October 9th, 2006


Land of the rising daughter

Momus is over. Please welcome ºC-ute, a packaged girlband whose members are all between ten and fifteen years old, and whose "degrees centigrade" name was devised by their management company, Hello Projects, to denote their "passionate nature".

By "Momus", of course, I don't mean the prim, dark electronic vaudevillian of Scotland. Like Miss Jean Brody, that Momus is "in his prime". No, I mean teen girl band Morning Musume, known familiarly in the land of the rising sun as "Momus" or "Momusu". How can they be over, I hear you ask, when their management company, Hello Projects, treats the group like a Takarazuka troupe or a college, "graduating" members when they advance too far into adulthood? Surely a group like that -- which essentially emulates nature itself, replenishing the generations by phasing out old individuals and bringing in new ones in their stead -- could last forever? And surely (I hear the mythologically-minded amongst you adding) there are implications in the name "Morning Daughter" that these girls are related to Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu herself, and are therefore destined to be as immortal as the Japanese imperial family?

Dear friends, Nature and Amaterasu do indeed have something in common with Hello Projects, who manage both ºC-ute and Momusu (Tsunku produces them both). What these entities share is a disdain for individuals. Nature uses us to choose a partner and reproduce, but kills the individuals off -- our DNA is the important bit. Amaterasu invests her divinity in various emperors and empresses, but their particularities as people are irrelevant. What matters is that they can perpetuate themselves, pass on the power. Hello Projects does the same. There's a poignant moment in the video for ºC-ute's second single Soku Dakishimete ("Hold Me Immediately") when the girls, playing together as a basketball team, overtake an unseen enemy team listed on the scoreboard only as "ENEMY". The score stands at ºC-ute 8, Enemy 9, but then ºC-ute score, equalize, pull ahead, and win. It's hard not to think of "Enemy" as Morning Musume; seeing that scoreboard change is like watching the girlband version of the Shōwa period ticking over into the Heisei. But of course it's the same imperial family, so don't sweat it.

One of the compulsive pleasures of girl- or boy-bands is the tension between the individual and the group. They all wear the same costumes and do the same dance routines, but they aren't identical, and you're invited to choose your favourite member. Just as the uniformity of the group can somehow enhance the differences between members, so the manipulative injunction to love them all can be subverted by the viewer who decides, secretly, to love just one of them. Who's your favourite member of the ºC-ute team? Mine is taggle-toothed Airi Suzuki, who sings the lead vocal on their third, current and best single, Ooki na Ai de Motenashite ("Please Welcome Me With A Big Love").

I welcome this video with a big love. It just bursts with positivity. Here, morning is breaking in the world, everything is pink and social and girlish, full of squeaky clean optimism, collectivity and friendliness. The girls are human sakura, blossom budding on the tree of life. They're also, in a way, like a commercial, hyper-capitalist version of Balinese legong dancers, who retire at puberty. In a very Asian way, these girls represent good fortune, happiness, and social wealth. They're the ultimate pick-me-up; it's hard not to dance along, copying their moves. (And if you want to learn how to dance while hanging out your washing on the line, check out ºC-ute's debut single, Massara Blue Jeans.)

It's also fascinating to watch the various conventions and shopping centre appearances ºC-ute have made. In one they play recorders like a junior school band.

Another looks like a riot in a shopping centre, captured on a security camera. Here we see the bizarre sight of the tiny girls spinning like multi-coloured tops through their dance routine, as an audience of middle-aged otakus roar like frenzied gorillas from the stalls. It's easy to get the chilly vibes of a Perfect Blue scenario from this scene. But Hisae tells me that this is all fairly routine: these men are known as shineitai, the core group of otaku fans who follow idols, befriending other fans and forming a sort of guardian group. Their fierceness, like that of the red-painted statues you see outside Japanese temples (also inhabited by idols), is a friendly, protective fierceness, and has some of the character of a matsuri. I imagine them as the strong-man attendants carrying the Hoko floats at the Gion Matsuri.

Cutie Queen Volume 1, ºC-ute's first album, is released on October 25th. In the land of the rising daughter, morning has broken.