A Japanese Boy Band Almost Broke Up: Causes National Hysteria, Public Apologies And Conspiracy Theories

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How To Disrupt A “Western” Nation

The story brought down Twitter in Japan. It dominated the national news for days. If you were Japanese, your grandmother knew the whole saga. Even the Prime Minister was asked about it. SMAP had gone on national TV to apologize for the rumors that it was breaking up.

SMAP is Japan’s most successful boy band, so successful that the “boys” are now in their 30s and 40s and still going at it. The band’s name, SMAP (always in capital letters) stands for Sports Music Assemble People, in the odd way of “Japlish” that Japanese people seem to love.

SMAP debuted in 1988 (Ronald Reagan was president then) and went on to sell over 35 million records. Group members Masahiro Nakai, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Goro Inagaki, Takuya Kimura, and Shingo Katori continue to appear on television shows, in feature films, seemingly endless ads, and radio programs. They even have a TV cooking show, oriented toward their early fans who are now middle-aged homemakers.

The band is also popular in South Korea, and China. In 2011, a sold-out concert in Beijing drew a crowd of 40,000.

They are more than a brand, they are an industry.

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Image Source: Music Tea

But problems started earlier this month after a news story appeared claiming that four of the five members of the group were in talks to leave Johnny & Associates, SMAP’s management and promotions firm (more on Johnny later.) “There have been some news reports that members of SMAP are considering solo careers,” a lawyer representing Johnny & Associates told The Japan Times.

Band Breakup Causes National Hysteria, Public Apologies And Conspiracy Theories

Contrite Band member apologize in a live telecast-Image Source: Mashable

SMAP would not confirm the rumors. However, public outcry was so intense that the group was pressed to go on television and explain what was going on. They only offered, however,  an apology that they were sorry for “causing concern and wanted to continue forward” in some manner. As one critic put it, grown men in their late 30s and early 40s apologized for wanting to leave their talent agency.

The possible split comes after the group’s female manager — credited with turning the dance troupe into superstars — was pressed to resign amid unspecified personal problems with another Johnny & Associates executive. SMAP members regarded her as their mentor.

While this all may have been some sort of promotional stunt, that is unlikely. With only 24 hours in a day, it is not really possible that SMAP could be any more popular or perform any additional gigs without controlling space-time itself. So, is the breakup rumor true?

No one knows at present, but online SMAP fans are even proposing a kind of conspiracy theory as a clue: people noticed during the apology that the four members who allegedly planned to leave the band were wearing black ties, while the one who wanted to stay was not. He wore a white tie. Hmmm.

A word about Johnny & Associates, whose presence in the background of all this speaks volumes about how Japan’s entertainment business really works.

In the world of Japanese show business, which is dominated by teenage idols, few people exercise the power of Johnny Kitagawa. Johnny has a knack for creating young male stars who sing, dance, act and make him millions of dollars along the way. So influential is the 68-year-old Kitagawa that media analysts claim he can control what newspapers, magazines and television programs report about his clients and himself.

“If you’re a television station and you don’t comply with Johnny’s wishes, then all the popular stars will be withdrawn from your programs, you won’t get interviews with celebrities, and your ratings will plummet,” said one entertainment reporter. Indeed, no credible media organization in Japan had crossed him until 2000, when Shukan Bunshun, one of Japan’s largest magazines, began publishing a series of articles accusing Johnny of having sexual liaisons with teenage boys he had groomed for stardom. The allegations were never pursued.

The mystery continues — what will happen to SMAP?

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