First, a disclaimer: I’m sure there are other idols who work as hard as Arashi, maybe even harder. Idols who are more handsome, who act better, who sing better. Who went through hardship too, maybe even more. Each and every one has their own success story to tell. There will always be someone better but let me tell you why Arashi has ruined them all for me.
And yes, this is another post-Hawaii post. There’s just so much to talk about from the 15th year Hawaii SPs, from Shiyagare to VS Arashi and NHK’s Live & Document. Each of the specials offered a different look at Arashi: Shiya was more individualistic, VSA was more fun and NHK was more dramatic, offering a very rare backstage glimpse of the five bakas.
But all of them reaffirmed every Arashi fan’s belief that it was fate that brought the five together, and it is a miracle that despite the odds and bumps along the way, they managed to reach the 15th year, surprising even themselves.
I would summarize the reasons why I have been a fan of Arashi for nine years now as follows:
- they give all they have to whatever is thrown their way
- they keep things real
- they’re very grounded
‘Work with whatever we have now’
In 2002, three years after their debut, the group was getting nowhere. Sho and Jun talked about needing a breakthrough but Riida disagreed saying that if they can’t make things work with what they were doing (back then), what else could they do? Nino has since adopted those words as part of his work ethic: don’t think too far and do well in the work that you are given at present (NHK Live & Document, translation by Arashi Daisuki FB).
Perhaps this also explains the general attitude that prevails among the members. They have never been overly ambitious. In fact, they are not ambitious at all. On winning as Orista’s favorite artist this year for the fifth consecutive year (creating a record for the award), Sho said that they never set out to sell as many albums as they could but that it’s a blessing that fans support them and help them achieve whatever they have achieved (topping no less than the global world charts for last year’s LOVE and this year’s The Digitalian on the week of their release). To them, it is short of a miracle that they are able to release one studio album each year and do a concert tour.
More than anyone else, they must know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the totem pole because they were there before and they probably thought they’d be there forever, unless they disband (Sho thought Arashi would be no more by the time he’s 25; he was 17 when they debuted, he’s now 32 years old–excerpt from NHK Live & Document).
They have always worked without complaints, grateful for having work to do. Remember how grateful they were that they sang Wish, the theme for Hana Yori Dango because it meant they had work? They have seen the highly competitive world of idols since they started out as Johnny’s Juniors, I’m sure they don’t have any illusion that their fame and being on top will last forever. They didn’t even foresee that they will perform at the National Stadium for six years. They always treat each performance as the last and take each job that is given to them with gratitude.
This reminds me of that Arashi fan-made video that used One OK Rock’s chaosmyth:
We have to carry on
Our lives are going on
De mo kawarazu ano basho wa arukara
So everybody – everybody
Days we grew up are days
We will treasure
Everybody show is beginning
Curtain has risen
Make your own storyline
Dream as if you will live forever
And live as if you’ll die today
In Hawaii, Nino injured himself and had to be massaged backstage, prompting the other members to worry and eventually call off a jump that they were supposed to make. Jun asked if he could do it and he said he was fine, he did not want to call it off because “fans paid to watch us and I don’t think we would be forgiven if we lower our standards for personal reasons.” (NHK Live & Document)
Certainly, that’s a lesson for all artists out there. And that’s why it’s a turn-off to see how others take for granted the fame and adulation that they enjoy from their fandoms knowing their fans will support them anyway no matter what kind of show they give.
For me, it’s not all about the energy or tension during a performance, it’s so much more. It’s seeing how even before a performance, they are already giving their all to it by preparing for a show that their fans can take home with them and cherish. It’s not just about momentary spazzing, it’s knowing that the people I am watching right now gave a lot of thought and preparation for this moment, from the technical aspects to the logistics to the song list and to the performance. “Whatever goes” does not cut it for me because I do not pay to see “whatever”.
It’s a fact that Arashi give blood, sweat and tears to their concerts, because as Sho explained, it’s the only platform where they can be hands-on. Their TV shows have scripts and a production team. Sure, their concerts also have a production team but they get to plan the concept, the songs and how to make it more fun for the fans since this is the only way they get to interact with them. The NHK documentary offered a look at the preparations made before an Arashi concert, their grueling rehearsals under the watchful eye of their in-house production banchou Jun, and to how hands-on and personal they are with the staff and crew that at the end of the day I can’t help thinking, fine, if auction is what it takes to watch them live, then I’d close my eyes and pay knowing it will be worth it. So help me God
that I won’t have to rob a bank to afford it.
They keep things real
Japanese artists treat being an idol as a job, not a lifestyle. And that may be the reason why Arashi, for one, do not live in a bubble thinking they’re so famous (Ohno on having Jun at his house: “I have a celebrity in my house!“) and can do anything they want and get away with it. They do not live and breathe being an idol. It’s known how Arashi (except Sho, maybe) look forward to their days off. They have a life outside being an idol and it helps balance their lives. And for that, I’m happy.
I don’t know how this fits under “keeping it real” but I also like how they are not on SNS, not public accounts anyway. I’m sure they have SNS, who doesn’t in this day and age, but their presence is kept private, if ever. And that spares them, and the fandom, from a whole lot of drama and “scandals”. I don’t see how a celebrity could keep things “real” by displaying (fine, let’s call it sharing) their lives on the Internet because obviously, it’s a marketing tool in keeping with an image that they have to maintain in public. I’d think their TV shows are enough of marketing tools for them.
And part of keeping it real are admissions of wanting to quit being an idol and being in Arashi. I admit that I was shocked over Riida’s confession in the NHK documentary that from 2006 until their 10th anniversary in 2009, he had wanted to quit because he wanted to have the freedom to do things outside Arashi. We’ve always known that Sho and Nino wanted to quit even before they debuted but this confession from Riida took me, and I guess the majority (including the other four in Arashi themselves who looked like it was the first time they were hearing this), by surprise. I can’t blame some fans for feeling disappointed in him, he’s the group’s leader after all and yet he has had these misgivings before. But the mere fact that he stayed, and kept this from the members, shows that he fought that desire (and most probably why he was so emotional in Hawaii). Like I’ve said previously, each of them have had opportunities in the past to just go solo and pursue their own interests outside Arashi but they have chosen to stay knowing it’s not just about them but there are four others they need to think about. They’re old enough already, who can stop them from leaving or doing whatever they want at this point anyway?
From the very beginning, Arashi never sold any idea of “brotherhood” or “family” and gave fans illusions that they are perfect and forever. One of their appeals has always been their being “un-idol-like”, which at the beginning was seen as detrimental to their success. But despite the rough start, they managed to prove that one doesn’t have to adhere to the general notion that an idol should look and behave a certain way.
That’s why perfect idols with manufactured images (and looks) do not interest nor impress me. Of course, Arashi has a powerful agency behind them ensuring the success of the Arashi brand (not with the help of “expensive cakes” if cyzo were to be believed) but remember the time when they were left to their own devices and in Sho’s words, “if we didn’t depend on each other back then, we wouldn’t have reached 15 years.”
And that’s what makes their struggle and their story not only compelling, but real.
In the NHK documentary, Aiba said: “No matter how slow, no matter if we take wrong turns, I would like us to continue as five.”
They are very grounded
I can just imagine how difficult it is to maintain a semblance of realism when you’re a famous celebrity surrounded by people who only tell you things you want to hear, followed by fans who worship the ground you walk on and everyone else who patronize you because hey, you bring in the money. It’s so easy to lose touch with reality.
But these guys are still very normal. You have Nino who would rather stay at home and play games (or pass notes with Riida during meetings wanting to go home–I bet so he can play his games); and whose immediate concern upon reaching Hawaii, for example, is to get connected to the Internet. Some may see that as whimsical for any celebrity. I see that as normal (c’mon, who can live without the Internet and hobbies?)
There’s Jun who likes to hang out and travel with friends. Except for Nino, it seems the rest like to travel–yes, even Riida–based on the few stories they share of traveling either with family or friends. But after that Shiyagare Hawaii SP, I don’t think I would like to travel with Sho (not to say he would want to travel with me but you get the idea) with his up-to-the-minute rigid schedule. A friend noted that it must be a habit he formed when he was straddling his studies at Keio and being an idol, having to budget his time up to the last second. And maybe that’s how he stays grounded as well, planning his days off by the hour.
But for me, the biggest proof on how grounded they are is how to this day, they still get surprised at the achievements they make, look at it with a sense of disbelief and have remained very modest.
I guess it’s their being realistic about life in the entertainment business that prompts Riida, for one, to think of things beyond Arashi. They know there is life after and outside all the trappings of fame, they experience a fraction of it (and thank god that they can still be normal). And by being able to still live a life outside their public selves, it helps them stay grounded.
That’s why I pity those idols who treat their lives as if they were in The Truman Show. They can’t be entirely at fault though because an obsessive fan culture has increasingly limited the privacy of celebrities in general. That is not helped by SNS at all that virtually makes them vulnerable to anyone with a smartphone and an SNS account. And I wouldn’t want Arashi to be hostaged by all that.
Finally, I think the main reason why I have stayed this long as their fan is because it’s easy to relate to Arashi. They’re just every day guys who you might find yourself seated next to on the train or bump into at the station (just like how Nino gets asked for directions) or the konbini or at the music store (just like what Sho does when he’s off work). They’re ordinary it makes non-fans wonder what’s so special about them. But they may be ordinary and yet they do extraordinary things that leave a lasting impression and provide lessons in life more than the momentary spazz that countless of other idols already offer.
They are a group that never took any shortcuts, as Sho said in a previous interview. Nino said they were never the type to push others so they can get into the limelight. They had to go through the long and painful process before they were finally acknowledged by the industry. And that’s why for me, they deserve every success that they enjoy right now because they have always tried to be true to their audience and to themselves.
P.S. The NHK documentary is a must-watch. You can download it with subs from the Onaji Sora community on LJ (you have to join the community first).
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