By Jeffrey C. Branch

To quote a line from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “Nature abhors a vacuum”. And for pop music fans in Japan on April 1, 1981, they found themselves staring into one hell of an abyss after Pink Lady’s farewell concert the day before. For five exciting years, Mie and Kei were the 800 pound gorilla of Japan’s entertainment industry, scoring nine straight number one hits, amassing huge ratings on TV while selling out arenas and stadiums for their concerts on top of being beloved throughout Japan. But, after that final show, it was all gone. Mie and Kei were gone.

Of course, ‘gone’ was a relative term. Unlike their contemporaries who faded into oblivion after their fifteen minutes of fame expired, never to be heard from again, the girls stayed in the public eye, having launched successful solo recording careers (along with occasional reunions) while Mie delved into acting with her notorious starring role as a hooker in “Call Girl”. Still, Pink Lady, the legendary entity that made the girls insanely famous was no more. How did their legions of fans cope without Mie and Kei around? More importantly, what singer, duo, trio, quartet, etc. stepped into the breech to succeed Pink Lady as there was no replacing them. According to Verne Innhel, webmaster of Encyclopedia Idollica, a website rich with information on dozens of female J-Pop singers from the 1980’s, the golden age of idol singers (mid 70’s to early 80’s) effectively ended when Pink Lady broke up, preceded by acts like Candies who closed out their popular careers in 1978, and celebrated singer-actress Momoe Yamaguchi who retired from show business in 1980 at the ripe old age of 21 after getting married and never looked back. When the silver age (mid 80’s to mid 90’s, according to Verne) began, things were different as hordes of fresh faced girl groups and solo acts flooded the scene.

But, none of the scores of new idols were able to recapture the magic Pink Lady generated, though it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Solo stars like Noriko Sakai, Akina Nakamori, Chisato Moritaka and Seiko Matsuda, and groups like Banana, Coco, Onyanko Club and Pumpkin were all successful, yet, they failed to reach the staggering heights of popularity Pink Lady enjoyed in their heyday. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing, to follow in Mie and Kei’s footsteps would’ve been like trying to replace The Beatles---a recipe for disaster. In fact, there had been two attempts to do that very thing, and both wound up being blunders. First up was Be-2, a cute duo who, to quote Verne, were supposed to have been the next Pink Lady, possessing the looks, the legs, the voices, the moves, and the shortest damn dresses possible, but they never enjoyed any degree of success. While Be-2 was a flop, what followed was, in my opinion, far worse: Pink Lady X. In the mid 90’s, with grunge rock all the rage with music fans, a generation-X knock off of PL debuted in 1997----at the same time Mie and Kei were back in the limelight with “Pink Eyed Soul”. Talk about horrifically bad timing! The PLX girls were doomed from jump street, putting out two mediocre singles before fading away.

In 1988, the void was filled as the next big thing in J-Pop music finally arrived----Wink. Sachiko Suzuki and Shoko Aida were a positively charming duo that captivated fans from the moment they debuted with their looks, talent and the most wonderfully exotic stage outfits seen since, well, Pink Lady. Fans fell for Wink instantly and the girls became successful practically overnight with their special brand of pop music, crushing the competition from other groups. While Wink didn’t approach Pink Lady’s phenomenal level of achievement, Sachiko and Shoko nonetheless dominated the late 80’s and early 90’s like Mie and Kei dominated the late 70’s. After Wink broke up in 1996, the cupboard was left bare of a PL level mega-act as the 20th century ended. While groups like Speed, the Menudo-like ensemble Morning Musume and solo acts like Hikaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki successfully carved out their own niches along with a few holdovers from the 80’s, there hasn’t been another really BIG thing for the last decade. Nothing that caught and held the interest of fans like a bear trap as Pink Lady had. Sure, other singers or groups may have scored more hits, earned more money or gotten more face time via music videos, no one has matched the near limitless magic Mie and Kei generated.

But, as I previously stated, that’s definitely a good thing. For any singer or group, no matter how pretty, talented or charismatic to try and step into Mie and Kei’s shoes was, in my opinion, career suicide. You don’t replace a legend like Pink Lady, the last quarter century has shown that to have been impossible, proof positive of the enormous impact Mie and Kei had on Japanese pop music. And that impact has been long lasting as well since Pink Lady is just as relevant today as they were when they debuted back in 1976, and will no doubt remain relevant well into the future. That’s what Pink Lady means to all of us.


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