Hello Project, circa 2004
The world of Hello Project (I leave out the “!” between “Hello” and “Project” because it just confuses people) is an exploding universe, getting a modest start in 1997 and growing rapidly since. But in recent months, the H!P world is starting to rocket upward at a speed and trajectory unimaginable even a couple years back.
Let me try and lay this out in simple terms for the uninitiated (for the experienced H!P commentators out there, please bear with me). Hello Project is a Japanese musical company featuring all-female singing groups of various ages and styles. The brains behind it, Tsunku, works with 50-60 girls at a time, and he has things pretty much divided as follows:
Hello Project Eggs, early 2006
— Hello Project Eggs, a beginning troupe of roughly 15-20 girls, invited through audition of countless thousands of girls throughout Japan and the Far East. They might be as young as 7 or 8, or as old as 18 and up. They are the “pee-wee team.”
— C-ute, a seven-girl group founded in 2005, average age around 13-14. C-ute is riding a huge tide of popularity and Tsunku has designed a dazzling array of songs specific to C-ute. You might call C-ute the “freshman team.”
— Berryz Kobo, another seven-girl group founded in 2004. Berryz has reached the arena-level of concert performance and, like C-ute, is riding a wave of mushrooming popularity. The girls are slightly older, averaging 14-15. Songs are extremely interesting and deal more with adolescent angst moreso than the exhuberance the C-ute is more prone to express. Call Berryz the “junior varsity team.”
Morning Musume, 2007
— Morning Musume, the “varsity team” for a variety of reasons, and has its roots in the late 1990s. This is a group chocked full of history, turbulence and multiple changes. The group will carry anywhere between eight and 14 girls and currently has nine, including a pair of new Chinese entries. Morning Musume is extraordinary and no words can really describe their performance levels or crowd-pleasing abilities, and DVDs are great but cannot really capture the rapture of the live concerts.
Other H!P groups also exist. Melon Kinenbi, for example, is an outstanding quartet that has been together since 2000. The Possible, a group of former Eggs now moved into a group of their own, came together last year and had an impressive January 2007 debut on the big stage during Hello Project’s sensational Winter 2007 arena concert. Then there’s the nine-member Canary Club, divided into four “Cans” and five “Aries.” Both The Possible and Canary Club are from Tsunku’s separate TNX company and are being fed into the Hello Project matrix as merited.
There is much more to describe, but rest assured there are some basic issues about using young girls as performers. What is more than acceptable in Japanese social circles might well be considered borderline exploitation of children in other societies, like America.
Further, Sony Music, which controls distribution of most Hello Project DVDs and CDs, produces most all H!P DVDs in a Region 2 format, which means they cannot be played on the Region 1 DVD players sold in the United States. All that means is that fans have to order region-free DVD players from overseas cources, mainly Canada, from the Internet.
Why does Sony do this? To “protect” its U.S. properties like Britney, Aguilera and the hip-hop stars whose material would be made to look boring and bland compared to what Hello Project puts out. This is but one blogger’s opinion.
Say what you like about the crazy colors, vinyl outfits, schoolgirl uniforms and other flashy and even bizarre costuming. Say what you want about the screamy songs, constant fist-pumping and enormous crowds of “otaku” and “wota” fans waving the signature glowsticks during wild concerts. It’s all Hello Project, all J-Pop and all 100 percent wonderful.