You must remember this, (a kiss is still a kiss), when the 2008 Kouhaku lineup was announced and everyone started pissing their pants because OMIGAWD MORNING MUSUME GOT KICKED OUT OF KOUHAKU. And who the hell is Nozomi Ohashi? Well the thing is, Ohashi was there to sing a selection from a freakin’ Miyazaki movie (as well as set the record for youngest performer on the show), and if there is one thing to know about Japan, it is that you get the hell out of the way when anything Ghibli or Miyazaki-related comes to town. Like, you know how the entire country of the Philippines comes to a stop when Manny Pacquiao has a boxing match? That’s Japan whenever a new Miyazaki movie comes out.
So maybe, you figure, this was just a one-year aberration. They’re doing this whole epic Miyazaki tribute, so they just didn’t have room to schedule Momusu this time. After all, 2007′s big-ass medley was the “idol special” with AKB48 and Shokotan and Leah Dizon, and you didn’t see any of them in 2008, amirite?
Morning Musume’s just taking a year off, right?
One year off is an aberration. Two years off … you might as well face the truth. Then again, it’s not like there weren’t warning signs along the way. 2005 really should have been the last year for Momusu because they did the epic trans-generational “Love Machine,” which is never going to be topped, and there was something deeply symbolic and prophetic about giving Koharu the final line, since she was still young and gawky back then yet over the space of 4 years inadvertently became EVERYONE’S FAVORITE MEMBER. And 2006 was so forgettable that I had to go youtubing to remember that GAM was on it, and then 2007 was the FINAL WARNING when the entire H!P set suddenly got moved to the front of the show and they had about 6 minutes to do a full MM/Berryz/°C-ute medley. That’s basically Kouhaku code for, “Look, you’re really not all that popular anymore, but you’ve been coming on for years, so we’re just going to stick you in a garbage timeslot until something better comes along.”
Something better finally came along.
At this point, the only way you’re going to see Morning Musume on Kouhaku ever again is for nostalgia purposes, like when SPEED re-formed in 2008 and they were all like “Hay did you guys miss us?” The only problem, of course, is that unlike other idol groups, they’ve gone through OVER 9000 lineups over the years, so who the hell do you invite?
The original 5 for a performance of “Morning Coffee”? Yeah right, not when Asuka Fukuda has gone into hiding in a cave in Afghanistan.
The Golden 10 that recorded the original “Renai Revolution 21″? And invite back Ai Kago, who disgraced Hello! Project not once but twice, and lived to tell the tale by making an entertainment-world comeback that makes UFA clap their hands to their foreheads in embarrassment? Uh. Not happening.
The Same-Freaking-Lineup-For-Three-Years 9? You gotta be joking, these girls were out there for all that time and even went IN AMERICA and still no common person in Japan can recognize who they are.
You may think this is a time to mourn the end of an era. But I think, even though Tsunku and his crazy-ass ideas have been pushed to the very edges of the map of cultural relevance, he should still be proud of what he accomplished. I mean, the rotating lineup was revolutionary. Because of that, he managed to get the same damn idol group on Kouhaku for 10 straight years! TEN YEARS! With pop music moving at the speed that it does, an idol group’s window of relevance is three years at best! (1999, 2000, 2001) But they kept getting invited back because, well, they were still around—thanks to the graduation/audition system—and you know how the Japanese love clinging to old habits. You make one successful brain-training game, suddenly everyone makes 20 brain-training games. You publish one successful manga about a girl surrounded by tons of hot guys, suddenly every manga artist is doing a story about a girl surrounded by tons of hot guys. You put Morning Musume on Kouhaku, you decide to invite them back the next year. And the next year. And the year after that. And you can’t stop yourself because, even though all the OG members have left, the damn group is still around!
And the other thing. They were the necessary bridge between the previous era and the next. I mean, can you imagine if the original 5 never managed to sell the 50,000 CDs? We’re stuck listening to the likes of MAX and SPEED for an extra five years. Folder 5 becomes the “national idol group” of the early 2000′s and we get drowned in repetitive bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp Eurobeat for an entire decade, instead of the disco revolution that DANCE*MAN brought us. There is no Mini Moni, no W, no Berryz, no °C-ute, and at some point in 2005 Yasushi Akimoto looks at the J-music world around him and says, “Well, I invented Onyanko Club, and they’re still the greatest idol supergroup of all time and have not been equaled since, so fuck it,” and goes back to sleep. Because, if there is no Hello! Project to compete against, why bother building AKB48 in the first place?
You can even go up to any of the AKB girls and, even if it’s never been officially documented, I swear that a good percentage of them will admit they chose their career path because “I wanted to get into Morning Musume.”
It is simply … the circle of life. You struggle, you fight, you make your way to the top. You stay up there as long as you can, until someone figures out how to improve on what you did, and then they knock you over and take your place. If AKB48 is on the top of the idol world right now, it is because they have stood on the shoulders of giants.
(And by 2014, anyone who still likes AKB will be kind of a laughingstock.)
There is one last thing to remember, though. Even though Kouhaku is indeed the highest honor in Japanese music, every 10 to 15 minutes you will be reminded that it is still somewhat of a dorky, conservative, smells-like-grandma’s-house kind of show. And by that I mean, enka performers. Not that I have anything against enka—I actually do sit through all of those performances as well, instead of just skipping to the pop acts, because it is important to appreciate the classical and folk music of all cultures. But at the same time, it makes you realize: Kouhaku is not a reflection of the musical tastes of Japan. It is a reflection of a mysterious panel of old fogies who are trying to guess at the musical tastes of Japan. And may I remind you of which channel broadcasts the show?
In the immortal words of Sumire Sat0rrrrr’s older brother, Tatsuhiro Satou:
I had stumbled upon their conspiracy. … I had discovered the truth behind everything. H stood for Hikikomori! In other words, N.H.K. represented “Nippon Hikikomori Kyoukai!”
At the heart of it all, Kouhaku isn’t about the music. It isn’t about culture. It isn’t about national identity. It’s INBOU, pure and simple. Kouhaku is INBOU.