Yesterday was the AKB48 elections.
AKB48 (AKB standing for Akihabara, the Otaku, video game, maid cafe, electronics capital of the world) is the biggest group in Japanese pop. Biggest not only in popularity but in size. At last count the group had 64 members spread out over 4 tiers, ranging for their early teens to mid twenties. The group holds the Guinness world record for largest pop act and also “Most Number of Same Product Television Endorsement within 24 Hours” when the group appeared in 90 television commercials for Wonda Coffee in one day.
They are famous for their catchy pop sound and innocent sexuality. The most famous song of theirs is probably heavy rotation.
The idea of AKB48 was to create idols-you-could-meet. Normal girl groups perform live once in a while and are mostly only seen on TV. AKB have their own theatre and perform daily. They endorse everything from real estate agents to coffee to candy. There is at least one of them on TV everyday. AKB48 are the brain-child of Yasushi Akimoto, he writes all their lyrics and micro manages the girls image. Girls are not allowed to have boyfriends, drinking and smoking are forbidden as is “bad behaviour” (whatever that means).
As there are so many members that the girls have to fight to get video time and be the main performers in songs. This is done with the yearly election. People who buy AKB CDs are given the chance to vote for their favourite members. During the news coverage (seriously this made the national news) one man said he bought 100 CDs so he could vote 100 times.
Last year the raining queen Atsuko Maeda left the group saying she wanted to “pursue a solo career”, only a few days before her dramatic exit she had been secretly photographed cigarette in hand.
The theme is popular in cities outside of Tokyo, there are;
- SKE48 from Sakae, Nagoya
- NMB48 from Namba, Osaka
- HKT48 from Hakata, Fukuoka
And the international versions; JKT48 from Jakarta and SNH48 from Shanghai.
AKB fans are not just screaming tweens. A 35year old man said of the result;
“I don’t think anyone but Yuko Oshima can lead AKB48. I love Yuko because she works hard and always does things to the best of her ability. That’s something I should learn from her”
The election was supposedly created because the fans wanted even more control over their idols-they-could-meet. Music critic Satoshi Hamano was quoted as comparing this to the Arab Spring,
“Japanese youth do not believe they can change real politics, where old politicians hold a tight grip on power, but they believe they can change AKB48, Fans believe they can take part in the process of making a real star, rather than simply accepting what the industry says is good.”
Japan is a country obsessed with youth and the “cult of the Kawaii” AKB48 is a perfect product for the market. Tweens who love the flashy pop and accessibly and the older fans who can understand the more risque subtext in the lyrics and enjoy the idea of 64 girls living together and pillow fighting over the top spot .