Teen pop juggernaut AKB48 seeks ‘adult’ addition to reach wider demographic

AFP-JIJI

Commercial music sensation AKB48 is looking to build on its wildly successful all-girl group by adding a more mature member to its teen-dominated lineup, according to an advertisement released Wednesday.

The collective, whose 90-plus singers and dancers are rotated in and out of the limelight according to their waxing and waning popularity, regularly crank out songs that sell more than a million copies.

But now the management group behind one of the most successful brands in showbiz is looking to branch out of the teen and early 20s demographic.

“AKB48 is inviting applicants for a project called ‘Otona (Adult) AKB48,’ ” announced a full-page advertisement in the Yomiuri Shimbun.

“The only condition for qualification is that the woman is over 30 years old, with no upper limit. Applicants can be entertainment professionals or amateurs, married or single, self-appointed or recommended — none of these matter.”

Applications are being accepted until March 28, and the winner will be selected April 12.

The putative appointee — dubbed “Juku-Doru” (“Ripe Idol”) by Japan’s tabloid press — will have a limited run with the group and will be signed only until the summer.

AKB48, one of the most lucrative groups of all time, is part pop act and part talent show where a member’s time on the front line is determined by how much adoration they inspire from fans.

The most popular girls or young women remain a part of the core group that sings and dances their way through formulaic bubble-gum tunes. Those who fall out of public favor are demoted to a subgroup in an organization structured somewhat like a sports league.

Much of the group’s appeal lies in frequent opportunities for fans to meet them, chat with them or befriend them on social networking sites.

This strategy, combined with flesh-baring outfits, has also given them a huge following among businessmen.

The new member of the Otona AKB48 project will take part in hand-shaking events and live concerts as well as a television commercial for confectionery maker Glico, the ad said.

The pop collective has previously courted controversy in what commentators say is a brazen marketing strategy.

In one commercial, several attractive girls were shown passing bite-sized candies seductively from mouth to mouth, sparking criticism from conservative quarters that they were “encouraging homosexuality.”

The group is in constant demand for advertising and has been involved in promotions for products as diverse as canned coffee and government bonds, while fronting a campaign aimed at reducing teen suicides.

An annual “general election” determines who becomes leader of the group, with ballot slips only available to those who buy their latest single.