The most famous band in Japan right now is AKB48. That’s not a conclusion I reached via any sort of statistical analysis; it’s just obvious. Their faces pop up on any television show or magazine cover you might happen to glance at. To live in Japan and avoid them you’d have to be living as a blind, deaf hermit, deep in some obscure mountain wilderness.
Part of the reason for the band’s omnipresence is their strength in numbers: that "48″ isn’t meaningless. Never mind media coverage, they practically have enough members to visit each fan in person. Their music videos are a cuteness overload on par with a puppy-dog stampede. There are enough bright colours and dazzling smiles to give you a migraine.
This innocent, cheerful aesthetic is, while typical of Japanese pop acts, in direct contrast to the current Western style. Britain and America have taken the 90s "Girl Power!" ideal from the Spice Girls and run with it, ending up in a scarily aggressive place where fiercely "independent women" sing about ripping men’s testicles off even as they jiggle barely-concealed flesh in front of them.
The interesting part is that this rampant sexuality exists just as strongly in AKB48′s happy, smiley world. Their most-viewed video on YouTube, May 2010′s "aaaaaaaaaaa" ("Ponytail and Scrunchy"; see below) starts with a peek inside the ladies’ changing room, where a scary dog chases our scantily-clad protagonists into the showers. This sort of shamelessness is simple pop-star maths: the more boys who want to put bits of themselves inside the AKB girls, the more singles, concert tickets and merchandise is sold.
Speaking of merchandise, the available products take creepiness to a whole new level. Take, for example, the "AKB1/48″ dating simulation video game, in which you can view various recorded-to-camera clips of the girls shyly confessing their love for you. The "Premium" version comes with, among other things, life-size lip-prints taken from all 48 mouths.
Of course, these are just symptoms of the obvious fact that AKB48 is an elaborate piece of marketing. But rather than being disgusted by this, I’m instead struck by a sense of respect at how skilfully the girl band concept has been shaped for maximum exposure and, presumably, profit. The groups stages daily performances in their native Akihabara. Fans are invited to vote for their favourite girls, who are then placed centre-stage in the next music video. Members regularly "graduate" the band, to be replaced by newer, fresher models. The actual songs are largely inconsequential. All that matters is encapsulated within the previous video’s astronomical view count - the economical fact that demand will always be met with supply.
I can’t stop watching.
Posted: December 12th, 2010
at 2:56pm by mnp
Comments: 1 comment
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