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January-March 2000

Morning Musume

Not only elementary and middle school children but also adults in Japan are going wild over a popular music group called Morning Musume, or "Morning Girls." In 1998, the year of its formal debut, the group was named best new artist at the Japan Record Award, the most prestigious music award in Japan. All of its compact discs--three albums and eight singles--have been hits. The seventh and eighth singles, in particular, have both become million sellers.

One thing that makes Morning Musume special is that the ages of its members vary widely: from 14 to 27 years old. But what makes the group even more unique is its history.

It all started in a 1997 TV audition show to select a new female vocalist for Sharam-Q, a popular Japanese band. One person was chosen from among the 11 finalists, but lead vocalist and songwriter, Tsunku, gave five of the remaining finalists a second chance, sensing hidden potential. He promised them that they could debut if they successfully sold 50,000 copies of their own CD single in five locations around Japan in five days. Of course, all of them took up the challenge. Their CD-selling campaign was shown on TV, and their ardent efforts won over the hearts of many viewers. They achieved their goal in just four days and made their debut as Morning Musume in January 1998, with Tsunku as their producer.

Interestingly, alongside their activities as Morning Musume, the members are also involved in smaller music units. The leader, 27-year-old Yuko Nakazawa, released a CD single in August 1998 as a solo enka (a traditional style of popular singing) vocalist. Three other members formed a unit called Tanpopo ("Dandelion") that November, and three more members got together as Puchimoni a year later. All of their songs have been hits, too.

Another interesting thing about the group is that its size has varied since its formation. At first there were only five members, but in May 1998 three new members were added. One left the group in April 1999, and a new member joined in August. In January 2000 another left, so that there are currently seven girls.

What makes Morning Musume so popular, when its members are of such varied ages and whose lineup is always shifting? Yuko Nakazawa believes it's their amateurishness. "I think people feel a sense of familiarity toward us because we're not big stars, but just normal girls that make a lot of mistakes on TV."

Photo: As of January 2001, Morning Musume consisted of 10 members. (Up-Front Agency)