A blog focused on discovering the music landscape of Japan wouldn’t be complete without at least a mention of SMAP. I’ve had the chance to listen to a decent amount of SMAP tracks (and have even more to sort through, though I’m in no rush…) and for the most part they aren’t very good. Since I’d rather not dwell on junk, I won’t devote much space to them, but SMAP do offer a helpful introduction into the world of J-pop “idols” and the “idol worshippers” that surround them.
SMAP are basically the Japanese Backstreet Boys/N’Sync except they’ve lasted a hell of a lot longer and they have a cooking show. They debuted in 1991 and have been massive ever since, with nearly all their releases shooting to the top of the charts. This overwhelming success has led to all sorts of side projects, ranging from individual members starring in drama series or the long-running variety show SMAP x SMAP, featuring “Bistro SMAP” where the boys cook food for various celebrities. Wikipedia says the Space Shuttle Discovery used a SMAP song as a wake-up tune back in 2005. I mean…geez.
The reason I bring SMAP up now are because I can’t go more than a block without seeing them. They are in myriad commercials and ads around town. They just released a new single so that gets a fair amount of airplay. There current “big” endorsement is with Japanese cell phone company Soft Bank, so every time I walk by one of the four stores in town I see huge posters of SMAP telling me to “come on” and buy an iPhone or something. I also see this commercial every day on TV.
SMAP offer a general look at what the pop industry in Japan is all about, right down to the fact they are a product (and that’s truly the best word for them) of Johnny & Associates, an organization you really should read about. They aren’t singers as much as they are personalities that can seep into multiple fields. They mostly sell an image over a product (though they sell lots of products too). The unique thing about SMAP is how long they’ve been able to stay huge – only a few groups can naturally age without falling out of the public eye, and SMAP are one of them. I’m not sure how they’ve done it, but, as Wikipedia says, they’ve gone from an “idol group” to the “top group” in Japan.
Boy is there music bad though.