To describe what happened Saturday night, when the MNL48 members and their fans found out who were going to remain in the group, as “fun” seems cruel. But for half of it, it really was.
The evening began with the fans of MNL48 having fun. They were having fun cheering on each and every member who were introduced, tirelessly raising and waving lightsticks in an attempt to show with every swing that they love them; they were having fun hearing the favorites they voted for make it to the top tier of the rankings; and they were having fun congratulating the girl who will be leading the next single — an 18-year-old teen named Aly.
Small, round-faced, and perpetually adorable, Aly’s first instinct was to cry and to look for her mom and dad as she delivered her winning speech. “Aly-ly-ly-ly-love you,” she told them and her supporters, most of whom were taken in by her mastery over cuteness and her rallying campaign message of spreading “positivity virus” to those in need of it.
But after Aly’s crowning moment, with each successive reveal of who got in the top 48, fans found that the creeping, slow realization that it was possible for some of the girls to be cut from the group made the whole thing significantly less fun; until they, weighing the conflicting feelings they had inside them, were in tears.
It’s common to hear that Japan’s AKB48, MNL48’s elder sister group after which they pattern most of what they do, have created nothing short of a “brilliant” marketing system that millions of fans have willingly bought into — one where even something as simple as handshakes with the members are priced.
And their annual election, called the Senbatsu Sousenkyo, is its crème de la crème.
CDs, towels, lightsticks, pin buttons, pictures (and photo albums to store these in) are all sold in abundance and each comes with a voting ticket. Whoever wins the Senbatsu Sousenkyo gets the coveted “center position” in the group’s next single, meaning she becomes AKB48’s face in the following few months. The message was clear and brutally capitalistic.
MNL48 adapted this, albeit with a twist. AKB48 normally does not kick unranked members out, but it was announced that their Manila-based sister group will do so — to the surprise and anger of their local fanbase. Financial reasons is the official explanation of Hallohallo Entertainment, the company which handles MNL48, for the controversial decision.
Overall, there were 77 candidates (48 of which were the first generation members determined last year, while the other 29 were comprised of the group’s trainees, or the “kenkyuusei,” and the new faces plucked from a fresh batch of auditions last January) who competed over the available 48 spots.
The last one went to a girl named Andi.
Her tears showed relief, but those shed by many of the others in the 47 afterwards as they ran towards the unranked ones were of something else: joy and sadness stirred violently within them, which, combined with the pain from losing to the system (many pleaded with fans to “save [all of] the first generation”) left them utterly broken.
One of the girls who got cut was Ella, who placed 8th last year. Her main appeal was that she’s an airhead who makes people laugh without even realizing it. Chants of her name rang through the air as she thanked her crying fans, mouthing that she will be forever indebted to them and that she will never forget them.
It may be difficult to try and explain the complexities of the Senbatsu Sousenkyo but it’s easy to understand the crushing feeling of losing friends.
It was fitting that the group’s “365 Araw ng Eroplanong Papel” song was playing in the background as all of this happened. The cruel, unfair reality, as it teaches, is that some paper airplanes (a symbol for the girls’ differing dreams) are bound to fly higher than the others, further than the rest: failure is an important idea when shown right.
For those remaining, they must trudge on. “Sa mga nawala, mas lalo kong ipaglalaban ito para sa inyo,” wrote Alice, the group’s captain, on her Instagram page as she talked about pursuing hers and MNL48’s dream of becoming an idol group that the whole country will be proud of.
Below is the results: