Japanese Boy Band (Average Age: 41) Retiring. Entire Country is in Mourning.

This probably makes me an awful person, but I’d never heard of SMAP until now, even though this Japanese boy band has sold 35 million records over three decades. Plus they’ve had a long-running hit TV show. And the fact that each one of them hosts or has hosted their own TV shows.  They are, by all accounts, national treasures in Japan.

But now they’re breaking up. All of Japan is in mourning. From the New York Times:

For nearly three decades, millions of Japanese have clamored for their every album, lined up with breathless anticipation for their concerts and gathered on Monday nights for their hit television show.

Now, the nation is awash with anguish over word that SMAP — Japan’s longest-running boy band, if it can still be called that with its youngest member pushing 40 — is splitting up.

The news has dominated newspaper headlines and television talk shows since the band’s announcement this month. Even the mayor of Tokyo and two members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet have weighed in. One said he was worried about the effect on the Japanese economy, the world’s third-largest.

“We will not let them stop!” a grieving fan wrote in one of more than a dozen petitions on change.org pleading with the aging heartthrobs to remain together. “If we let them go and disband, it means Japan is finished.”

To understand the bedlam unfolding here, think of the Beatles’ breaking up, the airing of the final episode of “Seinfeld” and the “conscious uncoupling” of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin all rolled into one — the end of an era on the Japanese cultural landscape.

Uh-oh. This looks serious. Better keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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