Greetings, Citizens of the Universe!
This post is going to talk something may seem unrelated at first, but has quite the significance in the J-idol fandom. It’s been a year ago since Berryz Koubou went on indefinite hiatus. It has also been sometime since the J-pop Universe was rocked with its biggest scare yet: the “SMAP Disbandment” Scare (if you can call it that at this point).
Contractual issues wrought its ugly head at Johnny’s & Associates, gripping the J-pop world and beyond with its drama and frightening possibilities. SMAP is the biggest boy band in Japan, if not the biggest idol group. Owing to a long history (helped by the fact males can stay idols for a far longer time than their female counterparts), SMAP has a sphere of influence that many wish they could possess. Not even the 48s (who have an advantage in deep ties to another legendary idol group) could match SMAP.
Fortunately, the group made an official proclamation that rumors of their death have been greatly exaggerated. This brought the main drama to a close while opening a new chapter.
Seven Months Later
When you wake up to a tweet like this, you know you’re in for a bumpy ride of a week.
Thennary Nak provides a beautiful piece with perspective on these sad events.
This brings us to today’s topic.
And idols is… strange. One problem I ran into… …was the epiphany that J-idols cater to two markets (young girls and old men). Primarily, at least.
Okay, recent years sent that on its head (AKB48 is infamous for its male fanbase, but there’s a reason girls flock to the auditions. Inversely, Momoclo is renowned for its female fanbase).
Heck, it’s why I’m not surprised that out of all of the possible idol groups to do themes for Sailor Moon Crystal, they were chosen.
(Oh yeah — yes, the inverse is true for the Spear Counterparts in J-idoldom. Johnny’s groups is renowned for their female fanbase and it’s expected that you’d go deaf from the squeals of fangirls in the concerts.)
Weirdly enough, (I blame societal norms) while female idols are meant to “graduate” to other fields, male idols can remain idols for as long as they wish.
In regards to the last portion, see this ask from the Hello! Project Confessions that brings an unfortunate perspective to some of the “standards” in the J-idol culture.
One of the biggest news to hit the J-pop scene was the disbandment of SMAP, the biggest boy band in Japan.
Where Morning Musume will turn 20 next year (I picked a fine time to start a blog, didn’t I?), SMAP has been in the biz for over 25 years! (The group was formed in April 1988. Do the math.)
Come New Year’s Eve, the biggest boy band in Japan would be no more. It’s been a fun 28 years. …Egad… The group is almost as old as Johnny! *looks at the ages of the SMAP team* Wow… I don’t blame them. Save for Katori Shingo (who’d turn 40 in January), 4/5 of SMAP are in their 40s…
To stand the intensity of the limelight for 28 years is no small feat. This is especially in light of many personae and the fact that at least a third of the group are married fathers. (That last bit is an example of the double standards inherent in the idol world — while idol ladies are expected to “graduate” from their status, idol lads can remain idols practically forever.)
That’s not to say that SMAP had been immune. There are some legal scandals that shook the group. However, the fact they “bounce back and restart” further cemented their place in the Japanese consciousness.
There is an intense amount of pressure to be the faces of Japan. (Yes,we get it. The idol industry is one of the most shallow in the world. In fact, to some extent, superficiality is an inherent concept in any industry, especially in a culture like Japan’s that places an emphasis on the group. This is probably why you see more groups than soloists these days in the J-idol world with soloists usually becoming the more serious “tarento” when the time comes.)
“Who the @#$% is SMAP?!”
In case you’re asking this question, allow me to provide a basic rundown of the group’s history so some perspective can be shown.
Formed in 1988 from six members of a group of backup dancers to Hikaru Genji, the group built up their name through acting and television. This proved fruitful as they came about during the “Idol Ice Age.”
As a music group, their debut album was released in 1991. In 1996, Mori Katsuyuki departed to pursue a career in motor racing. Technical reasons invoked this as Mori was approaching the age limit and group leader Nakai Masahiro did not take it well. However, despite his fears of decreased pop power (and a desire to break up the band), the group soldiered further into the future.
At this point, SMAP has been a mainstay in the modern Japanese consciousness, pioneering a lot of the tricks and tactics of the J-idol trade for both genders. Needless to say, such announcements were sure to shake Japan to the core. Plus…
And the J-pop world will never suffer another shakeup from a breakup story… (come back on Thursday for part 2 of this cosmic comedy)