Since the start of her career in 1978, and continues to produce chart-topping hits to this day. Takeuchi’s rise to stardom in the late 70s and early 80s paved the way for jpop to move forward.
Although Takeuchi was relatively unknown to most of the world until recently, she has sold over 16 million records in Japan (note: this estimate might be as much as 10 years old, so the number is likely vastly higher at this point), including nearly 20 albums (including compilations, best hits albums, and live albums) and over 40 singles, with her most recent single release, Inochi no Uta reaching number 1 on the Oricon charts in January of 2020.
Takeuchi is billed as a singer/songwriter and is known for writing most of her own songs. In addition to her own talent, she has a life-long partner in crime – in 1982, around five years into her career, Takeuchi married Tatsuro Yamashita, a singer-songwriter and record producer. Over the course of the 80s, the two collaborated together in what would be a fateful pairing for themselves individually, and Japanese music as a whole.
The 1980s was around the time that the City Pop genre was first emerging; funky music that appeals to a sprawling, big-city lifestyle of relaxing at the beach in the afternoon and driving through the streets in the evening, music ready to go.
In such, many of her songs have become exemplary of the genre itself, and are slowly reemerging as lost relics of the past with the City Pop Genre becoming more and more popular as Vaporwave and Future Funk enthusiasts admire it and search for tracks to sample from. Yamashita was a lion in this genre, perhaps filling the same position relative to city pop that one would think of Elvis Presley to rock.
Between their personal chemistry and a strong affinity for the genre, Takeuchi and Yamashita naturally became an unparalleled force.
Takeuchi’s Claim to Fame in the Western World is a Song you Have Probably Heard of Called “Plastic Love”
When you look up the term City Pop, you are likely to come across it sooner rather than later – the track that has made Mariya Takeuchi a household name across the globe in the 2010s: Plastic Love.
Plastic Love was originally one of the tracks that appeared on Takeuchi’s April 1984 album, Variety. Upon release, Variety was Takeuchi’s sixth full-length studio album and featured 11 tracks in its first pressing on a two-sided vinyl record by Moon Records, a label associated with Warner Music Japan that often represented music releases from both Takeuchi and Yamashita.
Since then it has been rereleased a total of nine times, mostly on CD, but receiving a special edition Vinyl release in 2014 for the first time since the original pressing.
Initially, Plastic Love was not the focus of attention upon its debut. Of the tracks from Variety to get their own singles released, Plastic Love was actually number 3, preceded by Mou Ichido/Honki de Only You (Let’s Get Married), which was released a few weeks prior to the album’s release in late April, and Majii Biito de Utawasete in late August.
In fact, Plastic Love wasn’t released as a single until March of the following year, just a few weeks before the one-year anniversary of Mou Ichido/Honki de.
It was in summer 2017 that an upload of Plastic Love on youtube began to really garnish attention, and by the beginning of 2018, it had received over 5 million hits. Interested minds have made videos and or written articles since not only exploring the song but the idea of why it suddenly attracted so much attention.
One could argue that Plastic Love was a slow burn, many decades ahead of its time.
As City Pop faded from the mainstream of Japanese music and was rediscovered once again, cultural values have shifted. The result is that we as a global audience identify more with the lyrics of the song in the 2010s than a listener in the 1980’s Japan would have.
Additionally, Plastic Love became one of Takeuchi’s favorite songs to perform on her live tours “Souvenir” and “Souvenir Again” throughout the 2000s and 2010s, even before its rise to popularity in the West, so this sentiment has resonated within her to some extent as well. 35 years after its original release, Warner Music Japan released a short on Youtube commemorating the song, marking the first time it has had an official PV or music video of its own.
Just five years earlier, Variety had received the 30 year anniversary treatment, and it was in the time since then that Plastic Love explosively grew in popularity.
So With the Rise in Popularity, Where is Mariya Takeuchi Now?
There must be a few questions on everyone’s minds as the Plastic Love phenomenon grows.
For one, What does she think of her newfound “fame”, and has it affected her in any way?
Well, she has acknowledged the recognition a few times during various interviews and radio shows and responded positively. She is, however, still very active in her career and would likely be in a similar position even had the song not become an overseas hit.
The surge amongst foreigners is bound to reap benefits for fans abroad in the coming years.
Over the last half-decade or so, Takeuchi has continued to tour throughout Japan and released a few singles. Her compilation albums continue to be huge sellers, with her 1994 album, Impressions being one of, if not her best selling single album at several million units. Additional compilations including the massive 3 disc album, Turntable in 2019 which features bonus content, unreleased tracks, and self-covers of numerous tracks. The first pressing of the album also included a special booklet illustrated by Mari Yamazaki,
Takeuchi and Yamashita have also been active in recent years outside of their solo careers.
In 2016, Takeuchi worked with the popular boy band Arashi, writing the lyrics for their song Fukkatsu LOVE, while Yamashita managed the composition and arrangement of the piece. In October of 2018, to honor the commemoration of the 40th year of her career, Takeuchi released the single, Chiisana Onegai / Ima wo ikiyou, as well as re-releasing her a remastered version of her debut album, BEGINNING which included a bonus track.
The same year, a live concert film, Souvenir the Movie – Mariya Takeuchi Theater Live was released, documenting some performances from the Souvenir tour concert series.
The celebration of Takeuchi’s career remains an ongoing affair. The domain mariya40th.com serves as an official hub for and things Takeuchi, including news, concerts, various merchandise, and social media links.
Although the site is mostly in Japanese, the interface has a very foreigner-friendly appeal to it. It might just be about the time, 40+ years into her career, that Mariya Takeuchi finally decides to branch out and focus on fans all over the world.
Between Tatsuro Yamashita and herself is a power couple that has both the know-how and experience to expand on their already monumental fame within Japan, and become representatives for Japanese musical culture in the modern, culture-obsessed world.
Well into her sixties, she maintains an energetic and charismatic image, and likely still has many stories to tell with her music.
If the rise in popularity continues, we can no doubt expect collaborations with Western artists in the future, or even a limited number of concerts abroad. At least, this is something many of us who are nostalgic for the sounds of City Pop and good ol’ jpop tunes from a different time (which ironically feels more modern and relevant than ever) are hoping for. Don’t let us down, Takeuchi-san!