It is sex? Is it music? Is it art? Or is it none of them?
Although The Land of the Rising Sun is not widely known for leading the world of music in areas of edgy breakthrough, I have, lately, had my attention drawn to the Japanese music phenomenon known as AKB48.
You know, AKB48! The best-selling All-Girl, Japanese, Female Idol band.
Are you still drawing a blank?
Here are some bullet-points to give you an overview:
- AKB48 is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest pop group
- AKB48 currently consists of 59 members (yes, fifty-nine members!)
- AKB48 is so large that the band is run as four teams
- The AKB48 teams are (hang on to your imagination) Team A, Team K, Team B and Team 4 (anyone want to bet that there might be a Team 8 in the future?)
- AKB48 have had their last eleven consecutive singles sit in the Japanese Top Five
- Members of the public vote in ‘general elections’ to decide the member line-up that will participate in the recording of AKB48’s next single
- In the most recent election (June–July 2011), over a million votes were cast, choosing 40 girls out of 152 AKB48 members to record AKB48’s new single, ‘Give Me Five!’
It all sounds good so far, doesn’t it?
And up to a point, it really is good.
It is good that AKB48 have a massive following. It is awesome that the all-female members of AKB48 have sold almost 12 million CDs.
It is brilliant that, after AKB48 perform at a gig, the band members line up in the foyer and they press the palms of their fans, as they leave the theatre.
But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you?), the point that AKB48 is ‘good’ up to, is their image.
To be blunt, the image that AKB48 carry before them is, frankly, precociously provocative.
In a very dubious way.
Critics of AKB48 have said that the girls in the band are being produced as singing, dancing, teeny-sex objects.
Frankly, that’s a generous summary.
There is something uncomfortably nerving about watching a troupe (sorry, a Team) of sixteen females dressed as barely-pubescent schoolgirls, wearing too-short-in-the-skirt school uniforms, as they cavort about the stage, singing stories of love and (in a not-very-euphemistic way) lust.
After being exposed to AKB48 for over an hour, my general sense of unease should have gone away.
I was left with the overall feeling that AKB48 is not so much a musical act, as a pornucopia of pedophilic peversity.
The AKB48 girls are charming and pretty. And, I’m sure, being manipulated.
The band’s songs are sacharine and musically unchallenging – right up the street of the target audience of 8-14 year-old girls.
The band’s visuals are high-energy and full of movement.
And the visuals feature young girls who are dressed as even younger girls.
And that makes me uncomfortable.
But I know you want to see what I’m talking about. And you should be ashamed of yourself: