Listen, we all know AKB and its subgroups are a very big problem, and we all know it’s a very big, COMPLICATED problem. We all know the one guy who, believe it or not, genuinely likes their music and we even liked that one song they released two years ago, damn, it was dope for an AKB song, and your eight-year old niece loves the frilly skirts they wear that swish around when they twirl, they’re just so pretty, but when we look at the underlying structure of what keeps groups like this afloat, it is littered with damaged, insidious ideas and sinister intentions. I think every time I’ve brought up AKB in posts it’s been with not-so-subtle disgust as the news stories pile up. And this latest is just horrifying.
The idol business can be done with basic human decency: you can have your girl groups and your fluffy anime-pop, but you cannot put these girls in danger. You cannot market minors to creepy men, perverts, and deviant-enthusiasts and then act surprised when people in privileged positions take advantage of the members. I mean, hidden cameras in pens? Really? Really though? Don’t think for a second this kind of behavior isn’t implicitly advocated by the entire system. What should we possibly wait for next before the music and idol industry pulls it together? How much longer do we have to sit around and listen to Yasushi Akimoto call this an “expression of art,” simply depicting real-life teenage social situations, and claim he had no target market in mind for the group while he exploits young women and promotes the expendable nature and sexualization of young girls?
Imagine for a second that you love singing and dancing and wish you could work in the entertainment industry and be the next Namie Amuro. The easiest way to do this is to start at the bottom: join one of the hundreds of idol groups famous for training its young girls and giving them performing experience and exposure. It’s not the greatest job in the world but whatever, you will pose for trading cards, learn the choreography and sing the inane lyrics handed to you, and keep a smile plastered on your face when you enter stage left to a crowd of middle-aged office workers who can’t wait to see you in your blinged out school uniform and shake your hand later. Instead of forming healthy, morale-boosting relationships with your female co-workers, you will compete with them for spots on single covers and lead vocals. You start to hate them for being prettier and getting more male attention, because you know you’re a better dancer, which no one cares about. The underlying tension and threat of being “graduated” out of the group after you’ve grown up or just aren’t cutting it is fine: after the long hours of rehearsal, performance, interviews, practice, fittings, and haircuts you’ll move on and become the next big thing and get to do what you really want to do. So you tell yourself you’ll survive, you can get through it.
You’re not allowed to date any boys, or spend too much time talking to any one fan, or see much of your family, or decide what level of personal space you’re okay with at any given time, but this is what it takes, right? You just heard a fellow group member got caught leaving a guy’s house and desperately filmed a tearful apology with her newly shaved head so she wouldn’t be fired and lose everything she had worked for up until that point, but you’re sure that won’t happen to you. You’re focused. Your managers assure you that you are in the most popular girl group in all of Asia and you have a chance at transnational stardom. But you notice the girls who are getting the most attention seem to be spending a lot of extra time with high-profile businessmen outside of regular work hours. People encourage you to do the same. Other people start to look at you suspiciously for being a part of it all, but you’ve already put so much time into it you can’t see yourself backing out now. As you trudge back to your room at the end of a long day shooting for a music video where you had to act clumsy and ham it up as best friends with your least favorite co-worker, someone tells you she heard a crazed fan attacked someone at a handshake event with a chainsaw. She doesn’t seem to be doing too well and is now terrified to resume stage activities.
But everyone keeps promising you it’s just a little longer and you’ll get your due so you keep plodding forward. Your family members now depend on you financially and your little sister looks up to you like you’re a hero. You still love performing and the rush you get being on stage and making people happy, and one day, you just know Avex Trax or Sony Music is going to discover you and spirit you away out of this misery and the next time you release an album, older women, and younger women, and men of all ages are just going to buy 3 copies, to collect all of the different covers, and not 500 they’ll throw in the trash after they pick out all the ballot tickets. All of this will mean something in the end.