Minami Minghesi, 20, is part of a Japanese pop group called AKB48, a collection of more than 230 young singers and dancers aged between 14-20, according to the Guardian. This pop phenomenon stems from the rather unique celebrity culture that exists in Japan. “Idols,” writes Patrick W. Galbraith,” are heavily produced and promoted men and women who perform across media genres and platforms.” These idols who make up the extremely popular AKB48 girl band, are banned from dating, must “behave,” and are not allowed to have boyfriends, writes the Telegraph. This restriction on dating is known among their teenage and large male fan base as the “Love-Ban Law.”
But Minami broke this rule when she was caught on camera leaving the apartment of her 19-year-old boyfriend, shortly after which an announcement on the band’s official blog wrote that the performer would be demoted to “trainee level.” In repentance for her “unforgivable” act, Minami took to the Internet, offering up a four-minute long apology. However, the big shock was that in the mere hours since the photos were published, the pop star had shaved off all her hair. Although cutting ones hair is a Japanese traditional symbol of a new start, a young woman shaving her head for having spent time with a man of similar age seems extreme.
The video, which in the last 24 hours has received nearly five million views, shows an emotional Minami apologizing to her fans for making such a “thoughtless and immature decision.” Referring to her decision to shave her head, she tells viewers, “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.” She later posted on her Google+ page, “I know that you have varied opinions about my decision to shave my hair, but this is what I decided to do to show you that I am really reflecting on my actions.”
But why did this young woman feel obliged to take such extreme measures? According to the Japan Times, she is trying to protect her fans’ “fragile fantasies.” The Japanese newspaper writes that these pop groups create an idol culture that is not just about making music but about selling a fantasy narrative to their followers. With AKB48, fans can watch new members “stumble, fluff lines and maybe cry a bit on stage.” The fans must believe that these girls are sincere and in order to create this façade, the teenagers and young women involved are prevented from leading a normal life. And in an attempt to reaffirm how serious she is, Minami has taken extreme steps so that she may remain part of a hugely successful Japanese pop music industry.