NAGOYA – Jurina Matsui of SKE48, one of the AKB48 family of all-female idol groups, has taken the No. 1 spot in the franchise’s annual popularity contest, which was the first to let its Thai and Taiwanese members join the 10-year-old event.
Fans voted Matsui to the top of the group’s list of the 100 most popular members on Saturday after four-time winner Rino Sashihara opted not to run this year.
Two members from Bangkok-based BNK48 made the list as well: Cherprang Areekul at No. 39 and Praewa Suthamphong at No. 72.
A record 339 members ran in the 10th so-called General Election. The top 16 will get to record the next single for AKB48.
AKB48, named after the Akihabara electronics and anime district in Tokyo, is known for having churned out consecutive million-seller singles. It has also boosted its presence overseas by forming sister groups in other parts of Asia.
BNK48 has had great success with its cover of AKB48’s “Koisuru Fortune Cookie” (“Fortune Cookie in Love”), a hit originally released in 2013.
Some entertainment industry pundits say the contest no longer creates the excitement it once did because many of its most popular members have moved on and been replaced by new members since the group debuted in 2005.
But the “election” still remains popular among its many devoted fans and is viewed as a money-making opportunity for municipalities in the regions that host the event.
AKB48’s most recent popularity contest was held at Nagoya Dome, a baseball stadium that can seat 50,000 people. The event is expected to pump around ¥2.7 billion ($24 million) into Aichi Prefecture, according to an estimate by one academic. Matsui’s SKE48 is based in Nagoya.
It is the fourth time the contest has been held outside the Tokyo metropolitan area, having previously been held in Fukuoka, Niigata and Okinawa prefectures.
AKB48 has five sister groups across Japan and overseas sister units BNK48 in Bangkok, JKT48 in Jakarta, TPE48 in Taipei and MNL48 in Manila. Its management agency said in December that it plans to launch a new sister group in Mumbai, India.
JKT48 decided not to participate in this year’s event as the day fell within the week-long Islamic celebration that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, according to AKB48’s official website.