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TV Viewers Propel Groups to the Top of the Charts

December 7, 1998

The members of Morning Musume made it from the TV studio to the recording studio. (Jiji Press)

A new breed of music groups is topping the charts of Japan's pop music industry. With names like Morning Musume (Girls), Black Biscuits, and Pocket Biscuits, these groups are comprised for the most part of nonmusicians: comedians and participants from a television audition program. Their swift rise to the top is owed to a clever marketing approach that elicits TV viewers' direct participation in the groups' formation and progress. With the phenomenal success of these acts, this type of marketing is expected to increase from now on.

Variety TV Spawns Hit Groups
Morning Musume, a female singing group consisting of eight members aged 13 to 25, was formed on a popular television show that gives aspiring talents a chance to be produced by some of the best-known names in Japanese pop music. The five original members were runners-up in an audition for a solo vocalist but were given an opportunity to debut as a group if they could sell 50,000 copies of an original single within five days. TV cameras followed Morning Musume's evolution, from their studio recording to sales campaigns, capturing their thrills and hardships along the way. This earned sympathy, support, and CD purchases from the viewers. The five girls managed to sell all 50,000 copies on the fourth day and made their official debut soon after.

Since then three new members have been added, and their third single reached number one on the pop charts. The group is now featured regularly in magazines and on television. One of the band members has released a solo single, and a spin-off act consisting of three other members has also been launched. An ingenious marketing approach that moves TV viewers to identify with and support the group members' aspirations to become pop stars has probably been a major factor behind this group's success.

Viewers Determine Groups' Fate
A somewhat different marketing strategy was used to create a pair of competing groups called Black Biscuits and Pocket Biscuits. Both are trios comprising two male singers--members of comic duos--and a female vocalist. The groups were born as a result of a variety TV show's scheme pitting these program regulars against one another in chart rankings: Each group would release a single, and the one selling fewer CDs would have to disband. The eventual winner, Black Biscuits (whose female star, Taiwanese singer Vivian Hsu, was already famous across Asia), sold over a million copies, something that only a small handful of artists accomplish in any given year.

This was not the end of the story, however. After the results were announced, so many Pocket Biscuits fans, mainly elementary and middle school students, petitioned the television network demanding the group's revival that the group was promised a second shot if it could gather a million signatures. With the help of a nationwide fan club that sprang up, the group garnered over 1.7 million. Pocket Biscuits was revived, and their next single became a number one hit.

One columnist describes these groups' popularity in this way: "Entertainers striving toward a challenging goal on TV has a documentary-like effect. The spectacle of performers going through the gamut of emotions elicits compassion and empathy in young viewers, who have become desensitized by the constant stream of disturbing news hurled at them from the media."

Fans also seem to be relishing their newfound influence over their favorite artists' success or failure. There have even been cases of viewers creating fan clubs to try to inject their opinions on the content of the television programs.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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