Morning Musume: Japan’s TV talents

by Kazuaki Nagata

Hearing the buzz surrounding TV programs such as “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “Britain’s Got Talent” (all originating in the U.K. but franchised internationally), it is clear that TV talent shows are booming.

Although there is no “Japanese Idol” or “Japan’s Got Talent,” this country has an obsession with TV talent shows. One of the most memorable was “Asayan.”

The show, broadcast from 1995 to 2002, featured well-known musicians, such as Tetsuya Komuro and rock band Sharan Q, who would produce songs for the winners of the show.

Many alumni of “Asayan” went on to become some of the most famous artists in Japan, such as Ami Suzuki, Chemistry and Atsushi, a member of pop group Exile.

But among all the successes from the show, the best known are probably Morning Musume, an idol group of young female singers.

Morning Musume formed in 1997 with five members, all of whom were among the finalists who failed to take first prize on “Asayan.” The five girls, who were mostly teenagers, were challenged by Sharan Q to sell 50,000 copies of a single without being signed to a major record label — if they succeeded, they would be given a deal with the label Zetima — a division of music company Up-Front Works Co.

The group successfully completed the assignment, and debuted with the song, “Morning Coffee,” which was produced by Sharan Q’s vocalist Tsunku. They went on to be one of Japan’s most iconic idol groups, finding lasting success, in part due to the group’s policy of “graduating” older members to make way for new ones. Since its formation in 1997, the group has had more than 20 members.

There are currently nine members in Morning Musume. While none of the original five remain, many former members have gone on to release solo music or become TV personalities, including notably, Mari Yaguchi, who can often be seen on variety shows.

As a music group, Morning Musume’s achievements have been remarkable. As of May 2007, they had sold more than 11 million CD singles since their debut, which set a new record for female music groups in Japan, according to chart compiler Oricon Co.