Gathering for a press conference Wednesday are Momoiro Clover Z members (from left) Momoka Ariyasu, Ayaka Sasaki, Kanako Momota, Shiori Tamai and Reni Takagi. The Japanese pop stars will perform tonight in their first U.S. concert, at the 2015 Anime Expo. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)
By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS Rafu Arts & Entertainment
Dressed in elaborate, colorful costumes that boast a flair of medieval Japan, the members of the pop group Momoiro Clover Z strode into a meeting room at the Westin Bonaventure with an ease and confidence usually not seen by groups making their U.S. debut.
In the world of Japanese girl aidoru (“idol”) groups, longevity is as rare as a snowstorm in Beverly Hills. The bands are typically populated by girls in their teens or early 20s, super bubbly and cute, often of moderate talent, and ubiquitous in their media presence. They are also, alas, largely interchangeable and quickly forgotten.
“Momoclo,” as they are known for short, are a breed apart, however, thanks in no small part to a boost from some aging American rock legends.
“These days, girl idol groups have to be much more than just cute,” said 22-year-old MCZ member Reni Takagi. “It all about the fans becoming familiar with each of the different personalities in the group and valuing each of us individually, on variety shows, TV commercials and in concerts.”
This statement came from a young woman whose vocation was blueprinted decades ago, largely beginning with the original idol duo, Pink Lady. Since then, there have been countless iterations of the form, some with dozens of indiscernible members, usually singing in unison and rarely showcasing any one member above the others. It is the pop music embodiment of the Japanese cultural expectation of harmonious homogeny.
Yet Takagi spoke of individuality, a statement that goes against the proven formulaic grain.
“No one girl group lasts for very long, but I hope we will be the first,” said Kanako Momota, 20, whom the others instantly identified as the group leader. “Growing up, we all wanted to join an idol group, and now we have a chance to show the world how good we are, both this weekend and when the Olympics come to Tokyo.”
The band’s catchy tunes and on-stage acrobatics caught the attention of none other than KISS, the iconic, two-tone-faced hard rockers who rode to the top of the American charts in the 1970s. Now in their 60s, the band played a duet with MCZ this year in Tokyo, and has recorded a single with them.
“We liked MCZ’s music — great pop hooks, great song structures,” KISS bassist Gene Simmons told The L.A. Times. “When the group performs live onstage, the fans in the audience do the same movements as the girls do. We love that. That’s what KISS is all about. Connection.”
MCZ’s Shiori Tamai, 20, said Simmons gave her group a priceless boost of confidence before their Tokyo show together.
“He told us we were real rock stars, because our main goal is to entertain our fans,” Tamai recalled. “We have different nationalities, different ages, but we all have the same dedication.”
Momoiro Clover Z will be introduced by Simmons and bandmate Paul Stanley at their Anime Expo show. KISS will also receive the 2015 Commissioner’s Award from Japan’s International Short Shorts Asian Film Festival, for the music video “Samurai Son,” in which the band appears with MCZ. The expo, a celebration of manga, anime and Japanese pop culture, runs through Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For more information, visit www.anime-expo.org.