AKB48 has been a cultural phenomenon in Japan since the beginning of the decade, and currently, is among the highest-earning musical performers in Japan. BNK48 is their Thai sister group and the third international sister group, following Indonesia’s JKT48 and China’s SNH48. With 50 members, BNK48 is turning the country upside down in the usual fervor and fanaticism that is the foundation of the Asian idol fandom. Although there are 50 members, every teenager and twenty-something in the band has her own character, personality and social media followers. The latter is the most important factor to break through from the rest of the herd. Only the most popular members are admitted to the core team: the 16 “sebatsus” who actually record the songs.
Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit lifts the curtain to reveal the inner-sanctum of BNK48, capturing revealing interviews with band members and the immense pressure they put upon themselves to be unique enough to reach to the top. To get the most from BNK48, the girls have to compete against their best friends. And per usual, it’s not necessarily talent that will get you ahead, but rather, how much of a social media footprint one has to become a powerful “influencer.” Hence, the members are caught up in an endless popularity contest.
Thamrongrattanarit is best known for his narrative features and BNK48: Girls Don’t Cry is a rare foray in documentaries for the director. He does a commendable job encapsulating the hypocritical feelings about being an Asian pop idol, contrasting interviews with the band members that are intimate and become almost confessionary, to the audacious explosion of color and spectacle in live concert footage. Coupled with the severe living and career restrictions that they must adhere to (no boyfriends), BNK48: Girls Don’t Cry encapsulates idol culture and its many faults and detriments to society. And yet, those songs and kawaii-ness is so infectious!