22 October 2011

The Living Legend of SMAP

Members: Nakai Masahiro, Kimura Takuya, Inagaki Goro, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi & Katori Shingo

top row (left to right) Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Kimura Takuya & Inagaki Goro
bottom row (left to right) Nakai Masahiro, Katori Shingo, Mori Katsuyuki

The title for this entry may seem a bit much but in actuality it fits this group quite well. Even though past groups have been influential in newer groups the reason Johnny’s is what it is today is tied to SMAP and their accomplishments.

SMAP is one of those groups that have an acronym for their name. In their case SMAP stands for Sports Music Assemble People. The originally debuted as a six member unit but Mori Katsuyuki left in 1996 to pursue a career in motorbike racing. Their debut in 1991 was rather lackluster, especially compared to their sempai groups and their early years were difficult times for the group as they did not sell well with not only their music releases but also for concerts. It is said that at a concert in Nagoya’s stadium early in their career they apologized to the crowd as only the seats on the floor level had been sold out with only about two people in the stands and they promised to the crowd that when they come back they will be more popular so that concert would be more enjoyable.

What really set SMAP apart from the Johnny’s that came before them was how they rose to fame. While earlier groups followed a pattern of appearing on variety programs and releasing hit song after hit song, SMAP departed from this route by being the first Johnny’s group to host their own variety program, Ai Love SMAP. The popularity from their variety program as well as Kimura Takuya getting big breaks with his drama roles is what propelled the group into superstardom. Since then the group’s popularity grew to an unparalleled extent which has played a large role in their longevity.

The group can be said to have hit their peak with the release of the single Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana in 2002. The single sold about 2.5 million copies and is still a song favorite for karaoke. It is considered the groups signature song and they even made a Chinese version of it for their first concerts in China in 2011, singing it to the Chinese premier when he visited Japan earlier that year.

Their most popular variety program that they host is SMAPXSMAP that is known for them doing collaborations with their musical guests. In the past few years this has included several popular Western artists such as Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber.

Nakai Masahiro is the member most well known for his skills as a program host and MC as well as his lack of skills when it comes to singing and dancing. He has the tendency to tease his kouhai (any of the Johnny’s that debuted after SMAP or are younger than him) when they show up on the programs that he hosts. He is also the group’s leader and one of the few Johnny’s that was able to skip having to audition to join the agency.

Kimura Takuya who is also known by his nickname Kimutaku, is known for his acting and his good looks, he continuously gets high votes in polls for sexiest man in Japan. He got his first big break in the drama Asunaro Hakusho in 1993 where he played the lead character. Since then he has starred in many hit dramas such as Long Vacation, Beautiful Life and HERO. He shocked fans when he announced his marriage to singer Kudo Shizuka in 2000. The two are still together and have two daughters.

Inagaki Goro tends to be one of the quieter members of the group. He’s known to have an interest in wine and has a bit of a “high class” image about him from this. In 2001 he was involved in a traffic incident. A policewoman was at his car to cite him for a parking violation and he panicked and drove off clipping her as he did escalating it to a hit and run crime. The incident paired with Kimutaku’s marriage a year earlier caused people to worry if the group would disband but Inagaki made his apologies and accepted his punishment so he and the group were able to ride it out and continue on.

Katori Shingo is the youngest member of the group. He has had a couple of solo releases, both tied to different characters, the first Shingo Mama from the variety program Sata Suma and the other and more recent, Ryo-san, of the drama series Kochikame. He also hosts and English oriented program, SmaSTATION!!.

Kusanagi Tsuyoshi is probably better known as the one that got drunk and ran around naked in a park calling out the name of one of his band mates until the police came and arrested him. From this incident he is well quoted as asking the police, “What’s wrong with being naked?” as well as the mass over reaction to it when just about all his advertising contracts were pulled. He later got most of them back after putting himself under house arrest for a while and giving the usual apology to the nation that is expected of celebrities to do in Japan. If fact he rebounded from this scandal surprisingly well and went on to star in a hit drama, Ninkyu Helper, later that same year. He’s also known to be fluent in Korean and has even had Korean solo releases under the name, Chonan Kan. In 2011 he published a book of short stories that he translated from Korean to Japanese.

(from left to right) Katori Shingo, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Nakai Masahiro,
Inagaki Goro & Kimura Takuya

TRIVIA: As Juniors all the members of SMAP were in the same group of Juniors, Skate Boys. This group also had four of the five members of TOKIO in it.

Kimura Takuya was the first non-Western celebrity to advertise for Levi’s jeans.

Katori Shingo's single released under his Shingo Mama persona sold over a million copies.

Next Entry > TOKIO, From Spaceships to the Over 30s World

Directory >
Johnny’s Juniors, full of rising stars and heartbreak
The Early and Rocky Path to Fame
Kondo Masahiko: Singer, Dancer, Actor, Professional Race Car Driver
Giving a New Meaning to Playzone, Shounentai
Hikaru Genji, Shining the Brightest and Crashing the Hardest
Otokogumi, Rocking It Old School
The Living Legend of SMAP
TOKIO, From Spaceships to the Over 30s World
Victory, Volleyball, Vegetable, Vicylce? V6
KinKi Kids, It's Not What You Think
Arashi, Storming to the Top
The Inseparable Duo, Tackey & Tsubasa
North, East, West, South ... It's big NEWS
Kansai Underdogs,  Kanjani∞
Cartoon? KAT-TUN!
Jumping to Their Dreams, Hey! Say! JUMP
Johnny's Black Sheep, Akanishi Jin
How to Debut Without Even Trying, Ikuta Toma
Kis-My-Ft2, Everybody Go (Roller Skating)!
Yamashita Tomohisa, Johnny’s Golden Boy
Entering the Sexy Zone
The 5Stars A.B.C-Z
International Ventures
Johnny's and Charity 
Odds & Ends


Ani2 said...

What I really find impressive is just how their popularity was rising through the years . I didn´t know that SMAP weren´t that popular right after they debuted because now, we always know them as THE Johnnys.
But Arashi is also much more popular in Japan as they used to at the beginning of their career, so I hope some of the newer groups like HSJ for example will rise their popularit with the years as well.

Chris said...

It´s just my personal taste but I never understood why Kimura was always voted as the sexiest man. I don´t find him that handsome, but yeah , seems like japanese taste different than mine if it comes to Kimura lol
I wonder for how long SMAP will stay that popular, I mean they´re not getting younger but I´m sure age won´t harm SMAP at all.

Thennary Nak said...

@ Ani2

They were actually the least popular group when they debuted. Which makes their rise to fame seem even more amazing.

I think groups like SMAP and Arashi show that just because a group isn't popular at first you shouldn't count them out as they're always a chance for them to break out big later on.

@ Chris

It probably is just a taste thing as there are other Johnny's I find sexier than him to me.

I think SMAP will always have some level of popularity even if they ever disband.

Jorian said...

Ohhh, SMAP is not just a band - it's a state of mind :-) I love them to bits - as a whole and each and one of them separately. And though I love other JE groups as Arashi, V6 or KAT-TUN - they are my favs. And I hope they will stay popular and play for us for many, many years.

@Chris - Kimura is amazing - no doubts about it, but sure it is just a matter of taste :-) Some ppl like him, some prefer Brad Pitt etc. That's quite normal, ne?

Thennary Nak said...

Even though I am not really a fan I do have a lot of respect for SMAP and its members. They have done amazing things for a group that began on such a low note.