Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Happy Puffy New Year!

New Year's is a pretty big family holiday in Japan, with lots of cooking and eating and exchanging of money going on. No doubt Ami and Yumi celebrate it just like everybody else, so don't expect a lot of news from Japan over the next week or so. But let me be the first to say "Happy New Year, Ami and Yumi!" on behalf of all your fans from the US.

We here in the US celebrate New Year's a little differently - with a whole lot of alcohol, but also bunch of resolutions, predictions and other whatnot for the coming year (as we say "good riddance!" to the last). So it seems like high time for me to make some predictions for 2008. PUFFY had a pretty big year in 2007, with a new album release, a major tour, and a slew of TV ads and appearances, along with several magazine covers and a bunch more feature articles and interviews. Seems like they were everywhere this year; if anything, they're ramping up their workload as they get older. I never would have predicted it myself.

With that in mind, here are a few prognostications for 2008, broken down as I see 'em. Grab yourself a beverage, 'cause this is gonna be pretty epic:

Safe Bets - these things are happening, and you can quote me on that:

  • Honeycreeper will get a US release. We know this is coming - both their publicity agency and AmiYumi themselves have said so. No date has been set and it doesn't seem like any promotional materials have gone out yet, but this one's still a given.

  • A new PUFFY CD single release in Japan - and a song not from honeycreeper. In Japan, singles are released before albums; unlike the US, where one single is usually released as a teaser, followed by the album and then several more singles. So most Japanese bands use the single to keep themselves in the public eye, releasing two or three or even more as one-offs while they work on a new album. (Those songs are then incorporated into the album.) PUFFY's no exception to this, and in fact there's only been one year in PUFFY's history when they didn't release a new single: 2003, the year Ami's daughter was born. There's almost a 100% chance, then, that we'll have at least one new song from PUFFY in 2008.

  • New commercial endorsements. PUFFY's ad deals rarely seem to be long-term or exclusive, with a few exceptions (Daihatsu ran several years, Lavshuca seems to be ongoing). But one thing's a constant: there are a lot of them, going all the way back to the start of their career. As long as Ami and Yumi manage to stay public figures, it's no stretch to say they'll pop up in yet more marketing campaigns in 2008. (And that could be where the aforementioned new single comes from.)
Flip a Coin:
  • Honeycreeper scores a US hit. Not a major one - I think that's pretty unlikely - but get the right song played on the right radio stations, and I think PUFFY could have a top 40 track on their hands (and a top 100 album). I think there are several songs that could do it, too - especially either of the English-language Butch Walker tracks, both of which are "modern rock" radio friendly. I actually thought they had a better chance of this with "Security Blanket" from Splurge, but they've still got a decent shot with "Ain't Gonna Cut It" or "Closet Full of Love".

  • Some sort of major DVD release. I'd actually put the chances of this as slightly better than 50/50, because it's also become a rarity for a year to go by without a DVD from PUFFY, and they've got a lot of material stocked in the vault. Since 2000, the only years without a DVD were 2003 and 2004, and again, those were relatively light years for PUFFY as Ami spent more time with family. For 2008, PUFFY could do a live DVD from the Honeysweeper tour, or they could go with a long overdue "clips" collection - or some combination thereof. Myself, I'd love to see them throw all of the "Hi Hi Puffy Bu" series episodes on whatever DVD they do release, though that's probably one for the "we can dream" category.

  • PUFFY will do a return US tour, this time covering the East, or even the entire country. This isn't unprecedented - PUFFY did a "mini-tour" of the US in late 2004, then returned after the release of HiHi in early 2005 for a larger East coast tour, and finally again in late 2005 for a full West coast tour. When you consider the fact that honeycreeper will be getting a 2008 US release, and combine that with Ami's recent comments about wanting to get back out on tour as soon as possible, I think it's about even money that they'll be back here pretty soon.

  • One or more members of their current, "temporary" touring band will become permanent, replacing long-standing band members. This actually may be a little hard to call even if it does happen, but it's pretty amazing that Puffy - which is really just Ami and Yumi - have managed to keep together the same band for more than 10 years. It seems like more and more of them have other commitments that keep them from spending much time on PUFFY, though, and the last two years have seen a lot of lineup variations. Of course, given that PUFFY's recording and touring band have always been more "traditional" members than "official" members, it's not like we'll be seeing any definitive announcements.

    Personally, I'd love to see Enazo join the band full time.
Long Odds - but some of these you'll want to root against anyway:
  • Ami and Yumi join Facebook. Well, why not? One thing I've always thought was strange about PUFFY is how forward-thinking they are when it comes to communicating directly with their fans but how backward they are in terms of the use of existing technology to do so. Ami has a well-known blog, the staff maintains a blog, the band has an English language MySpace page. They're obviously trying. Ami is constantly exhorting fans to write to them, but there is no obvious way to do so - her blog software does not support comments, and there's no email link. Their web site has a "BBS", but it seems to be strictly one-way - the band never post there, and the format is barely readable. The MySpace blog only serves as a dump for their English-language posts from the real staff blog.

    Facebook is even better for bands than MySpace at allowing the fans to keep up with what they're doing (the "news feed" thing, which MySpace is trying in vain to catch up with), and it obviously allows for two way communication. Now, this prediction isn't just for the band to sign up - I'm talking Ami and Yumi themselves. Do they have time to sit there reading and responding to fan mail all day? Probably not - but then, that's why it's in the "long odds" section. I do think they would if they could.

  • A new album in 2008. It's not quite as crazy as it sounds. Consider the fact that PUFFY have fifteen albums to their name in eleven years. No, they're not all original studio albums (though nine of them are), but even if you discount the compilations, remixes and greatest hits releases, that's still a pretty impressive pace that averages to almost one album per year.

  • Coinciding with the above, PUFFY will begin producing their own albums. This one is pretty out there; it's almost unheard-of for a band like PUFFY in Japan. But I get the sense that Ami and Yumi both want to stick around in the industry long after their own music is gone, and establishing themselves as producers in addition to pop and rock stars would be one way to do it. I also think the multiple "guest producer" thing from the last two albums has just played itself out by now, so I'm betting they'll go to more of a single producer setup for the next album regardless.

  • A PUFFY breakup. As one of their biggest fans I hate to say it, but it seems like every year now I'm on a perpetual PUFFY death watch. Not because I want it to happen, of course, but just out of a sense of realism. Being a year older than Ami, I just have a hard time understanding how they can maintain this accelerating pace into their mid-30's, while also raising kids (well, a kid) and trying to maintain relationships, and all without succumbing to physical exhaustion. It's hard to overstate for people who haven't gotten here yet how different things are physically in your 30's vs. your 20's. It really is all downhill once you hit the big 3-0. It's a huge change, because you start having to think about your physical limitations rather than your potential. PUFFY are only two people, and they've always said that as soon as either or both of them stop having fun, PUFFY ceases to exist.

    It's a different situation than most bands, where four or more people might feel more of a collective responsibility to stay together, and where one member quitting doesn't usually mean the end. PUFFY are becoming increasingly unafraid to talk in interviews about a time that comes after PUFFY, and neither seems to have any qualms about walking away when that time comes. They aren't committed to this thing forever. And of course, their record sales aren't what they were ten years ago, when they were massive pop stars.

    Obviously, I hope it doesn't happen, and I doubt it will in 2008. They seem to be having more fun now than they were even a few years ago. Perhaps they've finally settled into their role in the industry in the post-"Puffy mania" era.

  • Yumi gets hitched. Though maybe she's just decided after her prior experience than she isn't the marrying type, so who knows. Whatever makes her happy, I guess. I'm sure it's not for lack of chances. But this is one of those perennial "maybe this year" things, so I include it here.

  • PUFFY gets another TV show. It's been a long time since "Pa Pa Pa Pa PUFFY!" went off the air, but they've also had "Saku Saku Morning Call", "HiHi Puffy AmiYumi" and "HiHi Puffy Bu!" In fact, I don't believe they've ever gone more than a couple years without their own TV show. Now that both "HiHi" shows have ended their runs, there's obviously a hole there waiting to be filled.

    They are great hosts that are comfortable in front of the camera and fun to watch, and it's not like TV execs don't know it. If they want a TV show, they could probably get one, though coming up with a new and creative idea at this point wouldn't be easy - what's left for them to do?
Well, that's about all I got. What about you? Any predictions I've left off my list?

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