How Japanese girl group AKB48 was let down by its Chinese baby

June 14, 2016 15:52
SNH48 has an independent streak the Japanese group that spawned it hadn't bargained for. Photo:

If there is a mistake AKB48, the popular Japanese girl idol group, has made in its 10-year history, it was its decision to expand into China.

The largest pop group, according to Guinness World Records, and one of the most profitable, recently cut its four-year-old ties with its offshoot, SNH48, because its Shanghai baby had violated its contract.

Apparently, SNH48 has become so successful and aggressive that it has set up two subsidiaries – BEJ48 and GNZ48 – to replicate its successful business model in Beijing and Guangzhou, without informing its Japanese partner.

Founded in 2012, SNH48 has become a hit, following in the footsteps of AKB48.

More than 30,000 teenage girls in China applied to join the group, which built on the “idols you can meet” concept by organizing “handshake” events where fans can meet group members.

To boost the Shanghai group's ride to success, AKB48 designated two of its own members to join SNH48, which is building the SNH48 Theater, also known as the Star Dream Theater.

In China, you are not counted as successful until someone duplicates your name or business in a similar form, because imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery in the mainland.

To AKB48, whose name is based on Akihabara, a district in Tokyo where the girls group is headquartered, the breakup was a sad occasion.

Its failure to stop its Chinese partner from leveraging independently on its franchise represented a setback in its push to other Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

SNH48, however, shed no tears.

The Shanghai-based group reiterated it is a fully independent and autonomous female idol group native to China, stressing that it was only tied to AKB48 on a “technical level”.

It also said the creation of sister groups in Beijing and Guangdong was a sign of SNH48’s independence.

As one might have expected, SNH48 has easily attracted a suitor – and there seems to be no better fit than Alibaba Pictures Group Ltd. (1060.HK), the parent of which, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., is often criticized for making money from selling pirated goods.

With an arguably more powerful parent, SNH48 can be expected to rev up its business in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

The group's streak of independence may be something the mainland authorities might want to monitor.



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