(With apologies to Oscar Wilde.)
There was a question that a reporter asked at Arashi’s press conference announcing their hiatus on Jan. 27 that was controversial and earned harsh–but deserved–reactions and criticisms from other journalists, fellow artistes and Arashi’s staff. It had something to do with whether Arashi was being “irresponsible” going on a break, given their position in Japan’s entertainment industry.
Context aside, I think–and still do–that it was a legitimate question to ask. If I were at the presscon, I would have asked the same question, if only to bring home the impact of their hiatus not only on the fandom but on the industry in general.
However, knowing that the question came from a trash media and that it was most likely malicious in nature diminishes the credibility of its journalistic purpose. But the question of responsibility remains a legitimate issue that, fortunately, has been addressed and dissected in the past weeks.
Also, I concede there could have been another way of asking the question without being too confrontational about it, although I wonder if that would still be the case if a more friendly reporter did the asking.
But I digress.
So, is Arashi being irresponsible by going on hiatus?
Sho’s answer to that same reporter was the perfect clapback.
To witness and appreciate the full impact of this answer is to watch the presscon video that would remain in my memory as heartbreaking but affirms Arashi’s position as Japan’s top pop group. The presscon highlighted why they deserve not only love, but respect, admiration and most of all, support. And they have received a huge amount of support (nasty speculations aside), and even praise, over what could have been an agonizing and difficult decision. Again, how many–placed in the same position–could do what they have decided to do in less than two years, seemingly giving up everything, and still remaining in the best of terms, emphasizing that this was a group decision and not just one person’s burden?
Other people would probably wonder: why the big deal on whether they’re being irresponsible or not?
- Their hiatus would mean a loss of 100 billion yen (about $900 million) annually on the entertainment and related industries (sales of products that they endorse as a group, for example, like JAL and Hitachi have been most probably taken into account under this).
- We’re also looking at the loss of two variety shows, VS Arashi on Fuji and Arashi ni Shiyagare on NTV. (Both have sold rights to air on cable channels overseas.) This could translate to the loss of TV spot ads for these preferred time slots on golden time.
- From 2021 until who knows when, we can’t expect a new single or album. Their most recent album was in October 2017, [untitled], and their last single was Kimi no Uta, released in October 2018; both topped Oricon. (Jun has hinted at a compilation album, perhaps in the same tradition as their 5×5 The Best Selection of 2002–2004 and All the Best! 1999–2009, so at least there’s that to look forward to before the hiatus. And by the by, their albums and concert DVDs returned to Oricon’s Top 10 shortly after the Jan. 27 announcement.) Due to the lack of music output from the group, the revenues of their label J-Storm will obviously be affected. J-Storm was set up in 2001 initially as a label for Arashi (it is named after them) and it has grown from a small subsidiary to one of the Top 3 labels in Japan.
- And without Arashi being active as a group, there won’t be any live tours. (The 5×20 Anniversary Tour that will resume in April is their biggest tour to date, with 50 performances and expected to draw 2.37 million people.)
- Also, can we stop and consider too what will happen to their staff and the numerous other people who work for them in their shows and concerts? (I’m pretty sure they have worked or are working this out, especially with their managers, because really, Steak Sauce Manager deserves tenure. And it would be interesting if he would eventually be assigned to MJ, if he hasn’t been yet.)
Economic/business impact aside, their place in J-ent’s history is already assured and their legacy is so diverse and monumental that it would be a tall task to try to fill the big shoes they will leave behind. What non-fans fail to understand is, Arashi is not just a J-pop band that if they leave, their public support will automatically be “transferred” to other groups. That’s not how it works.
The Japan Times has posed this question weeks ago:
No doubt that there will be new groups to take their place–whether on top of the Oricon charts, as the ootori (last performer) on NHK Kouhaku and finale on Music Station, or on TV screens. That’s how the cycle of life goes, people move on to other things, retire or quit, and there will be others to take their place. We all evolve. A top pop group is no exception to this reality, but most especially in an industry that puts premium on youth. The fact that Arashi remains on top 20 years on and in their mid-30s already is no mean feat.
But Arashi is more than just faces on a billboard, the first spot on the Oricon charts, a regular show on prime time TV, or even their title “national idol group.” They are household names, yes, but they are also more than that. They’re a brand whose power is multiplied by five due to the individual influence of each member. This phenomenon is something that has rarely been seen in any group where it is normal to have rivalries and that some members would be more popular than the others. Not so with them.
The tweets below encapsulate their importance in Japan’s pop culture and modern society that their announcement on the hiatus prompted reactions even from mere passersby as well as the use of an alert on TV reserved only for national emergencies.
As the Japan Times article below pointed out, it’s not possible to create another Arashi, who has survived the onslaught of social media where an artiste’s popularity is based on the number of their followers, and not on the members of their official fan club (Arashi’s FC is now at 2.8 million; it has grown by about 500,000 since the hiatus announcement). In fact, majority of Arashians resist social media when it comes to Arashi, an irony considering many of them probably support other groups that have a ubiquitous social media presence. But that is how Arashi has managed themselves in the past two decades, their popularity undoubtedly not due to the number of views on a YouTube video (they’re not on YT) nor to the number of RTs and hashtags that can make it to worldwide trends (they’re not on Twitter either, even if MJ, Sho and Nino have talked about their familiarity with the platform).
Soon after Arashi announced their hiatus, a friend asked what Johnny Kitagawa had to say. I asked, is it important what he has to say? I mean, yes, he has played an important part in giving us Arashi (including the kanji that I find very classy and unique as a group identity) but he’s a minor character in the hiatus narrative and nothing he’d say would change anything. He did issue the statement below:
Johnny-san is 87. There was nothing he could have done to meddle with Arashi’s decision (it wasn’t him directly involved in their career trajectory anyway, but Julie). And today, his heavy-handed management style in producing some of Japan’s top ikemen has been overtaken by globalization and technology and would no longer survive criticism and censure. When they say Arashi’s hiatus is an end to an era, it also means an end to that J&A brand of idolship–protected by the jimusho’s insular walls, oblivious to technology and isolated from unrestricted public exposure.
Maybe we have seen a glimpse of what it would be like in the future in the carefree way with which Jun sauntered and Nino and Aiba scampered with a digital camera in the square in front of Staples Center during the Grammys or in the virtual idol that Johnny’s is launching. Whether we will like it or not, we still have to see. And we’d probably hark back to a time when idols flourished without having to cosplay as model netizens, when they’d devote time to making music, practicing choreography, attending acting and speech classes, and actually working without having the need to take selfies while all these are happening so they can preen and do fan service on social media.
As an Arashi fan, that’s not the kind of fan service I’ve been accustomed to. I have done without them on social media and I am still here, buying their albums and listening to their music, watching their variety shows, dramas and films, buying and watching their DVDs. Their significance as J-pop artistes lies in how they have shown that: hard work and not just good looks; sincerity to their craft; consideration to the people they work with and for them; and the responsibility with which they carried the general public’s–not just fans’–expectations on their shoulders, matter in such a fickle industry. This is what makes them a tough act to follow. The way their hiatus announcement has been received with support and understanding (as well as sadness but also best wishes) is only the most fitting reward for all that they have become and mean to their country, the industry they have helped boost, the jimusho they bannered, the kouhais they have inspired, the idol roads they have paved and the fandom whose hand they continue to hold as we all walk through these bittersweet two years.
These are the reasons why the question on responsibility cropped up. Their hiatus is not just a pop group going on a break (many do that it’s almost commonplace). Arashi’s hiatus has widespread repercussions. And until the end, they are embracing that responsibility as Japan’s national idol group wholeheartedly, devoting two years to do so. And that’s the importance of being Arashi.
I’m on Twitter: @uchiwafanimnida
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