From back-up dancers to global domination: 5 things to know about SMAP
After performing together for more than two decades, popular J-pop group SMAP announced on Aug 14 that they will be going their separate ways at the end of this year.
The quintet, which consist of members Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori, plan to focus on their solo careers following the split.
The all-male pop group, who have continuously dominated the Japanese music scene, is one of the nation’s most popular and successful J-pop groups.
As they prepare for their bow out, here are five things to know about the pop group sensation.
SMAP, which stands for “Sports Music Assemble People”, was formed in 1988 by Japanese talent leviathan Johnny & Associates.
The five members, who are now aged between 39 and 43, made their debuts on the Japanese entertainment scene when they were about 15 years old.
Before their rise to stardom, the members of the group were back-up dancers for the then popular Japanese pop group Hikaru Genji.
SMAP’s members were known as “Skate Boys” as they performed in roller skates in order to stand out from other emerging male idol groups at the time.
The group released its debut album in 1991.
They went on to release another 20 albums over the span of their 25-year career, garnering more than 35 million in overall record sales.
Their music has a global reach
SMAP’s fame extends beyond Japan into South Korea and China.
The regional popularity of the boyband allowed the group the opportunity to perform and meet prominent Chinese leaders, including then Premier Wen Jiabao.
At the performance, he remarked that SMAP could “bring seeds of China-Japan friendship that take deep root and blossom in China”.
A few months after the showcase, the group held a concert in Beijing that was attended by 40,000 people.
Their concert marked the first time a Japanese pop group had visited China in a decade.
As band member Kusanagi can speak fluent Korean, he has acted in various South Korean movies and television shows, and has been credited with bringing Japan closer to the hearts of South Korean fans.
Born on a variety show
The variety television programme, called SMAP X SMAP, first aired in 1996, and was conceived as a showcase for the group. It has succeeded beyond its creators’ wildest dreams and, since its debut, has consistently garnered high ratings.
The show features the group members doing comedy skits, sharing cooking tips, chatting with special guests and putting up performances.
Many local and international celebrities have been guests on the programme, including Michael Jackson, David Beckham and Mariah Carey.
Given that Johnny & Associates expects its idols to do more than sing and dance, it is no surprise that SMAP members have racked up varied resumes. Each member has appeared in films, soap operas, dramas, commercials and movies.
Nakai, the group’s front man, has been the main newscaster for the Olympic Games for the Tokyo Broadcasting System for the last five summer and winter games.
The group’s youngest member, Katori, on the other hand, played a popular TV character named Shingo Mama on a weekly variety show called Sata Suma.
Because of Shingo Mama’s popularity among children, Japan’s Education Ministry invited Katori, in the guise of Shingo Mama to be the face of a nationwide campaign that promoted family communication from 2000 to 2001.
Arguably the most successful actor of the group is Kimura, who has starred in Japanese TV series which drew record-breaking ratings as well as international arthouse films such as Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 (2004) and Yoji Yamada’s Love And Honour (2006).
All good things come to an end
Rumours that the landmark pop group were facing an imminent split first surfaced in January.
Many tabloids and fan blogs reported that the band members were trying to leave Johnny & Associates, which would effectively disband them for good.
It was reported that, apart from Kimura, the other four had planned to leave and follow their long-time manager Michi Iijima, who resigned from the company in January.
Iijima was believed to have fallen out with the founder’s sister and vice-president, Mary Kitagawa.
The furore over the rumours eventually prompted the members to make a public apology on their variety programme, SMAP X SMAP, to dispel the rumours and reassure fans that they were planning to stay together.
The Japanese public rejoiced at the news, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
He told a parliamentary committee: “It’s good that the group responded to the wishes of many fans and decided to continue (as it is).” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Tessa Oh