this is what acchan(maeda atsuko) had declared on the mic, tears streaming down her face when she was announced #1 by fans in a senbatsu selection.
there was an interesting interview with maeda in a written article that was translated and posted on a forum a while ago that i found very interesting (translated by wazawai6318 . thanks!).
it was different than any other i’ve read; there was something real and tangible that didn’t seem rehearsed or sugar-coated. she was asked questions about when akb48 first debuted, and the tribulations the girls had gone through just to get started. click to read more.
(about the audition)“Honestly speaking, I didn’t like it. ‘Why did I audition?’ I thought. ‘Ah, it’s impossible!’ I thought. There were a lot of people older than me too, and some like Kojima Haruna looked really grown up. ‘Why are there such grown-up people here?!’, and I thought that I was totally in the wrong place. And I couldn’t talk to anybody, or about anything.”
it’s the first time i’ve heard such candid, unfiltered words come out of maeda atsuko. with no experience, she decided to audition with her parent’s approval against the swarm of girls that have had training and background in the entertainment industry. there were girls who had seen each other at other auditions, cliques and tight-knit groups that left maeda feeling lost, alone, and completely out-leagued by everyone else. she had no idea that she would soon be chosen to be a front girl, and represent akb48.
24 girls were selected to become team A. by the time of their first performance, there were 20. maeda shed some light into why, explaining that some girls just stopped showing up to practice. the choreographer was extremely strict, and was said to even kick out someone because of being absent without a notice. “if you can’t do it, then leave!” is a phrase maeda recalls being told everyday. that kind of pressure being put on girls who weren’t prepared for what it meant to be a part of an idol group is staggering. maeda pushed on, and was selected to be one of the few fronts girls with a mic onstage. but even that wouldn’t prepare them for facing the world for the first time as team A.
akb48 debuted for the first time on 2005, december 8th, to an audience of 72 people, many of which were family and friends. but as the days went on, the numbers rapidly fell. maeda recalls there being a day where there were only 8 people in the audience.
“Each day was full of anxiety. ‘How many people will show up today? This is horrible. There are more of us than there are audience members.’ ‘Isn’t it better to quit?’ We all cried together and encouraged each other.”
it took 2 months of pushing forward and gaining loyal support before they finally had a full house on february 8, a huge achievement, much to the delight of the girls; but more rough waters lay ahead. with new members being recruited fighting for maeda’s front girl position and the announcement of team K, more problems arose.
maeda had confessed “i hated it” when she was called once again to the front in team A’s 2nd stage. what felt like equal footing in the 1st stage, somehow changed dramatically when the choreographer set the front girls for the 2nd. silent tension rose between members.
“Members of the same age such as Minegishi Minami and Hiroshima Natsumi had to dance behind me. They were just as competitive as me, so even though we didn’t really fight about it, I still heard them complaining about it. Whenever we talk about the old times in Team A, everybody says that those times were the most trying. We say things like ‘I don’t want to recall the 2nd stage.’ ”
the arrival of team K only stirred up tensions even more among the girls in team A, worried that they may be pushed aside. after all the work they put into being recognized and finally performing in front of a full house, the announcement that auditions for team K had started just 3 months later had dampened their spirits. maeda revealed that when team K members were chosen and showed up on the scene, it jump-started a rivalry between them.
“I, too, thought, ‘Ah, I can’t lose to them.’ So at first, Team A and Team K were rivals.”
akimoto yasushi, the producer and creator of akb48, acknowledged the internal chaos that was happening and told the girls it was important to tell each other everything they were thinking; to the point where at the end of the 2nd stage performance, members were told to say what they honestly felt to each other, in front of the audience.
“We were all made to say ‘At that time, I felt this way….’ For example, things like ‘I didn’t like being behind Acchan.’ I too spoke my mind and said ‘I didn’t want to do Nagisa no Cherry’. For us, that was an important moment. It took a weight off our shoulders, and also allowed our fans to understand what we were thinking.”
the interview goes on to reveal how devastating it was when the teams were temporarily shuffled to perform “himawari-gumi” stages, but how it was a good experience overall. she laughingly says “there’s no saying no in akb”, and how the girls place their trust in akimoto yasushi to do what is best for the direction of the group, even if they initially felt opposed to it. this was especially so in the infamous announcement at the budokan concert in 2009 that the three teams would be shuffled indefinitely.
it was surprising to me that this kind of trust went both ways as well; she says that akimoto gives little direction to how the girls should behave, just to “please act on your better sense.” this kind of transparency is something that i feel is crucial to what makes akb48 what it is today.
now all three teams: team A, team K and team B are indispensable to each other. the rough and desperate beginnings have paid off with akb48 having widespread recognition and success that seemed impossible when the girls first started. everyone knows akb48 won’t be big forever, but maeda doesn’t worry for the future. everyone is focused on the present, and making the most of it.