And let’s not downplay the subject matter: 80’s jpop is sweet. When it comes down to it, jpop holds a special place amongst all world music that other genres do not wherein a large number of people who don’t necessarily speak Japanese themselves are captivated and infatuated by it.
Part of this is due to cultural reasons – that it is often associated with anime, one of the world’s most celebrated cultural artforms, but also due to the natural energy and harmonious sound the genre celebrates.
So, what does 80’s jpop entail, and what is Japanese City Pop you ask? One thing to keep in mind is that at the start of the 80s decade, Japan was not the Alpha amongst a worldwide pop culture that it is today; anime was something that had barely begun to get its start in the previous decades and had little to no representation outside of the country.
The post-WWII struggle for Japan to stand out in the world was starting to bear fruit in musicians who were innovating and giving their country a place on the international stage – acts like Yellow Magic Orchestra were emerging, putting a fresh, modern sound and breaking tradition, which up until this point in history had been a strong basis for most Japanese art.
With these new-found talents and a desire to stand out, jpop with a more sophisticated sound became the focus, infusing elements of jazz, funk, and disco, and aimed at “big city life”.
Thus, jpop would move into the 80s under the moniker of “city pop”, an attractive name that corresponded to a certain aesthetic and image and advancement of overall style towards a more Western sound rather than a specific musical root, and it would be one of Japan’s contributions towards joining up with world pop culture.
Can Music Bleed a Certain Aesthetic Beyond Merely the Way it Sounds?
One point of importance in the idea of “aesthetic” and how it relates to Vaporwave culture as a whole. City Pop is exemplary of the kind of aesthetic Vaporwave flunkies and Future Funk fanatics yearn for to the extent of being self-evident even in name, “City Pop” being a term to give more character and luster to a genre of music that already existed, but was admittedly going through changes based on how contemporary life was transforming around the turn of the decade in 1979.
If you think about it, the term City Pop is to the Japanese as “aesthetic” in the sense of Vaporwave culture is to speakers of other languages; it is a term written in a foreign language with a nice ring to it.
Conversely, aesthetic in this sense of the word within the scene is often embodied by, for instance, giving a song or album a title in odd, if not nonsensical Japanese, for a work of art created by someone who doesn’t speak Japanese at advanced levels and aimed at a target audience that also lacks proficiency in such.
This interesting dynamic might, to some extent, explain the fascination and obsession with the genre in the West and has a direct correlation with the rise in popularity of City Pop as Vaporwave culture and Future Funk have begun to emerge and grow as artforms in the mid-2010s.
Which Acts are Best Identified by the Term City Pop?
One who is interested in exploring the origins of City Pop and the musical advancements in Japan around the late 70s and early 80s should first and foremost dabble in Yellow Magic Orchestra and its individual members, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, and Yukihiro Takahashi.
Although YMO is associated more with the electro renaissance than City Pop, the way their sound evolved moving into the 80s sent a ripple effect throughout pretty much every facet of Japanese music, leading to many acts assimilating elements of their sound.
Next, the names Tatsuro Yamashita, Toshiki Kodamatsu, Mariya Takeuchi, and Eiichi Ohtaki come to mind. These artists are the ones most closely associated with the genre as it was coined and made an official appearance as part of the Japanese lifestyle.
As a result, just about anyone of an appropriate age range in Japan is extremely familiar with each of these names. Takeuchi, in particular, has grown popular in recent years outside of Japan, becoming the best single representative of City Pop in image to the western world after her 1984 song Plastic Love gained newfound popularity on Youtube in 2017.
Some personal favorites include Junko Yagami, who released many classic pop albums throughout the 70s before the genre had been defined, and Taeko Ohnuki who has collaborated with both Yuichi Sakamoto and Tatsuro Yamashita (as a member of the band Sugar Babe) over the course of her career.
Rounding out the 80s, the sounds of Omega Tribe (in its various different compositions as the members shifted over the decade) became the perfect vessel for taking all of the genre’s strengths that were accumulated throughout the 80s and throwing them all out there at peak levels.
Many of these names and acts have continued their careers as musicians far beyond the City Pop boom of the 80s, but the essence of City Pop has remained central to their styles, even into the 90s as jpop continued to evolve and explode in popularity worldwide.