Pink Lady

Pink LadyAny Japanese old enough to remember the late 1970s remembers Pink Lady. From mid-1976 to the end of 1978, Mii-chan and Kei-chan dominated the television airwaves (both programming and commercials), the free time of young Japanese girls (who learned their complex and athletic dance steps from detailed instructions in magazines), and the bedroom walls of adolescent boys.

Shizuoka natives Mitsuyo Nemoto and Keiko Masuda met in 1973, when both were 15, at an audition for Yamaha music school. In February 1976, performing together in bib overalls, they charmed the judges on the TV show Sutaa Tanjou! ("Birth of a Star!") and soon had a record deal.

Six months later, they burst onto the TV music show circuit as Pink Lady, promoting their first single, "Peppa Keibu" - not in overalls, but in sexier, skimpier costumes, and with peppy dance routines for each and every song. This contrasted sharply with the girl-next-door types, swaying back and forth as they sang, that Japanese TV viewers were used to. The nation soon became enthralled with Pink Lady; "Peppa Keibu" hit number four, and their next nine singles went to number one.

These songs were quite different from the restrained pop ditty they had sung on Sutaa Tanjou. Their new material was bouncier, almost disco-but cute disco, with titles like "Monster," "Chameleon Army" and "UFO." Indeed, part of their appeal was that, although their clothes were sexy, the songs were almost never suggestive, and thus their image remained wholesome, clean - safe.

The Pink Lady boom peaked in 1978, with several awards and a two-night gig at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. All of this must have convinced the girls and their management that they could do no wrong: they turned down an invitation to appear on NHK' ever-popular New Year's Eve music extravaganza, Kohaku Uta Gassen, in favor of doing their own special on NTV, Pink Lady's 150 Minutes of Sweat and Tears on New Year's Eve. Naturally, Kohaku clobbered them in the ratings, but worse yet, the special prompted controversy for their inviting blind children to make up the studio audience. Though Mii and Kei appeared moved to tears as they shook hands with the children during the show, they were criticized for appearing to use blind kids to draw attention to themselves.

In 1979, they began their downward slide; although their singles still made the top ten, they stopped reaching number one. Attempts to replicate their success in the US (recording English songs, appearing in their own TV show) were a mere flash in the pan; anyone who watched Pink Lady and Jeff in March 1980 remembers it only for how bad it was.

It soon became clear that the party was over, and Pink Lady gave a televised farewell concert on March 31, 1981, at Korakuen Stadium. Thirty thousand people turned out in the rain to see Mii and Kei perform atop a mock steam locomotive as it chugged along the perimeter of the stadium. They tearfully bid their fans goodbye, but continued to make occasional TV appearances individually. And in 1988, they reunited for a New Year's Eve performance - on Kohaku Uta Gassen. More recently, they have become something of a nostalgia item, as thirtysomethings relive the music of their youth. Perhaps this staying power attests to the fact that, just as no one had seen anything like Pink Lady before, nor have they seen anything like them since.

Tim Young

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