MANILA -- While MNL48 has seen a rise in the number of fans lifting lightsticks in appreciation of their efforts to open up the idol genre to a Filipino audience, there’s no denying that a vast majority still see them as nothing but, rather unfairly, a cheap imitation of K-pop.
Never mind the fact that their system is based off Japan’s AKB48 (they are a sister group of the Japanese idol icons) —the girls of MNL48 are being made to work extra hard just to prove themselves worthy of a tiny piece of the mainstream pie, currently dominated by the much-more polished version of South Korea’s pop.
During their first-ever major concert at the packed New Frontier Theater in Cubao last Saturday, Alice, the group’s captain, told their fans that their one goal is to someday make Filipinos, most especially those who outright abhor the idea of them, proud.
“MNL48 is worth fighting for kasi mayroon pong naniniwala sa amin,” she said. “Kayo po ‘yung nagpapalakas sa amin para ipagpatuloy iyong pangarap namin.”
She was joined onstage by the other members, who all share the same passion in achieving this dream of theirs, in charging through their year-old discography, all of which are Tagalog versions of AKB48’s bubblegum-sweet hits, across the nearly two-hour affair.
Performing with a vitality that was infectious, the girls emerged with a pair of high-intensity openers, “Aitakatta —Gustong Makita” and “Tara na Party” (“PARTY ga hajimaru yo”).
The rhythmic back-and-forth between them and their fans, who were willfully filling in the instrumental breaks in songs by shouting chants and waving lighsticks inspired by how the devoted crowds back in Japan do it, was a delight to watch.
Highlights came on the moments when this interplay was at the fore, such as in the whirling chorus of “Heavy Rotation,” where screams of “I want you, I love you” were enthusiastically exchanged; in the oddly catchy “Manila 48,” a fan-favorite about random locations and tourist spots around Metro Manila; and during “Pag-ibig Fortune Cookie,” when everyone rolled imaginary Japanese rice balls while shouting “onigiri.”
Less exciting parts were mainly during unreleased songs like “Kokoro no Placard.” “Aisatsukara Hajimeyou,” and “Igai Ni Mango” —only for the reason that the sparse shouts from those who actually knew the chants only served to highlight the disparity with the many who did not. When intimacy is one of your main selling points, these kinds of interactions become nigh necessary to fully enjoy a song, regardless of whether it was a good performance.
Hopefully, in future concerts, there will be more flashes of touching sincerity, similar to when paper airplanes the members folded themselves and wrote personal messages in filled the air during “365 Araw ng Eroplanong Papel,” and none of the highly awkward moment when possible replacements for the current members were introduced one by one.
By the end, Sela, one of the group’s more popular members, said to the audience: “We’re very grateful to all the people who believed in us and continually believes in us. Dati nagdo-doubt kami kung may manunuod ba sa amin kasi nagsimula kami sa wala. Tapos finally nandito na kami sa harap ninyo.”
This makes it clear that, despite the critics, the members of MNL48 are not going to give up on their dream. This concert, a year in since being formed, is a testament to how working hard towards their one goal has paid off — a kind of resilience that will no doubt open the door for their kind of music to be accepted by Filipinos.