Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Front Girls I am Still Okay With

A very long time ago (well, not very long but in blogging time still long), a young, bright-eyed Nia wrote a little post called Front Girls I am Okay With. She pretty much had no idea what she was doing and just really wanted to write about front girls.

A few years later, she decided to write a sequel post.

And several other things happened, but you don't need to hear about that stuff. The time in which I first started blogging was a strange, exhilarating time when I was just starting to figure out my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. As such, my earlier blog posts on the Wonderland tend to be a little... embarrassing. I'm not ashamed one bit of my earlier posts, but you know that pang of regret when you realize you could do something with much more skill than you had earlier? There are a few posts like that from my earlier blogging days that I wish I could write over again. But doing that would be pointless; I've already written about it, even if the quality of writing isn't where I want it to be. Still, there was one particular subject that I wanted to touch on again: front girls. I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about. Those idols that are the "faces" of their respective groups. The ones that receive the biggest push from management alongside a great amount of reception from fans too. The position of a front girl is a coveted one, but the price for achieving such a position is the inevitable backlash.

Front girls tend to be the most divisive idols, especially in the international fanbase. I myself have had my fair share of front girls I'd rather be way in the back. But as of now, I've surprisingly mellowed out regarding front girls. I can only name like one or two that I actually wish weren't front girls, and I don't dwell much one any of those girls in general. I think that may be because as I have immersed myself into the sticky, often divisive world of idols, I've realized that life is much easier when you don't devote time to complaining about a front girl you don't like. Instead... blame the management! We all know the idols in idol groups have zero say about who gets what role in the group, especially the center position. So why should I waste time criticizing a girl in the front when I can use that energy to criticize management for making a shitty decisions and putting that girl in the front? The only time I start getting irritated with a front girl is when she's constantly in center but fails to own up to that center position and not improve over time. Honestly, if an idol can hold a tune and look like she's not about to pass out in a music video, you can stick her in the front, in the back, in a box, anywhere for all I care. Doing so has made my blogging time so much easier and relaxed so now I have time to stress about other things both idol and non-idol related! What fun!

If you're someone who doesn't like center girls because they're center girls, then you are going to have a very hard time being an idol fan. Unless you follow solo idols. Or a group like Arashi or Smap or Perfume where there is no "center." If so, I highly recommend the third option I listed. Personally, I don't always understand why management feels the need to make one girl the "face" of an idol group, especially in smaller groups like trios or quartets or even quintets. With a group like AKB48, I understand because there are so many girls in the group that it'd be hard to promote all of them. But in a group like Perfume or Momoiro Clover Z, I see no reason that all the members can't get equal promotion. Obviously, that doesn't always happen. So why does management favor one girl over others sometimes? Well, reasons are often arbitrary and alien to outsiders, so unless one of you has sat in on a meeting with an idol agency, we will never know fully why. But I think it mainly has to do with making money. Surprise! What else would it be? I'm serious, front girls are usually picked because of their marketability i.e. being pretty but not too pretty, talented but no too talented, etc. Sayashi Riho practically embodies this characteristic, so much that she's a Potato Idol. Read the article to see what I'm talking about.

I guess you could say front girls are kind of like the SAT. They aren't exactly necessary, but as long as the College Board still exists, they will always be around. Wait... I was going somewhere with this metaphor but I'm not sure where. Oh well! As I was saying, two years ago, I wrote about front girls I'm okay with being centers/front girls of their respective groups. It isn't my favorite post I've written, but it has gotten a lot of views. Not quite as many as the flip side, Front Girls I am Not Okay With, but still a substantial amount. As I've blogged more and discovered more idols, I have a few more front girls I want to add to the list. That and I feel like my writing is a little bit more improved from way back in early 2012! I can articulate better what I'm trying to say along with having more of a voice! Also some of those front girls like Maeda Atsuko and Takahashi Ai have already graduated so I do need an updated list. The girls all on this list are (as of March 2014) still in their respective groups. If I'd dared to take on the challenge of getting all the graduated front girls I'm okay with into this list, I'd go crazy! So yes, you might recognize some familiar faces on this list along with a few new ones! Either way, these are the front girls that I am still okay with! You may not be okay with them. In fact, I'd be surprised if you were, considering how polarizing front girls can be. However, all these girls can stay at the front, and I will be perfectly content.

Arai Hitomi

When I first got into Tokyo Girls' Style, my favorite member was Konishi Ayano. In fact, she's still my favorite member, but that's beside the point. As I was getting into TGS, I noticed that Ayano had a pretty decent vocal push, but visually and vocally Avex pushed Arai Hitomi. At the time, I was a little iffy on that. It's not that I thought Hitomi was a bad singer... well, actually yeah, she kind of wasn't the best singer. She had quite the squeak, maybe not so much as Yamabe Miyu, but moreso than Ayano or even Mei. But the best part about following Tokyo Girls' Style is that you can really see how much each of the girls has grown. They've changed quite drastically from this sweet little idol group to a darker, more serious version of SweetS that puts huge emphasis on the vocals and the dancing. And luckily, Hitomi has improved so much since the early days of TGS. I first noticed Hitomi's voice in Bad Flower, when she had this big, dramatic solo, and she nailed it. Her voice still has a squeak, but her control is much better along with her resonance. So yes, because Hitomi can sing now, I'm okay with her being center. Frankly, I'm okay with any of the TGS girls being center, but if Avex wants to stick with Hitomi, I'm okay with that. I think she's really grown up with the group, despite being the youngest. Even if I hated the Partition Love PV, I can't deny Hitomi pulled off her role startlingly well.

Ishida Ayumi

Okay, so maybe Ishida Ayumi isn't the front girl of Morning Musume, but she still has a very prominent position as both a singer and dancer! When Ayumi first joined the group, I didn't think much of her. Sure, she was a really good dancer, but it looked like UFP was just building her up to be Riho #2. She had that creepy shark-toothed smile in all her pictures too! But as the years have gone by, and Momusu's lineup has changed, Ayumi has slowly moved toward the front, and I've found myself surprisingly okay with this. You'd think I'd be against it considering my not-fondness toward's UFP's excessive vocal and visual push of Riho. But honestly, I think I'd be much more cool with Ayumi being the center of Morning Musume than Riho. I think she's a really good dancer, and her position in the group isn't just being in the shadow of Riho. She has her own personality and even her own way of dancing that's equally skilled to Riho's! Maybe even better, but I'm not a dancing expert. Vocally, I will admit Ayumi's kind of weak, but she's tolerable because UFP doesn't force her to hit notes that her voice can't hit (unlike some front girls in the group). And like many of the other members of Morning Musume, Ayumi's progressively looked better and more confident than she did when the debuted in the group. It helped that she finally figured out how to smile in a less creepy, shark-toothed way!

Matsui Jurina & Matsui Rena

I may as well put these two under the same slot since both girls are from the same group, and I'm okay with both for similar reasons. I feel kind of bad for SKE48. Not because of any real reason, just that I have absolutely no idea who anyone is in that group other than Jurina and Rena. It's weird because I know more faces in HKT48 and NMB48 and even Nogizaka46 than SKE48. Not sure why SKE48 girls get the least of my attention, but that may be because I know that no one else other than Jurina and Rena are going to be centers of the group until one or both of them graduates. And I am completely okay with that. Admittedly, neither Jurina or Rena is my favorite XXX48 idol, but neither one of them irritates me either. I think both of them do a decent job at performing, and they don't ever look awkward as centers. Well, okay, Rena's dead-eyed stare can be a tad creepy at times, but in certain music videos, it works! Like all the serious Akagumi's videos with her in them are always very intriguing. And then Jurina seems to get the happier music videos with Shirogumi. I think the two of them have this very nice dynamic and play off each other well in SKE48's songs. I should clarify though that while I like Jurina as center of SKE48, I'm a little more iffy on her potential center positions in AKB48. The girl needs a break, and SKE48 needs a center more than AKB48 does at this time.

Miyamoto Karin

It was to be expected that Karin would front whatever group she debuted with. As a Kenshuusei, Karin was already one of the more popular members, and a lot of fans (both foreign and domestic) were pushing for her to debut. And so she did in Juice=Juice alongside five other girls. Those six girls became five after their major debut, but in both Juice=Juice's indies and major label eras, Karin has retained her position as the main front girl of the group. I remember back in 2011 when the S/mileage auditions were happening and Karin auditioned. She was easily the favorite amongst the other girls auditioning because of her good voice and decent performance skills. After not getting into S/mileage (to the shock of fans I might add), Karin just kept growing in popularity. And with that, so did her backlash. I know a common complaint about Karin is that she was so overhyped, but that's never stopped me from liking her as a performer. I still think she has a very nice voice, and I was overjoyed when she was announced as a member of Juice=Juice. At first, she looked really awkward in the front of the group (actually, she kind of looked like a monkey), but over the past year, I think Karin has really come into her own as center of the group. When she's dancing, she exudes confidence, and her voice is still just as enjoyable as I remember it being when I first listened to Carina Notte.

Momota Kanako

At first, Kanako of Momoiro Clover Z kind of frightened me. In fact, she still kind of frightens me. Something about that psychotic smile of hers can be a little unnerving at times. But despite that, I still like Kanako as (more or less) the "face" of Momoiro Clover Z. I know the other four girls aren't exactly shafted, but I still feel like Kanako gets a little more emphasis visually and vocally. She's even the group's leader! But Kanako works very well as the front girl of MomoClo; she's wacky and wild just like all her fellow band members. She's got that crazy jump she does, adorable dimples, and an extremely outgoing stage personality. But all that isn't the reason why I'm okay with Kanako as a front girl. The reason I like Kanako as a front girl is because of how genuinely happy she always looks. I mean, look at that smile in the above picture! She's practically radiating happiness. Even if she doesn't have the best voice, every time I've seen MomoClo perform, she looks overjoyed to be standing on stage with her fellow group members. In fact, I like just about any idol who genuinely and visibly enjoys what she's doing. They always seem to have this... glow about them. Not a real one, otherwise I'd be calling some health professionals, but like this aura of enthusiasm. I don't really know how to explain it, but Momota Kanako is positively shining at the front of Momoiro Clover Z.

Negishi Ai

To tell you the truth, I don't follow the members of Passpo very closely, not outside of their music videos at least. Sure, I've watched a few live performances and other miscellaneous videos, but most of my opinions of Passpo's members stem from mainly their music videos. And honestly, I still haven't memorized the names of all the Passpo members yet. But of the three or four members I do recognize, one of them is Negishi Ai, the leader! I also recognize the cutie pie that is Masui Mio; she almost made it to the list, but I don't think she's quite as much a front girl as Ai is. Not vocally at least! So one of the reasons I like Negishi Ai as a front girl is actually a little silly. See, I Found out that Ai is a fan of Mizuki Nana, one of my favorite J-pop artists. And then I found this video of her singing along to Tenkuu no Canaria, one of Mizuki Nana's songs. It was during some kind of karaoke session, and all the other members of Passpo had picked idol songs like The Peace by Morning Musume and Hatsukoi Cider by Buono! Everyone else had been fooling around and having fun, but when Ai started singing, she looked so serious and into it! It wasn't even a very good cover, but watching her sing with such focus was strangely endearing. That and Ai's always seemed very poised and confident in Passpo's music videos and performances. So yeah, I guess that's why I like Ai as a front girl!

Pour Lui

It's really hard to peg down a front girl in BiS, considering... well, it's BiS. They switch out members faster than a carousel spins. But the girl who has been there since the beginning is Pour Lui. In fact, it was her idea to create BiS! So without Pour Lui, BiS would never have existed, and there would be no unconventional idol group to terrorize the market! Which depending on who you ask, may be a good thing. As sad as I am that BiS is disbanding so soon, I'm happy that they got this far and that Pour Lui got to see her little group evolve from the four-member indie idol group to what they are today. Naturally, as the founder of BiS, Pour Lui has been more-or-less the face of the group along with being the leader. And I have this sort of respect for her for having the confidence to go through with creating an idol group that she probably knew from the very start wouldn't receive a lot of positive press. I don't know how much creative control Pour Lui has now over BiS's music and image, but the fact that she still had the idea for an unconventional idol group is still pretty cool in my opinion. And she has a pretty great voice for an idol; it's very distinctive, and I can always recognize it in any of the BiS songs. Pour Lui's done a lot for BiS, and I wish all the best for her once BiS disbands. I'll definitely be following her new band, Lui◇Frontic◆Matsukuma Japan!

Suzuki Airi

Oh yeah, Airi's on the list. I like everyone in C-ute, Airi included! I guess I could have also included Maimi on the list, but she sometimes switches out with Chissa as a front girl. However, the girl that's been up and center since the very beginnings of C-ute has always been Airi. I'll admit, she's one of the better received front girls I've seen, but she does have fans who aren't fond of her constantly getting the most solos, promotions, screen time, photobooks, etc. There's no denying that Airi is very popular, not just in C-ute, but in Hello! Project as a whole. When I first got into the H!P groups, I couldn't really figure out why. I mean, I thought she was a decent singer but so what? Then I started going through H!P's archives and noticed how consistent Airi's been. I mean, she was nine when she did First Kiss with Aa! and she hit notes in that song that would have made 9-year old Nia cry. The girl has a really nice voice, both in recordings and live. She just has very nice vocal control. And beyond just her talent, Airi's always seemed like a very nice, pleasant person. Every article I've read about someone meeting her has always emphasized how genuinely nice and sweet she was. Airi's actually one of the few idols I wouldn't mind meeting in person, even if it was just to say hello. Like I said, I like everyone in C-ute, but I can see why Airi's the one that's the most promoted.

Watanabe Mayu

If I recall... two years ago, didn't I have Watanabe Mayu listed under Front Girls I am Not Okay With? Going back and checking, I did! Of course, I wasn't okay with her being the sole promoted girl of Watarirouka Hashiritai 7, and now since that group is kaput... So Long! See what I did there? The quality of the song matches the quality of that pun! While I was never okay with Warota 7 really being Mayu + 6, I've never had much of a problem with Mayuyu being front girl of AKB48, even center. Sure, she had quite the creeper smile in her younger days, but she's grown out of that! The position of center is a strange one, with Maeda Atsuko graduated and Oshima Yuko following soon, but if I had to pick one girl I could see as (plausibly) being center, I'd go with Mayu. Or at least, she'd be the center I'd be most okay with. I like Shimazaki Haruka but no way as center, although I wouldn't mind a Yokoyama Yui-centered single... I feel like AKS wants either Mayuyu, Paruru, or Jurina as AKB48's new center. I like Mayuyu because she's quirky enough to give the center position some life, but she also has enough onscreen charisma and confidence. I do admit, I kind of miss Mayuyu's Creeper Smile; it's part of what made her so entertaining to watch in PVs! With or without the Creeper Smile, Watanabe Mayu can still be the Fantastic Creeper of AKB48! Or should I say Fantastic Center?

Yamamoto Sayaka

From the very beginning of NMB48's formation, Yamamoto Sayaka has been center of the group, along with captain of Team N. When I didn't follow NMB48 quite as closely, I had a pretty neutral opinion of Sayaka. But now? Having Yamamoto Sayaka as center of NMB48 just feels right. Honestly, I think Sayanee may be just one of my favorite '48 idols in general. Funny how all the Sayakas seem to get on my good side, isn't it? To me, Sayanee's always seemed very cool. A cool haircut, a cool voice, hell, she even played in a band before joining NMB48! I think what one me over with Sayanee was her performance of Yume no Dead Body, with a guitar I might add! First of all, that song is awesome. Second of all, it was incredibly awesome watching Sayaka such an awesome song with a guitar. So maybe she wasn't Ogawa Tomomi levels of skilled onstage, but the effort was enough to impress me! And beyond her performance skills, I feel like Sayanee's very aware of how fleeting success can be. Awhile back Sayanee wrote a letter to a KKS member leaving NMB48 because she felt like management was neglecting her. In the letter, she acknowledged that no, the idol industry isn't fair, and that success often comes to girls who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I think that's very mature of her to realize that, and it really made me appreciate Sayanee as both an idol and a front girl.

So there you have it, the front girls I am still okay with! Any front girls on my list that you're okay with? Any that aren't on the list? Any front girls you're not okay with? While you figure that out I'm going to bug an idol agency's meeting room work on reviews featuring some of the very front girls on this list! Work! Yeah!

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