Interview translation : Hello! Project's legend OG member Airi Suzuki picks 5 H!P songs she can't stop loving for Fanthology
Original article (JP)
Credits : 撮影：田中達晃（Pash）取材・文：東海林その子 記事制作：オリコンNewS
As usual, english isn't my first language, please tell me if there's anything off.
How the Morning Musume. fangirl became a Hello! Project Kids
You passed the "Hello! Project Kids" audition in June 2002 at the end of 8. This year marks your 20th anniversary. Could you tell us how you became interested in Hello! Project ?
Hello! Project didn't exist when I fell in love with Morning Musume. I saw it being created on "Haromoni." which was a program on TV Tokyo, and I became a member soon after, so I witnessed the process in real time as more and more groups were formed and derivated units were created.
At first, I loved singing and dancing artists such as SPEED and BoA, and I fell in love with Morning Musume. at the time SPEED was breaking up. I joigned the fanclub and won a front row ticket for their first musical "Love Century -Yume wa Minakerya Hajimaranai-" ! During the live corner at the end, they did "Renai REvolution 21" which I had practiced and memorized the chorography for, and I thought "My time has come !" and danced like crazy in front of the members.
Then, Mari Yaguchi crouched down and waved at me in front of so many other fans ! I could never forget that moment, and I thought to myself "I want to be like that !".That's why I crouch down and wave at little kids when I see them (laughs)
So you were such a big fan you would see them in live and dance to their songs.
I loved them. I attended UP-FRONT MUSIC SCHOOL since I was in kindergarten, and many times the songs used for our dance practices were Morning Musume.'s songs. Mayumi Natsu, who was the choreographer for the group at the time, would visit us sometimes, and we learned from her assistants. So I thought I had to show what I've been practicing at school, and decided to dance in front of the original members (laughs)
Did you have a favorite member at that time ?
I loved Aya Matsuura as much as I loved Morning Musume. I bought boxes containing 100 or so pictures of her at the candy store (laughs) I've put them in folders, and there are many pics at my parent's house (laughs)
What happened for you to decide you'll become a performer as well ?
When I was about to graduate from the music school, there was an audition for elementary school students only, the "Hello! Project Kids" audition. The timing was perfect so I wanted to audition.
Did you want to be on stage someday ?Honestly, I don't remember much about it. When I'm on a live stage I can be myself without stressing out, but whenever I did presentations at school or said something in public, my face turned bright red. I've always kept it in my heart that I wanted to be on stage, but I don't think I've ever told anyone.
Not selected for the unit ZYX "That's the first time I felt terribly frustrated"
When did you became aware what you were doing was your work ?
When I was a student, I was often told "It's amazing how you can balance work and school", but work has been a major part of my life since I'm in second grade. So to me, it didn't feel like work. Rather, it was something completely natural to me.
However, as I attended a music school from kindergarten, I was taught etiquette, greetings, hierarchical relationships, how to be with adults. I think I knew early on when I had to be quiet, or that I would get angry at if I fooled around (laughs)
Only a fixed members of Kids members could be back-up dancers for the older members, so it was a battle to win, and I had the feeling from a very young age that I had to fight to survive. When the group ZYX was created led by Mari Yaguchi, all 15 kids auditioned, and when I failed, it was the first time I felt terribly frustrated.
But at the same time, I was told I was accepted in a unit called "Aa!", so I felt frustration mixed with happiness. In an interview at that time, I wrote "My regrets : I couldn't become a ZYX member, My happiness : I joigned Aa!". When I saw it a few years later, I thought I'm such a bad loser (laughs) As I have an contradictory spirit, I hated being told, but no matter how you look at it, I'm a bad loser (laughs)
5 songs of Hello! Project she can't stop loving
Now, I would like to ask you to choose five H!P songs that you love.
What should I do ! It's so difficult... There's this particular image of girls and unique music style Tsunku♂-san has always been creating. Even since I became a member, I've always thought about the true meaning of the lyrics of his songs, because there are many songs you had to think about to grasp the intention behind. I always loved that time, and I think it's close to your growth and each person's interpretation.
The past few years, there have been more sons written by Aoi Yamazaki and other artists, but I think the songs are not so far from the ones Tsunku♂-san wrote. Particularly, the reason why Aoi-chan's songs struck to Hello! Project fans is because even though the characters depicted in the songs are pretty differents, there are always some strenghts in them. They share this feeling of "I know who I am, but I want somebody else to notice me, too". That's where lie the "Hello! Project" feeling I also love. I'm glad that the current members still evolves while being influenced by their music.
Morning Musume. "Do it! Now" : You recognize Hello! Project from the intro
Before I start, please know I have so many favorite songs I can't choose (laughs) My favorite Morning Musume. song since I was a child is "Do it! Now". You can recognize H!P from the intro. At the time, I didn't even think about the lyrics, I just liked the tune.
I also love the part where Maki Goto and Natsumi Abe are standing back to back (laughs) It really fits the "Do it! Now" concept, and talking from a fan's perspective it's just so cool ! (laughs)
Aya Matsuura "LOVE Namida Iro" : a senior who continuously makes me think "She's amazing"
Next is Aya Matsuura... Which one should I choose... (After much worrying) I was torn between "100 kai no KISS", but I'll go with "LOVE Namida Iro". I remember her first performance of the song on "Haromoni." so well. It was such a shock to see her, who had been singing cute and cheerfuls songs until then, suddenly sing such a mature song in a simple outfit.
Since I started my solo activities, I continously think about how great Aya Matsuura was. She can sing cute songs, mature songs, ballads... It's impossible to do unless you have good singing skills. And she's also very cute. I want people who don't know her to check on her music, because she's one of Heisei era's top idols.
Aa! "FIRST KISS" : so happy to be able to sing without having to be tall
As for the songs I've participated in, I love Aa!'s "FIRST KISS" the most. Of course, there are many songs from °C-ute and Buono! that I love, but there isn't one song that sounds like "FIRST KISS". I didn't understand the meaning of the lyrics as I was in third grade, but there are many songs Tsunku♂-san gave me when I was in elementary and junior high school that I thought would be good for me when I grew up. I'm always moved when I'm finally able to sing one of them naturally without trying to force myself into a character I'm not. I'm like "Oh, I've finally reached this age !".
Anither example, °C-ute's "Namida no Iro". I was a junior high school student at that time, so I thought "Why would she forgive him ?" when the character said "I intended to forgive you for cheating" (laughs) I've had to sing many dark and difficult songs but in that sense "FIRST KISS" was my first challenge and it's a song I still cherish and want to sing.
In "FIRST KISS", you had such a young and cute voice. What do you think when you listen to it now ?
I like my voice at that time the most. It's untained (laughs) and my vocal cords are undamaged. But I feel like I'm trying to appear mature so I sing from the nose a lot. I'm glad that I have such a wonderful song with my young voince in it, because I couldn't make that voice even when I tried after. It feels like I'm not even listening to my own voice !
ANGERME "Uraha=Lover" : Loved it from the moment I've listened to it
ANGERME's "Urahara=Lover" is a song I've loved from the moment I've listened to it. It's a song by Aoi Yamazaki, and it has a nostalgic Hello! Project feeling to it, and the choreography contains difficult parts which look easy.
Isn't it contradictory to see such cute girls singing a song about the fact they don't say what they really think to boys ? (laughs) That's the point ! You want to tell them "No, there's no boy going to leave you, girls !" (laughs)
I love the part where they say "Honestly, you were a little relieved" with a very sad face. I want more ! (laughs) I love it.
You fangirl a lot when you talk about a song you haven't participated in (laughs)
Yes, I guess I'm a bit of a wota (laughs) That's how I look at the current Hello! Project. When I look at the members who are in the range between childhood and adulthood I'm getting happy to see them grow up like "Oh, I'm so happy they stayed for that period !".
℃-ute "Summer Wind" : the joy of receiving that song and sing it as an adult woman
One of my favorite songs in the last ones °C-ute released is "Summer Wind". It released soon before our disband, so I didn't sing it as much as other songs, but the performance we did of it at °C-ute's "°CONCERTO" tour in 2016 really is unforgettable.
It's been a while since we've had a song by Tsunku♂, and I thought the girl in the lyrics was very strong. At first, the "I'll sit in the passenger seat, but I haven't decided of anything yet" lyrics bugged me like "In what situation could that happen ?" (laughs) But it's a song talking about the way a dignified woman who has something hidden in her sees the world, and I was very happy to receive this song and sing it as the adult woman I am.
One of the most memorable parts of the recording of this song was the outro, where I was told that I could do ad-libs how I wanted. This had never happened to me before, so I got super greedy and did the entire outro. However, the staff told me "Tsunku♂-san said you shouldn't do it for the whole intro, but use it where it's needed." In the end, they only used the good parts, a quarter of what I've done (laughs)
I understand why now, but at that time, it felt like I was challenged so I had to do everything ! In that way, I learned a lot from that song. I love the way it ends pretty low, including the choreography. It's a song with a mysterious worldview you can't dance alone, so I'd like to perform it with several people someday.
When I think of it, all the songs I've gave are pretty dark (laughs) Of course I love bright songs such as Morning Musume.'s "Sou da ! We're ALIVE", but I've always loved Tsunku♂-san's darker songs.
Hello! Project made me who I am today
Recently, you performed Hello! Project songs at an event with Maimi Yajima and Saki Nakajima or M-line lives. Do you think that Hello! Project is the same as before or that things have changed ?
The way Idols are perceived has changed a lot from the time I've started. When I was in high school, the image of Idols was a girl with long black hair, neat and clean. Only two members per group could color their hair.
Now, there are all kinds of girls in every group, who are accepted even if they have unique make-up and eccentric style. In the current Hello! Project, I feel like ANGERME is following the trends, Morning Musume. is remaining unchanged, and BEYOOOONDS are carrying the spirit of the old Hello! Project.
I thought the same when I was still active, but whenever I saw a cool member in Berryz Kobo, I would try to steal her good points. But if you keep doing that, everyone would look the same. As an OG member and fan of the groups, I think they should consider their particular traits as their strong points and I'd like to see them move in more and more directions.
Even if a lot change, I believe the fact the staff of the music team stays unchanged through the years is the axis that allows them to keep that Hello! Project style. In terms of music, I think that if they entrust themselves, spread their wings and polish their individualities, they'll grow even better.
How would you describe Hello! Project ?
The place that made me who I am today. Even my personality (laughs) Now that I've gone solo, people often tell me "The Hello! Project girls are always so humble", but I think it's partly because they've seen how their seniors have been, and they've been unconsciously influenced by them. Unconsciously following in the footsteps of the older member is what makes Hello! Project what is is, so I hope I can leave a good influence on the younger members through my solo activities, and that I can be a little bit of a guide for them after graduation (laughs).
2 years where I couldn't stop singing or making music
Let's talk about your album "26/27" which will release on February 2. It has been two years since your last album, how did the production process start ?
As the title suggests, this album is a collection of songs I've released when I was 26 and 27 years old, so in a way, I've been working on it for two years. There were a lot of things that I couldn't control, such as the suffering caused by C*rona, but I felt like I shouldn't stop music and I haven't stopped singing and creating music for two years.
There are songs from times when I was really struggling, songs from times when I still didn't know what the right answer was, and songs that I've recorded at home. I hope you will find a song that resonates with you !
Does each song remind you of the time you created it ?
Of course. Like "Let The Show Begin", which is a cheerful show-up song, written for my Yokohama Arena show which was cancelled due to the state of emergency. It reminds me I wasn't able to stand on that stage. I was told the show was cancelled on my way back from the first day of the rehearsal, and for the first time in my life, I experienced helpless desperation.
I've been active for 20 years and I'm proud of the fact that I've never had to take a day off from work due to health problems, so I've never had to miss something I was supposed to do. I didn't know what to do, I remember sitting on the floor in my living room and bursting into tears when I realized how important that live performance was to me.
At the same time, that song can make me cheerful because through it, I was able to find a new dream : make the one I couldn't realize come true. There are lot of trivias like this for each of the songs.
When I met Martin, I realized "That's who I am"
Looking back over the past two years, you have collaborated with various artists such as Masayuki Suzuki. Since last year, you're also MC-ing for "NHK Classic TV". Do you feel that these new experiences have made a difference in your music production and activities ?
Masayuki Suzuki, Shinya Kiyozuka, Oishi Masayoshi. It's because I was able to work with them that I'm capable of truly enjoying music, now.
Meeting Martin (Masayuki Suzuki) was particulary eye-opening for me. When I was in H!P, it was mainly group activities so the other members filled in for what I couldn't do. I thought that as a solo artist, the range of what I could express on my own would be very limited, which is why I didn't want to pursue a solo career at first.
However, I've received so many comments from fans asking me to perform solo, so I started my activities. At first, to try to open new drawers of skills I didn't possess, I tried to wear many other "gears" different from the one I had as an Idol. But I met Martin while I was still uncomfortable with that. When I sang with him, I didn't have time to think about these things, so I was just like "Let's do it !" and sang with a lot of energy. Then, the gears in my body which I hadn't been used for a while kicked out. That's when I realized that was it. Somehow, I had stopped myself from being myself, but it's my encounter with Martin which made me realize it, realize "that's who I am".
From that point on, I was able to truly enjoy music. I was able to think "I love music", "I'm having fun !" honestly from the bottom of my heart.
My encounters with these three have had so much impact. I've had more opportunities to talk about music, and I realized how narrow my view of the world was.
Her new music video with Aya Matsuura's early idol image in mind
The music video for "Highbeat Kibun", a song from your album, was released on January 17.
When I started making this album, they weren't many "Idol-like" songs that could be listened to at any time without thinking about it, or that people could dance to and make them feel good. So I told the staff I wanted to add such a song and it was the latest to be made.
When I was shooting the music video, I had Aya Matsuura's early idol image in mind. I had to shoot the mini-me "Hibea ko-chan" at the end, and I acted as if I didn't care about the result (laughs)
We shot the bowling scene early in the morning, and that was the most interesting part. There were some happenings and I thought that I would never want to do bowling so early again (laughs)
So you're also giving your opinion about what type of songs you'd like to sing ?
Right. I was involved in the song selection process from the very beginning. Actually, "Easy To Smile" was a song supposed to be included in my first album that I kept dragging out and finally released. There's a time in 2019 where I said "I don't want to make upbeat songs !". I'm so embarrassed now (laughs)
I released the music video for this song when I was having the hardest time (July 2020). But fans told me "It's just like you, it cheered me up so much I've cried", "It's my first time to cry on a cheerful song". That's where I thought I should properly accept who I am. Smiling is my trademark, and it's fine just to be as your are.
"Highbeat Kibun" is a song I wouldn't have wanted to release a while ago. In that sense, I think that all the songs recorded in "26/27" are the true me, songs that I can sing honestly, so it's really fun.
You started 2022 from this album, but is there anything you'd like to challenge in terms of music this year ?
I'm celebrating my 20th anniversary in the entertainment world, but when I think about it, everything I've ever worried about or felt happy about revolved around music. This year, I'm especially hoping that I can give it back through music. Of course, I'd love to do a performance at Yokohama Arena, but first, I have the fundamental desire to sing my own songs without lying to myself.