Talent agency Johnny & Associates has officially announced that their iconic J-pop group SMAP (Sports Music Assemble People) will be disbanding at the tail end of this year. On Dec. 31, the five idols who have been together since 1988 will finally go their separate ways to “focus on their individual activities.”

Rumors of the break up first appeared in January after SMAP’s manager resigned, but Johnny vehemently denied them and an apology from the members was swiftly issued. Now, the final word from J&A is that a majority of the members chose disbandment over taking a suggested hiatus. According to the official notice, “the affiliation of the members [will] remain in the company.”

SMAP is a legend that paved the way for later groups by broadening the public’s view of an idol’s potential. Even before their 1991 musical debut, the six members began their rise to fame by appearing on and later hosting variety shows during a time when musical artists tended to stick strictly to music programs. It provided the perfect opportunity for them to connect to audiences on a more personal level, and they continued to gain opportunities to entertain their growing fan base via acting, radio shows, and collaborations with foreign guests.

Member Katsuyuki Mori left the band in 1996, but SMAP continued to flourish, releasing hit after hit and capturing hearts both domestically and abroad. They’ve racked up a long list of achievements, including more than 35 million album sales, 14 Japanese gold disc awards, and creating one of the most watched television shows in Japan (SMAPxSMAP).

Many fans are calling this the end of an era as SMAP’s reign is coming to a close, and even those who don’t appreciate their music can likely respect the gravity of what they’ve accomplished and the effect they’ve had on the entertainment industry.

[ translated official notice ]

[ original apology ]

[ original apology video ]

[ 35 million sales ]

[ 14 gold disc awards ]

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