Headlines across the media have been singing about AKB48 this week. The perky pop teasers have broken the record for the most CD single sales by an artist/group in Japan. They’ve somehow managed to flog 36,158,000 copies, apparently. I say ‘they’, more credit should probably be given to the marketing moguls who created them in the first place.
To be honest, I had thought AKB48’s popularity on the wane. Where once ‘graduating’ (surely an insult to impoverished grads the world over) from the group meant a cozy influx of advertising gigs and a possible career in acting, these days seems to be a gateway to D-list celeb status and some side shows in a shopping mall. However, there’s life in the group yet, it seems. Their latest single ‘Kuchibiru ni Be My Baby’ hit stores on Tuesday, selling a staggering 810,000 copies in one day. The group also performed a show on the same day, marking their 10th anniversary.
The numbers could be misleading though. Critics claim die hard fans are going out and buying multiple copies of CDs in order to influence in-group popularity contests or to gain more ‘lottery’ tickets to increase their chance of attending those televised ‘janken’ events. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I envy you. If you do, you’ll understand that these feverish, sobbing events encapsulate pretty much everything that makes Japanese pop culture look certifiably bonkers to the rest of the world.
Now, if like me you consider the output of AKB48 to be noise pollution on a scale rivalling anything that lingers over Beijing, this is all distressing news. Distressing though, not because of the noise (there’s noise all over Japan; bosozoku, politicians with megaphones, people selling hot potatoes). No, rather that the market for this sort of stuff continues. That lonely men(?) are willing to shell out hard earned money on multiple copies of the same song so as to increase their chances of seeing live, a girl barely out of puberty, in a you-can-nearly-see-my-knickers dress, play janken and then cry about it. It’s cultural bankruptcy on a quite staggering level, isn’t it?
Still, I wonder what Japan makes of the cultural equivalent in other parts of the world? Pop Idol, X-Factor, (insert country here)’s Got Talent, where the braying masses force would be pop stars through a roller coaster of emotions, only to toss them aside once boredom sets in.
Maybe it’s all just me though? Are AKB48’s record breaking CD sales something to be celebrated or mourned? Have your say, and join the conversation below.