December 05, 2013

SMAP vs Arashi?

Japanese idols are often depicted as lucky individuals who have made it big, they represent the public and has a close relationship with their audiences. In order to do so, they are not supposed to be seen as intimidating. What's the golden formula then? They must be good, but they must not be perfect. Nowadays, there are two big names in Johnny's, namely SMAP and Arashi. Despite having sempai/kohai relationship, people just love to compare one against the other.

Why is SMAP such a big deal?
The 1990s gave Japan its largest number of "million-selling artists" Music producers reversed the trend of the rest of the economy and became rich by finding new audiences.  It is also in this era where the male idols would become one of the most important genre in the music industry in which Johnny's jimusho (management agency) helped set new standards.

"Sports Music Assemble" a.k.a. SMAP was formed in 1988. These guys started out as backup dancers for another Johnny's group. This had since become a standard routine for the idols at the agency, slowly being introduced to the public, first as background personnel (Johnny's Juniors) and finally debuting.

During the 1990's, a newly debuted SMAP isn't all that great apart from a few hits. To make it more direct, they were failures. Thus to increase their audiences they turned to non musical work like variety shows, dramas, and endorsements. It deepened the presence of idols in the public media, becoming a common sight in magazines, radio, billboards, etc. SMAP's appeal resulted to attracting legions of fans, ranging from school children, women, and even the older generation. Their music at the time, though popular, does not truly fit in with the 1990's genre. But it had been a perfect choice as their stardom skyrocketed and became huge success.

Another important factor that contributed to their popularity, is that as individuals, they are so fucking prominent. Each one had different personalities which they flaunt and used as a strength to acquire fans. In marketing terms, each member has a different target market. Soon, every one of them became successful in their own right. Now imagine the five of them performing together, that means uniting five different fan bases, and don't forget include the SMAP fans themselves... You get the picture.

They opened the door for other Johnny's acts to find their place in the world of male idol market. After SMAP, the junior groups TOKIO and V6 were introduced; they were followed by Takki and Tsubasa, KinKi Kids and Arashi; soon NEWS and KAT-TUN joined the team. All of them benifited from the "idol formula" SMAP successfully made.

Could Arashi be compared to SMAP?
There would always be comparison between artists, it's not something we could avoid. However, I find it unfair to read articles how SMAP is declining and Arashi takes the wheel. These two are comparable, but does not necessarily mean one is better than the other.

First, let us not forget that both groups had humble beginnings. For SMAP, it had been hard since they were pushed into an industry where idols are not yet that popular, their challenge was to make themselves known, show Japan that they are different from other artists that time. For Arashi, it's been hard since they have too many competition during their early years, their contract was almost terminated, the juniors were more popular than them, and it was even rumored that one time. the jimusho had such huge doubts for Arashi that they refused to release their Subarashiki Sekai music video, "knowing" it won't sell anyway.

Second, let us remember how SMAP pioneered innovations in the idol music industry. The dancing, the singing, the individual accomplishments, the variety shows, these guys made all these possible. How about Arashi? If there is something Arashi could boast about their era, it's their impressive concerts and their DVD sales:

Balloons, moving floors, cranes, fireworks, water screens, mascots, animation, games, talk shows, fountains, Arashi concerts are obviously more than just music events. In fact here's a perfect description on how fans perceive these gatherings:
The number of parents accompanying their children to Arashi concerts has been increasing over the years, with a housewife in her 40s from Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, saying, “I can bring children here without any worries, as we can enjoy ourselves at the concert, just like going to Disneyland.”[SOURCE]
Another factor was the internet. Arashi owes their initial popularity to Jun and his initiative on Hana Yori Dango. However, the online community had contributed a lot too. From leaking their music online, scanning magazine appearances, TV shows, radio transcriptions, blogs, forums, fan fictions (lol), etc. This is something SMAP wasn't able to enjoy during their peak. As recent as four years ago, the #arashi hash tag on twitter is one ghost page. I remember it only updates every few hours, and even days. But now, if you look at it, there are new posts concerning the group in almost every minute. This goes to show that they've come a long way in such a short period of time.

So what now?
All I'm trying to say is, both idol groups have their own similarities as well as differences. Personally I still believe that SMAP would always be the idol group. These guys were in the industry for so long now, they've gotten married and had children, had a fair share of scandals too and yet they're still here! I doubt they will be anything less than superstars for many years to come.

Arashi is an entirely different matter, a whole different league and impressively popular in their own special way. All those "rivalry" articles? How Arashi will rise and take over SMAP? It's merely media and public speculation. It's not something to be taken seriously. Most especially since these guys treat each other like family in real life.

Plus if there is anything good between Arashi vs SMAP, it has to be the forever adorable Ohno vs Nakai bromance. XD

Japanese Popular Music: Culture, Authenticity and Power by Carolyn Stevens
The Grandline- SMAP []
Japan Zone- SMAP []


  1. Thank you for writing this! I am a devoted SMAP fan, but I also like Arashi lots and I am getting sick of ppl trying to talk about these two bands as competing ones. Both of them are unique in their own ways - period! :D And BIIG YES for Nakai/Ohno bromance <3