It was just over one week ago that MELON BATAKE A GO GO delivered their US debut performance at Saboten Con in Phoenix, Arizona. Idols from outer space, Rutakame Run and Yuffie Sakimura, accompanied by human counterparts Tomoyo Chiyo and Usako Minano, delivered their unique fusion of rockabilly and punk idol to a raucous Friday night crowd followed by an extended weekend of activities documented here. As Saboten was winding down, I was able to sit down with the four sidekick idols and had a good long conversation about their first trip to America, their latest album, what it was like to be an idol during the pandemic and, the most important question of all, why “melon”?
It was almost strawberries. STRAWBERRY A GO GO.
As established last month, the current full line-up of MELON actually consists of six members. In addition to the four who made the trip to Arizona, Kotomi Kuzuki joined the group in early August at the same time as Usako and, along with Chiyo, are also members of MELON’s sister group The Grateful a MogAAAz. MELON’s current system consists of two, five-member formations: white, with Usako as the fifth member; and black, with Kotomi taking the fifth spot. It was the white formation that made the trip to the US minus Soze Nakamura who, unfortunately, was unable to meet travel requirements to enter the US.
That was all an elaborate explanation as to how these four members of MELON BATAKE A GO GO’s team white wound up here, having a conversation with Homicidols. We are very glad they expended the effort to make the leap across the Pacific and grace us with their talents and rockabilly charms. Or, was there an ulterior motive behind their visit to America?
Interview conducted by: Daemon; Translator: Melissa Goldberg
Homicidols: You are idols from outer space, and you visited America the same weekend NASA planned to launch a rocket to the moon. Is this just a coincidence?
Run: We can’t answer that question.
Yuffie: Top Secret! You can use your imagination.
Run: We have superiors. We’re not authorized to answer that question.
Yuffie: Can’t upset the Big Boss.
Run: (indicating Usako and Chiyo) They’re from earth, so you don’t have to worry about them.
Yuffie: (making an “X” with her fingers) We can’t let them know about it.
Homicidols: What has been your favorite part of your visit to America and Saboten Con?
Tomoyo Chiyo: The most fun thing was being able to do the live show. Before we came, I was really nervous about a lot of things, but once we got here everyone was super nice. At the show everyone got really excited and into the show and people kept speaking so much Japanese to us. That made me really happy and was a lot of fun.
Usako Minano: Of course the show was a lot of fun, but also to go around the exhibit hall and booths where people were selling things, there was so much culture from Japan. The games, the anime and all of that stuff. I got the feeling that, “wow, people here really love Japanese culture,” and that made me emotional a little bit.
Rukatame Run: It was kind of similar for me. But, even if people knew about us before and even if they could understand Japanese, they might not have ever seen us do a show before. Being able to have them come here and actually see us perform was a really cool thing.
Yuffie Sakimura: Obviously, being able to come to the event and do the show is on the top of the list, but also coming to an event like this… You know, in Japan, all of the anime and that stuff that’s here is kind of just second nature. It’s always there, so you don’t always take notice of it. But coming here and seeing everything all together from Americans rather than Japanese, it’s like, “Oh, wow”, it makes more of an impression. Also, people in America seem to like cute stuff over cool stuff, which is different from Japan. Americans seem to like the cuter stuff. That’s also something different that I noticed.
Also, A lot of idol groups that we look up to have been able to do shows in America, so the fact that we were able to accomplish something that the groups we look up to do was really meaningful.
Homicidols: Have any of you been to the US before? Has anything on this trip surprised you?
Usako: When I was a student, I went to Los Angeles for a little bit, so now that I’ve grown up, this is my second time. This time I really took notice that people like Japan, so it was a really different experience from last time.
Run: MELON BATAKE as a group has only ever been to Italy aside from Japan so far before this, and as this formation, this is the first time we have gone somewhere outside Japan together.
Homicidols: What is the meaning behind the name “Melon Batake a Go Go”?
Run: Everyone always wants to know that. Our producer is a big fan of Dempagumi.inc. and so, “Dempagumi.inc” has Japanese words and English words in it. He kind of wanted to do something similar with our group name where there are some English words and Japanese words.
Yuffie: In the past, melons were something that were really expensive and you couldn’t eat it all the time because it was pricey, so it was like, “Oh wow, melon!” But now it’s not like that anymore and you can just find melons everywhere, so that was also part of the idea of it. It could have been strawberries.
Run: It was almost strawberries. STRAWBERRY A GO GO.
Yuffie: And “Go Go”, our producer used to be in a band called Monster a Go Go, so he took it from there. When MELON first started they did some idol arrangement versions of Monster a Go Go songs.
Run: MELON BATAKE is the only group under Gollipop that is allowed to do that.
Yuffie: So even now, we sometimes do that where we will take one of Monster a Go Go’s songs and rearrange it to work for MELON. It’s kind of a cover, but it’s also kind of a new version.
Homicidols: Run, of the four members here at Saboten Con, you have been with the group the longest. If you had not become an idol, what would you be doing?
Run: In Japan, I’m kind of considered the kind of person who can’t do anything. I don’t fit in with society very well so I’d probably be like a NEET. I’m treated like a NEET. Our producer often tells me and Soze that we’re not suited for regular people work, that we’re just not cut out for it. I think I can do it, but he always tells me, “no.” I can though.
Yuffie: But, can you imagine her as, like, a shop assistant or something? It’s kind of scary.
Usako: She’d be dropping everything.
(Please note that by this point in the interview, Run had knocked over either Usako or her own water bottle three times without noticing.)
Run: I don’t think Usako-chan could do it either.
Usako: I can!
Run: Don’t pretend.
Homicidols: Yuffie, I have read that your favorite movie is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I have also read that Run-chan was born in Cameroon, so please let me know if this is true. If so, who is your favorite character in the movie and what is your favorite song?
Run: (Glaring) You can’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia.
Yuffie: Believe your own heart. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable calling Rocky Horror my favorite-favorite, but I do really like it. My favorite character? Give me a second. (Yuffie pulls out her cell phone)
Run: Do people really think I was born in Cameroon?
(Note: I had earlier come across a Wikipedia entry saying Run’s birthplace was in Cameroon, so I had asked her about it during the previous day’s Q&A session.)
Homicidols: I checked Wikipedia this morning, and it has been updated, so it no longer says that. But last week it did say you were born in Cameroon.
Usako: I wonder where it will say she’s born next?
Yuffie: (still looking at her cellphone) It’s so hard to choose.
Usako: List your favorite five characters.
Yuffie: There’s basically only five characters. (More consideration) Columbia. She had a really good singing voice. For my favorite song (goes back to looking at her cellphone) …
(Note: I was wearing a t-shirt with the Homicidols’ logo on it.)
Run: Do you sell t-shirts with the Homicidols logo on it like that?
Homicidols: I don’t. I didn’t think anyone would want to buy one.
Usako: You should sell them.
Chiyo: They’re cute.
Yuffie: Move on to the next question and I’ll keep thinking about it.
Homicidols: Chiyo-chan, I read that you do some of the group’s choreography. How do you approach creating choreography for a MELON song?
Chiyo: That’s a difficult question. Before I entered MELON, there was another person who did their choreography. So when I came in, I decided to look at what they did and build on their style. I wanted to make sure it kept the core idea of what they had been doing and keep that going. I’d like to be able to take all of the things I see in my head and show everybody, but since I’m part of two groups, it’s hard to have the time to do all of that. When I’m walking in the streets, sometimes I’ll think, “Oh, we can do this or that,” and I’ll send it to them. Then the rest of the group will think about it and say, “well, how about this,” and it becomes a collaboration.
Homicidols: Chiyo-chan, you joined the group in March of 2020, just before the pandemic started shutting things down. Was it a challenge to become a member just as live shows were being canceled?
Chiyo: It was difficult, but me and the members and the producer got together and thought about what we could do and how to move forward. All of us were pretty much in agreement on everything, so in that way it was not that difficult.
Homicidols: For the group: What has been the biggest challenge of being an idol during the pandemic?
Yuffie: MELON BATAKE is a live performance idol group so, obviously, not being able to do shows was a big blow. That was really difficult. Also, because we couldn’t do shows, we couldn’t see our fans, and we have a really close relationship with our fans. Only being able to talk to them on the Internet and not see them in real life was very difficult.
Run: Even now that Corona has kind of calmed down there are still some people who say, “yeah, you should be able to do shows again, let’s just do it,” while other people say, “it’s not safe,” and those people will argue. It gets kind of scary. Another big part of that is, when we’re at the shows, some people think it’s okay to cheer and be loud while other people are like, “no we should be quiet because we’re spreading germs”. At our shows, people always get loud, so that’s become an issue.
Yuffie: There’s also people who can’t attend lives because they would get in trouble with their work. Their work actually tells them that they can’t go to concerts so they have to obey those rules and they still can’t go to shows.
Run: There’s these two schools of thought in Japan, whether you can or can’t do these things, so we are kind of existing in these two different worlds. It’s a complicated situation.
Chiyo: And neither side is wrong, it’s just different ways of thinking. So it’s hard because you can’t just say, “they’re wrong.” Everyone is right, but they can’t get along.
Homicidols: While stuck at home during the pandemic, a lot of people took up new hobbies to pass the time. Did any of you take up new hobbies while socially isolating?
Run: My hobby is sleeping, so I got to sleep a lot. That was awesome.
Usako: I’m an indoor kid, so I like playing video games, watching anime and stuff like that. So during the pandemic I was happy to have more time to search for new stuff and find new things to watch.
Chiyo: When I had to stay home, I was able to cook a lot more than I usually can so I was able to cook and eat lots of good food. Normally, I like eating out better, but this made me appreciate eating at home more.
Run: I was eating konbini food everyday. Sometimes Chiyo does cook for me.
Yuffie: I mentioned a couple times this weekend how I really love anime, but there was a time before the pandemic when I wasn’t so into that hobby anymore. I had taken a break from it. Then during the pandemic there was so much time that I just went on Netflix and started watching all kinds of different anime and it revived my interest. When I am at home I end up wanting to clean, so when I was cleaning I was watching anime. When making dinner I was watching anime. I went back to my otaku lifestyle.
Run: Also, in Japan V-tubers got really popular.
Homicidols: (to Yuffie) Did you find your favorite Rocky Horror song?
Yuffie: “Science Fiction Double Feature.” Also, “Time Warp.” There’s the part where Columbia has her solo. And the whole song is like a parade. The aliens are there and they’re all partying. It’s just a feast for the eyes. It reminds me of the Disney parade.
Homicidols: Usako-chan, in the past month, you joined MELON BATAKE A GO GO, celebrated your birthday, and got to perform overseas. Is next month going to seem boring compared to this one?
Usako: No! It was a very rich August.
Run: If she’s not nice to us, it’s going to be Kotomi all the time next month.
Usako: Ahh! (pretends to start crying; Chiyo pets Usako head)
Yuffie: America was the testing ground to see how she did.
Usako: I love doing shows, so I’m looking forward to everything in September. Even when I’m not performing and they’re using black formation, I will probably still come to the shows.
Run: Even before Usako joined MELON, she sometimes helped out at the shows. Whenever she helped out, she was always dancing. That was like two years ago.
Yuffie: Usako originally came to Gollipop to audition for MELON, so it’s finally come full circle.
Run: (Clapping) Congratulations.
Homicidols: MELON has now performed in Japan, Italy and America. Yuffie has also performed in the UK as GARUDA.
Yuffie: And Sweden. Don’t forget Sweden.
Homicidols: What are the biggest differences between audiences in different countries?
Run: I feel like America had the most energy.
Yuffie: I’ve had more opportunities than the others to go overseas. At this point, I basically trust that the audience is going to be there for me and react, so that part doesn’t scare me. Flights. Flying still scares me because I’ve had a lot of issues. So much trouble. But as far as getting up on stage and the audience, I am very confident about that now, so I don’t worry about it as much.
Run: In Japan, as opposed to America, there are so many idol groups available, so audiences are selective and it feels like we’re always being compared to other groups. In America it doesn’t seem like the audience is doing that.
Yuffie: The bar is sort of higher for the fans in Japan because they have seen so much and they have so many options. They’ll be like, “I’ll pick this group, or this one,” they’re judging everyone. So sometimes when we’re onstage in Japan, we’re in our own head thinking about that, “Are we doing this right. Are they good with this.”
Run: The music scene is not that hot in Japan, but the idol scene has a lot going on
Yuffie: The music scene has also gone down. Like everywhere else in the world people don’t really buy CDs anymore. But during the pandemic, if you compared bands and idols, idols were doing more shows. So people have just gotten very picky about idol performances. There’s a lot to look at, so they are able to be pickier.
Run: Overseas is fun.
Homicidols: While most of your songs are punkabilly or rockabilly, a few of your songs have influences from other genres. What’s a genre or concept that you would like to explore in a song that you haven’t already?
Run: More than rockabilly, I really like ska. So I’d really like to do ska music, but when I brought it up to the producer he said, “MELON will not do ska.”
Chiyo: I’m in two different groups and they each do their own thing. MELON’s style of music is something that no other group in Japan is doing, so I would like to continue going down that road.
Usako: Same. I was about to say the same thing.
Run: The Grateful a MogAAAz’s music is easier to listen to. It’s more of a mainstream style while MELON is a core style. So we thought that by bringing together members from both groups, we can help each other. So the people who go to MogAAAz might go to MELON, and the people who go to MELON might go to MogAAAz and we can support each other.
Yuffie: On MELON’s very first album, there is a song called “MELON QUEST” that is more like traditional idol in that it is poppy and bright. But now, since the style of MELON has changed, we don’t do that song anymore. It’s like, we don’t talk about that song anymore. (Laughter) But I really like those traditional idols. I’ve never been in an idol group like that, so it would be fun to do that style of song as MELON because it’s something I’ve never gotten to do before. I want to try it.
Run: Originally, MELON was probably meant to be more of a cutesy style of group when it was first conceived of, but the members they kept getting didn’t really suit that so much. Like when Yuffie joined, she is more of a strong-type personality, so the producer probably felt like he had to write songs that went with that.
Yuffie: The members who kept joining changed the style of the group and what we were going to do. Even so, I want to try to be cutesy.
Run: As long as Yuffie’s in the group we’re going to get those strong-type songs. (Everyone laughs) They’re not going to let her be cute.
Yuffie: I don’t think our producer wants me to do the cute thing.
Run: Even though out of all the members she has the most girlie personality
Yuffie: The stuff I wear and the bags I buy and my accessories are all very girlie and cutesy but, alas.
Homicidols: Run-chan, you recently appeared in the idol-zombie film, IDOL NEVER DIES. Did you enjoy acting? Tell us about your role.
Run: More than saying it was fun, it was challenging. When doing an idol live performance I just have to be myself, which is fine, but when you’re acting in a movie, you have to be someone else. For me, that was really difficult because I think that I can only play myself. It’s hard for me to become a different person.
My character is in a rival idol group to the main character’s idol group, and we perform MELON BATAKE’s “SICK IDOL” in front of the main group in a way, like, “Can you beat that?” It was really cool to have a bunch of other idols like Younapi, Mao of Sennosister, and Rere from MIGMA SHELTER performing a MELON song.
Homicidols: You just released a new album. How would you describe the album? What makes it different from previous albums?
Run: With the new album, I feel like you can get a real sense of everyone’s personality. It’s very clear. On our older songs, it seemed like anyone could sing any part, but on the new songs it’s like, this part is clearly for this person and that part is clearly for that person. Now that the line-up has changed, it will make performing some of the songs more difficult because the person the part was written for is no longer in the group.
Yuffie: We did conceive the album when we knew Amino Coromi was leaving, but we still wanted to create the album as a symbol of what these five members together were. We rearranged some songs so it would be something of a send-off, and to memorialize the group as these five people.
Chiyo: So when we make a new album or have a new release the producer comes up with some catchphrase that is really abstract or doesn’t make sense like, “just run.” But this time, “we won’t perish the songs live on,” we knew who we were, it was clear. I think that is reflected in the album… if you compare it… I’m not sure how to say it. *
Yuffie: The goal and what we wanted to do was more clear. We knew what we wanted which was that who we are as a group is going to remain in those songs, and song lyrics especially. Even if we leave the group, that impression of us will still be in this album and this music. We took the catchphrase of the album and put it into the lyrics so it became a symbol of the group.
Homicidols: Do you have any last message for overseas GOGOs?
Yuffie: Because of the pandemic, there have probably been a lot of people who wanted to come see them but haven’t been able to. Without this chance, there are a lot of people we wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise. There also may be some people who couldn’t make it to Saboten and are sad about that, but we aren’t going anywhere, and we will be waiting for them in Japan whenever they can make it. So definitely come see us.
Starting in August, we had our new system where we have our white formation and black formation and new members. We hope everyone will support us in our new form as well. We will make sure everyone enjoys it to the fullest 100%.
Run: We especially hope everyone is expecting a lot from our new member. (Shaking a finger at Usako)
Yuffie: Please expect a lot from Usako.
Usako: I’ve only been in the group a month, but I will keep trying my best. Support me!
* Translation refined, September 13, 2002