AKB48 is a female Japanese pop band, perhaps the most popular pop band in Japan and one of the top earning bands in the world. Korean pop groups have grown in size over the years, but AKB48 took things to another level and has 88 members. And you thought trying to remember more than one member of One Direction was difficult.
To be one of the chosen ones, however, means obeying the cardinal rule of the act's management group: no dating.
20-year old AKB48 member Minami Minegishi was caught leaving the apartment of a dancer in a Japanese boy band, and when the photos were published in a tabloid, Minegishi went to the internet to beg for forgiveness in a four minute video for which she shaved her head as an act of contrition.
They portray an image of cuteness known as "kawaii", and have become a huge phenomenon both in Japan and increasingly in other Asian countries, correspondents say.
The condition for being part of such a successful act is that the girls must not date boys, so as not to shatter their fans' illusions.
AKB48's management office said Minegishi had been demoted to a trainee team as punishment "for causing a nuisance to the fans".
That she had to shave her head and post a weeping public apology is shocking enough, but even more disturbing is that it was posted on AKB48's official website. The video has been pulled down now.
In the Japan Times, Ian Martin wrote:
The deeper truth is that idol fan culture, as well as the closely related anime and manga fan culture, is institutionally incapable of dealing with independence in young women. It seeks out and fetishizes weaknesses and vulnerabilities and calls it moé, it demands submissiveness, endless tearful displays of gratitude, a lack of confidence, and complete control over their sexual independence. AKB48 takes this a step further by allowing its (largely male) fans to sit in annual judgment, voting members up or down in the group’s hierarchy. The danger is of this fantasy creeping out more widely into society: Japan currently ranks at 101 in the world gender-equality rankings (79 places below the United States, 32 below China, and two below Azerbaijan). What will a 13-year-old girl think when she sees a humiliated member apologizing for natural human behavior?
In this age of increased public coverage of celebrity lives, it's increasingly difficult to separate one's public and private narratives. Mickey Mantle could once go carousing and drinking after a ballgame and not have to read about it in Deadspin the next morning. The spotlight is bright, but it's also hot.