After over a quarter of a century together, it was announced on Sunday that SMAP – one of the most successful and long-running pop groups in Japan – will disband on the 31st December of this year. Many fans are in shock, especially after rumours of a split were quashed in January.
Earlier this month, SMAP’s agency Johnny & Associates apparently proposed that the group’s activities be temporarily suspended, however it wasn’t until this week that the news of their split was officially announced.
This said that, “some members have expressed their wish to disband, rather than to suspend” the group’s activities, the Japan Times reported.
“It was a very difficult decision, but we have judged it will be difficult to continue its activities as a group, although it was not a unanimous choice by the members,” the statement continues.
Although no one is named, the lack of unanimity in reaching this decision is also indicated by the individual statements that were issued by all members of the group.
‘Kimutaku’ – the nickname by which SMAP ‘heartthrob’ Kimura Takura is affectionately known – was clearly emotional about the split.
“Honestly speaking, the (plan to) dissolve the group couldn’t be more regrettable,” the Japan Times quotes him as saying.
“But under the current situation, we have no choice but to swallow (such a bitter pill) because we couldn’t do anything, either a 25th anniversary concert or other activities, unless all five of us got together.”
Kimura added that the decision had left him “at a loss for words.”
The group’s eldest member and leader, Masahiro Sakai, also apologised to fans in his statement, saying, “We have caused you troubles, worried you, and we owe you much. We are really sorry for creating this situation. We apologise.”
A look at Twitter shows that many fans have been shocked by the news, with many speculating about the real cause of the split. Some come out and blame Johnny and Associates, while other jump to the defence of individual SMAP members, telling the media not to blame the group.
There have also been expressions of gratitude, with such tweets as, “Love you for ever… “, and “Thank you for everything SMAP <3”
Even those who are not necessarily so keen on the group have felt the need to tweet the news. “Not a fan but I’m still shock,” writes one. “hearing that SMAP’s disbanding is like finding out your grandparents are getting divorced” expresses another.
Nevertheless, despite the break up of the group, it is very unlikely that SMAP members will fall out of the spotlight, given that individually all have also established strong, distinctive careers for themselves as actors and TV personalities.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, for the time being, all members will remain with Johnny and Associates and continue to work on their individual projects.
Who are SMAP?
SMAP, an acronym for “Sports Music Assemble People,” was first brought together in 1988 as a group of backing dancers for Hikaru Genji, another popular idol group at the time.
Although the line-up changed a few times before their official debut in 1991, since then, of the six original members Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Shingo Katori have remained in the band until now. Katsuyuki Mori is the only one to have left the group when he decided to pursue a career in motor racing in 1996.
Although SMAP and it’s members have been a ubiquitous part of Japanese pop culture for over two decades, the group had less than an auspicious start.
“SMAP’s debut song didn’t even make it to the top 10,” entertainment analyst and associate professor at Edogawa University, Noboru Saijo, told BBC News.
According to Prof Saijo, “previous groups were seen as Prince Charming types and became popular instantly but by the 1990s, music programmes were in decline and fans wanted more than just good-looking boys who could sing and dance.”
In fact what put the band on the road to superstardom was not a hit song, but rather an inspired idea that would come to shape the Japanese entertainment industry as we know it today.
“Johnny went to local TV stations and asked them to use SMAP on their variety or comedy shows,” Prof Saijo informs us.
The group’s first show, ‘I Love SMAP’ gradually gained them fans. And at the same time as their musical career took off, Kimutaku and then the other SMAP members began to establish themselves as regulars in TV and film through successful acting and commercial work, as well as frequent appearances on variety show.
In fact, SMAP’s fanbase extends beyond Japan to other parts of Asia, such as South Korea and China.
Their hit songs include, “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana,” “Ganbarimasho” (Let’s hang in), “Yozora no Muko” (Beyond the night sky) and “Lion Heart.”
Sources include: Asahi Shimbun, BBC News, Japan Times,
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