The Kobo Dropout: how an idol group helped me finally appreciate a hip-hop classic (amongst other things)

It’s amazing (SO AMAZING) how context and personal associations can influence–and change–one’s enjoyment of music everything.

Yo Nacchi, I'm happy for you and I'ma let you graduate, but Momochi's gonna be the greatest H!P member of all time!

Yo Nacchi, I’m happy for you and I’ma let you graduate, but Momochi’s gonna be the greatest H!P member of all time!

2004 was a key year on both sides of the Pacific as far as my music interests go. In America, hip-hop heads were witnessing the release of The College Dropout, the anticipated debut album from then-hot-producer-turned-hungry-yet-unproven-rapper Kanye West that would open to rave reviews, tons of radio airplay, and an auspicious start to what has become a long and notorious career in the mainstream spotlight. In Japan, Hello! Project had turned half of its H!P Kids roster into a new group called Berryz Kobo, who debuted with their own hip-hop flavored release in “Anata Nashi de wa Ikite Yukenai” to start off their own decade-long run at J-idol stardom.

Unfortunately circumstances would not allow me to enjoy either artist’s rookie year. Before I could even get around to acquiring a full copy of my own, the hype and airplay of West’s album inadvertently became the haunting soundtrack to a summer gone wrong, following me on a horribly disappointing Las Vegas roadtrip (during which my “friends” actively gave me a hard time and hindered my plans to explore the town) and tempering the feelings of unrequited love towards a girl I met online who had just moved into my city but ended up with someone else. And while I would later become a huge Kanye fan through his subsequent work, this first album would long be associated with that depressing summer of 2004–like seriously, it was pretty bad, it took years for me to get over those events. As for Berryz…well, I simply had no idea they existed, as any attempt to get me to become an idol fan at that time would likely have been scoffed at, me being “too cool” for such “soft sugary pop shit”.

Both problems, however, would be rectified by a series of interesting coincidences and converging events eight years later.

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Team Fortress 2: the Morning Musume update

I wasn’t a fan of Morning Musume back in 2004-2005, so I can only imagine the disenchantment and confusion that may have affected the fanbase at the time when it was declared that the 7th generation audition would produce no winners at all (and would later be re-rolled to give the world Koharu of all people). Fast-forward to 2013, however, and the situation has been flipped a bit: the sudden cancellation of the 12th generation audition seemed to prompt less disillusionment and instead many sighs of relief, owing to the fact that many people just aren’t ready to see 今のモーニング娘 (today’s Morning Musume) get disrupted by new members while they’re still on the rise.

You can definitely count me in as one of those who, after getting over the initial shock, was satisfied by this development, as I love the group as it is now. Not only that, the reaffirmed stability of this lineup also means I can go through with yet another crazy thought exercise: the members of Morning Musume re-imagined as the classes from Team Fortress 2!

Time to meet the Musumes…

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H!P All Stars – basketball edition

In the future, all basketball players will be required to wear plaid skirts

In the future, basketball shorts will be replaced by miniskirts

Fun fact: one of the strangest things I did to acclimate myself into the world of H!P in my early moments of fandom was developing a habit of imagining Morning Musume as a sports team, with its members playing different positions based on line distribution and their roles in the group for any given Sunday single. It seemed like a logical thing to do, as Morning Musume operates similar to a sports franchise with members coming and going to carry on the team name, and being an idol requires being in top shape like any athlete in order to keep up with all the singing and dancing and exciting. For some reason I initially picked American football as the analogous sport, maybe because it was football season when I became a fan and had a craving for it in lieu of no longer closely following the NFL due to being disheartened by how that league is run. But later on I realized that basketball was a much better sport to assign to Momusu, as the specialized roles of football positions didn’t quite line up with how these girls work while basketball requires all players to do a little bit of everything, just like idols. Plus basketball is a much more fun sport to watch, play, and think about.

What’s even stranger is that to this day I still do it! Not just positions but also playing styles, and not just with Momusu, but with other H!P groups too. It’s to the point where I actually once had a dream that Ai Takahashi was the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz (why that team I have no idea). Could you imagine her making plays and racking up assists like John Stockton? I can…and maybe you can too after reading what I have in store here.

So, in honor of the NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend coming up, I present to you my Morning Musume and Hello Project basketball all-star teams!

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Berryz Sisqo-bo: return of Return of Dragon?

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!

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