The AKB48 Question
AKB48. I’ve blogged before about J-pop and girl bands, and whilst I am still in Japan it’s hard to escape them. AKB48 was created many years ago now by record producer Yasushi Akimoto. The letters AKB represent Akihabara, a district in Tokyo, and ’48’ is supposed to (and originally did) represent the number of members. My understanding is that there was supposed to be one member from each prefecture in Japan. In some ways, the group was supposed to appear like everyone in Japan could call them their own.
When a member leaves, there is naturally a TV competition to replace them. It’s a very emotional moment for the girl leaving. The girls should always be young, and always be cute. They should NOT have boyfriends. Yes, it is certainly manufactured in a big way. There is such pressure on not just girls but women here to be ‘cute’, and the unparalleled popularity of AKB48 contributes to that.
I have been introduced through friends singing karaoke a couple of their songs. This is ‘Fortune Cookie’ – apparently it became one of the most popular songs of all. It’s colourful and apparently was popular because the dance was really easy and everyone could do it. I must confess, this is the one I like. It’s very catchy.
This next video, I have to be honest, floored me. The song is called ‘Heavy Rotation’, which already sounds a bit sexified, and the video features a lot of skin, lingerie and very suggestive lyrics. Mostly the phrase ‘I touch you’. So do the girls really getting the sex angle that’s being used to sell this song? I’m not so sure. Despite the short skirts, there’s a big emphasis on ‘innocence’ when it comes to the way Japanese girls deport themselves. Are they aware that putting on ‘bunny ears’ is basically labeling themselves a ‘sex bunny’? I don’t know. The band members are very much kept in a glass cage. They are not allowed to have boyfriends. Although not specifically stated, they clearly are supposed to be virgins!
So, the conclusion on viewing this clip that I come to is that the producers know EXACTLY what they are selling. A three-letter word starting with ‘s’. The girls may or may not know, but either way they are getting used. With over $220 million in record sales, I do hope that they are seeing some of the money. Because sadly once they look over 20 they are pretty much done.
I worry at what Japan expects of the girls and women here. The expectations on women in society worldwide still have a way to go, but in Japan it seems a step or two further away from real self-determination. I haven’t heard of a girl band here that was conceived by a woman – someone out there tell me please because I am sure there must be.
Just remember the girl from AKB48 who was caught with a boyfriend. Minami Minegishi shaved her hair off and made a youtube video pleading for forgiveness from her fans.
Being an idol means a hell of a lot in Japan.