SMAP may split as boy band bolts from management feud

by Tomohiro Osaki

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