Now that introductions are out of the way, it’s time to get into the full swing of things. This week marks the release of Berryz Kobo’s ninth official album, Berryz Mansion 9 Kai, and to commemorate this occasion, I’m actually gonna rewind to last year for a bit in order to instead take an interesting look at their eighth album, Ai no Album 8!
I purchased this album while attending the group’s second US appearance in New Jersey last June, and, still high off that whole experience, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the album from start to finish upon listening to it after I got home. The three singles from 2011 that I merely glanced over the first time became a joy to listen to this time around, while the new songs for the album served as the soundtrack for reminiscing over my adventures on the east coast. Listening to the whole thing would forever be associated with those fun times–to this day I can’t help but chant nonsense gibberish to the tune of C-ute’s “Shiawase no Tochuu” whenever I hear “Because Happiness”, just as we did during the concert.
But there was something oddly familiar about this album. Noticing that the last track of the CD was a soft piano-driven ballad, I took a closer inspection at the structure of the track order and the songs themselves and realized that Ai no Album 8 was eerily similar to an album I purchased 11 years prior that also was acquired in the month of June and became associated with fond memories: Return of Dragon by Dru Hill frontman Sisqo!
WE CAN BE REBORN ALL THE TIME Oops, wrong idol group.
People lined up to see the Titanic sinking; instead we rose up from the ash like a phoenix
It’s safe to say that my entry into H!P fandom was burdened by some horribly awkward timing. Not only had I just missed out on Morning Musume’s big Los Angeles appearance by a few months, but I came around at a time when many were ready to start digging the grave for this once-prominent idol group collective. The Elder Club had just graduated, meaning most of the girls that sparked my initial interest were long gone by the time I showed up. Their weekly TV show had been cancelled just a year before, meaning no more new chances at memorable moments like the ones done in years past. Their former “home away from home” in Utaban no longer respected them, preferring to dwell in ancient history instead. Momusu’s new songs of the time were an acquired taste: they were good, but sounded too much like each other and clearly lacked the instant spark of the classics. And fans were slowly but steadily jumping ship, some running off to the emerging South Korean scene, others to another idol family called AKB48 that was starting to gain momentum that year.
Throw in the graduation announcement of Koharu Kusumi, one of the more visible and marketable members of that era (and whose recent smack talk I may or may not address in a future write-up), and it’s no surprise that the end felt like it was near. Did I really become a fan at the worst possible time? Was I meant to come full circle in time to witness the collective’s final attempts at relevance?
It took about 7 years for me to become a Hello! Project fan. It took another 3 years for me to fully accept it.
I had no real intention to dive into this fandom when I first started exploring a few things in the summer of 2009; a boredom-induced search for videos of Japanese people attempting to speak English led to stumbling upon a series of short, comedic lessons involving members of a particular J-pop group. Things could’ve (and probably should’ve) ended there…except I had recognized the name of this group before, as well as a few of its members from random media encounters in the past. This was certainly not the first time I’d be seeing the girls of Morning Musume in action, and, because of that, it definitely would not be the last.