AKB48 — the largest musical group of single, wholesome women on earth?

18 Feb

One of the most popular J-pop (Japanese pop) groups right now is AKB48. They are frequently mentioned by my students as their favourite musical group. One of my students recently told me about a scandal involving one of their members, news of it had spread around the world.

A quick Google search later and it’s true, there are stories everywhere about this. One of the members had shaved her head, a traditional show of remorse in Japanese culture, and filmed herself apologizing to the world. Her crime? Dating someone.

AKB48 member Minami Minegishi

AKB48 member Minami Minegishi apologizing to fans. (From the BBC website)

The video, dubbed in English, can be seen on the BBC website. In it, she pleads to stay in the band and apologizes for her actions. She had been caught leaving the apartment of a member of a boy band.

Reading more about the group, I find that this band is practically an empire. The band has 88 members, their ages ranging from 14 to mid-20s. The band performs daily at their theatre in the Akihabara (AKB) area of Tokyo, which partly explains why there are so many members. AKB48 was created in 2005 with 20 members. Later auditions were held to add more members and members are voted on by fans. There are ranks and training groups within the band and when the women reach a certain age they “graduate” from the group.

The concept of AKB48 is “idols you can meet”, meaning they are accessible to fans and there is a lot of fantasy built into the brand. Members are not allowed to date and must maintain a “wholesome” image, meaning no alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.

They portray both young school girls…

AKB48 school girls

From blog.dramafever.com.

and sexualized young women.

AKB48 girls

From beautifulsonglyrics.blogspot.com.

While Minami Minegishi has remained in the band, she’s been demoted to a trainee role. This public shaming is bizarre, as are the rules for the group. And it’s strange how they want the fans to connect so passionately with these girls, yet there are almost 90 of them. Nowadays in the Western world, popstar’s relationships are huge gossip fodder, as Selena Gomez, who probably receives a thousand death threats a day, could attest to. But thinking back to the days of NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, I’m sure there were stipulations in their contracts that they shouldn’t date and should remain wholesome.

AKB48 is yet another example of Japan’s obsession with kawaii — cute things. But also illustrates the juxtaposition in this country of sexual conservatism with many weird fixations on sex.

Here they are doing what they do best in a song that I think is called “Tears Supuraizu! (surprise)”:

2 Responses to “AKB48 — the largest musical group of single, wholesome women on earth?”

  1. Sarah February 27, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    So baffling! I will never understand that whole push to be sexy sexy sexy, but oh my god don’t HAVE sex!!! Not to mention the mainstream fetishization of young school girls.

    • Lindsay Lafreniere March 4, 2013 at 5:16 am #

      So true. It’s such a baffling and unrealistic dichotomy.

Leave a Reply