Multi-membership. Graduations. Sub-units. Happy-poppy songs. Outrageous costumes. Dances with smiles. Energetic performances.
These are the things that are trademark to Morning Musume. But who started it all? In actuality, Morning Musume was not the original multi-member girl-group type of idols, and certainly the things that they do aren't new either.
During my researching for the article about the relationship between UFG Chairman Yamazaki Naoki and Tsunku, I came across this group that was supposedly Tsunku's initial motivation to become producer for Morning Musume. This group is called "Tokyo Performance Doll" ~ 東京パフォーマンスドール.
Tokyo Performance Doll or TPD for short was formed on April 1990, with Epic-Sony Records. It started out with 3 member unit called "Golbies" as core members, where the remaining future members of TPD will develop on. An interesting trivia is that the unit name "Golbies" was named after then Soviet Union's leader Mikhail Gorbachev nickname "Gorby", with intention of bringing about a "music revolution" within the entertainment industry. TPD's producer was Nakamura Ryouji.
The initial concept for TPD was "girls-next-door idols", but as the concept switched to "pro dancers" it gave them a neo-Takarazuka outlook, TPD's popularity soared to greater heights and attracted many more fans. TPD had since disbanded in 1996 but it became one of the many idol and musical influences to future entertainment acts. I find that Morning Musume is similar to TPD's style and concept in various ways.
TPD's method of choosing a few core members, then building the group around them by recruiting more members was a new technique at that time and was copied by other entertainer producers. Among them was Okinawa Actor's School from which many popular acts were born, such as Super Monkeys (Amuro Namie and MAX), SPEED, D&D, Folder5, Y'z Factory etc. And of course, Hello! Project's Morning Musume.
Morning Musume started of with but 5 members, but the leads were mostly given to Fukuda Asuka and Abe Natsumi, while the others (Nakazawa Yuuko, Ishiguro Aya and Iida Kaori) provide the seconds and harmonies. With Fukuda's graduation, the main vocal was mainly Abe Natsumi even though the 2nd generation members were recruited, as noted in "Summer Night Town" and "Furusato". When the heat ran out, another ace was required, so in comes Goto Maki for "Love Machine". The entire Momusu act was built around the "aces" and "leads" as core members.
Sub-Units and shuffle units
When you have a big group with many members to play with, you can't resist shuffling them up to create new musical products. TPD had 8 sub-units where the core members and the "backing members" were shuffled together. Among them - Golbies, UL-SAYS, ViVA... etc. Hello! Project have many of these sub-units like Tanpopo and Pucchi Moni. And also the now defunct summer shuffle units. One interesting info is that one of the TPD sub-units is called "TWO TOPS". Sound familiar? Yup, that's the nickname that Okamura Takashi of manzai duo Ninety-Nine, gave to "unofficial duo group" of Mechaike Okajo Girls School series -> Tsuji Nozomi and Kago Ai.
One element that sets TPD apart from other entertainment groups is the use of "trainees". Additional members that would join TPD were scouted and trained. These young hopefuls were normally used as back-dancers for TPD on live shows during their internship and training. After a period of observation and evaluation, gradually they would be included into official groups. A "newcomer's performance" was held in Harajuku Ruido 1 to 2 times per year where the trainees performed songs from the TPD official groups.
Again, sound familiar? Why, it's the Hello! Project Eggs of course. These young talents were in the Hello! Project grooming stables for some time now, and were normally used as back-dancers for Hello! Project concerts. The H!P Eggs are now preparing for their first "Newcomer's Concert" in May, where they will perform song from Hello! Project official acts.
Joining them are Jyun Jyun and Rin Rin(an H!P Egg herself), two Chinese girls added into Morning Musume as "exchange students"... or should we say "trainees" of sorts.
Seems like Tokyo Performance Doll's "music revolution" movement had influenced Hello! Project in more ways than one. From the looks of it, Hello! Project is now returning to its roots and the original reason why Tsunku accepted the role of producer and main songwriter for Hello! Project works in the first place. It would be a matter of time till the Summer Shuffle Units are brought back.... I think. ^_^
Through the many marketing strategies employed by UFA, this girl-group concept was brought to a higher level, and appealed to the fans more than TPD could have done. From my personal view, if TPD was a "revolution", then Hello! Project has expanded the concept through "evolution".
Thanks for reading. (^_^)/
Additional Info: Other 'Performance Dolls'
Following with the success of Tokyo Performance Doll, there were other 'Performance Dolls' that try to imitate their path. For example, four Chinese girls formed Shanghai Performance Dolls (SPD) and Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. Ltd produced a sister group to TPD called Osaka Performance Dolls (OPD). It is with OPD that an indirect connection between TPD and Hello! Project was created. Because the one of the founding members of OPD later became a member of Hello! Project group 'Taiyo and Ciscomoon'(later renamed to T&C Bomber) -> Inaba Atsuko. Inaba is currently Hello! Project chorus singer, MC, and dance choreographer.
And now, here are some of the videos of Tokyo Performance Doll in action.
Pocky Girls? No... it's Pretz Girls. They're both Glico products though.
... from the single "Hokago wa itsumo party" 放課後はいつもパーティ (1992)
Ex-member Miho Yonemitsu's solo single in 1998 - "Orenji" (Orange)
Wikipedia entry of Tokyo Performance Doll
"from IDOL POPS" entry of Tokyo Performance Doll
List of Youtube videos of Tokyo Performance Doll
Wikipedia entry of Osaka Performance Doll
In an upcoming post, I will discuss about yet another all-girl performing group that has been an influence to Hello! Project works, and is certainly one that I regard as the mother of all girl groups - the 52-member Onyanko Club. I had wanted to combine them with this post, but it felt like a little more research was deemed necessary before it gets published.