Japanese City Pop: nostalgia in music

city pop

The influence of Japanese pop culture on the international scene is not only due to manga and anime series.

A musical style from the 70's and 80's has come back to the forefront: Japanese City Pop. Listeners from all over the world spend hours listening to these songs out of nostalgia for a time they never knew.

What is Japanese City Pop, and what are its conventions? Why is it such a hit on YouTube and Spotify today? Put on your headphones and discover the sound, aesthetics and influences of City Pop.

Japanese City Pop - memories of the good old days

memories of the good old days

Source: reddit.com

Urban effervescence with an air of summer vacation

City Pop's vinyls have become true collector's items. On their cover, we often find the same elements: a sunny beach, a car on the beach promising us an unforgettable road trip, a woman in a bathing suit, but also buildings and multicolored neon lights illuminating a summer night in Tokyo.

The aesthetics of the City Pop alone makes us travel. We can feel the warm sand, the vacations, the Tokyo nightlife, the freedom and the carefree attitude.

Japanese City Pop is influenced by American soft rock, soul, R&B and funk. These new and refreshing sounds quickly seduced the Japanese youth and new albums were constantly released. 

Top 5 best artists of City Pop - where musical genres meet

1. Tatsuro Yamashita: Passionate about music since childhood and strongly influenced by American pop and rock. During his career, he released more than forty singles. He is the most recognized artist of City Pop in the world and in Japan. His voice and his catchy rhythms will teleport you to the most beautiful times of the Land of the Rising Sun. Recommended title to discover his universe: "Ride on Time".


2. Mariya Takeuchi: Her song "Plastic Love" made a big splash in 1985, then was resurrected on the Internet in 2017 and now has 50 million plays on YouTube. Several listeners even investigated: Why did the YouTube algorithm start recommending "Plastic Love" in mass? What is the story behind the famous black and white photo that illustrates this single? It is said that City Pop was popularized internationally thanks to this track. Mariya Takeuchi's music is perfect to travel back in time and imagine yourself living beautiful moments in Japan. Besides, Mariya is the wife of Tatsuro Yamashita.


3. Taeko Onuki: "4 A.M." and all the nostalgia it gives off makes it one of the most listened to music in the City Pop. The voice of the singer guides us through the streets of Tokyo in 1978 with the album Mignonne. She also experimented with jazz and melancholic melodies echoing memories of summer vacations in the sun.


4. Toshiki Kadomatsu: An artist who cannot be ignored. His albums After 5 Clash and On the City Shore are to be listened to without moderation. He arrived on the music scene later than the others and tried to give a second wind to City Pop in the 90s. His songs are full of energy, good mood and parties. Toshiki Kadomatsu is still actively involved, as he released an album in 2022. 


5. Junko Ohashi: "Telephone Number" takes us straight to the 80s in Japan. Don't hesitate to discover her universe full of nostalgia, love stories and urban atmosphere of the time.

The rebirth of Japanese City Pop: its international influence

Nostalgia of an unknown but comforting era 

When listening to a City Pop song, we are tempted to believe " It was better before ".

This musical style emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, when Japan was experiencing an unprecedented economic boom. Companies were shining with their innovations and multiple jobs were created in Tokyo. At that time, the purchasing power of Japanese people increased by an average of 10% per year (according to Le Japon contemporain, published by Fayard). The majority of the population had access to what is called: the consumer society.

The Japanese then finally had the luxury of going on vacation, taking the car and driving under the sun, lulled by the sound of the waves. In Tokyo, nightlife was enjoyed with cocktails, restaurants, karaoke and dancing until late at night. To learn more about one of Japan's favorite pastimes, check out Japanese Karaoke, an unmissable experience.

Unfortunately, after the economic crisis of 1990, inequality and precariousness took hold of Japanese society. The party was over, the soul of City Pop faded away... until it came back in force all over the world in the 2000s. 

City Pop's second wind - Remixes, tributes and vinyl collections

City Pop is very much inspired by Western music. Listeners are immersed in familiar rhythms, while letting their imagination run away with Japanese lyrics they don't understand. They discover a vast unknown and mysterious universe that is just waiting to be heard. Some of the songs have disco sounds, retro melodies, which accentuate the feeling of nostalgia.

Simply listen to City Pop music and you'll be transported back to the sun-drenched 80s and enjoy the excitement of that era. A real trip back in time.

Today's listeners are immersed in City Pop without compromise. On YouTube, it is not uncommon to find ten-hour playlists of the best songs from the 70s and 80s. We are thus buried in a comforting bubble where our imagination is king.

On YouTube, the images used to illustrate the playlists are often derived from old school Japanese anime, which has attracted the majority of manga fans. The periods of confinement due to the pandemic have surely accentuated the revival of this musical genre that constantly invites to escape to better days.

Even in Japan, fans are looking for vinyls from that time in all the record stores of Tokyo to display them at home like treasures, real works of art.

Japanese old school anime

Source: reddit.com

Famous artists like Harry Styles and The Weeknd do not deny the influence that Japanese City Pop has on them. The soul of the Japanese 80s full of hope, freedom and vacation is not about to fade away. So, what Japanese gems from the past will we discover tomorrow?

While waiting to get your hands on a rare vinyl, you may still want to dive into another modern Japanese musical style that is very popular all over the world: we're talking about J-pop bands !

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