SMAP is a very popular Japanese "idol" group, formed by Johnny & Associates. Originally, there were six members in the group, current members are Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Goro Inagaki and Shingo Katori. (Names are given here in personal name-family name order.) The members of SMAP have dominated the Japanese pop cultural landscape from their musical debut in 1991 until the present time (as of 2006), showing incredible longevity for a manufactured group. They produce not just numerous hit singles, but also star in numerous television variety shows, dramas, commercials, and movies. They are almost unrivaled in their immense popularity among younger, and especially female, Japanese.
SMAP was first formed in 1988, though their debut single came in 1991. SMAP officially stands for the English words "Sports and Music Assemble People". SMAP originally consisted of the current five members plus Katsuyuki Mori (森 且行) who left in May 1996 to pursue a career in auto racing.
SMAP, a "Japanese version of the Backstreet Boys", was started as an idol group by the famous "Johnny & Associates", a conglomerate known for its "cute boys only" policy. The SMAP members met each other in 1987 and were called "Skate Boys". They were backup dancers for Hikaru Genji (光GENJI), which was a popular idol group at the time. In 1988, they formed SMAP. Nakai, the oldest, became the group's leader. Their debut in 1991, in a time when there weren't many music programs, was not immediately successful. Of all of Johnny's groups, SMAP was the least popular. Since SMAP was so unsuccessful, Nakai asked Johnny's office to let SMAP have a variety program to make people laugh with their unique personalities.
The program was called "I Love SMAP". Through this program, SMAP slowly gained popularity. 1993 was a year of opportunities for SMAP. They had a hit single, and SMAP member Takuya Kimura was in a dorama called "Asunaro Hakusho", in which he played Osamu Toride, a shy, cute boy. Asunaro was a big hit and Kimura's popularity soared. At the same time, SMAP also provided the opening ("Egao no GENKI") and ending songs for the anime Hime-chan's Ribbon, and Tsuyoshi Kusanagi appeared in multiple episodes both as himself as the voice of a regular character. SMAP also recorded the opening song, "Kimi Iro Omoi", for the anime Akazukin Cha Cha, and this time the youngest member, Shingo Katori, lent his voice for the whole show as the young and strong werewolf, Riiya.
After that, SMAP members starred in movies both individually and as a group, and SMAP continued to release new hit singles. Their song "Yozora no Mukou" is now in some Japanese textbooks.
In 1996, SMAP started their own variety program called SMAP X SMAP (also called S x S or SmaSma). On S x S, they cook, perform in comedy sketches, play games, sing, dance, and so on. S x S has been one of the most well-known TV programs in Japan since it started. The members of SMAP did things on the show that Japanese celebrities had never done on television before, steering Japanese television in new creative ways and creating even more publicity and popularity for the group. As "the super idol group that does anything", they began starring in a wide variety of programs ranging from live stage to music, dancing, hosting other programs, acting in movies, commercials, etc.
In 2001, Inagaki was involved in a traffic altercation. There were allegations of wrongdoing on his part, and he briefly retreated from the public spotlight. However, the ultimate result of the incident was to put SMAP in the public eye once more, which only increased their popularity. Inagaki has since made a comeback, and starred in a 2004 drama about a fictional Japanese investment banker killed in the events of September 11.
SMAP members are said to be the most famous stars in Japan. Though a comparison to American groups like The Backstreet Boys is not entirely musically inaccurate, even at the peak of their popularity, no American boy band has come close to the pervasiveness of SMAP. To give a sense of the popularity (and ubiquity) of SMAP, note that in 2003, SMAP leader Nakai was identified as the highest tax payer of any entertainer in Japan by the Japanese National Tax Bureau. That same year, he was involved in at least four television shows simultaneously, in addition to commercials.
There were speculations that SMAP would disband following Takuya Kimura's announcement of his marriage and Goro Inagaki's traffic altercation in 2001. Although they did not release even a single in 2004, the popularity of SMAP is still strong. This is reflected in the charts, where both their latest album and a recent single (017 SAMPLE BANG! and BANG BANG! バカンス!) topped the respective daily charts just moments after their release.
Singing is only a small part of the reason for SMAP's current fame. All of the members of SMAP have acted in numerous television dramas, variety programs commercials, and movies, but each also cultivates a distinctive image and personality.
* Masahiro Nakai (中居 正広) is the "leader" of the group and has hosted numerous television programs through out the years. He is a notorious bachelor and trickster. He is known for his bad singing. He frequently wears a hat and has long hair, although his look changes frequently.
* Takuya Kimura (木村 拓哉) has appeared in many extremely successful television dramas. He has been said to be the "sexiest guy in Japan". He cultivates a heartthrob image, as well of that of a devoted husband. After his breakout role in Asunaro Hakusho, Kimura became the cover boy for many magazines. In 1994, the so-called Kimutaku (a contraction of Kimura Takuya) syndrome shook Japan. Kimura was voted AnAn's favorite guy, Best Jeanist, etc. He was voted Best Jeanist from 1994 to 1999 and became a "forever Jeanist". He is still AnAn's favorite guy, having won the vote 13 times consecutively (as of 2006). In 1995, Kimura acted in a movie called "Kimi wa wasurenai", and was praised by critics and viewers alike. Many of the dramas he has acted in, such as "HERO" and "Beautiful Life", hold records for Japanese viewership.
* Goro Inagaki (稻垣 吾郎) is one of the main vocalists of the group. He has his own late-night variety programme called Goro's Bar, and also acts in television dramas as well as occasional stage plays.
* Tsuyoshi Kusanagi (草彅 剛) speaks Korean and is known as the best dramatic actor after Kimura, appearing in the critically-acclaimed "Hotel Venus". He has soft features and projects a "sensitive" image. In 2005, he went to Thailand to learn more about the lives of orphans there, and documented the trip for a television special of SMAP's weekly variety program SMAPXSMAP.
* Shingo Katori (香取 慎吾) is known for his use of English and even has a popular guidebook, "English Berabera", published in his name (English speakers who watch SMAP may dispute claims that he knows the language). For a while he dyed his hair white, making him stand out in the group. At one point he also had dreadlocks. He has also done significant anime voice work, most notably the role of Riiya in Akazukin ChaCha.