The renowned music producer, lyricist, television writer and university professor shares his secret to success and responds to critics
Yasushi Akimoto, the producer of Japanese idol phenomenon AKB48, sits down with ‘Talk Asia' this week for an in-depth interview. Akimoto shares with Anna Coren what inspired him to start the group and his plans to expand his pop empire, even though the band already holds a Guinness World Record for the world's largest pop group. Talk Asia also goes backstage at the AKB48 theatre in Tokyo to meet some of the stars, plus travels to Jakarta to follow the auditions of ‘JKT48', a new spinoff sister group being formed in Indonesia. Akimoto also responds to criticism that some of his lyrics are too suggestive to be sung by young girls.
Please find excerpts from the interview with Yasushi Akimoto below. The full interview transcript will be available upon request after the first airing of the show.
‘CNN's Talk Asia' must be credited for any use of this material.
ON THE FORMATION OF AKB48
YASUSHI AKIMOTO, PRODUCER: None of the girls have strong personalities, but once they get together, they bring about chemical reactions. In other words, all the girls are quite ordinary but when they get together, and each one comes into the picture, you can see their charm. So, I thought that's interesting.
AKIMOTO: Because the girls are really cute, the attraction for some people is that they imagine them as their girlfriends or their idols. Girls who are around the same age as the AKB girls try to become like them and work really hard towards that. With the older generations, it's not that they are striving to realize their dreams like AKB, but they want to cheer the girls on.
ON COMPARING AKB48 WITH TALENT SHOWS IN THE WEST
AKIMOTO: I think we can't stack up against the strength of entertainment in the West. It is very difficult to find talents of that level of singing, acting and dancing in Japan. Praising their [American Idols'] talents and buying their CDs are a form of entertainment, but AKB is not the case. It is about people who want to apply for American Idol but are not very good at singing. They want to dance on Broadway but [are] not really good at it. We show the process of their growth, that they are trying and making efforts, which is different from the West. I don't think we can win if we compete on their turf.
ON EXPANDING THE AKB48 BRAND
AKIMOTO: Because news of AKB48 has spread by way of our website, people say they want to see the performances live, that's why we created new teams with people who were born in Nagoya and Osaka. Kids in those areas can audition as well.
AKIMOTO: People in Indonesia were interested in AKB48. That is why we decided to try it in Jakarta. Kids watched AKB on the internet and they want to do the same, but they don't know whether they have talent. Also it's difficult [for them] to go to Japan to audition.
ON RESPONDING TO CRITICISM ABOUT HIS LYRICS
AKIMOTO: I was often asked how someone like me who is over 50 can write songs for young kids. I remember what it was like when I was a teenager. When I look back, there were sexual things and other things around that interested me. I change them to be not dirty, but more romantic in my lyrics.
AKIMOTO: Unless I take up the issues the girls are facing, as a songwriter, the issues won't get addressed. There are kids out there who want to take off their school uniforms and misbehave, and I am depicting realities in their lives in which they wonder whether it's ok to think that way. I'm not forcing them. I'm picturing their private lives partly based on my imagination or newspaper articles or TV news. I watch what their generation is doing, the issues of bullying, suicides and sugar-daddy traps and turning them to my song themes.
ON AKB48'S ROLE IN JAPAN'S EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI RELIEF OPERATION
AKIMOTO: Japan is in pain and AKB48 wants to spread energy to everyone, first and foremost. And of course, we would like to continue our support activities. Among other things, I would like to send a message with AKB48 that you can make your dreams come true. I would like to deliver this message not only to Japan but also to people all over the world. Dreams do come true, but how it is realized might be more or less than what you had expected.
Highlights of Yasushi Akimoto's interview with ‘Talk Asia' will be available online at www.cnn.com/talkasia.
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