AKB48: Real Controversy or Smart PR Moves?

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You know what singing group has been making lots of Japanese news fairly recently? I’ll give you a hint (cue the candy, J-pop music) “I want you…I need you…I love you…” Still don’t know? Okay so maybe not everyone reading this may not be familiar with the group, but it’s AKB48, and there has been a just a bit of “controversy” surrounding the group lately.

AKB48 is easily Japan’s premier girl, J-Pop band. Although there are other imitation groups that have had been relatively successful (NMB48 & SKE 48), AKB is hands down the most popular of these Japanese girl bands. This band is featured on everything from cell phone train ads, to television ads, to clothing, to commercials for fruits & vegetables (huh?), to a cafe chain. Odds are if you’re in Japan, you’ll see them…somewhere…it’s kind of hard not to.

Being as much of a phenomenon as they are, and being very much a part of popular Japanese culture as they are, it’s a wonder that their influence doesn’t have a greater international reach. Then again, it’s always been amazing to me how groups can have such a huge following in one country and be completely unknown to other parts of the world.

In the US, as well as quite a few bands in the UK, it seems like once you’ve hit it big there, the international crossover appeal is nearly a given.

I probably mentioned it before, but I’m not the biggest AKB fan. However you can’t deny the facts: AKB makes enough money from record sales, and everything in between, to create their own bank. I don’t know what current sales figures are, but just to give you an idea of numbers, in 2011 AKB48 made $200 million dollars in JUST record sales alone (those may be gross figures, but still!).

Whether you enjoy the young, sexy school girl, candy-style J-pop or not, if we base success solely on money and sales, this is a VERY successful group! They also happen to have a HUGE, ravenous fan base!

Despite their financial success, I have been a little suspicious about some of the recent AKB news.

AKB48 Tomomi Kasai controversyOne happened just over a month-and-a-half ago, maybe? AKB member Tomomi Kasai took a racy photo with a very strange twist. The young woman posed nude but had a VERY young boy, like toddler young, covering her breasts:

At first you’re like “Wow, Tomomi Chan!” Then you’re like “Wait, is that a little kid???” It really does mess with your brain a bit when you see it, at least it does for me. However, I know quite a few guys just kinda blocked the kid outta their minds. I know the first thing I saw wasn’t the little kid, just being honest.

The second story was controversial in a different way, but just as weird if you ask me. Another member, Minami Minegishi, shaved her head for “dishonoring the group” when she was photographed leaving her 19 year-old boyfriend’s home.

Huh? Isn’t she 20 years old? I don’t understand what the problem was, but perhaps she broke some cardinal, AKB dating contract rule. I can’t really say for sure, but she tearfully apologized for potentially damaging the image of group.

In her YouTube apology she begs to stay in group and from what I understand will be placed one of the lesser known “AKB Teams.” I heard there’s like an A squad and a B squad; something along those lines. That’s why there are more than 48 members (I think it’s 80+ members in total, right?). I have really given up trying to understand cogs of the AKB machine.

Does anyone else find it weird that all this stuff is happened just before the latest AKB Album release? Controversy fuels exposure. In entertainment, controversy fuels sales, plain and simple. Add a little controversy to a sales spark and you get a huge, roaring fire.

The thing about these stories is that they gained national media coverage. I even saw that the AKB48 (Minami’s apology) made it onto The Young Turks news reel (on a smaller scale), and even CNN! That’s HUGE, seeing as how I haven’t seen AKB receiving very much American news story coverage in recent years:

The timing seems also seems just a bit too perfect. Two huge, controversial events happens within about a month of each other, and when I’m getting on the train to go for a job interview I see this large poster promoting the February 20th release of the new AKB48 Album “So Long.” The minute I saw it, I had an “Ah-ha” moment:

February 20th Release of AKB Album SO Long

Hmm...an album release just after a bunch of controversy? Anyone else find that weird?

Though I could be wrong, I can’t help but think that is what this whole media circus was. It honestly seems to me like a 3-month PR plan that will end with the album release. If it was planned, AKB48 has a brilliant PR team behind them.

So when you go to Tower Records or any other CD stores in Tokyo and see lines snaked around corners to get the latest AKB album, you might start to wonder, too.

What’s your take on either of the controversial stories? Are they real? Are they PR ploys?
Please share what you think in the comments section below.

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  • Anna Mertens

    I agree with you, total PR!

  • Chris

    I thought the whole boyfriend shaving head thing was stupid. Granted、in order to enter the group you basically sign your life away. You aren’t allowed to date. I watched her video and thought to myself, “this is news worthy?” . Also lol isn’t that illegal or something for a kid to be doing that to a grown woman. He is one lucky kid I will admit. But, I can see the fetishes this will spur in this strange country.

  • Me

    nmb and ske are not imitations but products of the same production firm

  • http://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/ban-blacks-african-americans-japan/wVYZcsfT “Furious” George Rockwell

    Meh. I don’t care about AKB48. As a Black man, they are irrelevant. Even if I were White, I’d say hey, I can get them in bed, but their music is garbage. They’re not my type anyway.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com RyukyuMike

    Pure, poor publicity stunt !

  • http://www.facebook.com/christina.panuccio Christina Panuccio

    Well i have heard of AKB48 a few times through a community on Livejournal. Also when I got up at 5am (EST) on New Years Eve to watch NHK’s Kouhaku streaming online. (mostly because I’m an ARASHI fan but I got to learn about the other Japanese bands too :) ) and I saw one of their performances. I’m thinking it’s a publicity stunt.

  • http://jiff1980.blogspot.com/ Jorge Figueroa

    Well, they release a single four times a year, is hard not to think of this as an stunt, but it is just a coincide

  • samokan

    I think they are considered more as a merchandise for profit rather than music artist, they sound terrible though.

  • sophie

    i’am half japanesse. and i have many reason why i hate akb48. they’re just ruining the music industry in japan. Stupid, manufactured, corporate crap pop made for pedhopile

  • Merumerutashima

    it’s just a coincide
    AKB release single is 5 times a year
    Its not PR, it just some scandal
    Big group always have some scandal with them, right?

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