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A Brief History of "Hello! Project" the Record Label that has many Japanese Female Musical Artists

Updated on February 23, 2018

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

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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.

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 groups as of 2014

Hello! Project now consists of the following musical groups: (note: this lineup was the one at the end of 2014).

Morning Musume (the most famous of all these groups)

Berryz Kobo

C-ute

Erina Mano

S/Mileage

Lilpri

Aika Mitsui

Buono

Hello! Project Eggs

And Tomoiki: Ki o Uetai.

Some of these groups are now no longer a part of Hello! Project.

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: 2001-2011

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 42 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.

The song called Wakuteka Take a Chance

A photo of the 9th generation of girl group Morning Musume

From left to right: Kanon Suzuki, Mizuki Fukumura, Riho Sayashi, and Erina Ikuta all in bikinis!
From left to right: Kanon Suzuki, Mizuki Fukumura, Riho Sayashi, and Erina Ikuta all in bikinis!

Hello! Project: group name changes

In 2014, Morning Musume changed their name to Morning Musume 14. And they now have a new leader. That leader is ninth generation member Mizuki Fukumura who started her leadership work at just 18 years old. It was also announced that idol group Country Musume who be reformed under the new name of Country Girls. Berryz Kobo member Momoko Tsugunaga will be one of the new members when the group begins their activities in 2015. Note: Country Musume now operates under the name Country Girls. You have now seen a brief history of Hello! Project beginning with how it was created up until the present time. As of 2015, Hello! Project has had five leaders. The first leader was first generation member Yuko Nakazawa who served from April 2001 through March 15, 2009. Following Yuko’s departure, Ai Takahashi served as leader from April 2009 through September 30, 2011. Takahashi has since gotten married to comedian Koji Abe. Risa Niigaki would serve as Hello! Project leader from October 2011 until her graduation in May 2012. Maimi Yajima of the idol group C-ute has been serving as leader since Niigaki’s departure.

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.

Graduation of Kanon Suzuki

In February 2016, 9th generation member of Morning Musume Kanon Suzuki announced that she intends to graduate from the group at the conclusion of their concert tour. The date for her graduation is May 31, 2016.

Hello! Project Leadership Change and Group Roster in 2018

Much has happened since this article was first written. As of this current moment, February 2018, the leader of Hello! Project is one of the singers of the girl group ANGERME Ayaka Wada. There have also been changes to the status of the various girl groups in Hello! Project. As of 2018, the current roster of the groups reads like this:

  • Morning Musume 18
  • ANGERME
  • Juice-Juice
  • Country Girls
  • Kobushi Factory
  • Tsubaki Factory

A video compilation of the 9th and 10th generations of Morning Musume

© 2016 Ara Vahanian

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