Japan is the home to the second biggest music market in the world. With over 4.4 billion dollars in sales last year, it’s time Japlanning took a look at some of the biggest names in Japanese pop!
Starting with one of the biggest selling groups in the world, who also hold the Guinness World Record for the Largest Pop Group, AKB48.
J-Pop is a genre that became mainstream in Japan in the 90’s, it has influences from western pop and rock music of the 1960’s era. It’s roots began with local Japanese bands taking inspiration from global groups like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Today J-Pop is one of the largest selling genres of music year after year, with over 97% of sales originating domestically inside Japan.
The biggest group in J-Pop is AKB48. Now, this isn’t your ordinary girl group. The group, was created by music producer Yasushi Akimoto in 2005. Akimoto’s idea was to have the group perform daily at the AKB48 theatre in Akihabara, Tokyo, so fans could see the girls live anytime they wanted, as opposed to most traditional groups, where your only way to see them was by watching video clips and attending concerts every year or so. AKB48, despite its now mammoth popularity, still performs daily at the theatre. The group has 86 members who are put in to teams; A Team, K Team and B Team, with a different team performing at the theatre each day. Akimoto’s idea of the everyday pop group has been so successful, that he has even expanded the AKB48 concept to several sister groups throughout Japan and the rest of Asia. Due to the band’s insane popularity, tickets are now distributed only by lottery.
For information on how to get tickets to their daily show vist the AKB48 website here.
Beyond the three main teams, there is also a team of trainees. These young girls learn all the songs, as well as the dance moves, and are appointed as understudies for the main members of AKB48, ensuring that there is always a replacement member available, and also making sure that, in a way, no member becomes a key stakeholder, or individually becomes the biggest star of the group - everyone is replaceable!
AKB members are selected from auditions held across Japan, and being a member does have some very strict conditions, for example: All members of the group are not allowed to have boyfriends, and must be well behaved! If any are found misbehaving, they will be punished or even expelled from the group. As members get older, they “graduate” from the group and trainees are promoted to take their place. It’s almost like a forever going Idol show for a massive girl group.
This cash-printing empire knows how to sell its music too. Individually, many girls in the group have their own fan base, filled with devoted young Japanese fans, so AKB48 often has special “elections” for choosing the line-up of girls to be in new music videos and record upcoming singles for the group. These events are heavily advertised throughout the mainstream media channels in Japan, and usually require participants to purchase the current single or album to cast their vote. The AKB member with the highest votes wins the right to be front and centre for all live performances the group does for that single. This method has been so successful for AKB48, that in 2011 a single that contained the election ticket required to participate broke sales records for the week with over a million single sales. These elections get millions of votes, and each years’ typically out performs the last. This year’s hit an all time high with in excess of 2.6 million votes being cast by fans.
Now there have been a few controversies come out of AKB48 that have even made news headlines on western shores. Most recently, you may have heard about the AKB48 member that appeared in a tearful YouTube video after shaving her head. Group member Minami Minegishi was apologizing for a report from a Japanese tabloid about her spending the night with a man, which was in violation of her contract, and subsequently got her demoted in the AKB48 ranks back to trainee!
The AKB48 empire has expanded rapidly over the years, and is seen as a social phenomenon. They have yearly record sales of over USD$200 million, and rising each year with most singles reaching the number one place in the chart within hours of release. They are now a media empire with several TV series airing weekly revolving around the group, some of the series even star AKB48 members in just about every role on camera. They are one of the largest selling girl groups in the world with no end in sight.
So now you know all about the AKB48, isn’t it time you witnessed the mega-group and got their infectious pop melodies stuck in your brain? Well here is a sample of the world of AKB48.
First we have the music video for one of the biggest hits on the Japanese charts in 2012 - Gingham check
Next we have one of AKB48's biggest singles ever - Heavy Rotation
Finally the latest AKB48 advertisement for Mobile network NTT Docomo
The AKB48 Theatre and cafe is located at the 8th floor Don Quijote Akihabara, Tokyo. To get to the theatre just take the JR Rail to JR Akihabara station, and it's a 5 minute walk.
So have you heard AKB48? What do you think of their music?
Tell us in the comments below!