A sea of swinging lightsticks: the most genuine of gestures in Japanese idol culture, a sign of approval; a validation of all the hard work that was put into the performance; a way for supporters to tell those onstage that they were heard.
On Saturday at National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, those lightsticks were set to blue, the color of MNL48, and were held aloft by idol fans --many of whom were Chinese-- after Sheki, widely regarded as MNL48's best singer, showcased her whistle note to cap off their acapella rendition of their single, "365 Araw ng Eroplanong Papel."
In January, MNL48 were first given a chance to perform in front of an international audience, when the group was invited to the AKB48 Group Asia Festival in Thailand. It was a way for them to seek international validation.
Now, as they continue to try and prove themselves — they are quickly dismissed locally as pale imitations of Japan's AKB48 (never mind that they are official sister groups), and of K-pop — MNL48 flew to China to remind people just what they are capable of.
Their short 3-song set — part of a concert that featured the other international sister groups of AKB48, including Thailand's BNK48 — reveals itself as a sweet vocal showcase, bereft of any of their fast, dance-centric favorites: they played a cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," "Hoshi no Ondo," one of AKB48's more melancholic hits, and the aforementioned "365."
The decision to opt for slow-paced songs made perfect sense for a group still trying to find the perfect balance of standing out from an increasingly crowded AKB48 family, and appealing to Filipinos.
Those who heard them live in China have already made clear what they thought of the performance, if their swinging lightsticks were of any indication. Only time will tell if MNL48 will see an increase of their kababayans doing the same after this weekend.