Wacky World Wednesday is a routine installment on my website where I explore the weird world we live in. Most of my posts have been about Japan though. Wonder why?
I’ll preface this post by saying bluntly, I am not a listener of K-Pop (Korean pop music) or J-pop (Japanese pop music). I am, though, a fan of culture and have always been interested in what others find appealing.
As 2012 shapes up to become an important election year throughout the world (presidential elections in the United States of America, Mexico, Egypt, France and others), one election taking place tonight, 6 June, might grab the attention of more of the world. At least the attention spans of those who’ll be our leaders 40-50 years from now- so help us.
Tonight, live from Tokyo on Fuji-TV, the eyes and tone deaf ears of the world will discover who the next “lead” singer (I probably should have placed quotation marks around the word ‘singer’ actually) of a 64-member all-female J-Pop group will be. It’s AKB48 election time!
AKB48 (one listen to them and you’ll wish the terrorists just end the torture and shoot you with an AK-47) is Japan’s most popular J-Pop group and a social phenomenon here. The group holds the Guiness World Record for being the world’s “largest pop group.” Although called ’48,’ the group contains 64 members who are split into four subgroups of 16 members. AKB is short for Akihabara- the electronic Disneyland of Tokyo where everything you know of as weird in Japan is advertised, bought and sold.
Unlike most pop groups that might tour once a year and do a live TV performance once in a while, AKB48 actually have their own theater in Akihabara, where they perform on a daily basis. Daily! That’s why the group is split into subgroups. Each day, you’ll only see one of the 16-member subgroups perform.
As you may have already guess with the pictures I posted, the group’s main demographic are Japanese men. Not pre-pubescent boys, but men. Why? Well for starters, the age range of the group members is 14-mid 20′s; their videos feature group members undressing down to lingerie while the camera “peeps” through a keyhole, group members having a pillow fight in their underwear, and group members eating food like they were cats- also while in their underwear. When they aren’t in their underwear, they’re usually wearing schoolgirl uniforms or sailor uniforms- presumably wearing underwear beneath the clothes.
Japan, ladies and gentleman take a bow.
Tonight’s fourth annual election is a huge event. Make no mistake about it. According to this article in last week’s Japan Times, the premise of the election is this:
Voters (the fans) fill out a ballot to determine the most popular member of the group. Since there are so many members, it is difficult for the fans to vote based on a member’s personality, so the winner is usually selected based on who fans think the prettiest member is. The winner earns the right to be the center school uniform-clad face of the group during live performances and in most advertising. The top-16 vote-getters will appear on AKB48′s next single, which always sells in the millions at more than $14.00 USD each- for a single! The genius of the contest is the way fans get to vote.
Voting ballots are only included in copies of the group’s latest single, “Manatsu no Sounds Good!” (Someone’s English no sounds good either). The single, which retails for about $14.00 USD, sold 1.6 million copies in its first week. Some die-hard fans are known to purchase multiple copies- some up to 40 copies, so that they can vote multiple times for their preferred AKB48 member. So if you get a copy of AKB48′s single in your stocking this Christmas, you’ll know why.
According to the same article in Japan Times, the group rose to fame by giving fans the idea that these girls are “idols they could meet.” The group members regularly meet fans, and this makes some fans feel like they have a deeper relationship with their favorite member. In the U.S. we call that stalking. In Japan, where the picture below is considered ‘normal,’ having your fans stalking you is money in the bank.
Regardless of what the election outcome is, the major winner will be AKB48′s producer Yasushi Akimoto. With record sales of over $200 million USD in Japan alone in 2011, he is the winner every year.
It’s fun to make fun of the fans of groups like AKB48, but we all have idols or heroes we obsess over or worshiped at one point. My only objection to the AKB48 worship is how it plays on the minority of Japanese men who seem to have a Lolita complex. Young girls should not be constantly subjected to the desires of horny men who want to see them in schoolgirl uniforms until they are in their mid-20′s. Worse is that the youngest member of AKB48 is only 14 years old and yet she is paraded as a sex object. If there is one thing that should be voted on tonight in Japan, it should be a vote for the decency and morality to return.
Live pics from the 2012 AKB48 election.