Japan’s AKB48, world’s largest pop band, brings sugary sweet music to Malaysian fans

(From left) Megu Taniguchi, Rin Okabe, Yui Oguri, Mion Mukaichi, Nana Okada, Nagisa Sakaguchi were in town to represent AKB48. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
(From left) Megu Taniguchi, Rin Okabe, Yui Oguri, Mion Mukaichi, Nana Okada, Nagisa Sakaguchi were in town to represent AKB48. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 — No band encompasses the cotton candy appeal of J-pop quite like AKB48.

Thousands of fans thronged Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur last Saturday to see six members from the girl group, known for their innocent and angelic aesthetics, perform as part of Japan Expo Malaysia 2019.

The crowd, mostly male, chanted along to AKB48’s cutest songs including Heavy Rotation, Koi Suru Fortune Cookie, and #sukinanda as they waved their lightsticks to the beat.

For Mion Mukaichi, the group's designated leader, it was an amazing morale booster to see foreign fans so enthusiastic about Japanese music and culture, especially since it was the members' first visit to Malaysia.

“The moment we landed at the airport here, we saw all our fans with big banners welcoming us. That was very heartwarming and it made us so happy.

“Japanese people are very proud of their culture, whether it’s the food, the cities, or nature.

“To know that people from other countries love Japanese culture as much as we do, it gives us great happiness,” she said in an interview.

The members strike a pose outside Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur just before their performance. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
The members strike a pose outside Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur just before their performance. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

AKB48, named after the geeky Akihabara area of Tokyo, operates using a complex system that sees its 102 members rotating across different subgroups.

As older members “graduate” from the band and give up their positions to younger trainees, an AKB48 “general election” is held each time the group releases a single to determine which members will feature on the new song.

The choice is then left up to fans who are called upon to vote their favourite members into the spotlight for the next single.

Mukaichi, 21, is thankful for having a close relationship with senior members who paved the way for the group and she hopes to do the same for the next generation of AKB48 trainees.

“Everything that the seniors have built up until today is very important, but we also want to challenge ourselves to give a fresher image to the band while conveying the foundation our seniors have built to the next generation that follows us.

“Overall, we are all close to our seniors. We don’t think too much about the senior-junior hierarchy between us, but they always have useful advice to give us when it comes to our careers.”

(From left) Rin Okabe, Yui Oguri, and Mion Mukaichi speak during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
(From left) Rin Okabe, Yui Oguri, and Mion Mukaichi speak during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Since AKB48’s formation in 2005, sister groups have spawned in several other Asian countries, transforming the band from mere pop idols to cultural phenomenon.

Earlier in January, a huge concert known as the AKB48 Group Asia Festival 2019 took place in Bangkok where sister groups from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam convened with their Japanese counterparts for a special performance.

Mukaichi recalled how performing their songs with members from all over the world who spoke different languages left a profound impact on her.

“We had our first big concert in Thailand, and we had all our sister groups performing together with us. There was so much power in that performance and we felt so happy to be able to be onstage with them.

“Even though we’re from different parts of the world, we were singing the same songs and dancing together in sync, and that’s when we really felt the power of music.”

AKB48’s maiden performance in Kuala Lumpur on July 27 was held in conjunction with Japan Expo Malaysia 2019.

The event welcomed 135,000 visitors over the weekend.

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