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Morning Musume, also known as Momusu, is the lead group of Hello!Project. H!P is made up of pop artists and groups produced by Tsunku, former singer of Sharan Q.
Picture: Back Row (L to R): Niigaki Risa, Michishige Sayumi, Kamei Eri; Middle row: Mistui Aika, Takahashi Ai, Tanaka Reina; Front Row: Li Chun (Junjun), Koharu Kusumi, Quian Lin (Rinrin)
In 1997, Sharan Q held a series of auditions on ASAYAN to find a female vocalist. The number of people who auditioned were eventually whittled down to 11, and Heike Michiyo was chosen as the winner. The five runners up were challenged by Tsunku to form a group and release a single, with the incentive that if they could sell 50,000 records in five days they would receive a record deal. Given the name Morning Musume, they recorded Ai no Tane and successfully met his challenge.
After releasing their first official single, Morning Coffee, another audition was held and three more members were added to the group. This began a series of additions and ‘graduations’ which have seen members come and go, some remaining in Hello! Project as solo artists or in other units, and some retiring from the music business. The number of members generally remains around the 10–14 mark. Members also take part in sub-groups, such as Sakura Gumi and Otome Gumi; Tanpopo, Petitmoni, and Minimoni , which release their own singles and albums.
In April 2000, the group began hosting a television variety show called Hello! Morning which further increased its popularity. They also star in a number of their own musicals, which are usually done also every year in the summertime. A massive amount of Morning Musume merchandise has been released such as calendars, photobooks, posters, etc. They have even starred in their own Playstation 2 game called Space Venus.
The group has gone through a stage of constant change in recent years with the graduations of the long-time leader Iida Kaori in January 2005, fan-favorite Ishikawa Rika in May 2005, the sudden resignation of then-leader Yaguchi Mari on April 14, 2005, and the addition of new member Kusumi Koharu on May 1, 2005. 2006 has been no different, with the graduations of Konno Asami on July 23, 2006 and Ogawa Makoto on August 27, 2006, as well as the addition of the newest member Mitsui Aika on December 10, 2006.
On the March 15, 2007, producer Tsunku announced that two other Eighth Generation members would be joining the group—Li Chun and Qian Lin, both of Chinese ancestry, were to join as "exchange students." Tsunku stated the two new members would be an important key for their group's planned expansion into Asia. They made their stage debut on May 6, at Saitama Super Arena, during current leader Yoshizawa's graduation. This is notable, as they are the first non-Japanese members of the group.
On May 6, 2007, Hitomi Yoshizawa graduated. Miki Fujimoto took her place as leader and Ai Takahashi replaced Fujimoto as sub-leader.
As of June 1, 2007, Miki Fujimoto resigned from Morning Musume, due to the tabloid magazine Friday running an article depicting Fujimoto and comedian Tomoharu Shoji in a relationship. Ai Takahashi replaced Fujimoto as leader (a position the latter occupied for the briefest period in the band's history—26 days), and Risa Niigaki became subleader.
Morning Musume's 34th single Onna ni Sachi Are was released on July 25, 2007. It features the debut of new 8th Generation members Li Chun and Qian Lin. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart, with sales of 43,364 copies.
On October 26, 2007, Ai Takahashi, Risa Niigaki, and Koharu Kusumi visited Korea to promote their singles collection album Morning Musume All Singles Complete ~10th Anniversary~, which was released on October 24, 2007. Also, Takahashi and Niigaki appeared as special guests in a Korean radio show called Maybee's Turn Up the Volume (메이비의 볼륨을 높여요).
November 21, 2007 marked the release of Morning Musume's 35th single, Mikan (みかん, Mikan?). Initial sales were poor for the song, which became the group's lowest-selling single, (even lower than the initial indies release of Ai no Tane, which sold 50,000 copies), both in terms of first week sales and absolute sales figures. As a result, unlike all previous singles, Mikan failed to appear on Oricon's Top 5 Chart, breaking the group's previously held record.
On December 31, 2007, Morning Musume performed in the 58th NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen with a remixed version of their song "Love Machine" along with °C-ute and Berryz Kobo. Similar to the previous Kōhaku, the red team (females) lost to the white team (males) after attaining votes from the viewers and judges.