Mii (Nemoto Mitsuyo, Shizuoka Pref, 1958- )
Kei (Masuda Keiko, Shizuoka Pref, 1958- )
The 1970s was the golden decade of the idols, packaged pop stars whose every move, every thought seemed to be controlled from behind the scenes and whose real purpose was making money for sponsors and promoters. The level of their success was measured by sales, not only of records but of the various products they endorsed in TV and print commercials. So the more successful they were, the more the public were saturated with their gleaming smiles and choreographed enthusiasm. In most cases this wore thin pretty quickly and a new star was born, or hatched.
The perfect case study for this phenomenon was Pink Lady. The bubbly duo of Mii (Nemoto Mitsuyo) and Kei (Masuda Keiko) totally domnated the pop culture scene for five years and then promptly disappeared. Their breakthrough came in 1976 when the two fresh-faced country girls appeared as a folk duo on the NHK talent show Star Tanjo! (A Star is Born!) and won over the judges with their charm and energy. The released their debut single Peppa Keibu six months later, by which time they had been moulded into slick, choreographed disco stars.
The real impact was in their dancing, something that idols weren't really supposed to do. The standard was simple hand gestures and body movements, easily mimiced by fans and absolutely none-threatening. Pink Lady's gyrations were nothing short of shocking and fans loved it. Even today, ask any Japanese over 30 to do the moves that accompanied UFO, one of their biggest hits, and they'll do it without hesitation. But the duo steered clear of any too suggestive and were seen as acceptable by parents and, more importantly, sponsors.
Putting Pink Lady on a magazine cover or TV ad was a sure-fire way to see sales skyrocket. Between 1976 and 1978, Pink Lady became the image talents for almost a dozen different companies and had a string of nine consecutive No.1 singles. They even had a hit with a cover of Village People's "In the Navy" (singing "Pink-a-Lady" in the chorus!). But it couldn't last.
In retrospect, most people agree that the beginning of the end came at the end of 1978, when the duo turned down an invitation to appear on NHK's Kohaku Uta Gassen, the annual New Year's Eve song spectacle. An appearance on the biggest show on Japanese TV, with audience ratings of 70% or more at the time, would have propelled them to even greater heights. But they decided they were big enough to put on a rival charity show of their own on NTV. They announced that kids from a school for the blind would take part, but the school denied knowing anything about it. A scandal ensued and the show was a flop that they never really recovered from.
Record sales were disappointing the following year, and with members of the Beach Boys backing them on one record, and they tried to revive their fortunes abroad. "A Kiss in the Dark" was their first international release, which made No.37 on the US Billboard chart. In 1980, they did Pink Lady and Jeff with comedian Jeff Altman on NBC in the US, picked by some for their Top Ten worst network shows ever. The show lasted only six weeks and was seen as the final nail in the coffin for prime-time variety shows in the US. They announced their decision to quit in September 1980 and bowed out with a concert at Korakuen Stadium (now the site of Tokyo Dome) in March 1981.
Time is a great healer of course and over the years their limited TV performances were on Kohaku of all places. Indeed, time and nostalgia brought about a Pink Lady boom in the mid-90s, with fans reaching an age where collectibles become an investment. Sales of the record catalog got a boost and their old management company even launched a copy group, Pink Lady X. But fans had to wait until April 2003 to hear the news we all knew would come someday -- a comeback after 22 years. A limited comeback for a nostalgia tour, but it was enough to get the old fans excited. Then on September 1, 2010 - 30 years to the day since they dramatically announced their retirement - they made their formal comeback, miniskirts and platform boots and all (photo left). No one expects them to ever hit the same giddy heights as in their heyday, but recent years have seen more than a few middle-aged men dancing to UFO in their living rooms.