Many people were surprised, shocked even, when the HaroSute of January 20 announced the news: A joint audition for Juice=Juice and Tsubaki Factory is coming.
There have been Hello! Project auditions for potential future projects, announcing that the winners could go to any active group, but the fact that two established groups are searching for new members through an audition held together is something new for Hello! Project.
This is especially interesting considering that Juice=Juice and Tsubaki Factory are two very different groups in terms of music and overall style: Juice=Juice is known for their power vocals (it is the group of Takagi Sayuki and Dambara Ruru after all). Their eclectic repertoire is mostly known for a hint of jazz (Suki tte itte yo, Sunao ni Amaete), vigorous songs that built you up after a break down (Bitansan, „Hitori de Ikirare Sou“ tte) as well as pure ballads (Naite Ii yo and the upcoming Ganbarenai yo).
Tsubaki Factory, on the other hand, is a group with a very distinct aesthetic. Instagram filter, a set topic for their songs (dating, first love, insecureness) – basically the nervous teenager to Juice=Juice’s adult who is ready for the next amorous challenge and adventure. Up Front probably aims to catch several types of girls with this joint audition. Additionally, they might fear that individual auditions draw in much less attendees. On top of that, auditions cost money – something most people and agencies lost during the corona crisis. There have been rumours that Up Front in particular had lost a great deal of its wealth. While rumours about the agency’s financial ruin pop up every few years (and usually get waved aside with the company’s side business in real estate) it did move out of its former building and moved to much smaller bureau complex.
That, however, is not the topic of this blog post.
At the moment we can’t do much more than wait. The audition might take a year, going by ANGERME’s audition in 2020 – which was announced on January 2 and introduced the new members on November 2, 11 months later. Especially during corona times it is unlikely that this is going to be a quick audition, only if they really find nobody to their liking.
There’s one elephant left in the room: Why would they add new girls to these two groups?
The answer for Juice=Juice is rather simple. The group had welcomed their newest member Inoue Rei just last year, performing with her for the first time in early December. However, the graduation of Miyamoto Karin was probably only the first (or second, if you will, after Miyazaki Yuka’s graduation in 2019) of the end of the original Juice=Juice. Kanazawa Tomoko will turn 26 in summer 2021. At currently 23 and 22 both Takagi Sayuki and Uemura Akari are considered long-runners, too – the first generation will celebrate their 8th anniversary this year, by the way. It is unlikely that they leave quickly after another, considering that neither Matsunaga Riai nor Kudo Yume have found their place in the group yet. However, it’s very likely that at least two of the original generation will have left by the end of 2022, and it is better to be prepared.
And then we have Tsubaki Factory. The group has lost their lead singer and sub-leader Ogata Risa in December 2020 – but is this enough for an audition? There are still 8 girls in the group, including the ace Asakura Kiki, the vocal powerhouse Kishimoto Yumeno, the upcoming face Ono Mizuho and the dance prodigy Akiyama Mao. For now, at least.
This all reads like a warning to all Tsubaki Factory fans, to prepare for upcoming graduations. Tsubaki is definitely younger than Juice=Juice, with most members aged around 20. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re save from graduation. In a positive sense a member graduates from a group after having learned enough – thus it is called a graduation, like leaving a school, ready for the world. There are other possibilities why a member might want to leave, though. Ogata Risa left after a scandal and pretty much burning bridges with her coworkers. But what about…
- Asakura Kiki? What about her hernia? It didn’t flame up in 2020, but 2020 was also a year of little activity.
- Niinuma Kisora? Is she fed up with being in the background for pretty much everything? Yamagishi Riko and Tanimoto Ami share her pain of getting no lines in singles, but they are successful on the gravure front at least.
- Onoda Saori? She ranked worse than any other Tsubaki member in the Japanese member ranking of 2020. Did she play around too much? Her now confirmed boyfriend rumour definitely didn’t help her popularity, and she seems out of touch with her fans.
- Akiyama Mao? The girl has talent and could go further in dancing – but not in Hello! Project. She’d have to become serious and join a dance school to deepen her talent.
2020 was definitely not an easy year for Hello! Project fans considering all the painful graduations, but 2021 might be even harsher. Morning Musume had its graduations on a hold since 2019 and is overdue for someone leaving. Juice=Juice members saw first hand how difficult it is to schedule a graduation concert during a pandemic and might have sat out on that year just because of this.
I am looking forward to any new girl joining the groups. But boy, if I am not nervous about any established members leaving.