Monday, January 9, 2012
There is a somewhat unsightly plague that has been sweeping across Japan for the past five or six years. The music group AKB48 arose in 2005, and since then has been sending the people of this nation into frenzy with their J-Pop anthems concerning boys, school, and friendship.
The group started out with 48 members, but since then their numbers have increased to almost sixty. In addition, other groups have been created throughout Japan. While AKB48 operates primarily in Tokyo, other groups like SKE48 in Nagoya. The name itself, AKB48, is an abbreviation of the district where the girls perform, Akiba, and the number of original members.
Frankly, it's unsettling. This group of girls has pervaded Japanese culture so much that you can find them advertising all manner of product, from fast food to electronics. They advertise for Sony, candy, chocolate bars, restaurants, and coffee. One of the most popular members, Oshima Yuko, had TV endorsements from 19 different companies between Jan 2011 and Nov 2011. They have all types of consumer media availabled to the public: trading cards, keychains, DVDs, CDs, video games, magazines, and even cartoons. They simply overwhelm Japan with their endorsements.
What's the point I'm trying to make? I don't think they're evil, or corrupt. They have donated at least 500 million yen to Japanese tsunami relief efforts. But the group is definitely more of an organization than a musical act. They have a devout army of followers and their producer, Yasushi Akimoto, creates new groups as quickly as he can think them up. He has transformed them into commodities, selling them as the faces of other companies, building up their likenesses in the public eye. These days, AKB48 is as well known as Michael Jackson, or Elvis, might be in the United States.
For the year of 2011, they topped 7 of the 16 Oricon's rankings. These rankings represent the entirety of the Japanese music industry and include: Total sales by an artist, Copies sold for a single, Total sales for a single, Total sales by an artist (for singles), Copies sold for a music Blu-ray disc, Total sales for a music Blu-ray disc and Total sales by an artist (for Blu-rays discs). In addition, it was also announced that the group broke the all-time records for the most singles selling over 1 million copies in a year, the best-selling single by a female group and the highest-earning female group.
They hold the Guiness World Record for being the "largest pop group." Their singles constantly set new records, with upwards of 1.334 million singles sold on occassion. You will not find another pop group as well-known as AKB48 in Japan right now. The members are always changing, though. When a girl becomes too old to continue, she "graduates" from the group, and a younger girl gets brought in. Their ages range from eighteen to early twenties. As a result, the "face" of AKB48 is constantly changing, though the name will always evoke a particular image of young women in fancy costumes, dancing and singing.
To give you an idea of what kind of music has swept Japan's young music lovers off their feet, I will leave you with one of their more popular music videos: