Idol Thoughts: On Michishige Sayumi

Honestly, if you told me several years ago that I would be contemplating a lot about the nature of idols and idol fandom over the graduation of Michishige Sayumi, I probably would have laughed at you a bit. Not that I had anything against Sayumi; I’ve never hated or even disliked her. She’s just never really been on my radar. She was never a particular favorite or least favorite, and as I settled into my all time favorite Morning Musume member (Ishikawa Rika) and then my current favorites (then Mitsui Aika, now Ishida Ayumi) I never gave Sayu too much thought.
That said, looking back, I do think she’s come quite a long way as an idol and as a member of Morning Musume. Reflecting on Michishige Sayumi’s tenure in the group is actually a very interesting time capsule. Her first single was Shabondama, well past Morning Musume’s peak in sales and in the public consciousness, but there were still first generation members in Morning Musume when she was there. While she wasn’t someone who was in Love Machine while it released, she was with members who did. She went through all the graduations and dips in Morning Musume’s popularity, through the constantly changing lineup to the stagnant lineup of the Platinum era, and saw Morning Musume through to its 12th generation of members and heights in popularity they haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
Sayumi has also grown a lot in the years. Again, ask me in 2009 if I thought that Sayumi would be leader, and a great one at that, I would have probably laughed at your face. She had a reputation as being self-centered, and it was possibly deserved. Even if most of what she said was an act, it was still pretty self-centered. She publicly (and justifiably) complained about how many lines and how much focus she got in singles. Yet now I’d consider her a fantastic leader, given how much she has really let the other members shine. A lot of this is due to the various line distributions and where she is positioned in PVs and in photo shoots, but she hasn’t seemed to complain like she did in 2008-2009. She has let the group shine over herself, which is what I would consider the mark of a great idol leader.
This year I also gained a stronger appreciation for Sayumi after seeing Morning Musume perform in New York. Honestly, while her handshake had very little impression on me, her performance won me over completely. While I don’t think even Sayumi fans would consider her to be an accomplished vocalist (though she has improved a lot over the years), her performance of Lalala no Pipipi was fantastic. She had a completely magnetic stage presence, and controlled the stage. While I think the other girls will be able to handle losing Sayumi, this year I appreciated how strong of an idol she really is.
Ultimately, though, I don’t think it will affect the group too much, at least not sales wise. While some Sayumi fans will surely leave, more fans will join in. Morning Musume is at its strongest its been in many years. Heavy hitters like Takahashi Ai and Tanaka Reina have left in  the recent years, and the group has only grown stronger. I think this will be an adjustment for some of the girls, but at this point 9th gen has been a part of the group for over three and a half years and I think they are more than ready to take on some leadership.
As I think about this graduation, I’m reminded a bit of Maeda Atsuko’s graduation. Sayu has never been the center of the group in the way Acchan was, and she certainly doesn’t have Acchan’s popularity. However, when Acchan left, the big reason that she gave was that it was time for the juniors to shine. I think in a way this is what Sayumi is doing. She has been a part of the group for a long time and has seen it rise to its current heights, but it is now her time to move on and let her junior members shine.
So really, thanks for all the years, Sayumi.

Idol Thoughts: The End of the Idol Boom?

So so sorry for my prolonged absence! Long story short, I’ve been figuring out some things in my professional life for the past few months, which is part of why I’ve been absent from Happy Disco. I’ll be trying to get back on track in the next couple of weeks.

However, another reason I’ve been gone is, frankly, there are sides of the idol fandom that are just not impressing me. For a long time I’ve reviewed things from the 48 Groups, for example, but there has been exactly one 48 song that was released this year that I even remotely like (NMB48’s Ibiza Girl). My 48 interest is waning fast. I don’t want to focus on negatives, because if you like what the 48s are currently doing you can feel free to disagree. However, I do think my feelings are corresponding with a general trend.

It’s hard to say for sure if a group like AKB is dying down. I would personally argue that their peak in terms of recognition and popularity was in 2011 – 2012, before Maeda Atsuko started the slew of front girl graduations. However, their best selling single (according to wikipedia) was 2013’s mediocre Sayonara Crawl. Even though Heavy Rotation is their most well-known song, its sales pale to Koisuru Fortune Cookie and Kokoro no Placard. That said, if you do look at these sales and compare them by corresponding singles (i.e. comparing the numbers from election single to election single, janken single to janken single, etc.) it does look like AKB is finally on a decline of sales, despite their best efforts otherwise (which is most likely what inflated the sales for as long as they were up there).

Other metrics of looking at popularity seem to agree that AKB’s peak is behind it. Conventional wisdom would state that the idol boom is fading. Certainly AKB is the representative idol group of this current idol boom.

That said, I would personally argue that last year and this year are when things are getting more and more interesting. Even as AKB is coming off of its peak, more varied idol groups are doing incredibly well. Morning Musume is having a resurgence of popularity I never expected. Momoiro Clover Z continues to enjoy their popularity as well as bringing more and more groups under the Stardust banner to their own levels of popularity. Babymetal is having international successes. Indie idols are having a lot of really varied, interesting groups and they are starting to enter into a level of maturity, a few years into the idol boom.

Instead of having one idol umbrella completely dominate the idol scene, instead we’re at a point where many idol groups and many idol companies can enjoy the idol boom. This is leading to a much more sustainable idol model where, instead of the fate resting on one group, is spread out to many other groups. If people, like myself, find themselves bored with 48s, there are a lot more groups to find and be interested in. And now that other idol groups are popular in a major way, the casual listener isn’t limited to only 48s.

I do think that some of the groups are going to disappear and the idol boom isn’t going to be quite as big as it is now. However, as things settle down, groups are going to keep proving themselves to be lasting, which is, I think, quite exciting.