SMAP in drag for Softbank

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SMAP is Japan's most popular boyband. SMAP is the most successful act of Japan's most successful entertainment promoters, Johnnie's, and took off in the mid-1990s. SMAP is the biggest-earning entertainment act in Japan, and has a fanatical following in the form of millions of Japanese women.

Softbank is one of Japan's biggest mobile phone providers, and much of its reputation today rides on it having introduced the iPhone to Japan, which has proved immensely popular.

In 2010, Softbank bagged Ayumi Hamasaki, arguably Japan's biggest female pop star, as the company spokesperson. Softbank has followed this up by scooping SMAP to promote a new phone billed as a cross between a traditional folding mobile phone and a smart phone. To the "sma" of "smart" (and "smap") is appended the "kei" of "keitai" ("mobile") for "smakei" (スマケー), the name of the model of the phone being promoted.

SMAP in drag

I was in a Softbank branch the other day that has just opened in my neighborhood, and saw the advertisement pictured here. SMAP are pictured three times, from suit and tie conventionality at bottom, fantasy Japanese feudal in the middle, and PamAm-type air hostesses at top.

Male pop stars in English-speaking countries might be too cautious about their image to go so far as dressing up as women to advertise a product, and, likewise, mainstream companies would probably be too cautious about the possible negative perceptions to even get as far as suggesting a mainstream popstar do it.

SMAP in drag for Softbank Ad

Perhaps it's Japan's long history of cross-dressing on stage, but drag does not evoke the moral outrage in Japan that it might (still) in some sections of Western society. Females were banned from performing on stage in the 17th century, making cross-dressing for drama a commercial necessity, and a cultural norm.

Japan's gay scene has its drag queens, like anywhere else, but associating cross-dressing in Japan with being gay is a little rash. And in SMAP's case, there is no cause to infer anything more than that they are entertainers who take entertaining seriously, and "respectability" with a big grain of salt.


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