is undoubtedly the biggest group in Japan. Not only do they have more members than any other group, they also sell better than any other group, achieving record-level sales that seemed unattainable in the modern music industry. For years, the group seemed unstoppable. However, when several popular group members began leaving the group, AKB48’s ability to remain the dominate powerhouse came into doubt.
On September 30, 2014, SM Entertainment officially let Jessica go from Girls’ Generation
. Prior to this sudden shock, Girls’ Generation was effectively South Korea’s closest thing to AKB48. They were the country’s dominate girl group, and it seemed unimaginable that their place in the music industry would falter anytime soon. However, after kicking out a group member, Girls’ Generation’s longevity is in question in the same way AKB48's was.
was undoubtedly one of AKB48’s most important and popular members. When the singer announced she would graduate from AKB48
, fans were saddened by the news. What would the group do without one of its well-loved members? Fortunately for the group, management was smart in its handling of letting her go.
Maeda announced she would be graduating from AKB48 on March 25, 2012. Her final appearance and graduation from the group
occurred 4 months later on August 27, 2012. The reaction to Maeda’s graduation was initially bad. This isn’t very surprising though; who was going to be happy that she was leaving? During her final 4 months with AKB48, Maeda’s fans were able to come to terms with her departure. By the time she actually left, parades were organized
, streets were flooded with her fans, and the whole thing became a celebration of her time with the group.
When SM Entertainment announced that Jessica was suddenly dropped from Girls’ Generation, the company sprung a huge shock without giving fans time to come to terms with the loss. Fans weren’t given the opportunity to process the idea of Girls’ Generation being an 8-member group. In fact, with all 9 members of the group renewing their contracts for 3 years
, everyone expected another 3 years of Girls’ Generation. Even with this expectation, had SM Entertainment given fans a few months of warning that Jessica would be leaving, her departure would not have been a scandal. The public’s reaction would have evolved the way it did with Maeda’s graduation.
Although we can’t know everything that happened behind the scenes leading up to Jessica’s dismissal from the group, it seems clear that SM Entertainment was aware Jessica’s time with the group was coming to an end, and that she was willing to continue on for at least one more album in the spring. Knowing this, it is unreasonably shortsighted of the company to suddenly kick Jessica out of the group. Not only have they created a great deal of bad will towards themselves and the group, they also missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on her departure.
Fans eagerly sought out everything Atsuko Maeda during her final months of her tenure as an AKB48 member. Fan events and concerts had unprecedented interest, and “Manatsu no Sounds Good
”, the idol’s final single, sold more copies than any other AKB48 single before it. In this way, Maeda’s departure actually benefited the group through an increase in sales, attendance and media attention.
Had SM Entertainment allowed Jessica to stay with Girls’ Generation until a future “graduation” date, the company could have profited from her departure in the same way. As one of the most beloved groups in K-pop, Girls’ Generation’s final album as a 9-member group could have been one of their best-selling albums. The group could have held a farewell tour for Jessica which would have had people fighting for tickets to see the group with all 9 members for the last time. Fan merchandise to commemorate her departure would have sold well as well. SM Entertainment missed out on all of these opportunities by kicking Jessica out of the group.
Part of Girls’ Generation appeal was the bond between the members. They all seemed to genuinely like each other and were as close as sisters. This illusion was shattered as their scandal brought to light internal strife amongst members who we had been led to believe were the pinnacle of sisterhood. Now that we know this, years of carefully-crafted image building has been undone, and we will never be able to look at the group’s dynamics the same again.
J-pop’s graduation system circumvents the problems Girls’ Generation is facing by making the group member’s split from the group completely amicable. Girls leave their group to pursue their individual goals and dreams. The decision to leave comes from the group member herself, the group supports her decision, and their bonds strengthen as they cherish their final months together in the public eye. There is a sense that the graduating member is moving on to the next stage of their life. Rather than being allowed to flourish into her own person like her Japanese counterparts, Jessica seems to have been dumped on the side of the street by SM Entertainment. The lack of empathy exhibited by the company only serves to damage their image, and by proxy, the image of their artist.
J-pop groups have proven for years that losing members from a popular group doesn’t necessarily spell its demise. In fact, the J-pop industry has perfected the graduation system, allowing their idol groups to live on for generations without a loss of trust in the group and its managing company, without a loss of popularity, and without a loss in sales figures. If SM Entertainment was smart, they would look to their Japanese counterparts for ideas on how to handle future lineup changes, otherwise they will continue to alienate their fanbase.
In the 4 months prior to Atsuko Maeda’s graduation from AKB48, the group outperformed itself. In the 4 months prior to Jessica’s dismissal from Girls’ Generation, SM Entertainment lost not only her, but Kris
as well, with f(x)
on indefinite hiatus. AKB48 broke records in 4 months. SM Entertainment is simply breaking down.
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