morning Musume is one of the few idol groups that seem to hang on tight despite being well past their prime, and I do applaud them for that. As a late fan of theirs, I've been thinking a lot about the longevity of idol groups and what formulas work and which do not. So, as a part of a series of articles, starting, obviously, with this one, I will be examining the idol industry in search of what I would like to call 'The Evergreen Idol formula'-- How to make a given group of idols stay relevant and popular as long as possible and avoid declines such as the ones we see with Momusu.
Let me know what you think in this age old debate-- what is the issue with Morning Musume? What will become of popular groups such as AK48 in the future? Is there such thing as an evergreen idol formula?