Since 2007, with their expansion into the Chinese-speaking market, the group officially adopted the name Jou An Sao Nu Jou (Zǎo Ān Shào Nǚ Zǔ, Traditional Chinese: 早安少女組, literally "good morning girls group"). Since then, the group have been making a concerted attempt to break into new markets in Asia, Europe and the US, performing at EXPOs worldwide.
The groups name can be translated as Morning Girls, as the name suggests, (with some degree of variation) it consists of members mostly in their late adolescence and early 20s. This has remained more or less unchanged since its formation in 1997 because the group maintains a "school-like" system for their continuous line-up changes, with older members "graduate" and new, usually younger, members selected from nationwide auditions admitted to the group annually.
Japanese producer Tsunku started the group in 1997 through an audition for a female rock vocalist for his band Sharan Q. The audition was held on the Japanese TV show Asayan. The winner was Michiyo Heike, later to become a soloist under what would eventually become known as Hello! Project. Tsunku decided to form a girl group consisting of five of the runners-up: Natsumi Abe, Yuko Nakazawa, Kaori Iida, Asuka Fukuda, and Aya Ishiguro. They were issued a challenge to sell 50,000 copies of their demo single, "Ai no Tane", with just five days of promotion events. They managed the feat in four promotion days (spread out over November, 1997) in a very grassroots manner, and Tsunku began his mission to create the most famous all-girl group in Japan.
In early 1998, the girls were ready with their first official single, "Morning Coffee". The success of this single (hitting number six on the Japanese pop charts) brought them three new members known as the second generation: Kei Yasuda, Mari Yaguchi, and Sayaka Ichii, bringing the total member count to eight. The second single, Summer Night Town, was the first single of the new lineup—a mature pop tune about unsuccessfully attempting to hide ones true feelings. Their third single, "Daite Hold on Me!", continued in the same vein musically as Summer Night Town, and managed to hit number one on the charts. Leader Nakazawa also started her solo career.
First Time was released in July 1998, featuring the singles "Ai no Tane", "Morning Coffee" and "Summer Night Town".
That year, Tsunku also formed Tanpopo, the first subgroup of Morning Musume, with Kaori Iida, Aya Ishiguro, and Mari Yaguchi. Tanpopo touted slower, more mature songs.
The group released its fourth single "Memory Seishun no Hikari" in early 1999, reaching number two on Oricon, second to Glays "Winter, Again" which had 1st week sales of 955,780 copies, verse Memory Seishun no Hikaris 195,720).
The song features rap passages by L The Headtoucha and intense vocal harmonization by the groups members. This was Asuka Fukudas last single with Morning Musume, making her currently the shortest-lived member at 2 years. Asuka claimed that she was leaving in order to focus on her studies, only to drop out of school soon after.
Second Morning was released in July 1999, and contained the singles "Daite Hold on Me!", "Memory Seishun no Hikari", "Manatsu no Kōsen", and "Furusato". "Daite Hold on Me!" and "Manatsu no Kōsen" were remixed.
Soon Goto was paired with Kei Yasuda and Sayaka Ichii to form the subgroup Petitmoni (also known as Pucchi Moni). Petitmonis first single, "Chokotto Love", rivaled the success of "Love Machine", selling over 1,123,610 copies.
2000 first saw the release of "Koi no Dance Site", which hit number two and sold over a million—400,000 copies away from reaching Love Machines success. The single had the highest 1st week sales than any other Morning Musumes singles, an enormous amount of 600,860 copies. Even with this large number, the single did not reach number one because Southern All Starss biggest hit single, Tsunami, which sold total of 2.93 million copies, was released at the same date as Koi no Dance Site. Aya Ishiguro left the group before the single was released in order to marry Shinya, drummer of visual kei rock band Luna Sea, leaving the group with seven members.
The second event of 2000 was the creation of "shuffle units", in which all members of Tsunkus then 16-member family, Hello! Project, were shuffled around to form three one-time groups: Akagumi 4, Kiiro 5, and Aoiro 7. The idea was to battle for the highest single sales. This was achieved by Akagumi 4 which, to no surprise, boasted Maki Goto as the lead vocals.
In March, their third studio album, 3rd: Love Paradise was released. Despite having "Love Machine" and "Koi no Dance Site" on its track list, it did not manage to claim the number one spot, but did sell more than 800,000 copies, making it Morning Musumes highest-selling studio album to date.
This year also brought a new generation search.
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