— Today, we would like to ask you two to each name and talk about five singles that you like.
Fukumura: That’s going to be difficult…
Yamaki: Does that mean songs that impressed me personally?
— It’s completely up to you. You can name songs that you used to love listening to as a child, or you can name songs that have been memorable to you performing them in your respective groups, or anything else. It’s not that they have to be necessarily your favorite five of all time. How about you two take turns? What’s your first song, Yamaki?
Yamaki: I’ve already talked about it lots of times, but: “Kimagure Princess.” My list wouldn’t be complete without this one. It’s the song that made me aware of Morning Musume and Hello! Project in the first place. I had this classmate who was hooked on them and it was that classmate who got me into it. I had my prejudices — I thought idols could only be “cute,” and no one in my family had ever listened to anything even close to idols, so I really didn’t know a thing about what idols actually were. That was when I heard “Kimagure Princess” and it was just this huge shock for me. “But this isn’t anything like the idols I know!” It didn’t take long until I was hooked.
— When was this?
Yamaki: My second year of junior high school… I was actually a member of our school’s dance club.
Fukumura: You were? (laughs)
Yamaki: Yes! I was in the dance club. Anyway, our captain would play songs on her CD player and then we’d all practice them. It was that CD player that my friend used when she forced me to listen to “Kimagure Princess.” It was entirely her “missionary work” that got me!
— What did you think of the song? Did you think it was cool, or weird, or something else?
Yamaki: My friend only prefaced it with, “this is funny, listen to it!” So I wasn’t even taking it seriously when I was listening to it. But it really was funny. She made me listen to that song as well as “Odore! Morning Curry” in succession, and because I liked songs that weren’t “normal,” the music was exactly what I was looking for at the time.
— On the topic of you having been a member of your school’s dance club… A certain dance video of yours really became a hot topic, didn’t it? (Referring to video footage of Yamaki dancing at her audition, aired on AbemaTV’s “Shoujotachi no Ketsudan~Micchaku!! Hello! Project 20shuunen Audition.”)
Fukumura: The “rain dance.” (laughs)
Yamaki: If there is one piece of footage that I wish I could’ve kept locked away forever… it’s that.
— It was simply fantastic.
Yamaki: Thank you. (laughs)
— How about you, Fukumura?
Fukumura: Buono!’s “Honto no Jibun!” That was 2007, right? It was right when I was taking part in my H!P audition — the song was released right around the time of the final stage. At the end of the day, I just loved all those anime shows that were popular among elementary schoolers at the time, such as “Shugo Chara!” and “Kirarin☆Revolution.” It was because of the success that H!P found in doing those shows that made me admire them even more. The protagonist of “Honto no Jibun” has no confidence in herself and so the lyrics are all, “come out and break out of your shell!” It came out right as I was failing at my auditions by being unable to speak properly because I was so shy, constantly filling me with regret. It was “Honto no Jibun” that allowed me to break out of my shell.
— My image of you is that you’re someone who is always studying the lyrics very carefully. Were you already thinking about the meanings behind song lyrics when you were that little?
Fukumura: Absolutely. Buono! was a group of those three members… I loved both Berryz Koubou and °C-ute, so I was very happy about Buono! as well. So then when those three first came out, looking all ready to go and wearing those red plaid outfits, I was just so glad knowing that the elementary schoolers and junior high schoolers of the world would soon know about them, too. They were airing their music video before the anime episodes, too, which is another thing that made me happy. I’d be constantly learning their dances. H!P isn’t doing any shows like that at the moment… I love anime, so I’d definitely like to do something similar if we ever got the opportunity.
— So your first pick is very much linked to your origins. I wasn’t expecting that one.
Fukumura: An unexpected Buono! pick. Fufufu.
— As one of you talks, the other looks busy going through song lists and deciding their next pick. It feels like we’re at a karaoke place!
Fukumura: Ah, like choosing your next song while the other person is singing theirs. (laughs)
Yamaki: We went to karaoke the other day and it looked exactly like this.
— You went to karaoke by the two of you?
Fukumura & Yamaki: We did!
Yamaki: We sang “Kare to Issho ni Omise ga Shitai!” together. We split the lines perfectly in half!
Fukumura: You took Michishige Sayumi’s part.
Yamaki: Yes! You were like, “I’m only going to sing these lines. You can sing whichever lines you’d like, Risa-chan.” “Thank you so much!“
Fukumura: But I took Kamei’s lines in “Ookii Hitomi.”
Yamaki: And we’d sing Tanaka’s lines together.
Fukumura: It was so much fun!
— So even when choosing your lines you know how to split them perfectly.
Yamaki: Whenever I go to karaoke with my friends from school I feel like it might be rude of me to only sing H!P songs, so I’ll begin by just putting in some normal J-pop. It’s only when I figure that everyone’s become a bit distracted that I’ll try throwing in an H!P song. (laughs) But–
Fukumura: When we went, we sang nothing but H!P songs!
— Sorry to change subjects, but I’m starting to worry if we’ll be able to finish this thing before we run out of time, so… (laughs) What’s your next pick, Yamaki?
Yamaki: This one is something I was just reminded of now thanks to Fukumura talking about them. Buono!’s “Kokoro no Tamago.” I wasn’t yet hooked on Hello! Project at the time, but just like she said about wanting children all over the world to know about them, I first got introduced to Buono! through the anime — although I didn’t yet know they were a part of H!P. But I liked the anime and I was always singing the song. I had this musical toy thing that I did my best to stick into the TV and record the song with, and I’d listen to that. “Kokoro no Tamago” was also the first dance I ever learned.
Fukumura: Oh wow.
Yamaki: It was easy to learn because there was also a dance shot version of the music video, so I did my best to learn it. I never thought it might one day tie into my own life in any way. It made me so happy when Buono! performed “Kokoro no Tamago” at their last concert. I’d always been telling Momochi how that was my favorite song of theirs and how I wished they would one day sing it. I was so glad I got to hear it live.
— So you were listening to Buono!, not knowing they were a part of Hello! Project, and you only became a fan of the latter with “Kimagure Princess.” You must’ve then found out about the connection between Buono! as well. What a lovely story.
Yamaki: I know, right?! I couldn’t believe it! So although I didn’t know it, I’d already started getting into Hello! Project when “Shugo Chara!” was airing. It was like, “Wait… Buono! are part of H!P? Guardians 4 are part of H!P, too?!” It was so fun making those discoveries. Me and my mom were always talking about how cute they all were.
— Fukumura, did it make you jealous to see Yamaki in the same group as Tsugunaga?
Fukumura: You know, I actually have something I can brag about in regards to that. I love “Shugo Chara!,” and so after S/mileage had debuted, I was chosen as a 2nd generation member of Shugo Chara Egg! So the very first picture I had taken of me as an Egg, posing with members of Hello! Project… it was with Tsugunaga Momoko!
Fukumura: It was with Mitsui and Tsugunaga! That was the first picture of me I ever had taken for Hello! Project! It was a miracle! Being able to take a picture with people I looked up to so much…! But actually being in the same group as her? That would be nerve-wracking…
Yamaki: No no no. (laughs) But I get what you mean!
Fukumura: I’m fine with just seeing her at the occasional Hello! Con and saying “hi.” Thankfully, I got to sing in lots of shuffle units with her, and I was even an MC with her on her final Hello! Station appearance. That’s good enough for me. I’m sure I’m still the no. 1 Momochi wota in terms of who gets to be the closest to her. (laughs)
— You’ve gradually started showing more and more of that wota spirit of yours…
Yamaki: This conversation is getting fun!
— What is your second song, Fukumura?
Fukumura: “Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe.” It’s a Morning Musume ’14 song and I have so many memories about it. First off, this song starts with the piano and violin. But since it was released right around April Fools’, I actually lied and told everyone that it was me playing violin in the intro. (laughs)
Fukumura: Also, the lyrics really hit me. There’s this rule I’ve set for myself, and that rule is that I always try not to smile much in the first chorus when we’re singing this song. I’m like picturing the passage of time and trying to sing it in this “lonely” way, and it’s only after Sayashi’s ad-lib bit that the image of the song changes. At that point in the song, I always try to have a bright smile for the next chorus. It also has a very particular choregraphy where we’re “creating the world” with everyone, and then in the interlude it’s just two people dancing very intensely, and then it approaches a happy ending. I feel that the worldview of the song is very different in the beginning compared to the ending.
Some day, I’d like to try performing this song without the formation dancing and with only a piano accompaniment. I want to convey the lyrics more. I feel like when we first recorded it, we were able to do something with it that only we could do. Now, I’d like to try a different way of conveying it.
— Back when you had first recorded it, were you already consciously trying to change the way you express the song as it progresses?
Fukumura: Yes. I was happy to be singing a Tsunku♂ song and I was thinking about which parts I wanted to sing. I had a strong feeling of wanting to stand out. But then one day Tanaka Reina came up to me and said, “Fuku-chan, you can’t just sing it all intensely like that.” She told me I was tensing my shoulders too much. “You should fix that.” I think that changed the way I dance and present myself. That was right around the time Tanaka had just graduated, so suddenly there were a lot of lines up for grabs. It was an all-out competition.
Yamaki: For her lines.
Fukumura: Yes. And of course Oda — the songstress — would be snatching up most of them. I’d be steadily trying my best to get my share of them, too. Also, the demo vocals of this song are the best.
Fukumura: They’re Tsunku♂’s demo vocals and they really are just amazing. I think it was because I first heard Tsunku♂’s demo vocals that I was able to become so passionate about the song.
— That’s interesting. This is something Wada was saying, but apparently the way you do things changed in 2015. Your recording methods are different now.
Fukumura: Yes. But apparently, Tsunku♂ still instructs the person singing our demo vocals. So it’s just this feeling, but it’s like I’ve become able to tell, “oh, Tsunku♂ is showing us how we need to sing it.“
— That’s great.
Fukumura: I really loved his vocal demos, so I would listen to them a bunch. I felt that I always simply had to copy it perfectly. But now that the person singing the demo vocals has changed, it feels like our job is to try and figure out what Tsunku♂ is trying to convey to us.
— You’ve stopped simply “copying” the demo vocals.
Fukumura: Right. So it could be that my singing is now more original than it was before.
— Thank you. Your turn, Yamaki.
Yamaki: °C-ute’s “Adam to Eve no Dilemma.” When I was in the H!P Kenshuusei, I got to sing this song at the Tokyo performance of a recital concert. The members performing it would be different for each city — in other words, they were specifically selected. It was one of my goals as a Kenshuusei to be chosen, so obviously I was happy to be selected for it.
But the truth is that originally I wasn’t supposed to be singing it at all. It was a different girl from the Kenshuusei, but she wasn’t able to do it well at the rehearsal. So our instructor got angry at her, said that they would be switching her for someone else, and asked those who wanted to give it a go to raise their hands. So then when I saw all my seniors raising their hands, I raised mine too without even thinking. But then it turned out that all those seniors of mine who had raised their hands wouldn’t be able to make it to the Tokyo performance!
Yamaki: Ultimately, I was the only person who had raised their hand who actually got to do it. (laughs)
— Even though you had only raised your hand in order to not stand out…!
Yamaki: Right! I was still a complete beginner and I just felt so overwhelmed. I was going, “what have I done…?” I felt like I was going to faint. So then we were told that we would be tested the following day, and obviously if I was going to sing it I had to actually learn it first. So I went home and spent the entire night trying to learn the choreography.
Fukumura: That’s funny.
Yamaki: I tried my best to memorize the lyrics, too. What ended up happening was, me and the other girl who was originally supposed to sing it would practice the singing and the dancing together, and it became like a competition between us. Ultimately, the singing and dancing instructors as well as the other staff all got together and there was a meeting to decide which one of us would be singing it.
— That’s an aspect about the Kenshuusei that seems really daunting.
Yamaki: Yes. Witnessing something like that for the first time, it was like… “I guess things like this really do happen in the real world.” Decisions that have already been made can be overturned. So even when you’re chosen, you don’t have time to feel proud about yourself because there are always lots of people around you who would gladly take it all from you. This was the song that made me realize this about the world.
— Now that’s a memorable story!
Yamaki: Until that point, I’d believed that my seniors always came first; that the pecking order decides everything. So that very moment was the first time in my life that I became proactive like that. It’s a song that really changed me as a person. I was so happy to be chosen, and it really raised my motivation. I’ll never forget it.
— That’s so interesting.
Yamaki: I always wanted to share this story somewhere, but I know it’s a long story and all…
Fukumura: Hearing that story reminded me of some things that happened to me as well. (laughs)
Yamaki: Did something similar happen to you, too?
Fukumura: Oh yes. Like doing my absolute best at dancing to some song, and it was still deemed absolutely no good. But I was also praised for other things. It was probably the same instructor for me as the one in your case.
Yamaki: Fufufu. Now I’m reminded of their face… (laughs)
Fukumura: Same here… (laughs)
— Fukumura, your third song, please.
Fukumura: Mano Erina’s “Haru no Arashi.” This was the first song as a member of Hello! Pro Egg that I got to be a backing dancer on. I’d never experienced a music video shoot before, and also things like getting my outfit prepared for me, doing serial events, release events, handshake events… It was all new to me. I loved Mano Erina, and being one of just four people chosen from the huge number of us trainees made me so happy, and I just felt like I wanted to give it my best. I’d experienced instructors getting angry at me and being taken out of concerts before, and that had made me someone who hated to lose. Mano Erina was of course the star of this song and the four of us were only backing dancers, but still, I just strongly felt like… “I’m going to stand out!“
Fukumura: Out of the four of us, I was dancing at the farthest corner and I really couldn’t dance at all yet, but I just had this really strong urge of wanting to stand out anyway. I actually had people going, “who’s the girl dancing so hard?” They also took me along when S/mileage and Mano Erina did a live tour together. “Haru no Arashi” was like the song where people first discovered me.
— These Egg stories are always so interesting. Today we’ve been talking about songs that have special meanings to you, but I was wondering: are there any songs that you just like to listen to casually in private that aren’t necessarily related to you in any way?
Fukumura: Tsubaki Factory’s “Shuukatsu Sensation.” It’s such a fun song. The dance is fun, the music video is fun… it’s all so fun. I could keep watching it in full forever. I’m constantly rewatching it.
— How about you, Yamaki?
Yamaki: I like the song “Bouya.” It might be partly because of nostalgia — this was right when I was the biggest H!P fan ever. When I tell people that I like Michishige, they always go “oh yeah, it’s all about “Lala Pipi,” right?” But no! Or, I mean, yes. I love “Lala Pipi” too and all. I do love it, but there are more great Michishige songs out there! That’s the feeling I always get when listening to “Bouya.”
Fukumura: That’s a nice song.
Fukumura: Those processed voices are something else!
— “Bouya” was released around the time when you were a big H!P fan? It feels like such a recent song though.
Yamaki: Well, remember: I only joined Hello! Project very recently. If H!P was a history book, I would come in at like the very end of the book. That’s why I’m so honored to be called in like this to have an H!P wota discussion. I feel very grateful.
— You’ve got those Momochi-isms down, too. You have a clever way of carrying a conversation.
Fukumura: That’s true.
Yamaki: Oh, not at all~! I’m but a mere beginner~!
— See, that’s a great example of a Momochi-ism. (laughs) Shall we move on to the next song?
Yamaki: This ties into what I was talking about just now, but I really liked all the songs from “Help me!!“
— All the other songs from the CD, you mean.
Yamaki: That single had so many coupling songs.
Fukumura: It did.
Yamaki: I thought that was so fun. Would you like to do that kind of thing again?
Fukumura: I’d love to!
Yamaki: There were so many songs on your CD’s around this time. And the songs were all so lovely, it almost felt like it was a waste for you to use them only as coupling songs. But it was so fun for us fans. “Aishuu Romantic” is one of those songs. What an awesome song. I really do love it when Michishige and Fukumura’s voices were mixed together. Same thing with “Suki da na Kimi ga.”
Fukumura: I’m glad to hear that.
— You two got paired up a lot.
Yamaki: I wish you two would sing together again. Anyway, that’s part of why I love everything about “Help me!!” For me, personally, it was also a time of many changes, and I really felt like cheering on the group. It feels like such a bright single as a whole. Listening to any song from it makes me happy.
Fukumura: By the way, the demo vocal version of “Help me!!” was actually around a minute longer than the final version. It was completely different. There were like eight drafts of it or something.
Fukumura: Next is my fourth song. “Sexy Cat no Enzetsu.” I like everything about this song. The saxophones really stand out and I like it as a composition. And I like the concept of the music video — I was glad that I got to sing as the main cat. My favorite part of the lyrics is the line “pure ni ikite mite” (“try to live purely“). I’d drifted away from Tsunku♂ a little bit around this time… We weren’t really keeping in contact much and he wasn’t producing our concerts and stuff anymore, but he still praised me for this song. He said that my singing had developed. I was happy to be chosen as the main member, but I was also part-nervous — you worry about how the others are going to take it, right? But I was just so happy about Tsunku♂ praising me. And right when I heard about what he thought of me, we actually had the shoot for the music video the very next day. It was so much fun!
— You got to go into the shoot in good spirits. (laughs)
Fukumura: I was in such high spirits. (laughs) I got to try out my whisper voice as per the instructions, too, and I got that part following the interlude. I feel like that song really displays the personalities of the three cats. But now with Kudo Haruka having graduated, I wonder who’s going to be the next cat…?
— Good question.
Fukumura: I like the singing voices of us three. I liked singing together with Oda and Kudo. It was so comfortable singing with those two, so I do hope they’re careful in the selection of the next cat… (laughs)
Yamaki: Songs that you get praised for — those are the songs that stay with you.
Fukumura: Right? But it’s easy to get cocky about it. (laughs)
— The next ones will be your final songs.
Yamaki: My last one is Country Girls’ “Kaite wa Keshite no “I Love You.”” This song is currently available digitally, so for those of you reading this who are curious about it, I recommend going ahead and buying it!
— Oh, an out-of-the-blue advertisement!
Yamaki: It’s not an advertisement — I actually have things I want to say about it! This song was written by Hyadain and he also recorded it with us. And the thing is that Hyadain is very good at praising people — he has a way with words. So all five of us had such a fun time recording the song. He’d praise us and it would lead to us doing better and better. As we recorded, he’d be going all, “that sounds great!” He even said like, “Yamaki, your voice is quite Fujimoto-like. I can really tell from your singing how much you love H!P. All your mannerisms are very H!P-like as well. This is great stuff. Just keep doing what you’re doing!“
Yamaki: That made me so happy. Country Girls has a lot of cute songs, and up until then whenever I was singing I was always mostly trying to eliminate those mannerisms I have. It wasn’t by any means easy to do that, but I’d still try. “I have to sing in a cuter way.” That was something I was always struggling with, and so then suddenly being told that I could just sing freely, it was so much fun. Being told that I could just sing in my own voice — the voice I had always been trying to change ever since joining Country Girls — and having it appreciated, that gave me such a confidence boost. I know that trying to have your voice fit the song is the most important thing, but this song made me feel like it’s possible to do both that and really show my personality. That’s what I’d like to keep doing in the future as well.
— There’s definitely a certain “stickiness” to your voice. I was interviewing Hyadain the other day and he, too, was saying how much he enjoyed recording the song.
Yamaki: I’m glad. It’d be great if he could write us another one.
— Finally, what is your last song, Fukumura?
Fukumura: “Ai no Tane“!
Fukumura: “Ai no Tane” is Morning Musume’s debut indies single. Even as someone who calls herself a Hello! Project fan, I was only a child in their early days so my memories were fuzzy and there were lots of things I didn’t know about them yet. It was when I was in elementary schooler that I decided to look into the beginnings of Morning Musume, and that’s when I first came upon “Ai no Tane.” At that time, I was only thinking things like “oh, so this is what the group was like in the past” or “oh, so these are the members who sold those 50,000 CD’s.” But once I made it to Morning Musume, I got the chance to sing the song myself because of the 20th anniversary. I was so nervous, but I was also so glad, too.
I love the lyrics, too. Morning Musume has always had changing eras and line-ups. The music, too — sometimes it’s funny, sometimes cool, sometimes cute. There are so many different sides to the group. But it’s almost like the lyrics to this song predicted all that. Even listening to it now, 20 years later, there are so many lines in it that were like straight-out predictions that came true. So I’m always thinking about how great the lyrics are as I’m singing it. If there are any people reading this who only just recently became fans, you should definitely listen to the song while paying attention to the lyrics and seeing how well they fit the current Morning Musume as well.
— Thank you. In a nutshell, how would you describe the appeal of Hello! Project?
Yamaki: After I became a member, I started spending a lot of time thinking about how I could better spread the name of Hello! Project. “What can I do to make H!P and Country Girls more popular?“
But there are so many different reasons for fame, right? I’m personally not “normal,” so it’d be impossible for me to come up with the perfect answer to that question. But then I realized that that’s what I like about H!P — it’s something you just happen to get hooked on, almost as if by accident, and it becomes so special to you because it’s not normal. So while I agree that it’s important for us to get lots of TV appearances and stuff like that, I don’t think it’s the only thing that matters. I would like to do my best as a member to keep it a Hello! Project that one can suddenly just find themselves liking, completely out-of-the-blue.
— Right. Now in its 20th year, there are all kinds of different songs and all kinds of different ways for one to access Hello! Project.
Fukumura: For me, by far my main reason for getting into Hello! Project was because I found myself thinking, “I want to give my support to these girls.” There must’ve been something about the sight of them doing their best that struck a chord with me. I’d like to become someone like that as well. For both the fans who are already cheering me on, as well as the more casual fans, I’d like to do my best to be someone who they want to support.
I really do deeply love H!P.
— We know.
Fukumura: Ufufu. (laughs) But I’m not just saying I “like” it or that it’s my “favorite.” I love them. You know how some fans will have their oshi members? It’s not like that for me. I just… love it. And it’s only gotten stronger and stronger after I got into the group. So I’d like to make Hello! Project into something that you feel like it’d be a waste if you didn’t support. On the other hand, I also like when a group has a certain power — when they make you feel, “how are they even able to do this?,” or like “these girls are incredible!“
They’re idols. But when they’re appearing on variety TV, they’ll show themselves just doing as they please. They’ll show themselves being cool, or kicking their feet up in the air, or shouting… Things you wouldn’t normally see. I want the group to have that kind of energy. I want every group in Hello! Project to have that kind of energy. Country Girls feels like the group specialized in “cuteness,” so I want them to run with that and carry it to absolute peak cuteness. And then Kobushi Factory is like the “extreme” group… We have six groups that all have their individual characters like that.
We have about 50 members now in total. What I’d like to do is make H!P into something where no one looks at one of us and thinks “who’s that girl?,” but rather make it this one big team called “Hello! Project,” where each and every individual shines brightly.
— What a perfect note to end on. Thank you!