Friday, October 30, 2015

On: Sayashi Riho: Confessions of a Fan

Sayashi Riho, ace and center of Morning Musume

When I do Jpop reviews, I largely tend to pick some of my favorite groups. I've posted two different reviews about the jpop group Morning Musume. This group has a rotational system whereby girls join in "generations" and leave when they see fit to move on. Being in the group helps them grow as entertainers and helps them determine in which sector of the entertainment world they want to work in or if they even want to stay in entertainment at all. To date, Morning Musume has had 12 generations. Today, the members of Morning Musume feature the entire 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th generation(s). All members from earlier generations have graduated from the group.

Riho, at the concert that
announced her addition to
Morning Musume.
I've been a fan of Morning Musume since about 2009. I didn't seriously start following them until 2011, which is the year that Sayashi Riho auditioned for and was added to the 9th generation. I've been a fan of Riho since watching the audition footage. She was an amazing dancer and she just exuded confidence and shone throughout the audition. Her singing was not the best, but I was confident that the agency would help her polish her voice. In addition, it was well known that she had studied dance at the Hiroshima Actor's School, and videos began to appear online of her dancing when she was younger, here, here and here. It was obvious from the auditions that despite her young age, she was a professional who was used to receiving harsh criticism and using it to fuel improvement. When she was officially announced a new member, I was ecstatic and knew she would become my favorite from the group instantly.

Sayashi in the Maji Desu
Ka Ska! outfit
Sayashi's debut in the group, along with the rest of the 9th generation was in Maji Desu Ka Ska! While her feature was equal to the other members, in the second release featuring the 9th generation, Only You, Riho was notably featured and it became clear from that moment on that she was the ace and face of the new generation of the group. From there, Riho's skills continued to develop, in particular her singing. When 10th generation was added to the group, Ayumi Ishida grew as a competitor to Riho, largely due to her focus on dancing. The two would grow to be the definitive dancers in the group, often partaking in dance battles during concerts or tv shows (here they had like a minute to come up with a routine!) and bringing the dance level of the group as a whole up another level. With the release of the song, One Two Three, Morning Musume became known as the group that used formation dances in their songs.

Sayashi in the iconic
One, Two, Three outfit
The group began to grow in popularity with Sayashi at the center. She gained many new fans and at the same time, shouldered the brunt of the hate from people who did not like her status as ace. Certainly, as a huge fan of Riho, I can admit that Oda Sakura, of the 11th generation can sing better than Riho, and while Ayumi is an amazing dancer with great precision, Riho's natural talent and flow is nothing to scoff at either. Many fans felt the talents of their favorites were not properly represented when Riho took the center spot, the role of main dancer and main vocalist. Riho became essential to Morning Musume - if you knew the group, there was no way you weren't going to know her name ad that really irked some people, particularly those that felt she had no business singing. She was second in popularity only to Sayumi Michishige, who was the 8th leader and the sole remaining 6th generation in the group. Following Michishige's graduation,
Riho became the most popular member of the group and while other girls are certainly popular in their own right, Riho was the ace, the one everyone knew and maybe at least hated a bit, but also the one person that so many admired.

Riho was viewed by many (her senior members, junior members and fans) as a very serious girl with a professional outlook. She took her job seriously and made sure to always deliver to the best of her ability. However, if you watched some of the DVD's where she's on her own, or in a non-professional setting with her peers, you come to realize that despite her fierce appearance on stage, she's a very shy and fragile girl. She loves to have fun, make jokes, EAT (she's a huge eater, which I loved, haha), has pretty good English and more than anything, she loves to perform. She concentrates on her own every time before a show, going through her lines and the choreography. Many fans commented on how she seems distant in the backstage footage, how she's a lone wolf who doesn't try to get along with everyone else but I can see where her need to be alone comes from. Riho is clearly an introvert, but she loves dance so much that she overcomes this to get on stage and do what she loves. Despite her exuding confidence, she is uncertain of herself and prefers to follow others rather than lead. And that's completely ok, but when Michishige left and Riho became one of the seniors (and by most accounts, one of the most liked and popular seniors) she likely became very self-conscious about it. I'm sure she was shy around the 12th generation members, knowing that they admired her but hesitant to get close to them lest they see any flaws. Riho knows she has done great and admirable things, and she's proud of that - as she should be!, but she is also aware that this creates expectations from others than can be hard for her to meet.

Lilium stage play
Of course, I don't know Riho personally, I don't know if this is 100% what was going on in her mind but I can see it being a huge burden to continue to be the ace/face, to continue to face all the criticisms and hate when she already criticizes herself heavily. I was devastated at the news of her graduation. I was so sure she poised to take on a bigger role, to stay until her twenties and make Morning Musume even better. But dream change, and I'm sure that in the last year, she has seen that the needs of the group no longer match her needs nor her desires. If anything, I think her decision to leave the group now is a wise one. She has spent almost 5 years in the group, she is well-known and loved as an ace. She is an amazing stage actress, singer (despite the complaints, when she sings in her range, she is freaking amazing) and dancer. Leaving now, at the height of her career, means she will have a bit of wave to ride after graduation and not only that, the huge hole she will leave in the group will force the younger members to grow even more in order to fill it. During her years in the group, Sayashi Riho became much more than a member in the group for me, she was like my little sister - I saw her grow and develop and now, she's off to bigger and better things.

This doesn't mean I'm not sad though. I feel at a loss to be honest and that's why I decided to write
this post - to write down all my thoughts and in a way, get to understand Riho's thoughts and accept her final decision. I would have loved to see her become leader, to see her perform with the group at bigger venues, to see her many more stage plays where she challenges herself to new roles and where her voice really shines. And of course, to see more of her dancing and hear her powerful voice that always drowns out the back vocals letting us know that she is singing completely live. This is the first time I've followed a girl completely from entrance to graduation. I know there are girls I still really like in the group and that I will continue to support the group, but it will certainly never be the same without Sayashi Riho. I personally believe that with the exit of Riho, Morning Musume's "Colorful Era" will end and the group will move into a new era, likely led by vocalists Sakura and Masaki. I'm excited to see in which direction Morning Musume will go now but more than anything else, I'm excited to see Riho continue to grow and become an amazing professional dancer. If Riho ever decides to return to stage plays, I will certainly buy them to see her (I already own everything she released with MM anyway, haha).

Best of luck Riho, and while I will never see you performing live with Morning Musume, my fingers are crossed that someday I may see you perform in any capacity :) I end this post with a list of some of my favorite performances from Riho and videos that show her growth:
Kimagure Zetsubou Arigatou (from the play Stacy's).
Ai Wa Itsumo Kimi no Naka Ni (She's the first one to sing)
Wagamama Ki No Mama Ai No Joke
Osaka Koi no Uta (concert rip)
Solo Lines from her first concert tour
Solo Lines from 2013 concert tour (about 2 years of growth)
Solo Lines from Gradation (2015 concert tour)
Rehearsing dance
Furereba Kokoro Ga Afuredasu (from musical Triangle. She has a male role here).

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