BEST DEBUT: PASSPO☆
This should come as no surprise to anyone. PASSPO☆ accomplished what no other idol group as of yet has managed to do: debut at #1 on the Oricon charts. Beyond that, their unique travel theme and fantastic sound set them apart from all the other new groups out there. All the members are incredibly likeable--I just wish I had made an effort see more of their TV appearances this year. Rest assured, this egregious oversight shall not be repeated in 2012!
FASTEST GROWTH SPURT: TOKYO GIRLS' STYLE
Judging by TGS' first three singles, one never would have seen the direction this group would take. When "Kodou no Himitsu" came out, it was clear that the group had turned a complete 180 from the cute, innocent material they debuted with. But the surprise wasn't the material itself, but the speed at which the group progressed into it. One minute, they're waving around pompoms in cute little uniforms, the the next they're wiggling their bums into form-fitting sheaths. As much as I love TGS and the direction they've taken musically, I'm not sure it's entirely appropriate for a 13-year-old to be sporting full eyeliner and black lipstick.
BEST COMEBACK: MORNING MUSUME
After the lackluster, unoriginal, graduation-tastic circus that was 2010, Morning Musume came back kicking ass in 2011 with three (and a half?) great singles, four and then eight new members, a new leader, and the cracked-out PV to end all cracked-out PVs (sorry, mophead beaver god, you're the purple salvia to Kare to Issho's LSD). On top of that, Aika got her first PB, Riho got a very age-appropriate PB debut, most of the 9th-gen members got great promotion, and 10th gen hit the ground running when they got thrown headfirst into "Busu ni Narenai Tetsugaku" promotion. I can only hope that next year will be as great, and that somehow these horrid canary costumes will be justified with a stellar (by H!P standards) PV.
RUNNER-UP: BROWN-EYED GIRLS
BIGGEST FLOP: BERIKYUU
Ugh. I love my former H!P Kids as much as the next person, but "Amazuppai Haru ni Sakura Saku" was ten shades of suck. The PV was OK, and most of the girls got a chance to shine (for better or for worse) but the song was absolutely terrible. This is the worst piece of crap H!P has put out in a very long time. No, not every release needs to be some novel, exciting number, but this is as generic and boring as it gets. This release was a huge disservice to the girls.
BEST SOLO DEBUT: KIKKAWA YUU
This former H!P Egg and 8th-generation Momosu runner-up was stuck in the Eggs for almost five years, her awesomeness relegated to being stuck behind Koharu's squawking in Milky Way. But this year was her year. She broke out of the Eggs and out of Hello! Project this year to make her major debut under Universal Music Japan, and despite the tsunami setting her debut back a month and a half, she broke into the top 10 on Oricon with "Kikkake wa YOU!" Kikka's not getting into Momosu and being placed in the Eggs was the best thing that ever happened to her. She is a fantastic soloist, and I'm sure the rest of H!P would kill for the promotion she is getting. I want to see her on Music Station at least twice next year, dammit!
RUNNER-UP: ITANO TOMOMI
BEST KOREAN DEBUT IN JAPAN: AFTER SCHOOL
I became a big (like, really big) fan of After School only this year, so I didn't expect to be blown away by yet another Korean idol group's debut in the Japanese market. These girls have some serious talent, even if they are, for all intents and purposes, puppets of a truly nightmare-inducing industry. "Bang!" was a really strong debut, "DIVA" was idoliscious, and the "Rambling Girls" PV looks and sounds great so far. I'm happy that After School was so well received, and they seem to fit into the market well, strangely enough. Their first Japanese album is set to drop on March 7th. I hope I can pick it up :D
WORST KOREAN DEBUT IN JAPAN: 2NE1
2NE1 has had a great year this year, to be fair. All of their Korean releases were great and stylish as usual, but when they cookie-cuttered them into the Japanese market, it turned into a royal mess. "I AM THE BEST" was not only a really horrible choice for a Japanese debut, conceptually speaking, but the sound that happens when you mix an untranslatable rap hook, random English and lazy Japanese translation is just, well...
RUNNERS-UP: 2PM, T-ARA
TOP 3 MOST WTF IDOL SHENANIGANS OF 2011
NMB48 "SCANDALS" AND FAN VOTING
So, three girls in NMB48 were suspended, most of them voluntarily for weird/stupid reasons, and Shimada Rena and Matsuda Shiori's suspensions were ended by fans' approval. They got to freaking vote on whether or not the girls got to come back. Just to be clear, they did jack squat that isn't normal for young women their age. No drugs, no boozing (like Oba Mina confessed to), nothing like that. So the agency left their fate largely up to middle aged men. Wow, what a great way to empower girls. Fucking really?
Quite possibly the weirdest advertising ploy ever conceived. A fake girl who happens to be perfect in every way, Glico, senbatsu single....good lord I am still baffled as to how this came about. Even more baffled at the fact that people believed she was real.
Come on, I don't need to explain this one :P
RUNNERS-UP: UFZS/UP-UP GIRLS, TSUNTUBE TROLLS, THE GREAT HAIRCUT THREAT OF 2011, DREAM MORNING MUSUME
Incredible actress and singer, quirky eyebrows, basically the best thing to happen to Momoiro Clover. But the girl couldn't deal with the fakeness of the idol world, particularly the theatrical girliness of Momoclo. I lost most of my interest in Momoclo after Akari left. Now I'm stuck staring at Reni's emaciated, willpowerless face.
OGAWA SAKI AND MAEDA YUUKA
The most popular member of S/mileage graduates in 3 days, and the best singer made like a tree in August, giving her very loyal fans only 4 days' notice of her departure. As much as I'm sad and mad and trying to suppress all my nasty thoughts of "ragequit" in my head, I do miss them very much, especially Saki, who was my favorite member. S/mileage definitely won't be the same without Yuuka. For many fans, she was the foundation of S/mileage in the beginning because everyone recognized the adorable Egg from High-King with the unique voice and the endearing moles. And now she's going. It just sucks that two girls in the beginning of their promising idol careers peaced out so quickly. I worry about S/mileage's fate now.
I don't know much about PASSPO☆'s individual members, sadly, but the group's resident white-ish girl always stood out. She was different, she was a great singer. It will be strange not to see her in group photos anymore, but I wish her the best on her recovery and in her future.
TOP 3 SUB UNITS TO WATCH:
Some of the most entertaining and gorgeous girls in AKB were originally thrown together to promote a drama--but we had to know that they'd stick around, right? I think the only thing that could make this unit more awesome would be naked jello wrestling
I'm a metalhead, I'm not going to lie. But the best thing about this unit is not necessarily the metal theme--I think it's hilarious to see a bunch of genki girls grinning stupidly and bouncing around to some epic riffs.
So if you want to get really technical, this is less a sub-unit than a huge recombinant macromachine, but dammit, I think it counts! The creation of this unit saw a lot of members get way more camera time than they usually get I loved Mobekimasu's release, though I do wish it had more members singing their own lines (and less Risako). I hope they do something similar next year.
RUNNER-UP: WATARIROUKA HASHRITAI 7
MOST UNDERUSED GROUP MEMBER: FUKUMURA MIZUKI
Mizuki, the mama bird of the Kyuukies, isn't my favorite Momosu. I'm not a huge fan of hers, but Tsunku, if you were looking for a strong singer, here's your girl. As much as I adore Riho, and as much as she has improved since the auditions, I do not support her being the only pushed member of 9th generation. Mizuki has always been the best singer of the bunch, even if she doesn't have a particularly distinctive voice. I'm totally good with Erina and Kanon being chorus girls, because they shine in their own way. Mizuki does not, but she deserves to. Put this girl on main vocals, stat!
BIGGEST BADASS/BEST PERSON IN THE WORLD AWARD: AKIMOTO SAYAKA
My goddess is truly a goddess, and no one can convince me otherwise. Not only does she have the chutzpah to lay the smackdown on wayward fans and not apologize for it, but she is to run the Tokyo Marathon once again to help the people of her mother's native Philippines--and get this--she decided to do it BEFORE the floods hit. Not many celebrities can say they actually care about causes before huge disasters strike (Haiti telethon, anyone?). Sayaka is such an amazing person, and even though she is an idol, she doesn't let the expectations of idol behavior affect who she really is.
TOP 3 SOLO PHOTOBOOKS:
MICHISHIGE SAYUMI: SAYUMINGLANDOLL
Don't let the font disaster on the cover fool you; Sayumi's 8th PB is quite possibly the best solo PB released by any H!P member ever. And we have to give most of the credit to Sayumi herself for this. She had a huge amount of creative control over this release, and it paid off. This PB was HER magnum opus, not UFA's.
WATANABE MAYU: MAYUYU
Mayu is quite possibly the only AKB member who could pull this cover off. She's strangely perfect, yet there's a little devil in her eyes that silences any critics. The PB is awesome, and it deserved to sell as well as it did.
TAKAHASHI AI: AI AI AI
Ai-chan always releases great PBs, but this is by far her best. She shot this entire PB in southern California, and the scenery there brings out as adventurous side of her that we may never have seen otherwise. The entire PB is gorgeous, particularly the sunrise desert shots. This is a must-have, regardless of whether you're an Ai fan or not.
RUNNERS-UP: ISHIKAWA RIKA "LUCKY," KANNA "ANO TOKI," NAKAJIMA SAKI "W SAKI"
TOP 3 IDOL ALBUMS:
MORNING MUSUME: 12, SMART
Morning Musume's latest effort blows their last two albums out of the water (not that it was hard...). Tsunku took some time on this one, and gave all the members great songs to suit their voices while weaving in lots of great little tributes to Takahashi Ai. This album was great fun to listen to, and is their best release since Platinum 9 Disc.
Idoling!!! consistently puts out great albums. I have never been disappointed with any of their releases, and this was no exception. Their music has always been more nuanced and complex than many more idol groups I've listened to. SISTERS was my absolute favorite idol album this year, and I hope this group can keep going strong after Fonchi and Erika graduate. I will definitely make more of an effort to follow them this coming year.
SAKURA GAKUIN: MESSAGE
Sakura Gakuin is such an awesome group. They only released one single this year, which was awesome, but their major debut, "message," introduced idol lovers everywhere not only to the awesomeness of Sakura Gakuin as a whole, but to their fun and unique sub-units. Even though this group is new, they already understand the idea of keeping things fresh.
RUNNERS-UP: PASSPO, "CHECK-IN"; AFTER SCHOOL, "VIRGIN"
WORST IDOL ALBUM: AKB48 KOKO NI ITA KOTO
I was so excited for this release. Before its June release, I had finished watching the stages and getting more familiar with all the members, and I felt like I saw how awesome AKB really could be. And then this album, with it's gorgeous photobook and shiny box hit shelves. And it was a piece of shit. This album only exists because AKB is a cash cow, and everyone knows it. The album is horribly arranged, and some of the non-single songs have already appeared somewhere else. The new album tracks are crap...this whole thing is crap, and I'm really questioning my reasons for keeping it.
TOP 3 H!P PVs
S/MILEAGE: PLEASE MINISKIRT POST WOMAN
S/mileage finishes off their tough and busy second year with a stellar PV, and a stellar single to boot. This is a great send-off for Yuuka, and I love that she gets the last line in the song
S/MILEAGE: KOI NI BOOING BOO!
Not my favorite release this year, for sure. But the PV is crazy fun, and shows what you can really do on a budget without a bunch of cheap and crazy computer effects.
MORNING MUSUME: KARE TO ISSHO NI OMISE GA SHITAI
Crazy Kanon angels? Aika lines? Sayu leads? Floating heads? Sign me up, bitches!
TOP 3 ---48 PVs:
NOT YET: PERA PERA PERAO
Not Yet's PVs since Shuumatsu Not Yet have been the best of the subunits by far. The cafe/comic concept for this was creative and cute, and I always love it when they involve outside people.
SKE48: BANZAI VENUS
The fact that people are so enthusiastic to be in SKE48's PVs is a really great sign for them. The crazy crowds make it that much more fun, and makes a really genki song that much more believeable. You know what I think? I think SKE48 will dethrone AKB eventually. And I'm totally rooting for them.
AKB48 UNDERGIRLS: VAMOS
Vamos wasn't a great song, but the PV was fantastic. I can't help but love PVs with a great story and a lot going on, and this one fits that bill.
TOP 5 IDOL PVS:
MOMOIRO CLOVER: MIRAI BOWL
How could this not be on the list? This song and PV are freaking genius, theartrical fun...just perfect! This was Akari's last PV, and she went out in style playing the part of Danny. However, Momoka also shone as a street urchin (I think she was quite possibly born to do that :P), and oh my god, Reni does make a good bad guy.
SEA☆A : DELI DELI DELICIOUS
I love this group so much. They are so damn much fun, and they're from Indonesia! (Yeah, there's some super deep obsevations for ya...) Their debut PV was good, but Deli Deli Delicious topped it. This PV is adorable without being overly crazy
TOKYO GIRL'S STYLE: KODOU NO HIMITSU
The concept for this PV is so interesting and gorgeous. TGS made a statement with this PV, which they have not done before or since, and it works so well.
Now THIS is how to do a dance PV!
KYARY PAMYU PAMYU: PON PON PON!
Weirdness and eyeballs and eyelashes, oh my.
RUNNERS-UP: BUMP.Y, "KISS!"; MOMOIRO CLOVER, "D' NO JUNJOU," IDOLING!!!, "YARAKAI HEART."
TOP 6 K-POP SINGLES:
After tons of cutesy Japanese releases, KARA returns to Korea and puts out this stellar, colorful, danceable single and rocks the house. I would love to see a Japanese version, even though I'm nervous.
IU: YOU AND I
I haven't paid too much attention to IU since "Marshmallow," but this song grabbed me by the curlies and threw me on the IU bandwagon. Those legs, man. Those legs.
AFTER SCHOOL: SHAMPOO
BROWN EYED GIRLS: SIXTH SENSE
Sing it, ladies!
RANIA: DR. FEEL GOOD
Sexy and catchy.
Yep, they went there. Don't stop doing what you're doing, girlies. Stay brave and stay awesome.
RUNNERS-UP: MISS A, "GOODBYE BABY"; F(X), "HOT SUMMER"; KAN MI YOUN, "PAPARAZZI"; SUPER JUNIOR, "A-CHA"; HYUNA, "BUBBLE POP."