If someone told me last week that Arashi was going to launch a YouTube channel, I would have laughed and treated it as a joke, but I wouldn’t have outright dismissed the possibility either.
You see, after Jan. 27, everything has been possible, even the impossible.
The day before, there was a rumor that did spread on Twitter that five of Arashi’s songs would be available on LINE, but it soon got buried in Twitter’s rapidly moving timeline. So when the news officially came out that Wednesday afternoon (6 p.m. in Japan), I remember staring at my phone and exclaiming OH MY GOD so loud while pressing the subscribe button. OMGs are so commonplace these days, but this was something that really warranted an OH MY GOD. Because nevermind if we tell ourselves to expect the unexpected, an official Arashi YouTube channel still carried with it shock factor. In fact, there still remains a modicum of shock a week since the channel has been launched (now at 1.4 million subscribers and a cumulative nearly 20 million views for the five videos uploaded). Every morning, it has become some sort of a habit to open YouTube, not to click on one of the videos to add to the view count, but to check whether the channel still exists and that it hasn’t been a dream.
Some said that Arashi going on social media and digital platforms (the five songs: A.RA.SHI, Love so sweet, Happiness, truth, Monster, have also been uploaded on Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music Japan) is a little too late, considering that other popular sub-cultures have been using these platforms for years to promote and reach the global market. It’s also late into the game, others have pointed out, because Arashi is going on indefinite hiatus starting 2021.
The same thing was said after it was announced that Arashi were chosen as the performers at a festival in November to celebrate Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement. The performance is expected to attract foreign audiences since the enthronement is not only a matter of interest to Japan but to the world as well. So wouldn’t it be a waste of that international exposure if they are going on a break a year or so from now, anyway? The answer is simple: why should it be when it’s an honor and a privilege for them as artists to perform for the emperor that I doubt they’re even thinking of how it will make them even more popular. The acknowledgment of their country is more than enough with 国民的アイドルグループ—national idol group—trending when the announcement was made.
But still, all these changes and developments—why only now?
But why not?
It doesn’t mean that just because Johnny’s & Associates is late to adapt to technology, they won’t at least try to catch up. When the Johnny’s Official channel was launched, I subscribed hoping that one day I’d wake up to see an Arashi video or two there. Who would have known then that Arashi would launch their own channel a matter of months later? An official YouTube channel, especially during the hiatus, would be an existence in the worldwide web that fans can always take comfort in. And it makes it easier for fans to point people to an official, free platform. That would certainly help too once people become curious about those five men performing at the enthronement festival in November. If they want to listen to more of their songs (though there are only five online for now), they can always check out the YouTube channel. I don’t even dare mention the Big O (Olympics, dummy), but then again, with a YouTube channel that we thought was impossible but is now a reality, anything is possible at this point.
It does take some time to adjust to these changes especially if we are to consider that Arashi survived 20 years in the business without–until last week–any presence on social media (Otonoha and Enjoy, Sho’s and Jun’s blogs, respectively, do not really count since they are after all still paid content) and any digital platforms, managing to sell over 38 million records in Japan alone (numbers available do not take into account sales outside Japan). **The total is possibly 40 million now since the 38 million cited was released by Oricon last April and Arashi’s All the Best!! 1999-2019, released in June, has already sold over 2 million copies.** Obviously, they didn’t feel the need to go digital before last week and it remains to be seen whether they will fully tap into this platform in the remaining time before they take a break.
That’s not to say that they shouldn’t. Better late than never, rather than they are late. By all indications, this surprise move was more to promote their All the Best!! Clips 1999-2019 that’s officially out today. (Can we talk about how those videos they chose to upload aged well, even A.RA.SHI with its flashy colors, that one does not really feel being in a time warp when watching them? And what about the music that remains current and not something you’d strongly identify with the sound of a specific era? These are indications on how timeless Arashi’s discography is.)
Only time will tell though whether these recent moves are a precursor of more things (surprises? shockers?) to come. They have kept their cards close to their chest and have unraveled their upcoming works like layers of an onion.
Since that January announcement, they have released All the Best!! 1999-2019, BRAVE single and the All the Best!! Clips 1999-2019, aside from announcing an additional date, on Dec. 23, for a special live recording in Tokyo Dome of their ongoing anniversary tour 5×20 and the performance to celebrate the emperor’s enthronement with a new song no less composed by renowned composer Yoko Kanno and lyrics by playwright Okada Yoshikazu. They have also unveiled their JOURNEY exhibition showcasing their 20 years in the industry (that would be brought to other Japanese cities in the coming year) and recently went to L.A. to shoot a music video, details of which remain unknown. I wouldn’t be surprised if their schedules are full until the last minute of Dec. 31, 2020.
If by doing all these they manage to attract new fans, then all the better. But I do not think they are doing what they’re doing because they want, or need, international validation. They have ventured outside Japan already in 2006- 2007, they are very much aware that they have international fans even if it still surprises them (Ohno: “We’ve only worked in Japan so I wondered how do people outside Japan know us?” — Arashi Blast in Hawaii 2014.) But they returned to their domestic audience for reasons they alone know, abandoning the gains they were making on the global stage. It was a risk but it paid off well as it gained them a solid homebase that gave them everything they could have possibly dreamed of without having the need to venture beyond their borders. Of course, it would have been interesting to watch them go out of their comfort zone and see what they could do, but in the end, it turned out for the best.
So what’s next after YouTube et al? There are speculations that they would be launching Twitter and Instagram accounts soon. If that happens, it wouldn’t be much of a shocker anymore. But I’m hoping that if and when they do, the accounts would be managed by the staff and would be used for official announcements, and nothing else (fans would certainly appreciate official updates during the hiatus). After all, we have managed to jump through hoops and survive in the past two decades without unnecessary distractions. And Arashi was able to focus and build on what matters–a very prolific and substantial body of work that have defied the metrics by which we judge the success of pop idols today.
Whatever they do next, for sure they’ll do it on their own terms as what they have always done.
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