Japanese all-girl pop quartet Speed, comprised of Shimabukuro Hiroko, Imai Eriko, Uehara Takako, and Arakaki Hitoe, met at the Okinawa Actor's School, which also produced a number of Speed's contemporaries in the 1990s J-pop scene such as Super Monkeys (which subsequently led to the respective careers of MAX and Amuro Namie) and Folder (later Folder 5). They first appeared in 1995 on Nihon Television's The Yorumo Hippare ("The Night Hit Parade") music show as dancers and backing singers, with the group name eventually being chosen after a poll of the show's viewers. Notable at the time for their extreme youth, with the group's average age being only 13 years old, Speed attempted to mix the sound of contemporary J-pop with a hip-hop influence in contrast to the Eurobeat sounds that were popular in a lot of J-pop of that period. Their debut single, "Body & Soul," was released in August 1996 and peaked at number four in Japan's Oricon Charts. It remained in the charts for a further 30 weeks, during which time their follow-up singles, "STEADY" and "Go! Go! Heaven," reached the number two and number one positions, respectively. Speed's debut album, Starting Over, was released in March 1997, also reaching number one in the album charts. Over the next two years Speed released a string of singles, all of which charted in the top two positions, and three more albums (including the compilation Moment), all of which topped the charts and cemented the group's position as one of the most commercially important groups of their era. Their sound also progressed in a more R&B orientated direction, following the standard Japanese pop industry procedure of developing a group's sound in a more mature and sophisticated direction in accordance with the tastes of they young fans as they grow up. In 1999, the four members of Speed all released solo material, mostly as standalone singles, although Eriko's "Everyday Be with You" was appended as a B-Side to Speed's "Breakin' Out the Morning." Then, in the autumn of 1999, the members announced that they would be disbanding, and by the end of March the following year the band had ceased all activity together. Hitoe left for the United States to attend art school; Takako's solo career was quickly overshadowed by her far more successful modeling work; Hiroko, under her nickname Hiro, had the most successful musical career outside the confines of the group, albeit one with steadily declining chart positions over time. Eriko had the most eclectic and troubled post-Speed career, appearing on-stage in a number of musical productions while her solo career ricocheted around a number of genres without ever really taking off, before becoming embroiled in a brief scandal following her sudden pregnancy and marriage in 2004. The breakup, however, was not permanent and the group reunited on two occasions for charity concerts, becoming ambassadors for Save the Children, and releasing a handful of one-off singles. In addition, while the group was officially disbanded it is notable that the members all shifted their allegiance from original label Toy's Factory to Avex Trax. They appeared together for a televised reunion in 1998 and their official reunion was announced soon after, with the single "Ashita no Sora" following in November of that year. ~ Ian Martin
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