(Fear and Loathing in the Idol World: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the Fangirl Dream…some kind of inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s novel but only this part.)
Nothing lasts forever.
This, fangirls have been shown again with the imminent break-up of SMAP, perhaps Japan’s biggest male group to date (let’s stop calling them a boy band, they ceased to be boys a long time ago).
Many were bemused at how Japanese shows broke the news of the disbandment, putting it in the same level as disaster, sports and politics. But let’s face it, SMAP is a trailblazer in Japan’s pop culture scene and has paved the way for similar groups, particularly under Johnny’s Entertainment, to break not only into music but films, TV and its related areas such as hosting and newscasting. Before SMAP, it was unthinkable to have “idols” invade more serious realms as news, but they made it possible and younger/later groups have them to thank for it.
I wouldn’t call myself a SMAP fan, but I went through a phase when I listened to their music around the time I was just starting to be an Arashi fan.
I was going through my iPod last night and counted 62 SMAP songs. Some of my favourite songs are Arigatou, Dear Woman, Original Smile, Orange, Susume, Every You, Yozoro no Mukou and of course, everyone’s favourite, Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana.
I cannot imagine how their fans feel, especially after months of a rollercoaster ride, and given the circumstances that led to this decision. But I can empathise because what happened to SMAP can happen to others too.
The statements of some celebrities, particularly those who are also part of groups, really put things in perspective.
“All groups need to deal with the thought of possible disbandment. You always need to focus on how to keep together as a group, how to make your fans happy. Some people can talk this through, some cannot, some need to say everything out and some prefer to keep silent.” – TOKIO’s Tatsuya Yamaguchi (Gussan)
Gussan also mentioned how TOKIO, one of Johnny’s senpai groups, has even discussed about disbanding. Which reminds me of Nagase’s advice to Arashi one time, to fight it out like men, upon learning that the five never had a fight since the day they were formed.
I often wonder about this though. I’m not privy to Arashi and what I know is from their various interviews throughout the years, particularly the revealing NHK Live & Document documentary to mark their 15th anniversary in 2014, where Ohno spoke about once wanting to quit the group so he can do things he likes such as traveling, and he also revealed an episode during concert pre-production with Jun where if both clashed, would have led to a fight. (Nino once said that if Arashi members fight, that would be the end of them.) But that particular episode perhaps shows how Arashi handle disagreement among themselves. They either hear each other out or, as very typical in Japanese or Asian culture, avoid confrontations and instead find solutions. But what if there’s no longer a solution that is acceptable to everyone? Then perhaps, it will go the way of SMAP.
After all, each group is composed of different personalities, and in fact, SMAP and Arashi have been used as human resource examples for being successful teams despite the contrasting characters.
“Taichi-san said to me that members of a group are not family and not friends. This is a completely different type of engagement. With time passing, the members become adults, discover their own societies and keeping together as a group is a difficult, but amazing task.” – actress Miki Maya on what TOKIO’s Taichi Kokubun told her.
This is not making the saga all about Arashi but since I am not a SMAP fan, I can only relate to the news through them. They’re Arashi’s respected senpais and their interactions have been minimal compared to those with TOKIO and V6, probably because of their different management. Let’s face it, SMAP and Arashi have been used as “pawns” or the “faces” in the proxy war between SMAP’s manager and the J&A heiress. That’s moot and academic now of course with the departure of the manager from the company, which in fact, triggered this SMAP saga. Now we know how that will end.
A break-up or disbandment is one of group fans’ fears, unless of course you want your favourite to go solo. There will always be factors that can contribute to a break-up: personality differences, pursuit of solo careers, clash of ideas.
And even if a group doesn’t break up, their activities may see a gradual decline due to many factors: waning popularity, no market demand, scandal. It’s the reality in an industry that puts premium on youth. Artistes have a shelf life; they grow old, younger ones take over…it’s the rule of the game and everyone who plays it knows it.
I am not under any illusion that my favourites would continue to be on top for years on end. It’s already a blessing, as they said so themselves, to continue to be given opportunities at this stage when they’re on their 17th year. But as they also said themselves, they will continue to work hard and younger groups and artistes would just have to continue to work equally hard too.
If for anything, Arashi are realists themselves. Perhaps it’s that trait that has kept their feet on the ground and never made them take things for granted all this time. As their fan, I’m also a realist. Whatever happens to them in the future, I can only hope and pray that however way it ends, if and when it happens, it won’t throw away all the years they spent together nor put to waste the legacy they have built together. Not so much as the records they have created and broken, or the paths they have paved, but more importantly, on them as individuals who rode the journey together.
If it’s not too much to ask, I want to see them walking off into the sunset. Together.
I just want a happy ending, even if that ending may also mean that there’s no forever.
Never say never, but never promise forever.
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