Usa Usa Shoujo Club
For this segment I received the help from the amazing Mage, who is known on various boards and things as Em-El. He wrote a lot of information for me, so I’m extremely grateful for his assistance!
Currently, the group is a 12 member group; unfortunately, by the time TIF 2012 happens the most popular member, Rikako, will have graduated. This is because the group has a middle school concept, and rather than let the concept slide since Rikako’s enterring high school, she has to graduate. She won the fan vote for most popular member and is thus numbered 1 in the group and is the group’s leader, so it’s a shame she won’t be able to participate in TIF this year.
A lot has happened with the group since last year; they released a single (featuring two of their original songs, including their signature song Number One), and three of their subunits became bigger. There’s Zipcode (which features Rikako), Chu Ni (which was formed to do the theme song for a fairly unknown anime, Varieteens) and Rhymeberry, which has its own separate billing at TIF. They also have four elementary school girls known as NEXT, presumably to join the group when members leave or to become new members eventually.
They have over 100 videos on their YouTube channel (UsaUsaHeaven) that are well worth checking out. They are still quite indie and performing at small venues, but the videos I’ve checked out show a fairly solid performance standard. They seem to not have that much popularity, but the fact they released a single and keep pushing the indie groups forward suggests that Usa Usa is looking to move forward as an idol group, which is definitely a good thing.
^A digest of one of their performances including part of possibly the most adorable performance of AKB48’s Heavy Rotation I’ve ever seen.
Rhymeberry is one of the subgroups of Usa Usa Shoujo Club, and they look to be doing fairly well on their own. They’ve recently begun doing solo live events, and judging by the twitter followers they might be on the way to becoming more well known than the original group (Usa Usa Shoujo Club has 531 followers and Rhymeberry has 1356). The thing that sets Rhymeberry apart is that they are a hip hop unit, featuring three MCs and one DJ.
Now I’m not an expert on hip hop, so I can’t tell you how this compares to that genre as a whole. But some idol songs have rapping in them and this rap really blows that out of the water. These girls have gotten good at what they do and are IMO the most interesting part of Usa Usa Shoujo Club by far. They have energetic stage presence an are really fun for me to watch, even though I don’t listen to much hip hop on my own. This kind of reminds me of Babymetal, the subgroup of Sakura Gakuin. I like Sakura Gakuin on its own, but Babymetal really has a unique character that sets them apart as a group. Rhymeberry is the Babymetal to Usa Usa Shoujo Club; the original group is fine, but Rhymeberry really shines.
^my favorite song of theirs, Hey Brother, which I’m pretending is an Arrested Development reference.
Another group I haven’t covered! They are actually a relatively new group, just formed in 2011. The group contains four members, including gravure idol Shinozaki Ai. Pronounced “yell,” they are an environmentally themed idol group, with the letters in the group name standing for “Activity Eco Life with Love,” making them like a permanent Ecomoni (the Morning Musume subgroup that was environment themed). I think these types of groups are kind of interesting because of how much energy goes into idol performances, but everything helps, I suppose! It actually seems like AeLL goes out with people and cleans up outside, so it’s good they’re encouraging others to help cleaning up outdoors.
They’ve released four singles since formation (including the first one, titled Ecology Monkeys). Vocally they’re pleasant to listen to, and the songs all seem to be mid-tempo fairly plain idol songs. None of the things I’ve listened to really stand out as being excellent, but none of them are really bad, either. They performed at last year’s TIF (appropriate to the theme of Eco & Smile) They’re pretty decent live for idols. Chu Chu Hareru Yeah is probably my favorite song, but I don’t really find most of their music interesting, to me.
This is a group that I really enjoy, and they’ve done quite a lot since their appearance at last year’s Tokyo Idol Festival!
Sakura Gakuin is at its heart a school themed group that has a good deal of subgroups (that are various school “clubs”). Since last year’s TIF they have switched labels to Universal Music Japan, which is a pretty good step. They’ve released two singles, Verishuvi and Tabidachi no Hi ni, as well as the album “Sakura Gakuin 2011 Nendo ~FRIENDS~” There have also been some recent line-up changes; in March the three eldest members, Muto Ayami (who was one of the more prominent front girls in Sakura Gakuin and in Twinklestars), Miyoshi Ayaka and Matsui Airi graduated, and they added three more girls to keep up the 12 member count.
One of the most interesting things about Sakura Gakuin is all the subgroups. Actually, most of the two albums (Message and Friends) are songs from the subunits. There’s Scoopers, which is might be over because Miyoshi Ayaka was one of the two members, but it was the “newspaper club.” There’s the Cooking Club “Mini Patissier” and the “Go home club” Sleepiece (that performs in pajamas). However, the two most notable subgroups have actually debuted and have released singles.
Twinklestars is the Baton twirling club and the first one to release a single (though Dear Mr. Socrates, their first, was only at events and on the official website). They also have another single, Please! Please! Please!. The songs all have a pretty distinctive style and are all quite excellent. Last year I posted Dear Mr. Socrates’ pretty interesting PV on here, and while Please Please Please is a little bit less interesting because there’s no old man staring at them through a telescope. However, this group is energetic and very fun, and Please Please Please has lots of cute jumping around. Muto Ayami was in this, however I really hope they perform at TIF because their baton twirling and dancing is great. 🙂
The other notable subgroup is Babymetal. Actually, I think Babymetal might be at the place where they’re more famous than Sakura Gakuin is, because they have a very interesting premise of mixing idol music and metal music to create something completely new. While I enjoy all of Sakura Gakuin’s music and I’m quite fond of Twinklestars, in my opinion Babymetal really shines. All three members commit to the premise, despite being quite young (Moa and Yui are only 12!) and their live performances are very energetic. They’ve released one single so far, Babymetal x Kiba of Akiba (a collab single with a metal band, featuring songs Ii ne an Kimi to Anime ga Mitai ~answer for animation with you~), as well as a DVD for their most famous song, Doki Doki Morning which was released as a digital single. They’re releasing a new single in July, Headbanger, so that should be pretty exciting and hopefully something performed at TIF.
All in all, while I think that Sakura Gakuin is a great group and more people should pay attention to them, that the real winners are Twinklestars and Babymetal, and I have a feeling that Babymetal is going to get a lot more attention in the future as more people discover the unique sound. Even still, while Sakura Gakuin isn’t super popular right now, I think they’re on their way to gaining fans and they are the type of group to look out for.
Oh The Possible, you’re still around? For people who aren’t up on Hello!Project history, back when Hello!Project still was the biggest force in the idol world, Tsunku decided that Morning Musume/Hello!Project needed rivals, and that he also wanted to have groups with more control (since he just produces Hello!Project, and UFA manages). So under his own company TNX he created Nice Girl Project. The Possible started as being in Hello!Project, as all of the then six members came from H!P Eggs. They moved to TNX with the promise of Nice Girl Project being rivals with Hello! Project and even some things that didn’t happen, such as yearly Hello!Project Nice Girl Project collab concerts.
Well, we know who won in that rivalry; even though Morning Musume is at a fraction of its once popularity, Nice Girl Project never really took off. The Possible had some singles, Canary Club (a larger group with younger members) did OK before moving away from TNX, their own eggs/kenshuusei and some other minor things. Still, The Possible is probably the biggest success of Nice Girl Project.
While The Possible hasn’t released any singles since 2010, I was surprised to find out that they released a mini album in August of last year commemorating their six years as a group and that they released an album in March of this year. While neither sold very well, I didn’t know they had started releasing things again. I don’t know if they’re going to pick up activity back to their original level; I lost interest in the group after my favorite member, Ohse Kaede left. However, The Possible is an interesting group of idol history and it will be interesting to see how they do at Tokyo Idol Festival 2012!! I particularly recommend some of their older things like Ijiwaru Crazy Love and Love Message; they’re some really great songs, if you like Tsunku at his best.