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A History of "Hello! Project" the Record Label That Has Many Japanese Female Musical Artists

Updated on January 25, 2021
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Ara is a Journalism graduate from California State University Northridge who is always looking to explore his writing opportunities.

A photo of Maimi Yajima, Now Former Leader of Hello! Project


What is "Hello! Project?"

For fans of Japanese pop music they may be wondering what actually is Hello! Project? I have been wondering about this too for a long time. To make it easier for readers to understand this, let’s just say that Hello! Project is actually a name or label assigned to all female Japanese pop music groups that are under contract with an agency called Up-Front Group. It is described as the “umbrella name” for all of the Japanese female performers and recording artists. To phrase this more simply, let’s just say that it is like a record label without actually being one in the traditional sense. This puts perspective on the deepness of the Japanese entertainment scene. Hello! Project is one level below the talent agency. This talent agency has the record label that these artists are signed to.

The research for this article goes back a number of years, as far back as 2012. Due to the worldwide effects caused by the Corona virus pandemic, this record label has also had to do certain things differently, a topic that will be discussed near the end of the article.

Due to the complexity of how Hello! Project started and has developed, not all the details about it will be discussed but readers will get a good general idea of one of the biggest “umbrella names” of any label worldwide. Hello! Project consists of Japanese pop music artists that are currently under contract with UP-FRONT GROUP Co., Ltd. They are managed by UP-FRONT PROMOTION.

Hello! Project: the early years which were 1997 and 1998

The earliest roots of Hello! Project go back to 1997 when rock group Sharam Q was actively looking for female vocalists. There were auditions that aired by way of a reality show. The winner of that audition, Michiyo Heike was chosen as the first female vocalist in Hello Project history. However, there were a group of five young girls that lead vocalist of Sharam Q Tsunku decided that should be given a chance to form their own musical group. But the condition was that they had to sell 50,000 copies of their debut single Ai No Tane. This group of girls sold that required number in just four days. It was at this moment that the group Morning Musume was formed.

The first lineup consisted of the following members:

Yuko Nakazawa

Natsumi Abe

Kaori Iida

Asuka Fukuda

Aya Ishiguro

The band’s first single Morning Coffee was released in January 1998 on the One Up music label. The single came in at #6 on the Japanese music charts. That’s really impressive for a first single. Several months later, the group’s first live appearance came at Shibuya Music Hall now known as Shibuya C.C. Lemon Hall. With the introduction of Morning Musume, the whole Hello Project label was born.

Hello! Project: 2001-2008

In 2001, the Hello! Project saga continued with the establishment of a TV show called Hello! Morning which lasted for four years from 2001 through 2005. It was in March 2001 that then Morning Musume band leader and co-founder Yuko Nakazawa announced her intention to graduate from the group to focus on other things in her 30s. Nakazawa is now 47 years old. This announcement really caught the attention of the press in Japan. Between the months of April and June 2002, there were auditions held for Hello! Project Kids. These auditions gave birth to two more girl groups Berryz Kobo and C-ute. It was in 2007 that Hello! Project started the Morning Family New Star Audition and it did so because the objective was to get Taiwanese girls to join Hello! Project. In April of 2008, it was decided that the group IceCreamusume would be formed with six members. The end of 2008 also would be the first time that Morning Musume would not appear at the year-end Kohaku Uta Gassen tournament. This is a singing contest where there are to teams, the red team and the white team. Each team is assigned a team captain. Actress Mao Inoue was one of the captains for that contest at the end of 2011.

Saki Nakajima of the girl group C-ute

Saki Nakajima spreading the love to her fans!
Saki Nakajima spreading the love to her fans!

Hello! Project Goes to South Korea

However, we would not be fully covering the significance of Hello! Project if we did not say that its influence began to expand internationally. It was in February 2009 that Hello! Project would do a series of auditions in South Korea. The only winner of the auditions was Jang Da Yeon who was only there for a short while before withdrawing in 2011. It would be on February 1, 2009 that Hello! Project held what was its largest concert ever. This concert featured 21 groups and 72 members.

The song called Wakuteka Take a Chance

Hello! Project Starts a YouTube Channel and Smartphone App

It would be in January 2013 that the new YouTube channel Hello! Project Station would make its debut online. The channel would deliver news, music video performances, concert previews and other things related to members of Hello! Project. In addition, by July 26. 2013, Hello! Project would end up changing its logo to a navy blue kind of background. It would be two years later in July 2015 that Hello! Project would introduce its first smartphone app called Hello! Project Mobile. Under a 400 yen monthly subscription plan, users were then able to access exclusive content including Hello! Radio.

A List of the Current Groups Under Hello! Project

Group Name
Leader's Name
Morning Musume 21
Mizuki Fukumura
ANGERME (formerly known as S/Mileage)
Akari Takeuchi
Tomoko Kanazawa
Tsubaki Factory
Riko Yamagishi
Leaders Reina Ichioka and Kurumi Takase

"Morning Coffee"

Maimi Yajima with Ayaka Wada in 2009

Maimi Yajima (right) is seen here with S/Mileage member Ayaka Wada in 2009.
Maimi Yajima (right) is seen here with S/Mileage member Ayaka Wada in 2009.

Changes Regarding Hello! Project in 2020

From April 9th through May 6, 2020, all of the Hello! Project stores in Japan were ordered to be closed as part of the government’s strategy to prevent the spread of the Corona virus. This first phase can be considered as the lockdown phase. On June 15, 2020 in the next stage or phase, the agency Up-Front Promotion announced a change to their summer concerts format. The difference for 2020 compared to previous years would be that all Hello! Project 2020 Summer Concerts will have all of the members performing solo covers of J POP ballads by artists outside of the Hello! Project umbrella label. The members of Hello! Project had the strong desire to get back on stage as soon as possible. Due to that strong desire, there are additional changes that were put in place by the Japanese government and these changes are:

  • Cheering, crowding, and fans standing in close proximity to each other is prohibited.
  • All venues will be filled to 50% of their normal capacity.
  • Masks will be required to enter these venues.

© 2016 Ara Vahanian


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