Name: カントリー娘。(Country Musume.)
Date of group’s debut: April 27th, 1999
Record label: POTATO –> zetima
Disbanded: February 1st, 2009
Country Musume was a Japanese pop group.
The group was promoted as a sister group of Morning Musume, but with a country twist to the pop songs, hence their name Country Musume (Country Girls). They later on changed their image and music to a more idol-pop sound around 2001/2002.
In 2014, auditions were held for the revival of the group. In November, five members were chosen and the news of the group’s revival was announced, with a name change. The group will now be known as Country Girls.
Country Musume was created in 1999 by Yoshitake Tanaka, a Japanese celebrity who is famous for his strong Aomori dialect and his love for farming. According to an interview, Yoshitake Tanaka had thought, “If Tsunku can produce Morning Musume, I will go head-to-head with my own version of an idol group, Country Musume.” Although the idea may seem a bit outrageous, it is a logical move for Yoshitake Tanaka, a nature and farming lover, to create an idol group who can live the principle of “half-farming, half-entertainment industry” by actually working and living at a farm.
Auditions started in March of 1999, and 1.230 candidates had signed up. The audition process was televised on «Idol wo Sagase» (a Morning Musume entertainment show), and 9 finalists were selected. Out of those nine, three winners were chosen: Hiromi Yanagihara (from Hokkaidou), Azusa Kobayashi (from Tokyo) and Rinne Toda (from Chiba).
While practicing their singing skills, in order to obtain skills to work at a dairy farm, the members went through a training process. The four-week-long audition cycle included not only voice and dance lessons, but a physical challenge: working on the Hanabatake farm in southern Hokkaidou. The purpose of the physical challenge was to determine how responsible the girls were and how well they worked as a team to fit the image of country girls from Hokkaido, as the auditions were open to girls from all of Japan, not just Hokkaido. While working at the farm, the girls were given charge of different aspects of farm life; Hiromi was put in charge of specifically cultivated agricultural products, Rinne of raising and training animals, and Azusa of dairy farming (milking cows and making cheese).
Following the trend of their sister group, Morning Musume, Kobayashi, as the oldest member, was given the title as leader of the group. After working on their debut single, they were able to successfully record and complete their debut single and a promotional video. However, tragedy struck the group soon after their work seemed to be finished. On July 16th, 1999, Hiromi died in an automobile accident, just days before their first single was set for release. Hiromi’s family was given the decision to whether Country Musume should continue their work and release their single as scheduled, and they approved.
The girls made their indies debut (as planned), and on July 23rd they released their single “Futari No Hokkaido”, only for sale in the Hokkaido region.
The plans for Country Musume was to continue as a duo, but just a month after the release of their debut single, Azusa decided to leave the group due to psychological stress. (An alternative reason for her leave is that she released a nude photo in the past, and it was posted in some weekly magazine. This caused some controversy and in order to take full responsibility, she decided to leave the group). After that, Country Musume is left with only one member, Toda.
After a two-month hiatus, Rinne started performing as a solo act, but under the Country Musume name. She released the single «Yukigeshiki» (Snowscape), also considered an indies release only sold in the Hokkaido region. Rinne said about this single:
«“Yukigeshiki” gave me extra energy I needed to continue this career.I was able to take a break, to step aside and look back, and thought I was glad to make all these efforts.»
Six months later, in April, she released Country Musume’s 3rd single, Hokkaido Sha La La, her second single as the sole member of the group. This was also only sold in the Hokkaido region.
Subsequent auditions for additional members started in March of 2000 (a month before the release of «Hokkaido Sha La La»), but this audition was unsuccesful as no one passed the audition.
The third audition was held in May, and Asami Kimura was the only one to pass. She was an employee at Hanabatake Bokujo (the farm Rinne lived and worked at, which was owned and operated by the group’s producer), and was recommended by others to take part in the audition. She also impressed Rinne during a dog race competition.
In July, their first movie, “Country Girl Hokkaido Bokujo Monogatari” («Farm Story in Hokkaido») was released. The theme song for the movie, “Koi Ga Suteki Na Kisetsu” («Beautiful Season for Love»), was also released as Country Musume’s fourth indies single.
A fourth audition was held in August, but no one passed this audition either. The fifth audition, held in December, was also unsuccesful.
By the end of the year, producer Tanaka decided to give Tsunku the producer’s position of the group, due to his difficulty in finding more members to join Rinne and Asami. According to Tsunku, he thought it would be a great experience for the girls (in Morning Musume) to have more exposures in different units, so he accepted his offer with pleasure. He decided to choose from the newer members, and his choice fell instinctivly (according to himself) on Rika Ishikawa.
He also changed the name of the group to Country Musume ni Ishikawa Rika, and they released their first major release in April, entitled «Hajimete no Happy Birthday». This single is totally different from the laid back, ballady country style pop songs the group had released in the past. Instead we get a tune of dance music based on classic-disco. It sold almost 150.000 copies.
A sixth audition was held in the fall of 2001, and one girl passed the audition: Mai Satoda (who had also auditioned for the 4th and 5th generation auditions for Morning Musume). All of these auditions were aired on «Idol wo Sagase» and «Hello! Morning».
In December, Country Musume released their first album, Country Musume Daizenshuu ①, which sold approx. 25.000 copies.
The group released two more singles, and on August 2nd, 2002, Rinne made an announcement to leave the group. Her last duty as a member of Country Musume was the monthly fan club meeting on the 13th.
The agency’s press release said her graduation would give Rinne an opportunity to start a new career, stage acting, which she always wanted to try. Their former producer (Tanaka) has been working on stage plays and musicals based on the theme of farming and agriculture. He was inspired by Maki Goto’s graduation from Morning Musume, and decided to start a new project because “I feel like brand new ambition is starting to form inside me”, says Yoshitake. After a series of hardships, such as a member’s accidental death, Yoshitake wanted to give Rinne a new opportunity to boost her career, so he pitched the idea to her. She agreed to it with enthusiasm, saying, “I’d love to try a musical based on farming.”
In another statement, Rinne had said “To be honest, I am a little surprised to be told that I am graduating. But I am determined to move forward to my new goal. I’m feeling optimistic.”
The group also had several radio shows, but I am not sure when they aired. They are: Country Musume no Bokujou da Yori (STV Radio), Country Musume no Poteto na Jikan (FM Jaga), Country World Rinne no Nikki (STV Radio).
After Rinne’s graduation
Over the following years, Country Musume went through a few member changes, and released four more singles and two more albums before the group was disbanded (it’s last member, Mai Satoda, graduated from the agency) in February 2009.
Satoda always referred to herself as Mai Satoda (Country Musume), that was also her name on the official site of her agency (who produced Country Musume). She kept saying that Country Musume wasn’t disbanded in interviews. In early 2014, Tsunku said he was thinking of re-starting Country Musume, and in February, a video of Satoda was released, where she said they were looking for new members (girls aged 10-17). Satoda won’t be part of the group due to her living in the US (and her age?). In August, after two audition rounds, the auditions were announced as unsuccesfull and the idea was scrapped. The agency just posted a thank you to everyone who participated, but fans just saw that as an excuse:
«Is it maybe that after announcing new Country Musume auditions they got marketing analysis that showed a bad response from the public?
To me it seemed that there wasn’t many enthusiasm from the beginning from the public for this. And when you don’t have a crowd that is looking for a comeback of a group, isn’t it always better to form a new group instead, since even if there are some fans left, it is harder to attract new ones, because lots of ppl feel obliged and annoyed at the same time to catch up with previous information about the groups past? Also for younger ones if a group hasn’t an outstanding reputation, or legendary history the goup might appear as old and outfashioned?»
«Let’s remember what was happening when these auditions were announced and that was Satoda Mai was in the news because her husband was off to play for the Yankees, so short term putting CM back in the news might have looked a good idea. Long term the people who had to actually make it work saw the limitation.»
Three months later, news were announced about the revival of Country Musume. Apparently they scrapped the Country Musume auditions, but not the idea of the revival of the group! Five girls had been chosen from Hello! Project Eggs and the auditions for the 12th generation of Morning Musume. They made their debut in 2015 with the single "Itooshikutte Gomen ne".