Stepping up for the last year before the new millenium begins, we have one more set of 12 months before things really kick of for Hello! (or Hello! Project as the name was changed once more groups & soloists had joined. Though to say the least it was a very rocky year as it has the first members start to leave, our first member passing away, and some bizarre decisions as things go! So let’s recap the year that was 1999!
Kicking it off with Momusu, the year began with a surprise announcement that Asuka Fukuda would be graduating in April do focus on studies which made the group’s next single, Memory Seishun no Hikari her last single with the group which included a song that was all hers! After the the group kind of went into a weird funk with their next singles, Manatsu no Kousen & Furusato (which the latter suffered in too much of one member before finally rounding the era out with their sophomore effort, Second Morning. Though during that, auditions were held for Morning Musume and proteges for the group and Michiyo Heike. For Morning Musume, they ended up with a winner, Maki Goto and ended up joining the group for their next single, LOVE Machine which ended up being a MAJOR MAJOR HIT for them, but it came with a cost. The announcement that Aya Ishiguro would be graduating in January of the next year.
- Happy Night – As the overall B-side from Asuka’s final single, Happy Night is surprisingly good and telling of the times for the end of the year it feels. Unlike the slow vibes of “Memory Seishun no Hikari” and the depressing tones of “Never Forget”, this is a song that really lets its hair down! I am surprised that Sayaka and Kei had the only solos, but it’s a fun discotheque kind of track!
- Manatsu no Kousen & Manatsu no Kousen (Vacation Mix) – Despite me having problems with the A-side of the last single, Manatsu no Kousen tried to set things back on an upbeat track with their summer song, Manatsu no Kousen. While there’s the obvious push going on for Natsumi, she had a pretty solid voice though her high notes were pitchy to say the least. Still, it sounds very upbeat and very 90’s. Just wish there was more of the rest of the group! The Vacation Mix found on their second album made things a little more clearer and the levels of sound were fixed a bit more. Honestly it didn’t do too much to change things around and I liked that.
- Otome no Shinrigaku – Who knew Kei and Sayaka would basically get a song to themselves here! Funny enough this was the song that ended up being the catalyst for the creation of Petitmoni! Back to the song, it’s probably the funkiest of them and it’s quirky and fun. I am a little buzzed that headphones are bad for this because Kei sings through the left side and Sayaka on the right…so it’s a bit strange for me. Still without them, it’s a solid song!
- LOVE Machine – Though after the album, I think the standards were set PRETTY high with LOVE Machine which was the debut song for Maki (though also the last for Aya). Unlike most of the songs here (exception of “Happy Night”), LOVE Machine was its own beast entirely going for more of a discotheque kind of sound. This song is a legendary song for H!P and for good reason! Great lyrics, awesome arrangement and new member Maki brought it as she was kind of the main here!
- Memory Seishun no Hikari – As the last A-side to include Asuka, I kind of felt letdown here with how much Nacchi was here. Despite the obvious ace pushing going on in the song, the chilled out R&B style really suited the kind of vocals all 8 had at the time and wasn’t begging too much. Though there are some unfortunate oddities like the rapping and the ending itself (sorry, but please no more adlibbing). It’s a good song overall, but it does have a couple of problems.
- Never Forget & Never Forget (Large Vocal Mix) – So for the first time in H!P history we have a single with 2 B-sides, but that’s only because this single was the first graduation single and I think Tsunku wanted to do something special for Asuka and so she got a solo track! As for the song itself, it sounds a lot like stuff from the group’s first album, but with more Asuka lol. Well the rest of the group is there, but they’re more like backups here. From the album version, I feel there was no changes there…although maybe Momusu has more of a presence in the song…it’s still Asuka though so they’re just in the same slot.
- Koi no Shihatsu Ressha – As the B-side from “Manatsu no Kousen”, Koi no Shihatsu Ressha sounds less old-timey and a bit more like Western Pop with the light guitar pop/rock sound. Though the kind of reggae-ish verses were interesting to say the least. Plus, it feels like Kaori and Yuko join Natsumi in solo lines which is always nice. I really ended up liking the song even it feels a little like something left off the first album like “Never Forget”.
- Furusato – I really do have a love/hate relationship with this song for sure. I really do love that Momusu tackled a ballad for an A-side and it sounds beautiful and the lyrics while sad (because it’s basically about being homesick) were sweet. I just wish it wasn’t JUST Natsumi singing here. Don’t get me wrong, she sounds good, but good lord you could’ve had the remaining 6 do something besides being back-ups…
- NIGHT OF TOKYO CITY – Opening the group’s sophomore album, NIGHT OF TOKYO CITY followed suit to the group’s sound at the time with the whole urban R&B sound. At least it didn’t have the raps as “Memory Seishun no Hikari” and “Wasurerannai” contained. The opening was a bit aggressive, but it really smooths out after a while! Not a bad track overall!
- Daite HOLD ON ME! (N.Y. Mix) – Like “Manatsu no Kousen”, Daite HOLD ON ME! also got an album version and just as the aforementioned song, the changes are pretty minimal from the cleaner arrangement and changing the rapping section by making them filtered and the 2nd verse kind of following the “Sexy long version” from the “Morning Cop” OST. Other than that, I would say it’s a mix of both versions?
- Koi no Shihatsu Ressha (Album Version) – I should say that I was surprised to see a B-side get edited for the album as I wasn’t there to know if this song was a big song for them to garner the edit. Unlike the light reggae sounds, Koi no Shihatsu Ressha’s arrangement has changed a LOT compared. It’s a bit more poppy and synthy and sounds like some 90s pop. I do think this sounds more complete and fulfilled so it definitely sticks out from the album!
- 21seiki – As the B-side for “LOVE Machine”, I wasn’t expecting the sound of it to be rather familiar to songs on “Second Morning”. What makes this one different is that while the arrangement is pretty much acoustic, the song is entirely sung in unison so no one really sticks out here. The tune is pleasant and heartwarming, but it’s a pretty decent B-side so far.
- Wasurerannai – If you missed the Momusu that did songs like “Summer Night Town”, “Daite HOLD ON ME!” or “Mirai no Tobira”, then the B-side from “Furusato” might tickle your fancy, but for me it’s just a hot mess and the rapping section is just strange to me. It’s like they were trying to be classy but also edgy like TLC here and it just didn’t work together this time around.
- Suki de×5 – I figured that the group wanted to tackle a big band kind of song and they tried that with this song. I like the genre they were going for, but the song almost felt too flat for me. I did also enjoyed hearing the ladies in a more sultry sound too, but a lot of the song does come off as a little awkward here.
- Papa ni Niteiru Kare – I’m not sure why the new songs are mostly going over my head, but I feel like that’s the case with a lot of the “Second Morning” songs. Yuko, Natsumi, and Kaori seem to be the leading ladies in the song, but the overall breezy pop sound, doesn’t seem to connect to me.
- Senkou Hanabi – Another Natsumi focused song? It seems this album is heavily centered around her this time around which is slightly bothersome. With a little help from Sayaka and Kei, Senkou Hanabi is sounding a little bit like some of Michiyo Heike’s things. Sadly, it just doesn’t leave much for me and I simply ended up forgetting about it.
- Da Di Du De Do Da Di! – As the closer for their album, this odd-titled song made for a decent ending if the song wasn’t as long as it felt. The lighthearted acoustic arrangement does sound nice but there’s some quirky things like how Yuko and Kei can’t sing together (they have lines that they completely miss!). Add that the ending while cute with the mentions of “Morning Coffee”, “Karasu no Nyoubou”, “Last Kiss”, and “Happy Night” references…definitely dragged the song out TOO far for me.
- LOVE Machine ~analog remix~ – A month later after the single’s release, LOVE Machine was released as a vinyl and came with a remix and a secret track. The remix is 7 minutes in length and funny enough tries to urbanize the song a bit. I sort of dug it, but it is just a bit too long and the verses have like no emotion to it. Sadly not a great remix.
- Secret Track – Yeah it had to go somewhere, but the vinyl has a secret track, but it’s just background sounds and whoa, whoas and all that…why is this a thing?
Overall: After going through their 1st loss and having Gocchin take up the mantle, they had a pretty straightforward year. Though while I thought their 2nd album was pretty meh, their singles were still the strongest releases!
Unlike last year, it feels like Michiyo really stepped down on releases for some reason. It could’ve been from the dwindling sales, but only releasing these two singles, Anata no Yume ni Naritai and scene, this was her only contributions to H!P in the year.
- Anata no Yume ni Naritai – I feel like Michiyo’s pop/rock songs are getting a bit more easier to listen to and this song was a pretty good showcase of sounding 90s but having a good rock sound to it. It does sound a tad bit dated in places but that’s always been the case for Heike’s music so it’s nothing new. Still, it’s a cool song for Michiyo!
- return – Funny that I thought the B-side to “scene” had a bit more oomph to it. This time Michiyo switched things up and gave us a sultry performance with some cool R&B. I’ve never heard Michiyo taking up a breathy style to her voice and she could’ve sung “Memory Seishun no Hikari” on her own to be honest!
- scene – As for the other A-side she released in the year, scene toned things down after the set of edgy singles she’s had and it’s a temperate letdown. For me, it does sound a bit too laidback for me to really care. It does have a certain anison feel to it, but scene is otherwise not one of her bests.
- Haru da yo – I didn’t think Michiyo would once again make the B-side of the single more along a cuter route than the leading track. Even if it doesn’t sound as corny as “Shinkokyuu Shiyou!!”, the song is a bit out of character and doesn’t really suit Michiyo’s grittier set of vocals.
Overall: Compared to last year, I’m not sure why Michiyo’s releases kind of were on the downlow for the year besides the fact there were multiple auditions, but still was rather low with just two singles.
If you thought Michiyo had a slow year, Yuko’s solo career went even slower releasing her lone single of the year, Junjou Koushinkyoku. Though she could use the excuse that she was pretty busy with Morning Musume to focus on this (plus I wonder how much she wanted to continue being an Enka artist.
- Junjou Koushinkyoku – Of all the enka songs, I’ve heard, most of them seem to really gel into each other and I end up mixing up the melodies to other songs. This seems to be the case for Junjou Koushinkyoku as it feels like this could easily been on her first album. I do like upbeat enka songs though, so it’s nothing to outrageous, but nothing ultimately memorable like “Karasu no Nyoubou” was.
- Heisei Rhapsody – Which follows into the B-side of the single as it’s got the same upbeat arrangement, but luckily the melody is a little more playful and I remembered Yuko’s vocal performance more. It’s a smidge better than the leading track, but at the same time…just as middle-of-the-road.
Overall: I guess it shows because Yuko was really busy dealing with Momusu that she would only release one single for the year…a bit sad as I like her voice, but she was kept busy!
After having Tanpopo being created at the end of last year, it seems Tsunku decided to put some focus this year on them with their first single, Motto. Then less than a month later we see them releasing their first album, TANPOPO 1 and because of the album managed to release a recut single for Tanpopo.
Sadly, towards the end of the year, Aya Ishiguro announced that she was graduating in the beginning of the new millenium and thus made Seinaru Kane ga Hibiki Yoru her last single with the group.
- Wakattenai ja Nai – Seems like the trio’s first album was going to start off really nicely with “Last Kiss” first then this song which is styled a bit like boogie-woogie, but a little more classier. There’s just something about Aya’s voice that really suits the song and she really gives it a sexy glow. Oh yeah, it’s a solo song just for her!
- Sentimental Minamimuki – Next is Mari’s solo track and I would say of the three, this one stuck out the most in the best way. I’m surprised that it was supposed to be styled as U.K. R&B, but either way, it gives me this nostalgic vibe and the beat is just on point. My only qualm though is that Mari is hitting some notes that she can’t exactly hit right in the chorus, but otherwise, it’s mad catchy.
- ONE STEP – It feels like this song came from the same vein as a lot of Taiyou to Ciscomoon’s songs during the same period. Though it has its own smooth twist that lets the trio have a little more fun with the song. I do like the piano melody and just gives me this cool and sultry glow that Tanpopo had down to a T.
- Tanpopo – Another album song that surprisingly caught my attention, the song named after the group had a pretty breezy, but strong 90s pop sound to it which stuck out to me. Still a bit too sung lightly for me, but it’s an ethereal kind of song and I enjoyed this too much!
- Suki – That Spanish guitar opening definitely took me by shock and unlike the majority of the album, this one tries to be upbeat and sultry in the same experience. I really like the latin vibes out of this one and I just REALLY think these soft sung vocals suit this track! One of my favorites from the album!
- Tanpopo (Single Version) – I suppose this song really stuck out to people enough that it was to be rereleased as a single! Initially, I couldn’t really tell the difference between the two versions, but I feel this one sounds a lot better structured. Still, one of the trio’s best songs!
- A Rainy Day – Seems like Tsunku took some liberties from “Suki” for this B-side from “Tanpopo”. I like the atmosphere of the song giving off this bright and party-like atmosphere and the trio sound pleasant here even with the brass going on and Engrish throughout. I loved this song!
- Motto – As the group’s 2nd A-side, Motto is definitely still a bit more mature than what I was expecting from a H!P group, but not quite as wispy and sensual as “Last Kiss”. As being another 90s R&B-like track from the trio, Motto is decent, but there’s something a little weird about it.
- Ai no Uta – Opening with what could fit a spaghetti western movie, the B-side of “Motto” is actually pretty interesting as well as it’s got the trio singing in a lower, wispy style and I found that unique even the ~chu-lu chu-lu~ sections. It’s refreshing that’s for certain and one of the stranger H!P things that worked.
- Motto (album mix) – Seems like all of the leading songs got a new album version, but the original Motto didn’t make the album cut. Unlike the original, the arrangement is a lot more sultry and softer and less sounding like a H!P track. I do enjoy it more than the original, but it’s still not quite my favorite (though I heard it has never been performed live?)
- Tanjoubi no Asa – With a piano intro like the one we got here, Tanjoubi no Asa felt a bit lacking somewhat despite the song’s melody to be memorable. It took a bit while for the song to grow on me, but it’s slightly memorable even if it’s sung way too lightly for me to catch on.
- Seinaru Kane ga Hibiki Yoru – As Ayappe’s final single for Tanpopo, Seinaru Kane ga Hibiki Yoru was obviously their Christmas song and despite how popular it got in later years, I never got into J-pop Xmas songs very much and this one doesn’t really stick out for me. Vocals are of course just fine and the song doesn’t sound too bad as it reminds me of “Tanpopo” a bit. I also would put the solo versions here as well (the B-sides, I suppose)
- Kataomoi – Sadly, Kaori’s solo is somewhat a forgettable track from the album for me. It definitely carries itself like something from Momusu’s first and second album and on top of that, Kaorin sounds a bit too light for a song with this loud of an arrangement. Just kind of a slow burner.
- Last Kiss (Album Version) – Closing their album, we get an album version of Last Kiss which also opened their album! Though sadly, I didn’t think this version stood close to the original despite the intentions. Replacing the arrangement by an all strings ensemble without resinging the tune is a mixture for issues and it’s really apparant that the two ideas clashed a bit too much. Like I said, it’s a nice idea, but they really should’ve took some effort here!
Overall: Seemed very shortlived for Tanpopo with the three with Aya leaving and all. Though I do think they had a solid year of releases and shockingly did better than Momusu did overall this year (though another group also did pretty damn good too, but we’ll get to that shortly). Sad to see Aya leaving, but I wonder if it means Mari and Kaori are going to push forward as a duo, or something else?
Taiyou to Ciscomoon
Back in 1998 in November, Tsunku announced an audition to further out Hello! roster and such and this one in particular was shown on ASAYAN. Initially the process led with 8 finalists split into two groups (San Fran & Cisco Moon) and trained a bit. Initially, Atsuko Inaba, Miho Shinoda, and Miwa Kominato were the winners but the last member was left for the remaining 5 until RuRu Honda was the final piece of the puzzle impressing Tsunku with her vocals (also her name changed in the period as well).
After the 4 won, they were sent to the United States to train under various American styles of music and in April, debuted with Tsuki to Taiyou. Though it was a challenge as if they didn’t do better than Momusu’s “Ai no Tane” they wouldn’t go any further than their debut. They succeeded easily!
After a month with that, the group would go and release a single each month for 4 months with Gatamekira, Uchuu de La Ta Ta, Everyday Everywhere, and Magic of Love before releasing their first album, Taiyo&Ciscomoon 1.
Sadly after that, the company announced that Kominato would leave the group leaving Taiyou to Ciscomoon as a trio and released a single Marui Taiyou -winter ver.-. That was all of 1999…very shocking end to the year to say the least!
- Gatamekira – I think for me, the group didn’t really start to kick some ass until their 2nd single and thank god that they were able to continue as a group because we wouldn’t have got this gem! Following the sultry R&B sound, I think this song basically showcased RuRu’s vocals on top of everyone’s stronger appearance. Is that Tsunku I’m hearing???
- Tsuki to Taiyou -sexy beam remix- – I should mention that their singles after their debut have many remixes that I’m going to have to tackle. The sexy beam remix of Tsuki to Taiyou really chills things down and finally the melody of the quartet can shine better to a better arrangement and it’s a MAJOR upgrade to the song. Definitely a cool, laidback song to jam along to.
- Tsuki to Taiyou -more cool remix- – Alright, this is a nice throwback to some Eurobeat stuff that Americans were drowning in during the early 90’s. The other Tsuki to Taiyou remix is just as cool and hearing RuRu’s ad-libs are just pleasing to me! The chorus is slightly disappointing, but the arrangement for the remix is cool and the added rap section was nicely added in.
- Uchuu de La Ta Ta – As the group’s 3rd A-side, Uchuu de La Ta Ta begins with some spoken dialogue in Chinese from RuRu which was unheard of in H!P! Unlike the darker side R&B, Uchuu de La Ta Ta sounds exciting and bright and you can hear it in the quartet. I really do love the verses though…always sing with it! What a wonderful song this turned out to be!
- Everyday Everywhere – Despite Tsunku saying this isn’t a ballad, it is their slowest A-side yet. With the track’s simplistic R&B beats and piano/guitar melody, it let the group manage to show off their smoother sides and group dynamic overall! I really love this song a lot and just dug the groove overall!
- Uchuu de La Ta Ta -after summer remix- – The second remix for Uchuu de La Ta Ta took the song in a TOTALLY different direction by making it more beach friendly (to the point where even Coconuts Musume could’ve done this). Even though it doesn’t have as strong of a beat as I would’ve liked, the summery vibes are aplenty and that stuck out nicely!
- Magic of Love – Like with “Uchuu de La Ta Ta”, the 4th and last of the single rush sounded like a song that makes you happy no matter what and this disco track also felt like it really worked along the skills the 4 have. I especially LOVE the big RuRu solo in the bridge…she just really worked the hell out of this song. Definitely deserve the love it gets today (even if Juice=Juice doesn’t come close to this amount of awesomeness).
- Chinmoku – Probably the only song off their album that really caught me by surprise, Chinmoku is a weird song for them in a couple ways. It did take the quartet to more of a Bossa Nova vibe here and that the lyrics are split into their syllables, so the members get one with every time they sing. Though the girls are singing in a whispy way, the song is pretty classy and the gimmick behind it is unusual, yet cool at the same time.
- Tsuki to Taiyou – As the group’s debut, Tsuki to Taiyou sounds pretty familiar to more of the urban sound that Momusu was doing at the time. I will say that immediately that all 4 members had smooth, silky vocals that resonated to me with this one. Though the song does sound a smidge jumbled here and there and the chorus kind of came out of nowhere. Still for a debut, this was impressive!
- Get on my Love – As the B-side from their debut, Get on my Love felt more like a TLC song. It did feel more focused than “Tsuki to Taiyou” did and the vocals were able to freely stand out. I enjoyed enough, but it still doesn’t seem quite right despite the sales say.
- Gatamekira -GTS more energy remix- – Gatamekira’s first remix definitely took the song to a different spot than I thought it would especially for dragging the opening as long as they did. Once the verses kick in, it picked up, but not in the way that I thought it would. I actually think the original has more energy xD
- Versus – Funny that it took towards the end of the year that we’d get another B-side. From “Magic of Love”, Versus was going up an already amazing song and I figured it wasn’t going to last very long of enjoyment. The tune is decent, but it’s lacking that soulful energy that most of TaiMoon’s previous songs had.
- Be Cool Down – Going into their album songs, Be Cool Down is the first new track and it does show the group in a slightly different direction taking a stronger R&B sound here. Though it’s definitely a Miho/Atsuko duet as the other two only say the title of the track here and there. I really do love the smokier vocals and chilled atmosphere…interesting song!
- ENDLESS LOVE ~I Love You More~ – As the last song off the album, ENDLESS LOVE takes the group back into disco-land and while it’s once again led by Miho and Atsuko, it’s actually a memorable song amongst the other tracks and feels like it could’ve been a single. Bright song and fun to listen to!
- Marui Taiyou -winter ver.- – After Miwa left the group, we were left with a trio and Marui Taiyou which is the group’s winter entry. While I do enjoy the upbeat sound here, I was a bit bored due to the song being sung entirely in unison and such. I suppose it’s OK, but they’ve had better A-sides.
- Magic of Love (Masters of funk remix) – This remix of Magic of Love does keep things a little close to the original in comparison to the other remix. Actually it might be a little too safe as it’s REALLY straightforward. It’s a decent remix if not slightly bland.
- Gatamekira -digital gigolo remix- – I’m not sure what happened with this remix, but this one is a bit annoying and just doesn’t work with the vocal melody. I do like the deeper synths and all but with no sticking beat and the overall weird flow, it just didn’t do well for me.
- Uchuu de La Ta Ta -super afro remix- – I was hoping that the remixes for Uchuu de La Ta Ta was going to be decent, but I feel like the song was left behind for the music, which I was surprised it took H!P this long to end up here. The parts that do appear are short, but it worked with the beat…sadly, as a whole, it was forgettable.
- Everyday Everywhere -crazy dance remix- – You would think that I’d love this remix as I love EDM tracks as it is. Everyday Everywhere’s first remix could’ve been that if it hadn’t felt empty and repetitive.
- Hey You! – Another album song, Hey You! feels quite disjointed as a song due to both the arrangement and once again the members not really connecting vocally (RuRu and Miho lines are VERY rough). As for the music, the rapping is meh, the arrangement while more urban, just felt empty as well. Just bleh!
- Sunrise Soredemo Hi wa Noboru – What a weird way to open this song with such chaotic chords! The song it feels like is taking some notes from “Mirai no Tobira” with the overly R&B/Urban sound. Add that it’s a Miwa-led song with Atsuko and Miho appearing in and out and the song is a bit of a hard listen.
- Magic of Love (T.Y.P. remix) – Not sure what to think of this Magic of Love remix because it seems to remove all the fanfare-like substance that the original had (and surprising that Miwa was left intact despite she left). There’s just something missing even though the idea does sound good.
- Everyday Everywhere -sugee reggae remix- – Though I think what took the cake here in bad moments is releasing a 9 minutes reggae remix. Not only is it too damn long for my tastes, it drags FOREVER and it’s repetitive at that. It really doesn’t work and luckily isn’t a main track (or given to Coconuts Musume for that matter).
- Introduction – As the opening of their album, Introduction does very little for me being 30 seconds and the group doesn’t even sing, instead a rapper does some things…just a weird intro.
- Interlude 1 ~Breath~ – Yes, their album was chockful of interludes and such. Breath is the first up and for being a minute long, it does make me feel awkward hearing the door squeaks and breathing in the background. The music does gradually get a little better towards the end, but that’s the last 20 seconds.
- Interlude 2 ~Soul Train~ – These interludes are just not sticking at all, at least this one is slightly memorable due to Miwa’s Minyo vocalizations. But that’s about it!
- Interlude 3 ~Waga Omoi~ – The last of the interludes does begin with a ringtone of “Tsuki to Taiyou” before it goes into urban sounds and a RuRu monologue before it ends. Strange…
- Finale – Of course we’d have an outro… So the album closes out with some footsteps and a heartbeat before what sounds like a door shutting and a crowd screaming. I suppose it’s meant for something, but it’s just unusual overall.
Overall: For such a year, I feel like Taiyou to Ciscomoon hit the ground running and definitely scored most releases this year (even more than Morning Musume and Tanpopo). I am a bit shocked at Miwa’s sudden departure and the excuses from the company as to why..but I mean now we have three alto singers together…so who knows what the trio can pull off for the new millenium.
Back in November of last year, auditions were surprisingly held out in Hawaii by Makoto to find a new group with an international flavor and out of 1500 girls, only 5 passed: Chelsea Ching, April Barbaran, Danielle Delauney, Ayaka Kimura, and Mika Todd. They were shown off in May to a bewildered Momusu on ASAYAN and shocked people further when their single was announced as Halation Summer / Summer Night Town (English Version). Though this single was released simultaneously as Country Musume’s debut in July.
A month later, they would release their 2nd single, DANCE & CHANCE.
- Halation Summer – As the group’s debut, Halation Summer is a bit wild for a debut. Considering that 3/5 of the group didn’t have a strong grasp at the language. It does have a strong tropical theme which was their whole shtick. The song was fun although language was weird but the heavy amount of Ayaka helped out a lot!
- Summer Night Town (English Version) – Though I was most surprised that their other debut song was a cover of Momusu’s 2nd A-side AND in English which was handled a lot better than “Halation Summer”. My problem is the vocals aren’t harmonizing very well, although they are doing vocalizations (thinking of Taiyou to Ciscomoon).
- DANCE & CHANCE and DANCE & CHANCE (English Version) – There’s something familiar with DANCE & CHANCE although I think that sound becomes more apparant next year. Anyways, Coco’s 2nd A-side is a little more dance-centric and less tropical sounding like their debut. Of course, I feel like Chelsea really showed up as she’s doing the vocalizations this time around and she sounds amazing! Once again Ayaka does the Japanese for the most part which I’m fine with. Also there was an English version which actually made the tune better as well! Good second single!
- Zurui Onna (English Version) – Surprise, Surprise! Coconuts actually ended up covering a Sharam Q track, this time Zurui Onna and honestly this sounds pretty good in English and the harmonizations have been worked on a little bit as well! It’s a lot more poppy than one would think, but it’s a decent cover!
Overall: Of the 4 new groups introduced this year, I feel this is one of the more interesting ideas by having 5 Hawaiians put into a group. I’m a little worried that maybe the gimmick will run short or the girls might start having issues continuing to sing in Japanese…
So in March, another audition was announced but this time wasn’t from Tsunku! This one was from Yoshitake Tanaka who thought he could kick off a group just from his love of farming & nature. From the auditions there were 9 finalists and they were sent to work to a farm until 3 winners were chosen: Hiromi Yanagihara, Azusa Kobayashi, and Rinne Toda. They were to debut with their indies single, before tragedy struck and Yanagihara passed away in a car crash. The parents were giving the choice to either stop the release or let it release and they chose the latter giving Futari no Hokkaido as the group’s first release (which was an indies single)
However a month later and Kobayashi would announce she was leaving. Most people think it’s either from a scandal or just her not being able to cope with the loss of Yanagihara.
After that a couple months went by before Rinne returned with a second indies single, Yukigeshiki was released to the public and that was the year basically.
- Yuki da Yori – Did Rinne join Tanpopo? This song is so light and more mature than previous efforts and this was a B-side! There’s just something about Rinne’s voice here that just seemed to work and she wasn’t straining like she was elsewhere. Very nice and relaxing song and her acoustic guitar lines are just really pretty!
- Futari no Hokkaido – As the trio’s debut (and only one with the 3), Futari no Hokkaido definitely reminds me of like early H!P for some reason. Opening with a horse neigh and spelling Hokkaido then turning into some diner-friendly song, it stuck nicely. Though Rinne had the only solo, the song isn’t bad and was a nice debut even if it was a rather bittersweet song.
- Morning Gyuunyuu – If the title wasn’t slightly apparant, it’s a sort of cover? of “Morning Coffee”. I will say I’m happy that Hiromi and Azusa have a much stronger appearance here as all three have solo lines throughout. I did find it funny that at how country the arrangement is, they threw in some idol-rapping lines in as well. Weird idea, but it slightly worked!
- Yukigeshiki – After the chaos that befell the group, after the break, when Rinne came back, it was surprising to see she’d be all by herself for this A-side (a rather bold move to keep the Country Musume name alive). This song had Rinne and an acoustic guitar which was interesting. I really did enjoy the lighter country sound but I’m not entirely sure Rinne could handle things by herself quite yet.
Overall: What a tragic year this was for this group who had such a hopeful start. I mean R.I.P. to Yanagihara, but going from 3 to just Rinne by herself, I feel bad for her, but also quite respectful of continuing despite the hardships. Be interesting how this story continues next year.
In February, an audition was held for the 1st Protege for Morning Musume & Michiyo Heike and out of 2000 applicants, Miyoshi was the lone winner and was given a solo career to run alongside Yuko and Michiyo. However, she was produced by Kaoru Sanada and not Tsunku and released her first two singles Unchain My Heart & Love, Yes I do!
- Unchain My Heart – When she was announced as a winner than given her solo career, I would imagine many were curious where she’d fit between rocker Michiyo and enka-tinted Yuko. Luckily, Unchain My Heart was more of an upbeat ballad, but felt very 90’s too. Chinatsu’s vocals to me were a little rough, but had a sense of maturity to them too. It might sound a bit behind the times, but it’s definitely a memorable song!
- Namonaki Generation – As the B-side of “Unchain My Heart”, Namonaki Generation reminds me of Michiyo Heike’s works as it had a little more guitarwork and a serious sound to it. While not as strong as the leading song, it’s nice that she’s a little versatility. Plus the verses were pretty neat!
- Love, Yes I do! – As Miyoshi’s 2nd A-side, Love, Yes I do! is actually a lot like “Namonaki Generation” without too much guitar. The song is a bit more upbeat and bright and has a certain romantic feeling to it. It’s a good song, but also somewhat like we’ve had this in her previous single.
- Lonely Surrender – Another similar song eh? It actually now reminds me of “Unchain My Heart”, but there’s some nice guitars and stringwork and a little bit of synthwork too. It’s OK, but could be better.
Overall: For someone to win an audition and become a solo artist is pretty big in its own right and I congratulate Chinatsu for winning, but I’m not sure about the style of music she got as it’s kind of behind the times and a little generic maybe. Let’s see if she gets better in the next year.
Last, but not least, it seems like H!P wasn’t quite done making units and in October created Petitmoni to further push new member Goto. About adding Sayaka and Kei, he thought they sounded great together in “Otome no Shinrigaku”. Though with the end of the year coming close, they only managed to put out their single, Chokotto LOVE.
- Chokotto LOVE – As the trio’s debut, I wasn’t expecting quirky and cute for Chokotto LOVE, but it definitely did wonders for all three members by having them with multiple solos and just that perky energy. I actually really enjoyed the three together as their vocals meshed well together and they gave the song such a fun atmosphere. I even liked that the PV was essentially put after “LOVE Machine”.
- DREAM&KISS – Wow, what a trippy song the B-side of the single was! With an otherworldly arrangement with a bunch of synths, this Petitmoni song is for sure dreamy with its composition and the trio sound great once again (each member gets two solo each).
Overall: Even though I know the unit was created just for Goto and Tsunku’s love for “Otome no Shinrigaku”, I’d say this is a pretty hopeful and exciting trio as Sayaka and Kei needed something to get them out there and Maki was kind of the push and lead they needed!
So during the year, more auditions happened and the 3rd Michiyo/Momusu protege auditions ended with these four Megumi Murata, Masae Ohtani, Ayumi Shibata, and Hitomi Saito winning in the end. Despite the win, they didn’t become active during the year only with the news of their name being announced in December as Melon Kinenbi…
Other H!P Releases
So the only releases that sort-of include H!P members were of these two singles from the show THE GARAGE. Though it featured artists that were under zetima who were at the time Momusu & Taiyou to Ciscomoon and other non-H!P artists. Both The Garage Vol. 1 & 2 had three songs each. (sadly I haven’t been able to find these songs, nor could I really say these were H!P releases, but I thought to mention it).
Gains & Losses
- Atsuko Inaba
- Miho Shinoda
- RuRu Honda
- Rinne Toda
- Chelsea Ching
- April Barbaran
- Danielle Delauney
- Ayaka Kimura
- Mika Todd
- Chinatsu Miyoshi
- Maki Goto
- Masae Ohtani
- Ayumi Shibata
- Megumi Murata
- Hitomi Saito
- Asuka Fukuda
- Hiromi Yanagihara
- Azusa Kobayashi
- Miwa Kominato
My H!P Member Ranking for ’99
- 27. Masae Ohtani (NEW)
- 26. Hitomi Saito (NEW)
- 25. Megumi Murata (NEW)
- 24. Ayumi Shibata (NEW)
- 23. Hiromi Yanagihara (NEW)
- 22. Azusa Kobayashi (NEW)
- 21. April Barbaran (NEW)
At the end are Melon Kinenbi because other than being the winners of the audition, NOTHING has really popped up about them, so they round out the end. Let’s really start with the lower end of the spectrum; while I know the loss of Hiromi was huge and the after-effect of Azusa leaving impacted Country Musume, I feel like the lone single for them didn’t do them any favors vocally I think because Rinne was the front member. I mean you didn’t hear them in the A-side and the B-side had them rapping a lot of the song (for their solos)…I feel like they really didn’t leave too much of an impact. As for April, I didn’t even know if she had a presence in the group as she only had one singluar solo in their songs and the other 4 just stood out exponentially further than she did…
- 20. Miwa Kominato (NEW)
- 19. Yuko Nakazawa (-18)
- 18. Mika Todd (NEW)
- 17. Kaori Iida (-9)
- 16. Chelsea Ching (NEW)
I felt like Miwa was actually the weak link in Taiyou to Ciscomoon despite she had the best control in her tone of voice. With her Minyo style of singing, she was able to basically hit notes like a laser beam, but with her high pitched voice going against ther other 3 members’ lower tones, it was a bit awkward at times. So surprised to see she left the group, but we’ll see what happens in the next year! From being the top last year, I felt nothing from Yuko this year despite her releasing one single. Even in Momusu, Yuko was kind of pushed back in favor for Natsumi. It just wasn’t a strong showing in the year. New member, Mika was kind of middle of the road for me this year as her prominent appearance was in “Summer Night Town” when she debut with the other Coconuts members. Like Yuko, Kaori found herself pushed towards the back when Natsumi got the overly done push, but unlike Yuko she also had Tanpopo where she became a bit stronger of a presence and sounded really pleasant! Coconuts’ Chelsea might’ve been put towards the end if it wasn’t the impressive showing for “DANCE & CHANCE. Otherwise she’s kind of forgotten due to her lack of knowing the Japanese language, but meh.
- 15. Asuka Fukuda (-12)
- 14. Michiyo Heike (-12)
- 13. Rinne Toda (NEW)
- 12. Chinatsu Miyoshi (NEW)
- 11. Danielle Delauney (NEW)
As the first Hello! Project member to leave, I feel like Asuka got a pretty good deal with a solo song for herself, though the single she left on was the beginning of the Nacchi push so it kind of felt like it went over people’s heads. Michiyo had a MUCH quieter year this year with only two singles released, not sure what happened but she just wasn’t quite as in the front but it was an OK year for her. With all that she’s been through this year, I’m surprised Rinne chose to continue her career under the Country Musume name despite the losses they endured. I also seem to really enjoy that she’s playing guitar in her music now, very cute and seperates her from the other members! While I feel that Chinatsu came out of nowhere to debut under a different person (like Rinne), Chinatsu comes off pretty mysterious to me but her music is pretty light and good to enjoy on slow days. Some really strong things happened where Danielle was the first White gal to join H!P. Yes, she sticks out, but she has a really sweet voice and can really pull off some great vocalizations. I’m definitely going to watch where she goes!
- 10. Sayaka Ichii (-4)
- 9. Ayaka Kimura (NEW)
- 8. Natsumi Abe (-1)
- 7. Mari Yaguchi (-2)
- 6. Kei Yasuda (+3)
A lot of these Momusu members would have been pushed towards the back if not for the sheer fact that there was sub-groups. That was the case of Sayaka, Mari, and Kei. Although they were put in their places just for vocals alone which is still pretty impressive that none of them really had Momusu spotlight this year. Ayaka is clearly the only one comfortable singing in both English and Japanese so it’s obvious that she’s pretty much the lead in songs for now! As for Nacchi I was a bit surprised how much push she got before Gocchin joined the group as she nearly became the only important member in Momusu no thanks to “Furusato” and some of the tracks off “Second Morning”.
- 5. Maki Goto (NEW)
- 4. Atsuko Inaba (NEW)
- 3. Miho Shinoda (NEW)
- 2. Aya Ishiguro (+2)
- 1. RuRu Honda (NEW)
It hasn’t been very long but I feel like Gocchin was there to pretty much knock down the wall that was the Nacchi hax and gave us a mind-blowing single in “LOVE Machine” and would continue into the creation of Petitmoni. Will this wave continue to flourish? For Atsuko and Miho they’re both kind of at the same talent and power which is still pretty impressive with them also being in the same group. I just really love these lower vocals for sure! While I am really sad to see Ayappe leaving in the new millenium what she did this year was quite amazing and her vocals in Tanpopo are just amazing! Seriously though I think the clear winner this year was RuRu! Who knew a member could come into H!P with such amazing vocals and talent would seriously show up the remainder girls? She really does have a classy presence and those vocals are so powerful…yeah she’s definitely the best H!P right now!!!
NEXT TIME, THE NEW MILLENIUM!!!