I’m writing this preface on October 23, 2014 nearly 3 weeks after the Morning Musume ’14 concert at Best Buy Theater. As typical of my personal fandom, I haven’t had nearly enough time to sit and write for an extended period of time after the summer fades. As the days grow short, I feel an overwhelming need to push this article out into the web-sphere with increasing urgency. You, the reader, will undoubtedly see a few mistakes in my recollection of the details. Remember, this is my personal recollection; I’m not documenting anything more than my personal experiences. If my memories don’t jibe with your memories, if my memories distort or misrepresent the facts, or if I’ve forgotten faces and names, please know my writings are not meant to be malicious, misleading, or misanthropic. Also, you will find very few photographs in this article, as we were asked not to take cell phone photographs during the performance. The few photographs from Morning Musume ’14’s performance are credited, so please visit their website for more great coverage. I dedicate this writing to all of the people I met at the Morning Musume ’14 New York concert and its related festivities. You’re all the best!
Way back in 2009, Morning Musume came to Los Angeles (where I live) to perform at Anime Expo. By 2009, I had been a fan of the group for a couple of years. It would have been the right time to see the group for these and many other reasons. I bought my tickets to the event and prepared myself to attend the concert. Unfortunately, tragedy struck just days ahead of the event, and I necessarily attended the funeral for one of my dear relatives instead of the Morning Musume Anime Expo concert. I’m not bitter about this, but I’ve been left with a gigantic hole in my fandom ever since then.
As one can imagine, I was incredibly elated when the announcement of Morning Musume ’14 playing at New York’s Best Buy Theater hit. This concert held a few notes of importance. Firstly, it was the opportunity to see my favorite Ikuta Erina in person. Secondly, this represented my last chance to see Michishige Sayumi, an idol whose importance to me grew over the long years and who is the last holdover from the Platinum Era/MM Anime Expo concert. I instantly knew I would be attending. I experienced some difficulties purchasing tickets to this event- the onsale date coincided with a family vacation that took me to a “no signal” part of the country. With the help of some friends, I managed to secure a ticket to Morning Musume ’14 NYC! I purchased my airline ticket, made arrangements with some friends in Brooklyn to couch surf at their place, and before I knew it I was in New York City on October 4.
My friends took me to their work near Battery Park on the morning of October 4th. Now, at this point I was feeling the effects of my travel. My red-eye flight from Los Angeles dropped me off at JFK at 5:30 AM. By the time I was sipping coffee in the city, I had been awake for about 27 hours. I took the short walk but confusing walk to One World Trade Center and spent a few moments in contemplation. I don’t want to be maudlin about the matter, but the place really feels like a scar opened up in the middle of the city. The deafening sound of the fountain and gentle mist that wafts in sets the emotional tone for this place (I’ll let you draw the appropriate metaphors). If you were alive and aware during the events of September 11, this place holds significant meaning.
Rather than take a train up to Times Square, I decided to fill my afternoon with the 4 mile walk through the lower part of Manhattan. My route wound its way through Tribeca to Washington Square. From there I walked to Union Square and through to the Flatiron Building and then finally to Times Square. The walk, although not particularly strenuous, left my feet aching for want of more appropriate footwear.
From the walk:
Nice aquarium near Battery Park
World Trade Center
And, the walk really begins
This really made me chuckle
A Farmer’s Market!
A look at the Empire State Building
Well, at this point I needed to come to grips with meeting people. I don’t know if you can tell, but meeting people makes me very nervous. Naturally, I put on a nice shirt and a tie so I would be inconspicuous. If you were at Hello! Party, I was the person in the black shirt and grey tie. I also decided to pre-game at a nearby pub with the pint of Blue Moon that I tweeted. All of this makes me sound like a confused person. Well, I am confused.
Hello! Party turned out to be a great time. The folks over at Hello! Base really did a great job putting together an event of this size. I could immediately see the amount of work and organization that Bryan and Jen invested in this project (thank you!). After registration, guests took checki photos with a cardboard Michishige Sayumi for inclusion in a photo album gift that was presented to Sayu at the following day’s handshake event (if I remember correctly). For the main event, guests sat in rows according to their favorite member (of course I was in team Eripon) to participate in about five different contests including the popular “Song Into” contest, “Team Relay” (stop watch accuracy, shake meter, soda can stack, ping pong ball toss), “Telephone Speed draw”, and “Dizzy balloon pop”. If you’ve watched any number of Hello! Project DVDs, you’ve seen one or more of these games before, I’m sure. The winning team would all receive King Blade light sticks for their effort (which is an EXCELLENT prize). Team Eripon only managed one point- dead last. I sat around entertained, but deathly afraid of being called as a participant. Following the games, the auditorium transformed into a dance party where some chose to exhibit their dancing skills and others chose to sharpen their Wotagei for the Morning Musume concert. If I had to do this part over again, though, I think I would rather help behind the scenes than participate in the event.
In the afterwards, I ate a really nice dinner in Times Square with the amazing and talented @writerserenyty, who I met for the first time. I’ve followed her blog for ages (almost as soon as I started following idols!), and I had that out of body feeling one encounters when meeting someone they have only heard of (in my case, read). Meeting her really loosened me up and prepared me to meet other people that weekend. I really have her to thank for helping make my weekend such a memorable experience. The midnight snack on that night was something called barbeque nachos, which tasted like heaven after the long day. When I returned to Brooklyn that night, my 40 hour day caught up with me. I slept very well that night!
Well, I thought lining up at 9 AM, would be early enough. I was wrong. I think the smarter play would have been to just hang out in Times Square until the concert time because by the time I arrived the line was already around the corner and down the block. The doors to the Morning Musume did not open until 3 PM, so I hunkered down for a long wait. At some point, I realized the foolishness standing around in solitary. Luckily, I stood right behind another Eripon fan (who also attended Hello! Party as part of Team Eripon), and eventually got to talking with my neighbors. Hearing that some of the people around me were starving, I even bought a few hot dogs for my fellow line-mates. I also discovered that I stood right behind @MexG2, one of my Twitter friends, and had been talking to her for most of the day before I realized who she was!
Waiting in line turned out to be a interesting, if not good, experience. I spent some time with people who were just as passionate about Morning Musume as me (something that doesn’t happen often). Many distractions turned up throughout the day, as you might expect. Firstly, the organizers of Hello! Party periodically walked the length of the line with cardboard Sayumi allowing fans who did not attend their event to take a picture with Sayumi. I took a couple of pictures with her Yummy-ness that morning. Occasionally, I would see carboard Sayu lifted above the queue like an angel floating her devotees. This always got a chuckle out of me.
The group from the “A Gift to Sayumi” project made their way down the line to distribute glow sticks! The premise here was to pass out free glow sticks to the audience with the intention of making the Best Buy Theater solid pink as a sign of gratitude to Leader Michishige Sayumi. I funded this project on Indiegogo.com. Seeing them hand out glow sticks gave me an enormous sense of well being.
“This is Sayumi”
Also walking the Morning Musume line was a group from Hello Pro Night. I didn’t know about this meet up ahead of time, so I was interested in learning more and possibly celebrating with them after the concert at Hello!Pro Night in New York”. To help lubricate fans to their invitation, the distributed free CD Singles of “Toki Wo Koe, Sora Wo Koe / Password is 0” AND free picture cards from the CD Singles. Naturally, each person was allowed only one good. In other words, I finally got my Ikuta Erina “TokiSora” picture card! I thought this was a very classy manuever by these organizers, and I’m actually a bit upset that I don’t know much about the group organized this event, Hello! Pro Night. Please comment if you know them, or perhaps you can forward my appreciation to them if you know them.
The doors opened to the general public at 3:00 PM, and we the throngs of regular ticket holders finally made our way into the venue. First destination was the goods line where I hoped to obtain a CD/Handshake ticket, a Morning Musume NYC t-shirt, and an Ikuta Erina muffler. Like a typical Western show, there was no real line for the goods. A large mass of people formed in front of the goods tables with each person gradually moving forward. Unfortunately, I line up in the wrong place (the left of the table). Best Buy’s idea of crowd control was to move new people to my side of the table and let them enter the goods line ahead of people who had been waiting much longer. In essence, my side of the table was longer than the right side of the table because it was also a “merging” lane for late comers. You may have heard from other reports that the goods line began to sell only CDs in the minutes before the concert began. I’m sad to report that I am one of the people who couldn’t buy goods before the concert when the tables were shut down. But, I’m a positive guy. I’m glad that I got a CD/handshake ticket from this fiasco (it still hurts a little).
When Morning Musume ’14 hit the stage, I really lost my mind. Even though I have seen just about every Morning Musume concert DVD since “2007 Haru ~Sexy 8 Beat~” (AKA Yossie’s graduation), I still must remark that the group’s performance is much better than I anticipated. I expected to hear more vocal missteps than I hear in their concert DVDs. Morning Musume ’14 surprised me with their excellent level of performance. Sure, the group sings along to prerecorded backing vocals and occasionally lip-syncs their parts (this is more sparing than I make it sound), but almost all of the lead vocals I heard were sung live. The reputation of the group for their formation dancing is rightly deserved as the girls were remarkably synchronized in their movements and positioning.
One interesting moment in the concert came at the outfit transformation in “Love Machine”. During the performance, the girls unbutton the straps of their tops to reveal their “Red White and Blue” outfits (AMERICA!). At NYC, both Maa-chan and Sayu had difficulty with changing their outfits! OdaSaku and Fuku-hime effectively stripped Maa-chan of her malfunctioning top mid-dance. Sayumi took a different approach and walked off stage left to deal with her outfit. All of this happened mid-song, and the girls did not break performance at all. In fact, the incident didn’t even seem to bother them. I think this is interesting since this is just another instance of the girls working together to overcome stage difficulties (remember the headband-gate of 2013?).
When it came time for member introductions, I could see that the girls were nervous about speaking in English to such a large audience. Even if it’s a little racist, I can’t help finding cuteness in the girls’ affectations as they struggled to communicate. Saying this might make me a horrible person, but watching the idols get flustered and eventually speak with accents is incredibly cute. As some predicted, Sayashi Riho struggled as she forgot her English phrases. She starts strong by saying “What’s up New York?” As she starts to stumble, she stutters with “And … and … eto … eto … “. Eventually she cheers herself on with “Ganbarou”, but finishes up in Japanese. Ikuta Erina‘s introduction was filled with confidence and just enough flub to encourage her “EHHHH?! HAI HAI HAI!” bit. Eripon also tried her hand at magic as she did a Spider Man impersonation. I think you just need to see it. Suzuki Kanon‘s introduction took the cake on this evening. From the Morning Musume J-Melo Special, we know, and Kanon knows of her popularity state side. From her introduction, I don’t think she knew what to expect from her introduction. Perhaps she was waiting to see if her popularity was one big troll (she works with Tsunku, afterall).
One of the things I looked forward to in this concert was the audience participation. I came prepared with my personal glow stick and the pair of pink glow sticks from the Sayumi Indiegogo Project. So, I shook my King Blade with the best of them and contemplated my personal lack of arm strength. While my section of the audience did not band together and sway for “TIKI BUN”, my fellow line mates found each other just in time to sway together for “Happy Daisakusen”. Thankfully, only one person was obnoxious enough to block people’s view with their video recording “phablet”- and, yes I did yell at this person to put their phone away. By now, I reckon that I’ve seen hundreds of concerts. This Morning Musume ’14 concert certainly stands out in terms of the overall viewing experience and emotional investment.
I know I didn’t really write too much about the concert itself so you can find additional coverage from the concert can be found at:
New School Kaidan, Selective Hearing, Nihongogo (with a set list!), Jiichan, and Run Chia Run
Morning Musume ’14 ended the night with a performance of “Happy Daisakusen”. The song came from a particularly good string of B-sides that the group released from around “One-Two-Three / The Matenrou Show” to “Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke / Ai no Gundan”. “Happy Daisakusen” makes a great closer since the girls all take solo lines in generational order during the verses. Every girl gets a solo in this uplifting, optimistic song, and the audience gets one last chance to cheer for their favorite girls. The closer also gave me a last opportunity to get together, sing, and dance with the line mates who stuck with me for the whole day. This was definitely one of the highlights of the whole show.
After a quick check of the goods line (nope, too long) I went to the seating section to wait for my handshake. Those of us with handshake tickets sat down in the theater rows and watched as the staff set up tables in front of us for the girls. When Morning Musume ’14 took their positions in the handshake line, I got unreasonably excited. The girls gave their handshakes in view of the entire seated section greatly increasing the level of anticipation. I needed to cool myself off on several occasions. I sat myself near the end of the line, so I watched many handshakes before my turn. Finally, my chance came.
Oda Sakura is much smaller than I anticipated. This should say something, because Ialready thought she would be tiny. Sakura, and all the girls, are also much prettier in person. No, she was like a little doll. I told her she had a great voice.
I told Kudo Haruka she was very handsome and that I love her husky voice.
Sato Masaki had a big and bright smile. I told her she was cute and funny.
To Ishida Ayumi, I said “You great moves and dance real cool.”
I tried to tell Iikubo Haruna that I started watching Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure because of her. I don’t think she understood me.
By the time I got to Suzuki Kanon, I was feeling the staff push me along on every girl. I hope Kanon understood that I said she was cute and funny.
Feeling the push on my back, I told Sayashi Riho she was a great performer and I looked forward to seeing how great she can become.
Finally in front of Ikuta Erina, I said, “OMGILOVEYOUYOUAREMYFAVORITEBLAHBLAHBLAH…” Basically, it was diarrhea of the mouth. I really hope she understood how much her presence means to me. I’m not too optimistic though. I remember her smile, though. I hope it was enough.
Remember how I said all the girls were prettier in person? Fukumura Mizuki is mind blowing in person. Mizuki also makes great eye contact in her handshake leaving behind an impression of her beauty long after one leaves. I don’t remember Fuku-hime crushing my hand like some reports indicates. I was also pretty numb all over, so …
But really, prettier in person? Michishige Sayumi looks like a goddess. I distinctly remember looking into her eyes and seeing an incredible amount of expressiveness and appreciation. Her eyes also carried an appreciable amount of weariness. Given the circumstances, it felt like I was looking at someone whose time as an idol was almost done, someone ready for a long rest.
On exiting the theater, found one of my line friends: the interesting and talented Lisseth and friendly, and equally interesting Chris. Lisseth came from Peru and previously spent time in Japan studying and singing Enka (ask her about it!). We loitered around the theater waiting for Morning Musume ’14 to come out and board their passenger vans. Lisseth helped me talk to some of the Japanese who came to New York. I particularly remember one of the guys telling me about Ikuta Erina and her hometown Fukuoka.
Our obstinacy (really, we did not have much to do …) paid off when the girls came out for a quick photo op. The staff first moved barricades to block off the sidewalk, and then the girls came out through the theater’s front doors clad in their “TIKI BUN” PV costumes. After positioning themselves in the center of the street, they posed for a barrage of photos in front of the massive Best Buy Theater marquee. I started in front of the barricade and then migrated to the left of the girls. I got a sweet picture of Oda Sakura for my troubles.
The girls retreated into the theater for a quick breather and to change out of their costumes. In a few minutes, they came back out to board their vans and leave the theater for the night. We followed the vans down the street waving madly at the girls through the smoked glass of the vans. The girls seemed genuinely touched as they waved back at us. At one point, Masaki made the heart shape with her hands, which whipped all of us into a fervor. In a moment, the passenger vans zoomed past Times Square and into the night … and that was the last time I saw Morning Musume ’14.
To finish up the night, Lisseth, Chris, and I headed to the “Hello! Pro Night” after party at Gaf West. The little bar packed itself with many of the concert attendees. As a down point, they were having problems with the sound at the venue. I’m sure they planned to have Hello! Project blaring through the club, but instead a whisper of music entertained the pub. Not that it mattered much. By this time I had loosened up greatly and decided to actually talk to peple. I met a few interesting people at the after party (a b c and a few more who are not appearing on my twitter feed), and we shared experiences and stories. Fanboy-ing and fan-girling happened. In seemingly a blink of the eye, the after party finished up and we were sent packing. Chris and I found an open pizza parlor for a quick $1 slice, and I made my way back to Brooklyn.
Even without considering how long I waited for this, Morning Musume ’14 has been a highlight of my year. As far as my fandom goes, my New York trip stands as the apex of a 7 year journey into Tsunku’s personal playground. This trip carried the potential to either destroy my fandom or strengthen my resolve and mania. You probably guessed that my dedication to Hello! Project and other idol acts increased as a result of this trip. So, although I waved and said my goodbyes to Sayumi (in person!), I don’t see myself slowing down in the idol community. There’s still much to do and a 12th generation of Morning Musume (cuuuuuuutie generation!) to support!