Idol Thoughts: Saying Goodbye to Sayumi and Idol Leadership

Earlier this week Morning Musume’s current leader Michishige Sayumi
announced her graduation from the group. This news isn’t terribly
surprising; Sayumi joined Momusu in 2003, has spent nearly 11 years in
the group, and she has the longest tenure of any Morning Musume
member. If Michishige Sayumi would graduate was never the question; it
was always a matter of when.

At this point, this feels like a really logical time for her to
graduate. The 9th generation members now have already been in the
group for three years, with Fukumura Mizuki having more Egg
experience. She has seen the group through grow and improve and reach
the heights they are currently, doing the best they have done since
before Sayumi was a member. If she stayed much longer, she might even
outstay her welcome. Morning Musume, for all it is, is not about being
stagnant. It is a constantly growing and changing group. Ai no Tane
era Musume is vastly different from Platinum 9 Disc era Morning Musume
which is vastly different from Colorful Character Morning Musume.

This graduation probably won’t affect the sales, at least not that
much. I have already seen alarmist fans worry about this, but this is
just not true. Kamei Eri was arguably the most popular member while
she was in the group, and while sales dipped when she left it wasn’t
the end of the group. Same with Takahashi Ai, Niigaki Risa and Tanaka
Reina leaving. Tanaka Reina left after Brainstorming, and sales soared
with Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke. This isn’t against Reina; she was
a really popular member. But I do think it suggests that sales are not
as dependent on the front girls as one might think, and that Morning
Musume tends to be greater than the sum of its members. Sayumi fans
may leave, or they might decide to still follow the group, and fans
might find whoever is in the 12th generation really appealing. ‘

Sayumi leaving has me thinking of idol leadership. With her gone, 9th
generation MM is now the senior generation. Which is weird! But now
Fukumura Mizuki and Iikubo Haruna are taking on leadership within the
group, which has me thinking: how much does a leader do, really?
They obviosuly don’t make business decisions; Sayumi being the leader
can’t be the cause of their recent au CM tie-in, for example. But a
leader does have a purpose within the group, and I would argue that
it’s almost completely symbolic and related to the members of the
group.

My basic thoughts about the job of a leader are as follows.
Essentially, an idol’s job is to draw attention to herself. This is
reductive, but it’s not inaccurate; an idol’s job is to draw sales
based on her own personality, performing skills, etc. A leader’s job
is to tie that group together. An idol’s job is to promote herself,
whereas a leader’s job is to put the group first. Now I’m not
necessarily certain that this is how all idol group dynamics work, but
it’s the impression I get from a lot of the great leaders of idol
groups.

One anecdote I always think of is a long interview with Berryz Koubou
and C-ute when they did their joint concert together. The girls were
talking about their early times in the H!P Kids and Arihara Kanna, a
former Egg, seemed to be left out of the reminiscing. Yajima Maimi
focused on Kanna, and asked her questions about joining C-ute after
H!P Kids were a thing. It’s a small moment, but it is one I think of
when I think of idol leadership.

Takahashi Minami is always the person who I first think of when I
think of a compelling idol leader. Whenever you hear Takamina talk,
you get the sense that she loves AKB; not just being an idol, but
AKB48 on its own. That’s an important distinction of what makes a
compelling leader. Takamina also has strong leadership skills, which
certainly helps, but I think AKB members really rally around a leader
who clearly puts the group first.

I think the most compelling evidence that being a leader is tough is
that idols have left being leader; Takagi Reni was the original leader
of Momoiro Clover, but chose to step down and Momota Kanako was the
leader. While they might not be making any decisions, it’s pretty
clear that there’s an additional element of stress associated with
being a leader as opposed to the existing stress of being an idol.

Of course, this isn’t to say that being a leader in an idol group is
only relegated to the members who have that title due to seniority or
age; there are plenty fo idols I would consider leaders without that
title. Washio Miki is no longer the leader of Rev.from DVL, but I’d
consider her still a major leadership force within the group. Mitsui
Aika was considered a big influence on the 9th generation of Morning
Musume, and took opportunities to help her juniors. A lot of the H!P
Kids looked up to Ishikawa Rika, who from day one acted in a
support/leadership role in the 4th generation of Morning Musume. I’m
sure there are many more examples, but these are the first that come
to mind.

Michishige Sayumi, for insisting on her cuteness and whatnot, seemed
to slip into a leadership role in her later years in Morning Musume. I
do think the younger members admired her, and will have to work to be
able to move past this shock of her leaving. That said, I’m pretty
excited to see this new Morning Musume past her graduation, and I
think that they are ultimately ready.

1 thought on “Idol Thoughts: Saying Goodbye to Sayumi and Idol Leadership

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of leadership. There’s always a distictuin between a leader in title only and a true leader. In simple terms, a leader unifies a group and maximizes the output of the group. The leader with the title, of course, is not necessarily the leader of the group (to which you allude with your example of Rika),

    And, I’m actually tired of hearing comments to the effect of, “the leader doesn’t actually DO anything!”. While its probably technically accurate, a true leader does this ” nothing” and so much more. The way that Sayumi promoted each girl in their media appearances, the way MM14 is unified, and MM14 support each other without (public) displays of jealousy leads me to believe that Michishige is an effective leader in title and in fact.

    Let’s hope that whoever takes over for Michishige, Fukumura or Iikubo, does “nothing” as effectively as her!

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