SMAP may split up, agency confirms members of top J-pop group are in talks to leave

Four out of five members of Japanese boyband SMAP are confirmed to be in talks to leave Johnny & Associates.
Four out of five members of Japanese boyband SMAP are confirmed to be in talks to leave Johnny & Associates. PHOTO: AVEX TRAX

TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese pop fans were rocked by news on Wednesday that evergreen boyband SMAP are mulling a breakup, ending the group’s 30-year reign at the top of the music business that has won them legions of fans across Asia.

One of Japan’s most popular and longest enduring bands, the heart-throbs soared to the top of the charts with sugary pop songs and choreographed dances, but may split following a feud within their agency, according to reports.

News of the quintet’s possible breakup emerged on the front pages of major Japanese "sports" newspapers – which also carry entertainment stories – on Wednesday and quickly spread as mainstream national dailies and public broadcaster NHK rushed to confirm the reports.

SMAP were established as just another ubiquitous teenage boyband, but backed by the powerful Johnny & Associates agency, the members have flourished as a group and also in their solo careers as actors and fixtures on popular variety shows.

Reports said four members  were planning to leave Johnny & Associates.

"It is true that such talks and negotiations are ongoing," the agency said in a statement, without providing further details.

The wrangling was reportedly sparked by tensions between the agent in charge of SMAP and other top Johnny & Associates managers.

The Japan Times, quoting a Sports Nippon report, said the four members' discussion followed their female manager's exit from the agency.

She is said to have played an important role in their careers, and is seen as their mentor. Sports Nippon said she had problems with an executive, and resigned under pressure.

Speculation about the group’s future was top news on social media as forlorn fans lamented the possible split.

"SMAP...say it’s not true," posted Twitter user @hyougatanaka.

Another user wrote emphatically: "Can never accept SMAP breaking up!!!"

Takuya Kimura, the most popular member who starred in the Wong Kar Wai film 2046, is the only member expected to stay with the agency, reports said.

SMAP, which cryptically stands for Sports Music Assemble People, started out as a fresh-faced boyband in 1988. Despite sometimes obvious musical shortcomings, they are still the top J-pop boyband – even though the members now range in age from 38 to 43.

They retain an enormous fan base among women in their 40s who came of age as the band hit the big time, and who remain the core viewers for formulaic television dramas starring various members of the quintet.

Weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported in its latest edition published on Wednesday that SMAP as a group produces annual revenue of 25 billion yen (S$303 million).

Their popularity has also reached diplomatic heights, with the band meeting then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in Tokyo in 2011.