SDN48 posing in front of the Merlion, Singapore’s manufactured tourism symbol

I caught SDN48 live performing in Singapore at Scape last Friday. I was going to wait for the official concert photos to be distributed to the blogosphere before I write about it, but the PR minions are taking forever and my recollection of the event is growing faint as the curse of old age silently obliterates my memory.

So yeah, this is what I think. I’ll just add in photos later if they ever show up.

SDN48, or Saturday Night 48, is AKB48‘s more “adult” sister group. It is the most recent entry in AKB48’s growing idol empire and the only group of the four that is not regional-based. SDN48 members are generally in their 20s and older than the members of the other three groups, with some of them being former AKB48 members.

AKB48 is really the only group with any significant overseas fan-base, so it was rather surprising for SDN48 to hold a live in Singapore. After all, AKB48 itself belongs to a small niche outside of Japan, while SDN48 remains a niche even within Japan. Last Friday’s live was actually SDN48’s first ever overseas performance.

SDN48 posing in Orchard Road, Singapore’s take on Venice’s Grand Canal

The performance was actually rather enjoyable, despite my near-complete ignorance of everything AKB48 and its spin-offs. The songs are standard pop fare, but faster paced, more rhythmic and with more dance beats than most of what I’ve heard from AKB48.

Being the so-called “adult” version idol group, SDN48’s music videos and stage presentations are slightly more risqué than what J-Pop idol groups like Morning Musume usually go for (e.g. soap-bubble bath, revealing costumes and implied lesbianism) but nothing that will incite pitchforks and angry mobs. Might be kind of pseudo-provocative thirty years ago.

That said, one of SDN48’s numbers last Friday had a dance routine that included sexy corsets, stockings with garterbelts and — wait for it — three pairs of black panties being thrown into the audience. I’m guessing you wouldn’t see that at an AKB48 concert. Heh.

SDN48 members who performed last Friday

The interesting part for me was that, of the twelve SDN48 members sent to perform in Singapore, there were Chen Qu, a native of Shenyang, China, and Sayaka Kondo, who grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Between the two of them, they had both English and Mandarin Chinese — the two main languages spoken in Singapore — covered. Heck, SDN48 has a main single whose title is partially Korean (Ai, Chuseyo) and one of their other songs has Chen Qu doing verses in Chinese. Talk about market research.

It’s quite clear that the whole 48 franchise is just raring to make it big in the international (ala East Asian) market and a lot of groundwork is being done by the producers attempting to pull it off. SDN48’s dance routines and presentation styles are noticeably influenced by the current tide of Korean pop dominating the market, which in turn draws on international and Western influences more than past Japanese idol groups. Yasushi Akimoto has definitely been taking notes and learning from Japan’s past successes and recent failures.

Still, the inclusion of two Chinese members did not save Morning Musume from its free-falling descent into obscurity and niche-dom, and I think it’s still too early to tell if AKB48 and its sister groups can successfully become J-Pop’s new messiah and growth engine in the international market, a position that has been unfilled since Ayumi Hamasaki.

The Caucasian guy is a metaphor for the overseas market

I estimated about 800-1000 seats in AKB48’s permanent live venue in Singapore. At 50 SGD a pop, that’s $50,000 per gig at the maximum, which is probably barely enough to pay for return Business class tickets from Japan for 12-16 girls and their entourage of manager(s) and make-up artist(s). Yasushi Akimoto is definitely investing for the long-term here.

Frankly, now I am thinking of catching one of the upcoming AKB48 lives in Singapore, purely out of academic curiosity. This could be (pop culture) history in the making.

Oh, one more thing: I am kind of obligated to inform you that Animax Asia is holding a contest called “AKB48 Watch & Win” to give out AKB48 Singapore live tickets, merchandises and meet & greet opportunities. From now until 26 August, a name of an AKB48 member will be shown on Animax between 8pm to 12am everyday from Mondays to Fridays. You have to submit the correct name to the official site to enter the lucky draw.

Kids, this is what happens when you sell your soul.

P.S. I still think Momusu was better in its heydays. D:

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