A new wave in the insular Japanese music industry! ‘Produce 48’ project, a collaboration of AKB 48 and a Korean audition program!
- in the shape of ‘Produce 48’ based on the original ‘Produce101’-
In 2017, the K-Pop group TWICE participated in the NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen for the first time in 6 years. Further, with such events as the band BTS, who swept the world and won the award in the Top Social Artist division at the Billboard Music Awards (one of the three largest music awards in the US), holding a concert in the Dome, this may have been a year of K-Pop newly trending in Japan since KARA and Girls' Generation made their Japanese debut.
Last year, the MAMA（Mnet Asian Music Awards）, Asia's top level music award ceremony hosted by the Korean music channel Mnet, was held for the first time in Japan, and Mr. Yasushi Akimoto, the general producer of AKB 48 received the Inspired Achievement prize; on this occasion, it has been announced that ‘Produce 48’ will be broadcast in 2018 as part of the third season of the public audition program ‘Produce101’, which is now Mnet’s flagship program.
Although details are not yet revealed about what kind of program is it going to be, but I would like to think about what can be expected from ‘Produce 48’ based on ‘Produce101’.
■ Collaborative stage performance by AKB48 and I.O.I
On the 29th November last year, AKB48 was invited to MAMA in Japan, held at Yokohama Arena. MAMA is a world-famous award ceremony according to K-pop fans, which is broadcast in real time in Asia, Europe, North America, etc., and it is distributed on the Internet outside of countries in these regions.
Although I was slightly worried about AKB 48 performing together with K-pop artists, who are said to have high singing and dancing skills, but their collaboration with the girl group I.O.I. (who made a debut in ‘Produce101’) and others was brilliant, and the highlight being a performance of about 60 people in total on the stage.
Since the audience (clearly have been filled with K-Pop fans) singing “Heavy Rotation” together, other artists who were watching from their seats at the end of the stage kept turning back towards the audience seats; this was impressive. I realized that AKB 48 is now a representative idol of Japan whose songs even K-Pop fans know and can sing all together, and I felt that it was good timing to introduce them on live broadcasts globally.
■ Produce101’s second season, which caused a social phenomenon in Korea
‘Produce101’ is a reality show where viewers act as (Korea’s) national producers and vote on 101 trainee participants coming from various entertainment offices etc. through a website; the top 11 people are selected for a project debuting an idol group for a limited time, the process of elimination through auditions is broadcast.
Although I.O.I, who debuted in 2016 during the first season, also gained popularity, the one deserving special mention is the boy band Wanna One, stemming from season 2 in 2017.
In August the debut showcase was held at a venue capable of accommodating about 25,000 people, but at the time of ticket release, 530,000 people accessed the website all at once, crashing the servers. Their first debut album has been recorded as first million-selling since 2000; especially Daniel Kang, who won the first place, became popular in such an explosive manner that it is now called "Daniel Kang Syndrome". With a momentum that exceeds the both domestically and internationally tremendously popular EXO and BTS, the first place of "brand reputation" among idol groups (Korean corporate reputation research institute) in January 2018 is Wanna One. With ‘Produce101’ being viewable outside Korea through CS, cable streaming distribution service, and so on, there was no real need to separately promote overseas expansion; Wanna One is well known in Japan despite the fact that MAMA in Japan came to Japan for the first time, and they received the Men's Newcomer Award. Even during their stage performance, there were many fans with Wanna One pen lights in the audience seats.
Furthermore, even members who were not one of the eleven selected players in the program have already debuted with multiple singer groups, such as JBJ who were urged to debut by their fans, leading to a social phenomenon with groups entering the charts one after another.
■ The program’s structure
In ‘Produce101’, out of 101 trainees 11 people were selected, and so ‘Produce 48’ may choose 48 people; also, considering AKB 48's concept of "idols you can meet" for example, the program composition of ‘Produce 48’ may be completely different from the first and second season, but I would like to look back at the second season here.
‘Produce101’ had the premise that viewers become national producers, and eventually it became all about the rankings. The official website has been open from the start of broadcasting. It is a system that allows you to vote once a day; it is a Korean site but authentication by Facebook and Twitter is also possible in addition to a mail address, so it is easy to vote from outside Korea as well. If ‘Produce 48’ also has the same system, if we consider the case that AKB fans make an effort in their voting behavior, I estimate that the number of votes will further rise.
In the second season, trainees from 52 offices except for the three major entertainment offices in Korea （SM、JYP、YG） and 101 trainees from general applications gathered. BoA is the national producer representative of season 2 (also responsible for advancing the program). BoA is an admired experienced leader, who was also active overseas and experienced being a trainee herself; she understands the trainees well, and is considered to be a good representative both by the viewers and the trainees as well, garnering sympathy from them. I will be paying attention to who will be the representative in 'Produce 48'.
Also, it is frequently televised that the instructors, who are famous in the K-Pop industry and also artists themselves, train the artists strictly but with love, and lead them. The trainees stayed in the same dormitory during the filming period, and they were separated into classes in the beginning. They strived to gain attention while surviving group confrontations so that they could go up a class; collisions among the members were encouraged. Their behavior at that time was also reflected in the people’s vote, this was one of the interesting things. The sight of the body not moving as expected, and the person shedding tears after giving all their strength and being overcome with emotion, has been enough to make me cry. I am expecting such an appearance among the participating AKB 48 members as well.
In the second season, groups that had already debuted, such as NU'EST, also participated, and there was also a phenomenon that popularity rose after the program ended. As same as the other trainee, they are evaluated only based on performance during the program, and result that only one of the NU'EST members made it to the final 11. There is a big difference in the degree of name recognition among the members of AKB48, but if the results never considering this and are judged only based on the evaluation within the program, there may be members gathering attention despite not hitting the spotlight until now.
■ In conclusion
In parallel with the fact that K-Pop is strategically distributing videos on social networks and streaming sites, in Japan, especially since last year, the principal media for watching K-Pop is moving from terrestrial TV to cable, and also transitioning to video sites such as YouTube, and streaming sites like Mnet smart and V Live.
As a result, the center of K-Pop's fan base has shifted from women over 50 years old who grew to like K-Pop through Korean dramas to women in their 20s and teenagers, with many female high school students on their way to live venues. At the same time, as also picked up by NHK’s “Close-up Gendai” the other day, teenage Japanese boys and girls who think that they would like to be on the stage of K-Pop have appeared, and several Japanese people have made their actual debut, like Mina, Sana, and Momo of TWICE, or JBJ's Kenta Takada. The fact that the ‘Produce 48’ project was started at a time when such a flow is very timely and I think it will be a catalyst for a new wind blowing in the closed-off music industry of Japan.
Also, although I thought that AKB is no longer supported by average girls (with most fans being middle-aged men), looking at the data it is clear that their rate of favorability is high among teenage girls.
source：Fields Yoka Survey 2018（*1）
* For the sake of convenience regarding categories, 19 year olds were included among people in their twenties.
There are signs that this project, aimed at the generation of high school girls, who are the most sensitive to trends in Japan, will dominate the music industry of Japan and Korea in 2018. In this January, “‘Produce48’ staff were coming and going between Japan and Korea, and begin to record profile videos etc. Same as in season 1 and 2, there is a PD in charge of the performances’ progress." said a report, and it was announced that "The broadcast is planned in this May." I would like to continue to pay attention to what kind of results will come from the joint efforts of the Korean entertainment office, which develops multinational idol groups to win fans in different countries, and Mr. Akimoto, who heads the promotion of trained idols.