May 10, 2021

I've been watching a documentary on Arashi on Netflix. Arashi is a Japanese boy band and is among the largest musical acts in Japan of all time. They went on hiatus at the end of last year.

There's a lot about Arashi that I never paid much attention to as an English-speaking fan. For one, the intense planning process before each concert. I can't help but notice how Arashi feels different from BTS (today's biggest band – boy or not). Off-stage, Arashi is subdued and business-like; BTS is playful and energetic. How much of the difference is cultural? An act? Or a product of how people behave in their 20s (time to explore the world!) vs. their 30s (time to settle down?).

Arashi comprises five members: Matsumoto Jun (MatsuJun), Ohno Satoshi, Masaki Aiba, Sakurai Sho, and Ninomiya Kazunari. While Ohno Satoshi, the lead vocalist, is known as the "leader" of Arashi, MatsuJun seems to care the most about Arashi. While the others talk about their responsibility to each other and their fans (ongaeshi, or returning a favor, comes up a lot), Jun participates far more in the group's creative direction. A musician friend of MatsuJun's called him Arashi's producer.

As MatsuJun reflects on Arashi's 21 years together, he refers to the other members of Arashi as his nakama. Out of convenience, nakama gets translated to "friend" in the English subtitles. But this misses nuance in how Arashi views each other: in Japanese, nakama refers to people who share the same goal and not necessarily someone one is friends with. Though if you subscribe to the interpretation of nakama among the English-speaking One Piece fandom, Arashi is more close-knit than it seems.

Are groups where one person is the primary creative and the others are supporting that person's vision more likely to succeed, compared to groups with multiple strong-minded members? On one hand, the Lennon-McCartnery partnership was among the most successful of all time. On the other hand, they wrote their songs independently of each other. And more broadly, creative differences led to the Beatles' break-up.

Maybe it's inevitable that a person who's part of a successful whole will question whether they would be successful on their own, or desire to express themselves beyond the confines of the group. In Arashi's case, Ohno's sporadic art exhibitions may have been one outlet. Incidentally, Ohno was the one who instigated Arashi's hiatus.

One common thread through watching Arashi (and BTS) documentaries is a constant reference to the fans. Creative work can only become popular if many others deem it valuable, so any creator who wishes to be successful in some measure must be fan-centric. One might bring up the famous (and misattributed) "faster horses" quote as counterpoint for not being overly concerned about what one's customers (or fans) want, but even then, to come up with something that far exceeds expectations requires a deep understanding of their needs.