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Just let Johnny’s Jr. be Johnny’s Jr.

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Around 60 people gathered at YouTube Space Tokyo on Tuesday to welcome Johnny & Associates to the 21st century. It was a day before the launch of the talent agency’s first official YouTube channel, devoted to its Johnny’s Jr. acts. It’s a huge development for a company that has viewed the web as one big Cambridge Analytica-type threat since the 1990s.

So how does a talent agency celebrate its arrival on a platform known for creators who embrace creativity and spontaneity? Why, with a press conference of course!

Johnny’s one-toe-in-the-water approach to YouTube may signal a shift toward the internet among those in the mainstream entertainment industry, but old habits die hard. Getting into the event required signing various nondisclosure forms and an outline of how media could use the official photo with a story — if no image is included with this article, I must have missed something.

Journalists took their seats near the front of the stage with TV cameras lined up behind them. People in suits sporting rainbow-colored “staff” badges lingered, breaking into sprints of various intensity as the event went on.

At 6 p.m. sharp, the lights dimmed and the same video clip that announced the news at the start of the month began to play. Then, a woman came out to deliver a straightforward statement on what this launch meant for all involved, and how the internet can bring music to fans all over the world. So far, so boilerplate.

But then the fun started. The five Johnny’s Jr. groups taking part in the channel — Hihi Jets, Tokyo B Shonen, SixTones, Snow Man and Travis Japan — all walked out on stage. At first, the young men appeared nervous, like they were at their first school dance. But after some explanation about what they wanted to do with the opportunity, they became much more enthusiastic.

The event basically turned into a talent show. Each group’s members took turns showing off their skills— a member of Snow Man counted very fast and a member of Tokyo B Shonen did an impressive roundhouse kick. One SixTones performer said the word “YouTube” in the style of Donald Duck, and I looked over my shoulder to make sure Disney’s lawyers weren’t swooping in. The other Johnny’s kids egged their pals on, and at one point it felt like the journalists were camp counselors trying to figure out the campers’ inside jokes.

It was all over in 40 minutes and, despite the bureaucracy, my main takeaway was that if this whole gambit is going to work, it will rely on letting the Johnny’s kids just be themselves. Lucky for them, that fits with YouTube’s branding quite nicely.