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A J-pop take on the Menudo style of running a pop group, Morning Musume are more the product of their mastermind, producer and manager Tsunku, than of the group's individual members. The group was started in 1997 when the audition show Asayan (sort of) backfired on Tsunku -- who had hoped to find a bona fide female pop icon, but she (Heike Michiyo) was greeted with a lukewarm reception -- and he decided to take the five runners-up (Natsumi Abe, Kaori Iida|, Asuka Fukuda, Aya Ishiguro, and Yuko Nakazawa) and challenge them to become a successful act. He "challenged" them by only agreeing to work with them if they were able to sell 50,000 copies of their demo -- on their own, with television help, of course -- in five days. The group succeeded, and released its first single, "Morning Coffee," in 1998. Their first album, First Time, was released later that year. In 1999, the group experienced for the first time what was to become one of the hallmarks of Morning Musume -- frequent roster changes. Asuka Fukuda left the group, and was replaced with Maki Goto. Over the years, Tsunku has used Morning Musume to create subgroups -- which in some cases have acted as support acts for group tours -- as well as "graduating" members of Morning Musume and/or "retiring" them. This rotating cast of members has kept the band in the public eye and sales at high numbers. The group (in its various permutations) had released more than 35 singles and around ten albums by 2008. The group has also kept a hectic touring schedule throughout its long life, including package tours, television appearances, and festival outings. ~ Chris True
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