Japanese media have reported that four of the five members of the seminal J-pop boy band SMAP will depart from their longtime agency, Johnny & Associates.
The Wednesday edition of the Sports Nippon newspaper stated that Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Shingo Katori and Masahiro Nakai will likely leave the vaunted agency. Takuya Kimura, the group's single biggest star -- though its designated leader is Nakai -- may stay put. Whether the members can continue to work together under these circumstances is unknown, but the tabloid suggested otherwise.
A lawyer for the usually closed-mouth agency admitted to NHK News Web, the news website of the national broadcaster, that the four were negotiating leaving Johnny & Associates.
When reached by phone Johnny & Associates declined to comment on the situation to Billboard.
The band topped the charts in '90s and continued to have hit singles and albums up to the present. The members are leading Japanese entertainment personalities, with a heavy presence in TV, film, endorsements and ad campaigns. According to the Japanese music record-keeper Oricon, SMAP is the fourth-largest selling band of all time in Japan, with about 35.16 million units sold including both albums and singles.
The defection would not only have significant market impact, but is taken as a sign of the once all-powerful Johnny & Associates losing ground in the country's entertainment industry. According to sources, the news is related to an internal power struggle at the agency.
The band's first single in 1991, "Can't Stop!! Loving," debuted at No. 2 on the Oricon chart and eventually sold 2.5 million copies. SMAP has released 21 studio albums (excluding compilations, remixes and mini albums) and 55 singles. Their TV show, SMAP v. SMAP, has been one of the highest-rated variety shows broadcast in Japan for well over a decade.