One of Asia's biggest pop groups, SMAP, is to break up at the end of the year after a 25-year career.
The Japanese boy band, which sold 35m records up to last year, will disband on 31 December, its management agency said on Sunday.
Rumours of a split had been rife since the turn of the year, but had all previously been denied.
Its five members, who are aged between 39 and 43, are now expected to pursue solo careers.
The band, formed in 1988, has built up a huge fanbase in Japan and throughout Asia with members appearing frequently in films, soap operas, and commercials.
Members of SMAP, which stands for "Sports Music Assemble People", have also appeared on cookery shows and Japanese coverage of the Rio Olympics.
Their popularity has even made them ambassadors for diplomatic relations between Japan, China and South Korea.
In 2011, they were the first Japanese pop group to visit China in a decade, amid a row between the countries over disputed territory. Their Beijing concert was attended by 40,000 people.
A statement by the group's managers Johnny and Associates said they were "truly and deeply pained and sorry" to not be able to take part in 25th anniversary celebrations.
One of Asia's biggest pop groups, SMAP,/ is to break up/ at the end of the year/ after a 25-year career.
The Japanese boy band,/ which sold 35m records/ up to last year,/ will disband on 31 December,/ its management agency said on Sunday.
Rumours of a split/ had been rife/ since the turn of the year,/ but had all previously been denied.
Its five members, /who are aged between 39 and 43,/ are now expected to pursue solo careers.
a man aged 40=a 40-year-old man=40歳の男
The band,/ formed in 1988,/ has built up a huge fanbase/ in Japan and throughout Asia/ with members appearing frequently in films, soap operas, and commercials.
soap opera=ｿｳﾌﾟｩ ｵﾍﾟﾗ=連続ドラマ
with members appearing=分詞構文付帯状況
Members of SMAP, /which stands for "Sports Music Assemble People",/ have also appeared/ on cookery shows and Japanese coverage of the Rio Olympics.
Their popularity has even made them ambassadors/ for diplomatic relations between Japan, China and South Korea.
In 2011,/ they were the first Japanese pop group/ to visit China in a decade,/ amid a row between the countries over disputed territory.
the first～in a decade=10年のなかで初めて→10年ぶりに
Their Beijing concert was attended by 40,000 people.
A statement by the group's managers Johnny and Associates/ said/ they were "truly and deeply pained and sorry" /to not be able to take part in 25th anniversary celebrations.
a baseball manager=野球の監督
the team's caretaker=学校の部活のマネージャー
②J-Pop Icons SMAP to Break Up
The on-again, off-again breakup of an all-male Japanese pop group with a strong following in much of Asia is back on: The five members of SMAP will go their separate ways at the end of this year, after performing together for more than two decades.
The group's agency, Johnny & Associates, announced Sunday (Aug. 14) that SMAP would disband, according to Japanese media reports. The agency said its members would focus on their solo careers, Kyodo News service reported.
A possible split was widely rumored in January, until the group's members made an unusual television appearance to say they would stay together and apologized for causing concern among their fans.
Johnny & Associates said that it had recently proposed the band take a hiatus, but that some members wanted to break up for good, according to the media reports.
"We judged it difficult for them to continue activities as a group," Johnny & Associates said, according to Kyodo.
SMAP, which stands for "Sports Music Assemble People," was formed in 1988 as a six-person teenage boy band. Its first CD came out in 1991, and the group surged to stardom with choreographed singing and dancing.
SMAP's members now range in age from 39 to 43, and it remains a popular
group that is a staple of entertainment shows and commercials. Each member
has also performed individually in variety shows and films.
◎米Billboard.com「J-Pop Icons SMAP to Break Up」
The Newyork Timesより引用
TOKYO — For nearly three decades, millions of Japanese have clamored for their every album, lined up with breathless anticipation for their concerts and gathered on Monday nights for their hit television show.
Now, the nation is awash with anguish over word that SMAP — Japan’s longest-running boy band, if it can still be called that with its youngest member pushing 40 — is splitting up.
The news has dominated newspaper headlines and television talk shows since the band’s announcement this month. Even the mayor of Tokyo and two members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet have weighed in. One said he was worried about the effect on the Japanese economy, the world’s third-largest.
“We will not let them stop!” a grieving fan wrote in one of more than a dozen petitions on change.org pleading with the aging heartthrobs to remain together. “If we let them go and disband, it means Japan is finished.”
To understand the bedlam unfolding here, think of the Beatles’ breaking up, the airing of the final episode of “Seinfeld” and the “conscious uncoupling” of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin all rolled into one — the end of an era on the Japanese cultural landscape.
Credit Toru Yamanaka/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
SMAP’s most famous saccharine single, “The Only Flower in the World,” is regularly taught in Japan’s schools. But SMAP is not just a wildly popular band whose albums have sold more than 35 million copies, making it one of the most successful musical acts in Japanese history.
For two decades, its five members — Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori — have also hosted one of Japan’s top-rated television programs, “SMAP X SMAP,” a family-friendly variety show in which they cook for celebrity guests, compete in games, perform comedic skits and, of course, sing. Each has starred on his own in numerous television series, movies and commercials. The frontman, Mr. Nakai, has been a newscaster for several Olympic Games.
The group, whose members started out as teenagers performing on skateboards and now range in age from 39 to 44, managed to both broaden its audience beyond adolescent girls and hold on to them over the years. Many of their most ardent fans are women who grew up with them.
SMAP, an acronym for Sports Music Assemble People, also has legions of fans in China, South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. In 2011, it performed in Tokyo for Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier at the time, and then gave a rare concert in Beijing — which may have helped ease tensions after a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese coast guard ships in disputed waters of the East China Sea.
Much of the drama and commentary surrounding SMAP’s breakup has been tied to suspicions among fans and industry analysts of skulduggery by the talent agency that manages the group, Johnny & Associates, which has dominated the Japanese boy-band scene for nearly four decades.
Founded by Johnny Kitagawa, now one of the most powerful figures in the Japanese entertainment industry, the agency recruits boys and puts them through a rigorous training program of singing and dancing. They start out as backup performers before the agency assembles them into new bands that it promotes and tightly controls, leveraging the success of its other acts.
That business model, pioneered in Asia to dizzying success by Mr. Kitagawa with SMAP and other groups, has since been replicated by talent agencies in China and South Korea, many of which have been accused of signing children to “slave contracts” that require them to surrender half or more of all profits for as long as a decade.
According to Japanese news reports, SMAP decided to call it quits after four of its members tried to leave the Johnny agency, which is said to control their appearances on television and in movies, as well as merchandising rights to their images.
In announcing the band’s dissolution, the agency said it would continue to represent each of the group’s members as solo acts. The agency said it had initially proposed a temporary break but that “some members” wanted a permanent split.
SMAP seemed on the verge of disbanding in January as rumors swirled of infighting. But in a rare live appearance on their television show, the singers, wearing somber black suits, announced that they were staying together and apologized for having caused their fans distress.
The public apology was viewed in nearly seven million households, and even the prime minister, Mr. Abe, was moved to comment, telling a parliamentary committee that “the group will remain intact in response to many fans’ wishes, which is good.”
Mr. Abe has yet to address the breakup.
Each of the band’s members has issued a written statement, but so far only two have spoken in public about the split, apologizing on their weekly radio shows for surprising fans with the announcement.
Writing in Josei Seven, a weekly magazine, the cultural critic and columnist Akio Nakamori asked if the performers were being muzzled.
“Just recently the emperor talked about the abdication,” Mr. Nakamori wrote, referring to the televised address in which Emperor Akihito expressed his desire to retire. “It was such an unusual thing. He decided to talk to the people. I wonder if SMAP is more untouchable than the imperial family? They should at least have a press conference or even a recorded video, and directly talk to fans.”
Given SMAP’s popularity in Asia, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry, Hiroshige Seko, said he was concerned that the breakup might undermine the country’s “Cool Japan” campaign, aimed at exporting Japanese culture to foreign countries.
But there are signs that SMAP is already being replaced by its successors.
On a visit this week to a store run by Johnny & Associates in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo, I watched fans buy professional photo cards of their favorite singers, but there were no SMAP cards on sale. And when I checked out an official fan club in the Shibuya district, also operated by the agency, I saw videos only of other Japanese boy bands playing on a screen.
A wall was covered with current promotional posters for multiple boy bands. There was just one for SMAP, from 2012.
Follow Motoko Rich on Twitter @MotokoRich.
Hisako Ueno contributed reporting. Becky Zhuang contributed research.
A version of this article appears in print on August 20, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Aging Boy Band Calls It Quits, but Morose Japan Can’t Let Go. .
August 25, 2016 12:00 pm JST
Nikkei Asia Review より
TOMOMI KIKUCHI and JUSTINA LEE, Nikkei staff writers
SINGAPORE The recent announcement of the breakup of SMAP, Japan's most enduring
boy band and a beloved cultural icon, is highlighting the declining state
of J-pop. The industry has been hurt by the rise of K-pop from South Korea,
as well as by the failure of the Japanese entertainment companies to adapt
to changing times.
On Aug. 14, the news that SMAP was breaking up after nearly three decades sent fans in Japan and the rest of Asia into a tizzy. SMAP's management company, Johnny & Associates, said the five-member group -- whose hits include the 2.7-million seller "The One and Only Flower in the World," and the million-seller "Yozora no Mukou" -- will call it quits at the end of the year.
Nur'ain Abdullah, a Singaporean engineer in her mid-20s, said she started checking Twitter every few minutes on the evening of Aug. 13, when rumors about the demise of the band were already trending. "I am completely devastated," she said, noting how she became an avid student of the Japanese language after discovering SMAP.
On China's Weibo social network, one post reporting the news was shared over 5,000 times within a few days. Hong Kong superstar Kelly Chen told the Sing Tao Daily that SMAP's TV shows and songs ought "to be treated as classics."
For many J-pop fans in Asia who grew up in the 1990s, SMAP was their first taste of Japanese entertainment. The group rose to fame in the late 1990s, thanks to overseas broadcasts of popular TV dramas featuring its members. "Part of the collective memory of our generation is gone," said 41-year-old Taiwan resident Janet Hsieh.
With sales of their singles and albums exceeding 35 million units in Japan alone and their TV programs attracting high viewership, SMAP's breakup comes at a high cost. Kansai University Professor Emeritus Katsuhiro Miyamoto estimates the economic loss from SMAP's disbandment to be 63.6 billion yen ($634 million) per year.
POWER STRUGGLE Not only are fans disappointed, they are also disillusioned over the way the breakup was handled.
It seems to have started with a power struggle inside J&A, one of Japan's most influential talent agencies. In January, SMAP was reportedly on the verge of disbanding after the group's manager, Michi Iijima -- who was embroiled in a lengthy conflict with J&A's founding family -- attempted to leave J&A with the band members in tow. The group later went on TV to apologize for the mess and assure the world that they were not in fact breaking up. But the appearance had a staged feel to it, with the members' black suits and glum expressions leading some viewers to question whether they were acting of their own volition.
"These incidents made overseas fans understand how much control agencies have over their pop stars," said Rob Schwartz, Asia bureau chief of Billboard Magazine.
Since Japan's biggest talent companies hold sway over TV casting decisions, any conflict with agency bosses can hurt a performer's career. "In the past, when big stars have tried to leave their agency, the industry would band together and blacklist them," Schwartz said.
If SMAP had successfully left J&A in January, "it would have been earthshaking for the Japanese music industry," he added. "If SMAP can leave J&A, then it's easier for anyone to leave J&A."
DRIVING FANS AWAY Although J-pop groups have loyal followings across Asia, Japan's agencies have not been very adept at cultivating those fans. Now, the SMAP mess could drive some international fans away.
J&A, in particular, has stuck to its own way of doing business, much to the chagrin of overseas devotees. Generally, fans outside Japan cannot book tickets to its concerts online, and its fan clubs only allow people with valid Japanese addresses to register. Artists' use of social media is prohibited, giving overseas fans little opportunity to interact with their favorites online. J&A artists seldom perform abroad -- in stark contrast to South Korean groups like Big Bang, which perform frequently in East and Southeast Asian countries.
K-pop moved fast to attract global audiences to compensate for South Korea's small domestic market. A music video of the K-pop song "Gangnam Style" released in 2012 recorded more than 2.6 billion views on YouTube. Thanks to the K-pop boom in Asia, South Korean record label S.M. Entertainment -- whose artists include Super Junior and EXO -- posted revenue of 325.4 billion won ($291 million) in 2015, up 13% year on year and 35% higher than in 2012.
Facing a declining domestic birthrate and sluggish CD sales, some J-pop entertainers have begun to look abroad. Artists such as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Perfume have gone on world tours. This past June, female idol group Team Syachihoko performed in Taiwan for the first time, with members greeting fans in Mandarin. For good measure, Syachihoko returned to the island in August to keep new fans hooked. "I like Japan and I love Japanese idols," said Stanley Shu, a 33-year-old fan. "They are more kawaii (cute) than Korean idols."
Still, in Southeast Asian cities, K-pop is far more prevalent. Walk around any mall in Bangkok and you are bound to see a South Korean cosmetics store plastered with faces of K-pop stars, and K-pop playing in the background. By contrast, J-pop CDs can be hard to find in stores.
Yet J-pop does have its charms. "Fans of J-pop tend to value the narrative surrounding their favorite idols over their performance skills," said Kazumi Nagaike, a professor at Oita University and an expert on Japanese pop culture.
Narratives that include failure and perseverance can inspire fans to stick by their idols -- if all goes according to plan. "Perhaps J&A was writing out a narrative that SMAP members' ties would be stronger than ever, after their crisis" earlier in the year, Nagaike suggested.
Of course, some fans may still be hoping for an epilogue to the tale of SMAP -- one in which their idols make a surprise comeback.
Kenji Kawase in Hong Kong, Debby Wu and Kensaku Ihara in Taipei, Ken Moriyasu in Tokyo, and Mariko Tai in Beijing contributed to this story.