A few days ago, I stumbled upon this interview with Akimoto Yasushi, the mastermind of AKB48 and all of its different sister groups.
I listened. I was thoughtful. And then I lost a little respect for him.
I have posted previously about AKB48. My feelings about them have been conflicted ever since watching “Heavy Rotation” – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a music video with more sexualized connotations since “Anaconda” (though in fairness I don’t watch many at all). These are girls of various ages wearing lingerie having a slumber party, throwing pillows, kissing mirrors, coming very close to kissing each other – it’s egregious in almost every way.
So I listened to Akimoto-san’s justification for it.
He said something similar to this (and it is a paraphrase):
These words are not coming from the girls. I try to write music that speaks to what is on the mind of youths.
Okay, fine. I get that. This is how people have been making money ever since the music business started. Where do you think rock music came from in the first place?
But I think this justification is just stupid.
The reason is this: children were not put on this planet for adults to exploit for a quick buck. So what is on the minds of children really doesn’t matter in this context. At some point you have to make a choice – am I going to pander to what is on the mind of children in order to make a quick buck, or am I going to help shape them into a more mature person?
I don’t think lyrics like “I want to take off my school uniform” really helps to make well rounded children.
I see him as a person that is more exploiting than guiding in that context.
And that bothers me.
I know there may be fans of AKB48 reading this, and I know you are sometimes very easily riled up. I imagine you have a lot to say. So let me say this first: I don’t feel this way about all of AKB48’s (or other idol groups’) songs. I think Oogoe Diamond, for example, is quite catchy and a bit sweet. I think Hello! Project has this gift for creating catchy songs that actually make you think (“What is Love” has some very thoughtful lyrics, and “Joshi kashimashi monogatari” is just FUN). I’m not by any means saying all of the music that AKB48, et al., performs, is exploitative. In fact, I think Tsunku-san and Akimoto-san have created a very efficient pipeline for giving untalented girls the training they need to become talents later in life. I’m all for that.
I also don’t think he’s intentionally exploitative. I read a book by Sashihara Rino which had nothing but good things to say about him. He apparently had some very good advice for her, and because she chose to take it, she became much more of a success than she would have otherwise – even after she was demoted for breaking the rules against dating.
But songs like Heavy Rotation? Particularly the video?
Yeah. I can’t call it anything else. That’s what it is. Exploitation.