Who will be SMAP’s successor?

I’ve been an Arashi fan for 13 years and a TOKIO fan for five. I basically only fangirl these two groups, but because of them I’m somehow familiar with Johnny’s by default. Granted, people often forget TOKIO are part of the jimusho (agency), lol.


(Left: Arashi. Right: TOKIO. Photos nicked from the J-Storm website)

I recently came across an article on Nifty, a Japanese site, that was talking about how Arashi won’t be the leading Johnny’s group in the post-SMAP era.

For those of you who’ve yet to be schooled in the nitty gritty of this male idol empire that Johnny Kitagawa built, let’s discuss why we’re even talking about Arashi.

They’re wildly popular, for one. Their rise to prominence came about in 2005-2006, when Matsumoto Jun, one of the members, starred in the hit drama ‘Boys over Flowers‘. In 2006, Ninomiya Kazunari, another member, starred in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Letters from Iwojima‘, making him the first Johnny’s talent to star in a Hollywood movie. Understandably, this was kinda huge.

Combined with their constant appearances in the media, their single releases, the continuation of the ‘Boys over Flowers’ drama franchise, the double billing of Sakurai Sho (another member; there are five of them) and Ninomiya in the drama ‘Yamada Tarou Monogatari’ (which I talked about briefly in my previous post), the idol group quickly won many hearts in 2006-2007, and they just kept getting more and more popular.

Within their agency, they’re the group with the largest number of members in their official fanclub (2 million, as of August 2016). They’ve surpassed SMAP in that respect – SMAP currently has 1.2 million fan club members.

To put it very bluntly, Arashi makes their agency a lot of money because they have a lot of fans who don’t mind buying their stuff, and that’s why people are wondering if they’ll be ‘the next SMAP’.

So the guy on Nifty gave a few reasons why Arashi won’t be the next SMAP.

  1. They have no ‘aura’

I guess for English speakers this might be something like stage presence, like… charisma. It’s not something that can be learnt. SMAP had this ‘aura’ right from the beginning; Arashi aren’t really the bearers of such a holy attribute.

2. When it comes to visual appeal, Arashi is inferior to SMAP.

Reason being, and I paraphrase from his quote:

The members of Arashi are small-built, especially Ninomiya and Ohno Satoshi (the eldest member). They have no commanding stage presence because of their height. Matsumoto has a pretty face, but it’s over-kill – women find him an unreachable goal, with features like that. While SMAP have matured (the word used was ‘shibumi’ – think of like a cultured wine which gets better with time) as they age, Arashi just look older as they age.

I guess some people will be throwing up their hands and asking: “So why is Arashi even in the running then?!”

There’s one thing that Arashi is that SMAP isn’t – they’re a group that gets along really well.

This prompts an “…And?” from many people who don’t get it, but for fans, it’s like an investment. We know that the likelihood of them breaking up (and thus breaking our hearts) is a lot lower than a group that fights.

I think the writer has several valid points, though most of them are rather mean-spirited (not to mention superficial, but since when was the entertainment industry about kindness?).

The truth is, Arashi don’t have very high overall viewership ratings for their variety shows or dramas (depending on the production, though – Ohno and Matsumoto starred in pretty well-written dramas this spring), and not a lot of middle aged and older folk can name every member. SMAP, on the other hand, do very well when it comes to viewership numbers, and even many elderly can name each member, or at least put a name to a face when they meet them on location shoots. This isn’t the case for Arashi, though I guess it’s changing as they get more and more TV work.

Honestly, I think a lot of Arashi fans are in a bit of a weird place when it comes to opinions regarding this who-will-be-SMAP’s-successor question. While we wish for the longevity of Arashi’s career, many of us are tired of the intense competition for concert tickets, spots in TV audiences for Arashi shows, and the lack of common sense some new fans exhibit at public events.

For example, during NTV’s annual charity show, 24 Jikan Terebi (24-hour TV) in 2013, where Arashi was the main personality, some fans in the audience were screaming for Arashi even though the spotlight wasn’t on them at the time. Ninomiya motioned for them to be quiet from the stage even though he wasn’t supposed to address them, because it was a live broadcast. It’s said that Sakurai had to go around apologising to the staff afterwards, though we never know if it was just Sakurai, or the members in general.

In other words, I suspect many Arashi fans are happy with the status quo. Arashi are fine where they are now. No need for them to be the next SMAP.

Arashi themselves – and everyone with a foot in entertainment, actually – knows that no one in the industry is indispensable. Careers can be ephemeral, time in the spotlight forgotten quickly. Not everyone is a fan, and not every fan will be a fan forever. They’re all doing what they can, when they can, for whoever needs them at the moment. That’s the reality of it, and the choice they made when they decided to take on this profession. In a way, for me at least, becoming a fan means I accept that nature of their jobs and having them disappear someday is a bitter pill I might have to swallow.

Maybe there doesn’t need to be another SMAP. Who knows?


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