There are many mentally unwell girls in AKB48, claims ex-member

eing an idol singer in Japan is at least as much about the personality you radiate as the vocals you produce. Sure, idol songs may be almost invariably sweet and sugary, but the performers themselves are expected to be even more cheerful, cultivating the sort of earnest, plucky persona that attracts loyal fanbases.

But every day isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for idols, even those who are part of the industry’s most successful and prestigious group, AKB48. On Jan 14, former AKB48 member Miki Nishino, who was with the Akihabara-based unit from 2012 to 2017, appeared on streaming service Abema TV’s “Ogiya Hagi no Busu” TV talk show. Now a TV and media personality, during her appearance the 19-year-old Nishino said: “There are a lot of mentally unwell girls in AKB48.”Nishino gave examples of AKB48 members who would set up their Line messaging app profiles with statements like “I think someday things will start going my way,” or “If I keep looking forward, I can see that things will get better,” or who would make their profile pictures a solid black field. Describing such actions as “attempts to get attention,” Nishino said “It’s obvious that they’re hoping someone will help them,” and voiced her opinion that it would be better for them to “just come right out and say so.” It’s worth considering why idols might be suffering from mental or emotional distress. Though Nishino gave an obvious potential source by saying “AKB has a busy schedule, so a lot of girls [feel that way],” there’s also an intense amount of pressure placed on its members. Aside from competition with other groups in an era when the Japanese idol market is more crowded than ever before, part of the marketing for AKB48 (as well as many other idol groups) involves regularly holding “elections,” popularity contests in which fans cast votes for their favorite idol within the group, with the tallied results and rankings being publicly announced and tracked. At the same time, being part of a musical team, as with any team in Japan, comes with intense pressure to perform as closely as possible to perfection, since Japanese culture routinely stresses the importance of fulfilling responsibilities to the group over personal satisfaction.