Japanese music group AKB48 currently holds the Guinness record for the world’s largest pop group, with an impressive 88 female members split into various teams. But fitting all the girls on a single stage is tricky, so every time they launch a new single, AKB48 members hold a knockout rock-paper-scissors tournament to select a limited number of singers.
AKB48 is the brainchild of producer Yasushi Akimoto, who wanted to create a girl band that, unlike other pop groups who are mostly seen on TV and hold concerts sporadically, could perform for its fans live, every day, at their own theater. The band debuted in 2005 with 20 members chosen from almost 8,000 girls. In April of 2006, another group of 18 girls were chosen to form Team B of AKB48, and there are currently four different teams making up the 88-strong all-female idol group, as well as various sister groups Japan and various Asian countries. The team concept of AKB48 was meant to take load off of its members, since daily concerts at the group’s theater in Akibahara, Tokyo, are performed by only one of the teams, and also allow the others to make appearances at different locations around the world. In the eight years since its inception, AKB48 has become a social phenomenon, with record sales of $226 million in Japan alone. The girls have become so popular that tickets for their daily performances are not even sold anymore, but distributed by lottery. Even their unique rock-paper-scissors tournament to select lead singers for each new single is a sold-out event held at the giant Nippon Budokan arena.
AKB48 is not only the world’s largest pop groups, but also one of the most confusing. The faces of its members in official videos can change completely from one song to he next, because of their singer selection method. Whenever they launch a new song, the four teams making up AKB48, as well as a number of trainees, from which future members are chosen, gather at the Nippon Budokan arena to participate in a knockout rock-paper-scissors tournament called Janken. The last 16 girls left in the competition get to perform the upcoming song, while the ultimate winner becomes lead singer. On September 18, Jurina Matsui won the latest competition, taking home the coveted rock-paper-scissors trophy and winning the role of lead singer in AKB48’s 34th single.
Members of AKB48 range from young teens to girls in their early 20s. As they get older, they “graduate” and are replaced from a groups of trainees selected through auditions held frequently, and groomed to become proper AKB48 idols. According to various sources, the girls are required by contract to be “well-behaved”and are not allowed to have boyfriends. If they break the rules they may be punished or expelled. In February 2013, a YouTube video showing AKB48 member Minami Minegishi with a shaved head caused controversy on the internet and in Japanese show-business. In the video, the singer apologized for spending the night with a man, thus breaching her contract, and announced she had been demoted to trainee status. Shaving the girl’s head was considered an extreme punishment and drew a lot of criticism. Still, the group remains hugely popular in Japan…