“Strange” is just another word for “addictive”
You know when you go to a pet shop and you’re greeted by all these friendly dogs, but then you see this one shy dog in the corner… and it actually looks all the cuter for it? Rather than the dogs who are looking at you like “buy me already woof woof!,” I find the dogs who look like they’re saying “I don’t care either way…” much cuter. While it’s kind of questionable to compare her to a dog, there was a girl like that in Morning Musume before: the now-graduated Fukuda Asuka.
When I first saw Fukuda at the ASAYAN “Female Rock Vocalist Audition,” she was just like that. While the other entrants were all smiling and acting super-friendly, there was this one girl who wasn’t smiling much but was rather beaming in a different, more low-key way. That’s not in any way to say that she was “gloomy” or “plain,” only that while the others were all trying to push forward, I was drawn to her because of how she seemed like she was pulling back in a way.
Sure, I also just thought, “well, isn’t this girl cute with her puffy cheeks and all.” But it was more the yin side of her that really drew me to her — so damn impudent, but so cute. It’s like she was trying to come across as tough by using her facial expressions. Fukuda is the one who most gave me a feeling of that rock’n’roll spirit. It felt as if she was telling me, “if you’re just going to drag me along for no good reason, I’d rather you didn’t let me through at all.“
Most girls who come to the auditions are, to the best of their ability, giving it their all and being very earnest, so you just don’t see girls like her. Even among the girls I’d drop out of the auditions at the final stages, there were some who would look at me with eyes that were saying “please, I’ll do anything, just let me through.” I personally don’t really like seeing that kind of thing.
That ability to pull back when needed is something that comes in handy even in normal life. Say you’re at a mixer party and there’s someone else who’s the same type as you and they manage to get a headstart. In order to draw attention from everyone, what you ought to do in that situation is the exact opposite as that person. I’m usually the one who runs the mixers, but if I see someone else already doing it, I might instead start playing the role of someone who breaks things up a bit with jokes and such. There’s definitely a benefit in that way of doing things.
Similarly, Fukuda too must have been playing a kind of role at her auditions. Everyone else doing their best in pretty much the same way, all of them thinking “I have to stand out!“… And yet, here was this one girl doing the opposite and pulling back. It came off as fresh. That was what stood out. It must’ve been what she was aiming to do. Moreover, Fukuda’s singing was very, very good. That’s another reason why her strategy of pulling back was that much more effective. Had she only had that strange presence about her, I would’ve just thought “what a strange girl” and that would’ve been the end of it. But in Fukuda’s case, she could actually sing so she decided to bet everything on that. Ultimately, her strategy of pulling back was also like a message to us: “judge me based only on my singing.“
Fukuda was a mere 12 years old at the time. And yet, she had this strange presence, great singing, and a kind of sexiness… I was thinking to myself, “this girl is like Yamaguchi Momoe.” There’s no doubt that Fukuda at the time had this unusual appeal about her — something that only the people in the know could “get.” She was far from the kind of idol who would be accepted by society as a whole, but she had this weird, intense flavor about her — the kind that could impress people.
But if you were wondering if Fukuda’s the type of girl who can always keep that cool and composed look on her face, that’s not at all the case. The truth is that she does get in high spirits, too. “Yaaay, it’s curry and rice today!” She’ll get so excited over simple things like that. Her feelings are so pure in terms of what moves her. Even when the members all first met us at the auditions, Fukuda was the most moved. Her reaction was the most honest. When she saw us, she looked like she’d just gotten off a rollercoaster, still shaking, and it took a while for her to calm down. She was so sensitive when it came to things like that.
There are the kinds of people who’ll receive a gift from someone and they can go “waaah, I’m so happy!” even if they don’t really mean it. But then there are the kinds of people who will look happy when receiving a gift actually makes them happy, but if they don’t care for it they can’t force themselves to look happy about it either. In that sense, Fukuda was the latter: she was so pure and honest. She was the type who couldn’t pretend to be enjoying something she wasn’t enjoying. And with a personality trait like that, it made her look that much cooler with those low-key looks of hers.
Here are more things that make Fukuda so “Fukuda-like.”
I was momentarily away from producing Morning Musume when they released their indies debut song, “Ai no Tane.” After I came back, the first thing I did for the group was “Morning Coffee” which the members first tried singing all cute-like and with smiles on their faces. It took a long time for me to correct this issue. “This isn’t a song that you smile to as you sing it! Read the lyrics properly!” The first member to understand what I was saying was Fukuda.
When Morning Musume got their first no. 1 hit and the other members were excitedly yelling in celebration, Fukuda flat-out declared: “Oricon number ones aren’t the only thing that matters.” Having to hear words like that must’ve felt to the innocently celebrating members like someone throwing cold water on their faces. But I’d been telling them from before: “Sure, everyone might be saying good things about you right now. But that’s only temporary. The ones who use this time to work hard will be the ones left standing, even after those people are all gone.” Fukuda must’ve reflected on those words. To me, there was cuteness in both: the members innocently celebrating their first number one, and Fukuda looking unfazed about it.
When ordinary people see someone like Fukuda, they might describe her as being “unusual” or “subdued.” It’s certainly true that there aren’t many girls like Fukuda Asuka around in this day and age. But if you were to ask me, I’d say it’s Fukuda who’s the “normal” one — it’s all the rest of the girls of the world who are a too “light” for my taste. I don’t know which type would win or which type is “correct,” but speaking as someone with a warped opinion — someone who’s a bit of a contrarian — I can’t see Fukuda as being strange in the least. I will say, however, that somewhere deep within her, she herself did have this desire to be someone different. I always hoped that she would quickly recognize that she was the real “normal,” not them. If only she could get away from that mindset, she could be so much greater.
Everyone listens to music either because they’re looking for something or because they want to be healed. Right? When someone has experienced things like worrying about stuff, feeling lonely, feeling pain… When someone like that becomes a singer, they have the persuasive power needed to be able to draw the audience close. Having had life experiences that have molded your thinking is obviously a huge advantage for an artist to have. When artists who haven’t had experiences like that try to write songs with a message of “we understand how you feel,” it just feels fake and it’s so easy to see that they understand nothing. I would often tell Fukuda to become an artist who could be a source of strength for listeners in that way.
When they were appearing on TV, Fukuda would get called names like “yaki ginnan” (“fried gingko”), or they’d say things like “you look like a bowling center receptionist.” In Morning Musume, she would often be used for laughs and the hosts could be harsh towards her at times. But that, too, was part of her “unusualness,” and I think it was also one of the reasons for her success.
Fukuda has a long life ahead of her, and I don’t know whether or not she’s going to aim to become someone truly unusual. But I can’t imagine that doing so would be easy. If someone wanted to become genuinely unusual, the first thing they would have to do is to erase any beliefs they might’ve accrued throughout life in regards to what looks “cute” or “cool.” They would have to expose their very essence to the world — and one’s “very essence” is something that I’d think would be extremely different from what the general public considers either “cute” or “cool.” It would require a tremendous amount of courage to do. Once you’d finally done that, only then would you have just cleared the first stage towards becoming someone truly unusual.
Assuming you want to be someone with a bit more flavor, the second step you have to take is becoming a bigger clown than everyone else. There are different kinds of “unusual,” but look at someone like Hisamoto Masami for example. She actually has a pretty face, but she started off by trying to make herself look ugly. It was only after people accepted the character and she became popular that people realized, “hey, she’s actually pretty.” In Yamada Kuniko’s case, she also debuted while trying to make herself look ugly, but she’s gradually become prettier and prettier since then so I would say she’s not quite of the “unusual” genre.
With Hisamoto’s brand of unusualness, you have to be okay with being called “ugly” — otherwise, your cuteness and radiance won’t be able to come out. Your cuteness won’t become activated. If people are only calling you an “airhead” or something along those lines, that means you’re still just an ordinary cute girl. If you don’t go the extra mile, start getting called “ugly,” and then become popular, you aren’t genuinely unusual.
The path of unusualness is a tough one.