Think about “Baby One More Time”-era Britney Spears. Add a touch of “Glee.” Now, multiply that by 57. That’s the math behind AKB48, the Japanese girl group so big that it holds the Guinness Record for the world’s largest pop group: 57 schoolgirl uniforms, 57 bared midriffs, and 57 dewy-eyed teenagers.
After a quick look at AKB48’s infectiously cheery music videos, it’s easy to see why they’re one of the highest-grossing musical acts in the world, earning $200 million in 2011 CD and DVD sales alone. To put that in perspective, Style Blog recently posted that Taylor Swift was Billboard’s top-earning artist in 2011 at a paltry $35 million by comparison.
The group was founded in 2005 by producer Yasushi Akimoto, who wanted to form a theater-based pop group that would perform every day for fans. They were named after the Tokyo area Akihabara, where their theater remains. The group started with 20 girls, and has steadily expanded, to as many as 90 members, by some accounts. Officially, there are currently 57 girls, divided into four teams — one of which will be performing at the Cherry Blossom Festival.
In a concert celebrating Japanese pop culture, 16 members will perform two shows at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington on March 27 (at 4 and 7:30 p.m.). It’s the group’s first trip to D.C., part of a tour to thank Americans for their support during the 2011 Japanese earthquake. Tickets, which will be available on Eventbrite beginning March 13, are free. The performers will also visit the District’s Thomson Elementary School.
The women of AKB48 won’t find our schools to be unfamiliar, though — looking at their music videos, it seems as though many of them were filmed in look-alikes of American schools, complete with the familiar tropes: Cheerleaders, basketball courts, and of course, 57 uniformed schoolgirls dancing in perfect unison.