I’m sure many Bias List readers are like, “Johnny what?!?”, but I’ve decided to branch out this year and offer my thoughts on one of J-pop’s biggest agencies. I mostly want to do this because I think they’ve had a great year worth writing about.
As usual, the thoughts are my own and aren’t privy to any insider information. I’m not taking into account things like profits and stock value. The purpose of these articles is to determine how well agencies are serving their artists and fans.
It feels like we’ve entered a new era for Johnny’s. 2020’s double debut of Snow Man and SixTONES continues to pay off, with both groups releasing incredible (and incredibly popular) albums. That Snow Man album in particular is 20+ tracks of all killer, no filler. As usual, the agency has done a fantastic job promoting these acts with plenty of variety appearances and drama roles. Though it’s hard to quantify depending on the metrics used, Snow Man have quickly vaulted to the absolute top of Japan’s idol industry. There’s such buzz around them. SixTONES feel slightly more niche, but in a really great way.
I was curious to see how another new debut would fare so soon after Snow Man / SixTONES, but I think we can safely say Naniwa Danshi’s first single is a total smash. 700,000+ copies in the first four days is no joke – especially when you consider these groups are accomplishing this without the huge global audience enjoyed by K-pop acts.
Though they debuted years earlier, King & Prince are also part of this new generation. The agency is doing a great job balancing their output between classic J-pop sounds and more modern, global genres. The group pulled off both extremes incredibly well this year, making songs like Magic Touch stand out just as much as the more traditional On The Moonlit Night, When You Fall In Love (恋降る月夜に君想ふ). If fans were worried how Johnny’s would fare without Arashi, this new generation of talent seems poised to carry on tradition while blazing forward with new ideas.
In fact, the agency’s music has been solid across the board this year. They have such an identifiable sound, yet work with so many different producers/composers and experiment with many genres. They pull off the tricky balance of agency cohesion vs. individual color, and their current roster seems to have a little something for every taste.
Of course, Johnny’s real appeal comes in the form of its history. Both Kis-My-Ft2 and Sexy Zone celebrated their tenth debut anniversary this year – a testament to the longevity of the agency’s acts. And although V6 ended 2021 with disbandment, their 26th (!) anniversary was well-celebrated. Hey! Say! JUMP explored new sounds and genres – a luxury afforded to a group in their fourteenth year. KAT-TUN were more active musically than they have been in years. News, Kanjani8, A.B.C-Z, Johnny’s WEST and KinKi Kids also released solid music, playing to their strengths.
The agency’s junior groups seem especially popular at the moment. HiHi Jets and Bishounen each scored their own dramas, while Travis Japan feels ready to debut now (held back by the huge number of acts already on Johnny’s roster, I’m sure). New unit Impactors are already making a splash, and the agency was smart to release a music video on youtube to promote them right out of the gate. HiHi Jets and Travis Japan also scored mvs – a welcome change for junior groups whose music often goes unreleased for years. The Johnny’s Junior youtube page continues to pay dividends, finally allowing international fans to enjoy the groups’ variety.
The road to digital access has been very slow for Johnny’s, but they’re slowly embracing this new era. An English-language twitter account has been a very welcome addition, alongside other SNS accounts for individual acts. The Ride Of Time docu-series has been a wonderful way for international fans to learn about the agency’s groups, and more dramas are being picked up globally (with the fantastic Kieta Hatsukoi just around the corner). I’m so happy to see official music videos make their way onto online platforms (though I still have a complaint in this regard), and the agency has even experimented with digital music releases via KAT-TUN’s past two singles. This would have been unheard of even a year or two ago. I’m not sure I want them to completely embrace streaming since I like the niche feeling of their music, but more access is always appreciated.
Speaking of access, this remains Johnny’s biggest hurdle. They have completely conquered Japan, but global fans still have to jump through a lot of hoops to experience their music.
It seems like the agency’s biggest concession to international fans is an English-language song here and there. This is totally fine, but the single best investment they could make is a team of translators to subtitle their youtube content and perhaps even include subs as part of their artists’ dvd releases. Right now, the agency’s youtube channels rely on fans to submit subtitles. This can be a rather slow process and feels a little unethical given the fact these fansubbers are not paid for their work. If K-pop companies can employ a subber and make content available quickly, there’s no reason an enormous agency like Johnny’s can’t do so as well. This is my single greatest wish for their 2022. Johnny’s music is amazing, but their variety is just as important when it comes to gaining interest in a group.
I’d also like to see the agency start to upload their full music videos rather than edited versions that remove the second verse. This is especially true for acts who still release dvd singles rather than blu-ray. Youtube becomes the only way to watch these music videos in HD, and they deserve to be seen that way in their entirety. As K-pop agencies like SM remaster classic videos, there’s no reason Johnny’s can’t upload HD versions of old KinKi Kids or News or KAT-TUN videos — many of which don’t exist anywhere else.
And while we’re on the topic of distribution, I wish there was a way that junior groups could release their pre-debut tracks before they make their official debut. This is starting to occur as special mvs are released from the juniors, but there are so many great tracks I’m dying to hear in studio version. It’s frustrating to wait years for the group to debut and eventually get around to tacking these old songs on an album.