Interview: Pop Idols Momoiro Clover Z

by Mike Toole,

Where do idol groups come from? They don't burst out, fully-formed, upon the streets of Akiba, that's for sure. A look under the hood of the Japanese entertainment business reveals that the girls’ idol singing business is taxing, fast-paced work, with little promise of reward. An emerging pop star might be groomed for quick success by a talent agency, but most idol groups have to work their way up from the bottom. Eight years ago, that's what Momoiro Clover Z did. These days, they routinely pack crowds into massive venues like the Saitama Super Arena, but in their early days, the group of five girls would pile into a van, driving from town to town to perform in front of tiny audiences at electronics shops and department store rooftops. They slept in the van when they had to, they stuck to their guns, and in 2010, they finally got noticed, scoring a #1 single on the Oricon chart and signing a major-label deal. From there, it's only been onward and upward.

Momoiro Clover Z are pop music maximalism personified.  They have the simple and peppy cuteness of an idol unit, plus the theatrical craziness of pro wrestling, plus charmingly nutty costumes and dance moves, plus the special effects wizardry of tokusatsu, plus a formidable set list of hard-charging tunes that draws in mobs of clapping, glowstick-waving fans by the thousand.  Their seemingly endless appetite for visual and auditory excess is the work of their manager, Akira Kawakami, a pro wrestling nut who's practically part of the act himself. Overall, Momoiro Clover Z put forth a wildly colorful, excessive mix of music and visuals that gleefully parodies itself so hard it comes right back around and is even more sincere. If you're an anime fan, you probably know their Sailor Moon Crystal theme, or caught their Dragonball Z: Resurrection F ending song, or maybe you remember my favorite, the Bodacious Space Pirates opening song, resplendent with a face-melting Marty Friedman guitar solo years before other idol teams started hauling metal music into their repertoire.

Right now, Momoiro Clover Z in the midst of a small US tour – they hit Hawaii earlier this week, and will be stopping by the Wiltern in Los Angeles tomorrow, November 17th with tickets still available and and New York this Saturday, November 19th at the Playstation theater. We got the opportunity to sit down and ask the girls of Momoiro Clover Z about their history, their creative process, and what they've got in store for their American fans.

Q: So, how did you all first meet each other? Was it through the group?

Ayaka Sasaki: We first met each other when we formed the group.

Reni Takagi: We were all called by management and simply told that “we're gonna make a group.” That when it all started.

Momoka Ariyasu: I joined as a new member so everyone were strangers.

Shiori Tamai: Reni, Kanako, and Momoka were taking the same lessons but it was when we formed the group that we got to know each other.

Q: You started off playing these tiny promotional concerts and sleeping in a van. Back then, did you think that Momoiro Clover Z was going to be so popular?  Was there a breakthrough moment when you all realized “This is it, we made it!”

Ayaka Sasaki: I didn't think we would be together for so long. I constantly think that every moment is the most important.

Reni Takagi: At the beginning I didn't think so at all. I have some much gratitude for all these fans that come to the show and allowing us to do a dome tour.

Momoka Ariyasu: Not really.

Shiori Tamai: I didn't. Not to say that we achieved success but I was happy that we kept this group together when we performed the shows at National Stadium.;

Q: How does the creative process work in an idol group? Does your manager come to you with ideas for songs and performances, or do you come up with your own routines a lot? Do you work closely with songwriters and composers?

Ayaka Sasaki: I have recently started to join the creative production meetings.

Reni Takagi: Our 3rd and 4th albums we released this year are our collective thoughts and we had our song writers and lyricists to make them into songs.

Momoka Ariyasu: It depends on the song, but we relatively create them as a group.

Shiori Tamai: We all talk together, sometimes our staff takes a part also.

Q: One example I'm curious about is the song you did for Dragonball Z: Resurrection F, “Pledge of Z”. How did you get involved with Dragonball Z?

Momoka Ariyasu: Maybe it's the connection that we have with the  “Z”?

Shiori Tamai: I've always thought it was the “Z” that we have in common?

Q: I'm especially intrigued by the music video for “Pledge of Z”. How long did it   take to shoot it? Was it really difficult? Did you guys get to help create the costumes you wore in the video?  The video ties in to something I see a lot in your videos and performances - you act like superheroes or super sentai onstage. Who are your favorite heroes?

Ayaka Sasaki: We took it in 1 day. It was fun becoming the characters.

Momoka Ariyasu: We did the shoot one by one with CG animation, so it was hard to picture the final images. Sailor Moon is my favorite.

Shiori Tamai: I love Harry Potter!! Not considered a hero though?;

Q: You're even color-coded. When did you decide to adopt colors?

Ayaka Sasaki: From our 2nd single “Mirai e Susume!” when we were still on an indies label.

Reni Takagi: From our 2nd single “Mirai e Susume!”

Momoka Ariyasu: From “Mirai e Susume!”

Q: You're also known for crazy onstage performances and costumes. How do you develop your performances? Do you come up with your own dance moves, for example?

Ayaka Sasaki: Our choreographer basically comes up with everything. But sometimes our ideas are used also.

Reni Takagi: Our choreographer we have had from the start helps us, and sometimes we put our ideas in also.

Momoka Ariyasu: We all put our ideas together.

Shiori Tamai: Our choreographer from when we formed the group comes up with the moves. We also have input on it during rehearsals.

Q: Idol groups and idol culture is something that isn't very well-known in the west. Do you think of yourselves as idol culture ambassadors?

Ayaka Sasaki: No.

Reni Takagi: No, but I hope to spread the Idol culture to many people with this trip.

Momoka Ariyasu: Nope.

Shiori Tamai: I don't think so but I hope that we help spread Idol culture.;

Q: In terms of music and performance, who are your idols?

Ayaka Sasaki: Ayumi Hamasaki.

Reni Takagi: Lady Gaga, KISS.

Shiori Tamai: It's too hard to choose! lol

Q: Has being successful affected the way you all live?

Ayaka Sasaki: Not really.

Reni Takagi: People come up and talk to me on the streets!

Momoka Ariyasu: Not much change.

Shiori Tamai: Not much change.;

Q: Do you ever read about yourselves on the internet? Ayaka Sasaki: Yes.

Reni Takagi: Not really on Momoiro Clover Z, but I do search about myself!

Momoka Ariyasu: All the time.

Shiori Tamai: Sometimes I see our upcoming plans on the internet before I hear about them! lol

Q: What was the story with that collaboration with KISS from last year? Whose idea was it, how did it get started? Are there other groups you might like to collaborate with someday?

Reni Takagi: Ariana Grande.

Shiori Tamai: Not sure how it all started but it's really exciting and truly a valuable experience to collaborate with top International artists that are different in age. There are people who I grew up watching on TV so it was amazing. I would love to collaborate with a girls group about the same age.;

Q: You've been an idol group for six years now. Where do you see yourselves in another six years?

Ayaka Sasaki: Can not imagine where we would be. Maybe some of us will be married?

Momoka Ariyasu: Really do not know. That's why we are Momoiro Clover Z. Shiori Tamai. Have no idea. We've never had things go completely the way we imagined. But I believe we'll still be together.

Q: Do you consider yourselves leaders of a musical army?

Ayaka Sasaki: I do not think so.

Momoka Ariyasu: No no, I don't think so.

Shiori Tamai: Nope! lol

Q: You'll be touring the US soon. Is there somewhere in particular you'd really like to perform someday?

Ayaka Sasaki: Las Vegas, Manhattan, Washington D.C.

Shiori Tamai: The first step is to have success with these 3 cities!;

Q: What's the craziest thing you've done onstage?

Ayaka Sasaki: Tripped on stage during a ballad. The way I tripped was quite crazy I think.

Momoka Ariyasu: Among recent shows, singing while jump roping.

Shiori Tamai: Reni taking off her skirt.

Q: What do you all think of the whole “Cool Japan” thing?

Shiori Tamai: I'm hoping it creates more new cultural interaction with the spread of Japanese culture.

Now I'd like to address a question or two to each individual Momoclo member--

For Shiorin: You started as an actress at a young age before eventually joining Momoiro Clover Z. Do you think being in Momoiro Clover Z has helped you become a better actress?

Shiori Tamai: I didn't start acting before Momoiro Clover Z, but after I joined there were many opportunities and I think dancing and acting have many similarities.

For Arin: One of your hobbies is reading - do you have a favorite book or manga?

Ayaka Sasaki: My recent hobby is going to museums and galleries. I'd like to visit some in America also.

For Momoka: You were in a performing group before Momoclo, but then they broke up. How did that make you feel - were you worried, or it motivate you to keep going?

Momoka Ariyasu: It was shocking at first. But I just had to find the next opportunity to sing and tried out in auditions.

And for the whole  gang--

Q: Are you all still buddies with [former member] Akarin?

Ayaka Sasaki: We get in touch on birthdays.

Momoka Ariyasu: Our birthdays are 2 days apart, so every year we get in touch around that time.

Shiori Tamai: We contact each other sometimes.

Q: Is there something else that you want to achieve with your music, beyond making amazing idol songs? Are any of your songs personal - do they address people close to the band?

Ayaka Sasaki: It's an awesome feeling to be able make lyrics together.

Shiori Tamai: We haven't been able to be part of much of the music making, but would gradually like to be more involved with it.

Q: What sort of lasting influence do you want to have, as a group?

Ayaka Sasaki: I hope we bring smiles with our songs and performances.

Momoka Ariyasu: I hope to be a group that gives people  energy.

Shiori Tamai: I'd like to become a group that can always put smiles on everyone.

Q: What's in store for the Momoiro Clover Z US tour? Are you excited? Tell us what we're gonna see!

Ayaka Sasaki: Our show's theme is Japan and I hope the people in the USA become more fond of our country that we love.

Momoka Ariyasu: As an Japanese group, I hope people understand the fundamental concept of Momoiro Clover Z. 

We don't know what the future will bring for the five color-coded heroines of Momoiro Cliver Z, but for now, they're very much part of the present. The group's official slogan is “Idols you can meet right now!” so get out there and meet them!

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