A perfect ‘Starto’
Overflowing Thai girl group BNK48 give the adoring ‘otaku’ just what they want in twin debut concerts
It is an undeniable fact that BNK48 – Thailand’s answer to Japan’s hugely successful girl group AKB48 – is leading the hottest new trend in music in the Land of Smiles. They’re garnering so much attention that it’s pulling the industry out of its stagnant soup and injecting some life into it again.
“Idol girl groups” are suddenly all the rage here, even if they’ve been popular in Japan and South Korea for years. BNK48 have some catching up to do, but they made mighty strides at last week’s twin soldout “Starto” concerts at Bitec in Bang Na.
Each of the shows pulled in 5,000 otaku, to borrow something else from Japan. That’s the term for people with obsessive interests.
The hustle began outside before the concerts, where hundreds of otaku – especially young guys, not surprisingly – formed a long queue to buy BNK48 merchandise. There were T-shirts screened with “Starto” and “BNK48”, baseball caps, key chains, wristbands, penlights and campus cards, and there was a spot nearby designating for trading and selling the stuff you’ve already collected.
Some of this stuff fetches amazingly high prices. Three sets of six early photos of band member Jan could be had for Bt20,000. A complete set of six rare early photos of Cherprang were going for Bt30,000. If the Cherprang pictures were autographed, you’re looking at Bt300,000.
Should that sound overpriced, check out the sales tags on some of the key chains and pins. There’s a lot of variation in the prices, though, because, let’s face it, the ladies of BNK48 are not equally popular.
The packed concert hall had separate segments for people who’d paid for seats and those who were happy to stay standing (and dancing). More than 5,000 purple light sticks starting waving around as a roar went up with the appearance onstage of the BNK48 “A-list” of 16 senbatsu.
These were the frontwomen, to coin a word, the 16 members selected to sing on the “A” side of singles and hog the limelight in public. Cherprang is the band’s “captain” and led Tarwaan, Pun, Orn, Kaew, Jan, Jennis, Pupe, Kaimook, Mobile, Namneung, Jane, Satchan, Jaa, Music and Noey through a rousing rendition of “Shonichi” (“Wan Raek”).
Then 10 “undergirls” (their term this time) joined the senbatsu onstage. These are the ones from the B-side of the singles, such as “Aitakata” (“Yak Cha Dai Phop Ther”), which figured on the soundtrack of “Shoot! I Love You” from Project S the Series, and “Oogoe Diamond” (“Kor Chob Hai Roo Wa Chob”).
They whipped through these, produced a surprise birthday cake for Kaew and sang “Namida Surprise”, and finished off with a weepy Pun reading a heart-wrenching letter. The lyrics in part go “Happy birthday, it is your birthday cake. Pray and blow out your candles, then enjoy your party!”
After all that intensity, the 26 members of the group needed a break from singing, so they took turns introducing themselves, as if the otaku had no idea who each and every one of them were. The girls use “catchphrases” by way of introduction. Each has an individual set of words and gestures designed to get the fans frenzied.
The music resumed with “Party ga Hjimaru yo” (“Party Dai Rerm Khuen Laew”), “Dear My Teacher” and “Doku Ringo wo Tabesasete” (“Apple Arb Yapis”).
“Dear My Teacher” isn’t exactly a respectful tribute to educators. It hints at a forbidden sexual relationship between teacher and student, over which the student ends up needing some consolation.
Girls being girls, they danced and flicked up their skirts for “Skirt, Hirari” and then settled down for more schooling in “Classmate”.
Enthusiastic applause and screams greeted Kaew as she sat at the piano to play “Anata to Christmas Eve” and again after she sang a duet with Tarwaan.
Jennis, Music and Noey wore glittering gold sack dresses for the sexy phrasing of “Kiss wa Dame yo”, and Kaimook, Korn, Orn and Cherprang did “Hoshi no Ondo” (“Unhapoom Khong Duangdao”).
The reassembled BNK48 next performed “Aozora no Soba ni Ite” (“Fah See Khram”) and “Sakura no Hanabiratachi”. Cherprang explained that the latter was perfect for saying farewell to members as they departed after graduation.
The screams hit a crescendo at the first few notes of the hit “Koisuru Fortune Cookie”. BNK48 showed off the dance style called onigiri – it involves a hand motion that looks like you’re patting rice together and rolling it into balls. And they followed that up with their self-titled anthem. “BNK48” doubles as a bit of Thai tourism promotion. Then came “365 Nichi no Kamihikouki” (“365 Day Kap Khruangbin Kradat”) – and “River”, a new track being performed live for first time.
Repeated shouts of “BNK, BNK, BNK” got the girls back onstage for an encore, which turned out to be another round of “Koisuru Fortune Cookie”, but this time everyone in the place was ready to dance the onigiri with them.