A week ago Minami Minegishi was a silken-haired jewel in one of Japan’s pop music crowns, the all-girl group AKB48.
Now, Minegishi has shaved her hair after issuing a tearful online mea culpa for disobeying one of the cardinal rules in Japan’s squeaky clean pop idol world. Her crime? She slept with her boyfriend.
A You Tube video of the singer pleading for forgiveness after being snapped by a scandal rag emerging from her boyfriend’s apartment has scored over four million hits in 24 hours.
“I’m so sorry for worrying my fans and other members of the group,” says the ashen-faced 20 year-old singer, who explained that she had shaved her head in an act of contrition.
“I don’t believe just doing this means I can be forgiven for what I did, but the first thing I thought was that I don’t want to quit AKB48.”
One of Asia’s top pop groups, AKB48 features a revolving cast of members, some as young as 13. Deliberately steeped in risqué sexual appeal, their image is a frothy mix of lingerie-wearing Lolita and innocent schoolgirl. The lyrics to one song go: “I want to take off my school uniform, I want to misbehave, you can do whatever you like, I want to experience adult pleasure”.
But the group members must adhere to a strict code of behaviour: dating and sexual relations are banned, as is anything that might break the spell that they are somehow unattainable to their male fans. Last year another member of the band was demoted after a weekly magazine revealed that she had a sexual history.
News of the article on Minegishi quickly went viral and forced the group’s management into crisis mode. A message on the official AKB48 website announced that the singer had been demoted to “trainee level” for the overnight tryst with a dancer in a boy band. That could be the kiss of death for her career: In her video, the singer says she is leaving it up to their manager, Yasushi Akimoto, to decide on her fate.
Some online fans rallied to her cause, pleading with her to tough out the scandal and stay in the group, but thousands of critical comments also flooded cyberspace last night.
“She disgusts me,” said one. “She doesn’t deserve the people who support her.”
As one of the older members of the group, Ms Minegishi said she keenly felt the weight of responsibility for what she did. “I was supposed to be in the position where I always had to act as a role model for the junior members. But what I did was extremely thoughtless and lacked self-awareness.”