Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fountain of Youth Found

Photo of AKB48 by Skawt via Wikipedia
They've finally done it! In some backroom laboratory on the eighth floor of a discount shopping emporium nestled deep within Tokyo's famed otaku* mecca of Akihabara they have discovered the secret to eternal youth. The formula, called AKB48, consists of a group of pretty young talented girls too numerous to count on all our hands and feet combined. "AKB" is short for Akihabara while the "8" in "48" references the floor of the Don Quixote discount department store where the band's home theater is located (and I'm not too sure what the "4" is for).  Although this singing/dance phenomenon known to everyone as AKB48 has been around since 2005, the members haven't aged a day since the band's inception. Unfortunately there are limitations on the AKB48 formula for lasting youth. A notable one is that it really only works within the artificial boundaries of the entertainment world, but it does work. 


As noted in a September 19th Temple Valley Times article,the formula is simple enough for just about anyone to follow. All any talent agent or producer need do is "find a few pretty faces with sweet voices to match (although this is optional),  choreograph their every move, put them in front of the camera and voila, you have an instant money making machine whose parts can be periodically replaced before they wear out." 


That last ingredient is the real key to keeping the group forever young. While the life of an idol band like AKB48 can potentially span  decades, the individual members often change with the passing of each season. There is such a constant flow of fresh new faces in AKB48 that they all seem to blur into one imperceptible image of teenage desire. Even though Yasushi Akimoto, the production genius behind AKB48, may have perfected this formula for success, he certainly didn't invent it.


The roots of what Ponce de Leon once referred to as the fuente de juventud (Fountain of Youth) stretch far back in time to the tropical island paradise of Puerto Rico. It was on the shores of this sunny island nation that Edgardo Diaz hit upon an idea more precious than gold. The time was the late 1970's and the all-boy wonder group of Diaz' creation was taking the world by storm. There was no stopping this swirling musical force as it swept the western hemisphere and eventually the world. The band was dubbed "Menudo" and while the name (I believe) means "small change," this group was anything but. Like the current reiterations of this cash machine (including AKB48, their older sisters, Morning Musume, and a host of other variations on the same basic theme), the members of Menudo would move on to greener pastures as soon as they saw their sixteenth birthday, grew facial hair, or, heaven forbid, their voices changed (whether it be for the better or worse). 


Forced retirement at such a tender age may sound awful but it's not always the end of the world for these blossoming entertainers. While, the meat slaughtering industry aside, there is perhaps no business more brutal than show biz, it's not all one big meat factory either. A few "graduates" of AKB48 have gone on to enjoy successful careers in the entertainment field in the same way Menudo has spawned adult singing sensations like Ricky Martin and more. 


While inorganic creations like Menudo and AKB48 may sound very cold and modern to some, the truth is the whole idea is as old as the hills of Austria. When it comes to all-adolescent groups who rotate their members with the falling of the winter leaves, this has got to be the granddaddy of them all:


The Vienna Boys Choir







*Otaku is the term often used to refer to those obsessed with all things anime, electronic games, electronics, etc. It's often translated as geek or nerd.


Related post: Dancing to a Different Beat

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