Jan 14 2008
While I’m eagerly awaiting more H!P material to discuss, I’m going to take a moment to consider the mystery that is AKB48. Specifically, the question of what they are trying to be.
It used to be much easier to figure out. AKB48 were purely and unabashedly pedobait. They pranced around in school uniforms and sang songs like “Shirts Hirari” about flipping up their little skirts for some pantsu action. Okay. While being so blatant about it kind of puts a bad taste in my mouth, at least I can understand that.
Then they decided that they were going to become edgy. They still wore the school uniform, but they sang about more serious issues like underage prostitution and suicide due to bullying. I appreciated that direction, because the two aforementioned songs were really good, and they ventured into territory where h!p dare not tread. Perhaps the AKB48 girls had found their niche?
Most recently they have taken a step (in the wrong direction if you ask me) into more mainstream bubblegum pop. The school uniforms are being replaced by cute dresses, and they’re singing happy, non-offensive songs like “Boku no Taiyou” and “Bingo”. I took this as a sign that they were trying to tone down the pedobait image and break into the mainstream. They performed on Kohaku, after all. The reason that I don’t really like this direction is because more than ever they are looking like “the lesser Morning Musume” which is a whole lot less interesting than what they were doing before. You really can’t out-momusu Morning Musume, especially not with a troupe of 50 girls that only the most hardcore fans can tell apart.
And then… the limited cover of their most recent album knocked me flat on my ass.
I’m sorry. I thought that this was a CD of music by a big group of girls, not some AV idol’s DVD. My mistake. I mean, seriously, WTF is up with this cover? It’s one girl, taking off her dress. You can see her bra. It doesn’t get much less mainstream bubblegum pop than that. It just makes me wonder, why? I feel that seeing a cover like this in the CD store would drive away the casual fan faster than Koharu’s voice drives me away from her singles. It would probably attract their core creepy old man fanbase… but do they really need to attract them more? Have they given up on reaching out to a broader audience?
After careful consideration, I think the explanation is that AKB48′s management thinks that they can have it both ways. Notice that the cover pictured above is the limited edition. The casual fan would probably be more likely to purchase the regular edition (pictured below).
It’s a fine line they’re walking. They want to appear to be cute, wholesome girls to the average listener while maintaining their image as wide-eyed innocent-looking but secretly slutty school girls for their main fanbase. I know that Hello Project walks a similar line, but they lean much more to the cute/wholesome side of things than AKB48 do, and they’re a hell of a lot more subtle about it. I don’t really object to girls using their sexuality to sell music, but when it’s presented the way it is on that album cover, it just comes off as trashy to me. I know there is much worse stuff out there, but it’s not being put out by people trying to market themselves to a general audience.
Honestly, I don’t think that this approach will work for AKB48. I think that the public has already caught wind of what they’re really about, and it doesn’t smell like roses. Rumors have been circulating about AKB48 girls engaging in pay-per-minute phone conversations with their “special customers”, and if there was any doubt about the validity of their recent image cleanup, I think that that album cover should seal the deal. Go ahead and look like cute innocent girls on your TV appearances, but we’re just not buying it anymore.