Natsumi Abe was one of the original and most popular members of Morning Musume, a formidable Japanese girl pop enterprise that has burned through several generations of performers since its inception in 1997. Abe "graduated" from Morning Musume in 2004, and has built a decent solo career since, plying the same cute J-pop wares.
Abe was born on Hokkaido in 1981. She decided to become a singer after the song "Chiisana Koro Kara" by "cute punk" icons Judy & Mary helped her to pull through bullying in middle school, although she didn't go the punk route. In 1997, she ended up as one of the runner-ups for the position of the female vocalist in Sharam Q, and she and four other finalists became the first generation of Morning Musume, with Abe quickly replacing Iida Kaori as the main vocalist of the band. During her stint with the group, she also played the lead in the film Pinch Runner (2000) and worked in several "shuffle units" (temporary bands with Hello! Project, the umbrella label for Morning Musume-related projects), including Kiiro 5, 10nin Matsuri, Odoru 11, SALT5, and H.P. All Stars. In 2003, Abe teamed up with Yosumi Keiko, formerly of Rokusenmon, to release the single Haha to Musume no Duet Song, and the same year she debuted solo with 22sai no Watashi, which charted at number two. After leaving Morning Musume, Abe wasted no time releasing her first album, Hitori Bocchi (2004); it peaked at number two, and two singles off the record cracked the Top Ten. In 2004, she was caught plagiarizing another "idol's" photo book, but her suspension with her management company, Up-Front Agency, lasted less than a year, and in 2005, her comeback single Yume Naraba reached a respectable number six. Next, Abe played in the drama Takaramono under the name "Sen", and released the single Takaramono under that moniker, but she dropped it for the second album, 2nd Shimiwataru Omoi, which scored at number nine. The 2006 single, Amasugita Kajitsu, charted at number five, and another, The Stress -- a cover of Moritaka Chisato's 1988 song -- reached number 14. She limited herself to an EP in 2007, and in 2008 she recorded 16sai no Koi Nante with Yajima Maimi from C-ute. In 2009 ,Abe "graduated" from Hello! Project, but remained with Up-Front Agency. ~ Alexey Eremenko