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The Onion (dot com) is an interesting institution. It’s spoof news has grown pretty formulaic and tired over the years, but other features, notably the AV Club keep me coming back. And I’ll pretty much tune in for updates from irrepressible, feckless, hapless Jim Anchower and dimwitted, chocolate-and-cat-loving, delusional Jean Teasdale (though I admit this persona is becoming more and more far-fetched and less believable as time goes on).

I’d say circa 2002, The Onion pretty seriously jumped the shark, but it still occasionally has its moments and flashes of brilliance. But the thing I’m here to do today is not praise nor disparage the Onion and its various inconsistencies, but to tell you all about how The Onion got me hooked on J-Pop!

So, back in 2001, The Onion contained an article titled, “Crazy Japanese Punk Girl Delights Entire Dorm Floor.” The article described an eccentric international student from Japan whose mischievous, hyperactive personality and whimsical fashion sense made her one of the most popular girls in the dormitory. The picture accompanying the article featured a cute Asian girl in a camo miniskirt, brilliant red tights, with pink streaks in her bangs, striking a “punk-ish” pose. I was struck by the girl’s outfit; it was really cute and much more colorful than what punk-ish American girls were wearing at the time, so I started Googling “Japanese Punk Fashion,” “Japanese youth fashion,” etc. I learned about Gyaru, Ganguro, EGL, and general Japanese Street Fashion, all of which inspired me to mix it up even more with my own wardrobe. And while I was Googling, I came across some cranky blog entry by a JET-type American expat who deplored Japanese Youth Culture and was grumbling about his next door neighbor who started each day by blasting J-Pop on her stereo and singing along, badly off key.

One of the bands this guy was talking down was Morning Musume, or as he put it “Moaning Musume,” which he described in terms such as an ever-changing herd of chirpy, overdressed airheads. To me, this sounded like the kind of group I needed to investigate further!

Further googling led me to several English-Language Japanese-Pop music fansites, including strawberry-pie.net, which featured (glitchy) streaming music. The now-defunct Strawberry Pie was named for the MiniMoni song of the same name, and featured a pink gingham pattern background and cutesie strawberry themed graphics. While light on information, it did give me a chance to hear snips of Morning Musume and other Japanese girl-pop standards and make up my mind that I liked this giddy, girlish music quite a bit, even if I couldn’t understand a word of the lyrics.

For whatever reason, however, at that point it was kind of a passing fancy. I didn’t really look into getting any of the CDs or even searching out downloads. I think maybe I didn’t realize that I could buy foreign music…it might not have been as accessible back then, and I never have been a big downloader of music. Anyway, it wasn’t until the famous “Japanese Game Show” video clip which was actually a cut from a Morning Musume holiday special of 2001, which featured 13 girls poking their heads into a fan-shaped lizard cage while wearing pork-chop headbands and seeing who was brave enough to let the iguana in the cage come up and bite the meat. As it turns out, nobody was, but Yossi and Tsuji did seem to withstand the longest.

Anyway, it seemed to me that I recognized some of the girls…the tall, skinny, awkward girl(Iida Kaori), and one particularly pretty, sparkly-eyed miss(Abe Natsumi) sure looked like members of the maligned Morning Musume I’d looked into a couple of years earlier. I did a bit of poking about and learned that this clip was part of a subtitled release by HPS, a J-Pop fansite that was fan-subbing some television shows that Morning Musume and other acts produced by a group called Hello!Project had appeared in.

All of this happened after the advent of Google Video and during the fledgling period of YouTube, when video and audio became so much more accessible. The subtitled releases also made this foreign music and its wonderfully surreal and silly videos more accessible to a non-Japanese audience. It wasn’t long after that that I started enjoying subtitled Utaban episodes, the famous Hawaii Conflict Battle, and the superb absurdity that was MiniMoni. Besides their televised antics, I developed an actual appreciation for some of their music. The sprightly MiniMoni Janken-Pyon, the touching Happy Summer Wedding, the catchy Renai Revolution 21 and the wistful Sakura Mankai, as well as Ai No Tane, the cute and hopeful song that launched the H!P juggernaut back in 1997, and the sweet, sexy Morning Coffee that cemented their fame in 1998 are all songs that stand out as particular favorites of mine.

I’m not a HUGE fangirl…but I have my preferences. As for Morning Musume, I prefer mostly their pre-2003 output, though there are some newer groups, mostly derived from the H!P Kids additions that I have particularly enjoyed. Minna No Tamago, Lotta Lotta Love, and Jingusu Khan, as well as Happy Sunday have all tickled my fancy fairly recently. A thing most of these songs have in common is that they are either opening or closing themes for Anime shows. I’m not sure why, but this style of music particularly amuses me and makes me want to smile.

Anyway, I have to blame and thank the Onion for obliquely introducing me to J-pop, via Japanese youth culture via fashion.

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