If you haven’t heard it yet, apologies must be made in advance, as this song is incredibly catchy and will remain in your head — even if you don’t speak Thai. Featuring the girls in typical kawaii Japanese-inspired outfits in the music video, the group’s most popular song to date, “Koisuru Fortune Cookie” (known as “Khukki Siangthai” in Thai), is a jaunty pop tune featuring nice harmonies, catchy refrains and all the other ingredients that make a pop song a hit. It’s the group’s most popular song, with an impressive 74,000,000 views on YouTube, which is greater than the population of Thailand — not a bad effort for a song in the Thai language. At the end of the video, each member of the group is introduced with her nickname and full name — however, it’ll take more than that to remember their names…
If two is a company and three’s a crowd, what exactly is 26? Well, in Thailand at least, the answer is clear: BNK48. Whilst most girl groups are content with three or four members, BNK48 defy all conventions with a staggering 26 members. Despite criticisms that having so many members will lead to problems in terms of favouritism and screen time, if anything, it’s worked to their advantage. Whilst most members are from Bangkok, some come from further flung corners of the country, such as Isan, Chiang Rai and Chonburi — with three members also from Japan — an effective tool in terms of garnering support from around the country. There’s also a diverse age range, from as young as 14 up to 23 years old, which further boosts the relatability of the group.
In the West, the typical recipe for success in the music business is (theoretically, at least) musical talent. Yet, at BNK48, it’s almost as if that’s not the main consideration. Whilst they are undoubtedly talented, it’s each member’s status as an “idol” that’s appealing to the fans. As an idol, the members are expected to be on their best behaviour in order to be good role models for their followers, and it’s proven a success. Each member has several fan groups across social media, where memes, photos and posts are shared daily between fans eager to support their chosen idol. Through active use of social media channels such as Instagram and live streaming, members of BNK48 are seen as more relatable than other groups, which goes some way to explain their success. Whilst it might be expected that their fans are predominantly teenage girls, that isn’t necessarily the case; plenty of adults and males are also in on the act, as observed on social media and in the video for their single “Koisuru Fortune Cookie”. However, being an idol comes with its restraints. Members of the group aren’t allowed boyfriends — or not publicly, at least — and have to follow other rules to do with social media etiquette that could see them out of the band if broken.
A sister group of Japan’s popular AKB48 group, from which also came China’s SNH48 and Indonesia’s JKT48, there’s certainly a blueprint for success to follow. It’s said that in 2017 and 2018, a whopping 200,000,000 THB is to be invested into the group, with profits expected in 2019 as a result of sponsorship, shows and merchandise sales. They’re making the right moves; meet and greets remain popular with the fans, and last week saw the announcement of a collaboration between the group and the Thailand national football team, a move that’s sure to sell merchandise and tap into other markets. Yet whilst streams of singles have been high, physical sales have been low, and doubts remain about the viability of such a large group. Despite these doubts, it’s hard to argue that the first steps of BNK48 have been encouraging — and “Fortune Cookie” more popular than anyone could image — and it’s bound to be an interesting year seeing how they get on.