SMAP may split as boy band bolts from management feud

by

Staff Writer

It looks like it may be splitsville for the princes of Japanese showbiz.

SMAP, one of Japan’s most successful male idol groups, appeared on the verge of disbanding Wednesday as the fantastic five’s management agency acknowledged reports that the lads are considering going their own ways.

“There have been some news reports that members of SMAP are considering flying solo. . . . Debate and negotiation are indeed underway over the matter,” Daisuke Yuki, a lawyer representing artist agency Johnny & Associates, said in a statement delivered to The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Japan woke up Wednesday to the shocking news scooped by two tabloids — Nikkan Sports and Sports Nippon — that members Masahiro Nakai, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori were eying leaving Johnny & Associates after being ensnared in a feud within the agency. Takuya Kimura alone intends to stay, the papers said.

They said the split comes after the group’s female manager — credited with turning the dance troupe into the huge TV presence it is today — was pressed to resign amid personal problems with a Johnny & Associates executive. SMAP members regard her as their mentor.

“Few scoops I’ve encountered in 20 years of my career as a showbiz reporter are as surprising as this one,” Kosuke Abe, Sports Nippon chief of a department in charge of entertainment news, said. Abe said the group’s disbandment would represent a “huge loss” for the domestic TV industry as well as markets overseas, such as in China and Taiwan, where SMAP is recognized as a “symbol” of Japan.

Not a day goes by in Japan without the quintet’s middle-aged, but still strikingly suave, members appearing on TV and radio and in commercials.

They have a strong following in Asia, with a sell-out concert in Beijing in September 2011, reportedly drawing a crowd of 40,000.

SMAP’s apparent demise is likely to have repercussions across a range of industries that have come to count on the group’s male magnetism.

Showbiz journalist Yuji Watanabe, for one, theorized that the four members, without Kimura, would face an uphill battle in surviving the entertainment industry if they really quit — and thus antagonized — Johnny & Associates. TV stations and commercial sponsors may start shunning the four to maintain a good relationship with the artist agency, home to many other popular boy bands such as Arashi.

“So after all, the four may decide to stay with Johnny & Associates,” Watanabe said.

Still, nationwide on Wednesday fans were in shock. Voices of grievance and disbelief inundated online message boards, with “SMAP” topping a list of the most frequent subjects on Twitter most of the day.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the word had appeared in more than 1 million tweets.

“Somebody please tell me it’s a lie,” devastated Twitter user @j6tol8mo1 said.

SMAP has been a veritable cash machine with a string of smash hits.

The group’s most famous numbers include “Yozora no Muko” from 1998, “Lion Heart” from 2000, and “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” — the last of which sold more than 2 million copies after its 2003 release.

After languishing for years in relative obscurity, SMAP soared into stardom when its members began to experiment with comedy skits on variety shows.

Their popularity was fueled by the TV program “SMAP X SMAP,” which first aired in 1996 and showcases the members’ cooking, dancing, singing, acting and comedic skills.

Information from Kyodo added

  • JusenkyoGuide

    Wow… half the nation of Japan will be in mourning now…

  • Kei Kurooka

    loyalty comes first before others. the company will be sinking and takuya cant do anything about it, he, too will have to decide quickly. to go down with the sinking ship or throw a life jacket over ..??!!

  • disqus_fnwCMQDX7u

    Johnny’s needs to get their act together. If Arashi leaves, I hope they stay all together with another agency. Burning sounds pretty bad (MAJOR yakuza connections), but at least they’re not child molesters (as far as we know).

    • Karagarga

      So it’s true what they say about Johnny?

      • disqus_fnwCMQDX7u

        most likely.

  • JustSomeGuy

    Wow, this is actually surprising to me.

  • Max Erimo

    This is news?
    Please let us look at from another aspect.
    Kimu Taku has left SMAP just as Mori did all those years ago.
    A small by line in the entertainment section of an English newspaper.
    Not front page news. How does this in any way equate with the death of a LEGEND of the level of David Bowie.
    I understand this being big news in the Japanese language papers, but please….

    • krr

      SMAP are one of the most influential groups of entertainers in this country. Their popularity and influence now cannot be compared to SMAP at the time Mori left. I agree, it does not equate the death of anyone, let alone a musician of international level like Bowie; but in the context of Japanese news, this IS front page news, as it is an event that will cause a huge commotion in the entire show business.

    • Nisa

      To you, david bowie is a legend, to others SMAP is. Dont try and push your standards of success onto others. Its true, death should never be down played, but this is still big news to the asian industry, many of whom do not know who David bowie is.

      • shatonbytories

        Some like Bowie, some like SMAP. Fair enough at face value. But what actually do the latter offer to humanity other than banal, meaningless entertainment (the same goes for anything on Japanese TV actually)? Mildly amusing in that 5 blokes down a pub discussing sh@& kinda way, but utterly, utterly meaningless.
        Johnny’s Jimsho is too powerful (Yoshimoto even more so), in any other equivalent country a group like snap with their longevity and fan base would have dumped such a backward looking, conservative organization and formed their own production company, but here they are all fretting whether they’ll ever work again if they leave. How can any “artist” who really has something to say, who really makes us think, who has value beyond plugging products and the odd non-satirical laugh that doesn’t challenge anyone or anything, be expected to do anything worthwhile under such dictat. Do Smap or Arashi or the Manzai Combi de jour ever get a say in what they are doing, do they have any semblance of editorial control, are they ever allowed to say anything mildly controversial or critical of those that deserve it? The answer is obvious given Exhibit A – every night on every channel on Japanese TV. But then again, they probably don’t want to anyway, when the rules are set in stone you only get yes men who follow, which is a shame – think about all those other much more talented and worthwhile people who never get a chance because they don’t tow the line, just think how much more alive, plural and interesting Japanese popular culture would be if these straight jacket top down agencies ceased to exist.

        So yeah, some people like Bowie and some people like SMAP, but are you really trying to say they are equivalent? I mean really? If you are, and if you are a Smap fan – QED.

  • Inter Idoru

    This is not actually such a surprise to those who recall some old news: several years ago SMAPs contract was up and they were going to leave and do the individual projects they all had hoped to do. However, Inagaki threw a wrench in it when he, in an effort to avoid a parking ticket, hopped in his car, hit the police officer and sped away. With the possible scandal of a hit-n-run, Johnnny’s told SMAP either they all resign for a 10 year contract, or Johnny would make sure none of them ever worked in entertainment again. Needless to say, the band has not been exceedingly happy with Inagaki or the situation since .Now is there new chance to escape.

  • Junky Box

    Now my ears can rest….

  • Junky Box

    Now my ears can rest….

    • Don Corleone

      They do host a decent variety show – many Western/European stars are on, and usually they are relaxed and themselves because SMAP makes them feel at home. I mean, where else can you see Hugh Jackman perform yo-yo tricks?

  • Junky Box

    Now my ears can rest….

  • Junky Box

    Now my ears can rest….

  • Don Corleone

    I hear many people weeping now.

  • Max Erimo

    For all those who have read what I wrote the in my first comment, obviously there have been misunderstandings. The point I made is that this is big Japanese news but I don’t see it needing the coverage in an English language newspaper.
    The main readers of thise types of publications are overwhelmingly foreigners (I believe) who are in search of more news than is available in the ordinary Japanese press.
    I was not pushing my standards, as some seem to believe. I was, however making a point about the recent level of stories in English publications available in Japan.

    • Chlorobule

      Do you realize where you are ? You are speaking as if this was an English newspaper about issues happening in English-speaking countries… It isn’t. This is the “JAPAN TIMES”, a newspaper about Japanese/Asian news translated/written in English, so I don’t understand why you are surprised that those news will be “big” news mainly for Japanese people, and not for you.

      You have this kind of news in English newspapers all the time too in the culture section, so do the Japanese. I really don’t get why they should filter some of the articles that appear on Japanese newspapers.

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over

  • Tim Johnston

    There goes variety show ratings…….
    Was looking forward to seeing them old and singing like the Backstreet Boys
    A.k.A Backstreet Geezers
    Arashis time to take over