I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Starbow -- Heartbreak taiyou zoku (ハートブレイク太陽族)

The question remains: is this Haruomi Hosono’s worst blunder?

The problem is, nobody is quite sure. The original concept in the year 1982 was to create a futuristic trio of space age idols. They were introduced as three musketeers from space, who escaped from the unknown tenth planet of solar system and landed on earth to teach about love.

Starbow was representing an alien time and place, and that’s why even their gender was obscured. They were dressed in unisex costumes that reminded of space suits. Their hair was cut short. Because their creator and manager happened to be Haruomi Hosono (細野 晴臣) of YMO fame, it was natural that their music was influenced by New wave techno. The lyrics were not written by Hosono though, but by his former bandmate from the days of band Happy End, Takashi Matsumoto (松本 隆). Group’s singing, conducted by Hosono, was intentionally boyish, obscuring the conventions of idol pop even more.

For sure it was a gimmick. An interesting, avant-gardish gimmick. And like most gimmicks, it didn’t only fail, but failed miserably. The single Heartbreak taiyou zoku was performed in numerous tv shows, like in Ohayou Studio above. It was a Hosono piece, who could say no? The result was that audience was left in the state of total puzzlement every time. Nobody understood the idea, and we still can’t be sure did even Hosono himself know what he was thinking. After a lot of publicity only 7000 copies was sold and the peak position on Oricon chart was pitiful number 98.

Something had to be done. Hosono dumped the whole concept and quickly introduced Starbow Mark II: a Candies-clone that consisted of three Seiko Matsudas with identical girlish hairstyle. Gone were the unisex space suits. Now they wore very feminine dresses with frills and decorations. Members’ alien names Nagato, Imato and Yaeto were changed to Nami, Nagi and Meg. It didn’t help.

The first and only album STARBOW I (note the so promising “1”) became thus a strange mixture of techno pop and conventional idol pop. The best example of Starbow Mk II was their second single Tanpopo batake de tsukamaete. It had nothing to do with the radical ideas of their previous incarnation. It was brightly sung run-of-the-mill idol pop. 

(June 25 2014: Remix version here since the original got taken down.)

Today Takashi Matsumoto doesn’t even want to remember his strange adventure with Starbow. “Instead of coming out from tenth planet, I wandered into a black hole”, he laughs.

Starbow does have a small cult following among techno circles. We can’t completely exclude the possibility that in the future also average listeners will finally understand what in the earth Hosono was trying to do, but it’s possible that it will not happen before mankind has travelled past the tenth planet. Right now we are still too spaced out to get it.


  1. Welcome aboard, Jari! Looking forward to your continuous contributions to the blog. I like your enthusiastic writing style. :)

    Never heard of Starbow before, so that first video of them performing in space suits was indeed a revelation. I think out of all the idols attempting techno in the 80's, these girls were the oddest. Sure, the feminine types like Narumi Yasuda and Kilala & Ulala were probably more successful, but I'm guessing that Hosono and Matsumoto just took a risk to add something different to the mix. I don't read manga, but this group looks like characters from some space-themed series that came to life. The song wasn't bad either. *shrug*

    I'm not sure if I "get" Starbow either, but I did watch that performance a few times for the entertainment factor.

  2. Gotta say that I had never heard of this group before. Well...hey, Hosono gave it the good ol' college try there. I knew that he had been composing techno-like tunes for some of the other big stars such as Seiko Matsuda and Yoko Oginome, so I gather that Starbow Mk. 1 was the ultimate expression of that fusion between aidoru and technopop. Listening to Mk. 2 was more back to what I was used to in the early to mid 80s.

    Keep 'em coming, jari!


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