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City Pop

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Stylistic Influences:

City pop is a loosely defined subgenre of Japanese Pop Music from the late 70s and 80s. Blending pop music with Jazz and Funk, as well as several other contemporary genres, the genre sports a pristine, urban sound and generally upbeat mood, reflecting Japan's economic prosperity at the time. Japanese electronic instruments were commonly used in the genre, notably Yamaha synthesizers and Roland drum machines.

In Japan, popular music from The '90s onwards is called "J-POP or J-Pop (Japanese Pop)". The songs before that era were called "Kayokyoku" (歌謡曲) or "New Music" depending on the genre. At that time, "New Music" referred to Japanese music that was not classified as folk songs or idol music. It hasn't been used since it changed to "J-POP".

The term "New Music" was born to distinguish it from works like Enka (traditional Japanese popular music) or idol songs that had been mainstream until then. "New Music" was influenced by rock, folk, funk and West Coast music.

Many popular "New Music" singers and groups at the time refused to appear on TV shows because they were unwilling to perform with the teen idols or Enka singers that were all the rage. Some of the leading musicians in New Music were Kyu Sakamoto, The Peanuts, The Tigers, Candies, Pink Lady, Seiko Matsuda, Junko Sakurada, The Checkers, Onyanko Club, Yosui Inoue, Takuro Yoshida, Yumi Arai (current name Yumi Matsutoya, commonly known as Yuming), and Off Course.

In other words, "City Pop" is the name overseas fans beyond Japan have recently given to that type of Japanese music, which was originally popular in the 1980s and is part of a broader genre called "New Music", which would eventually evolve to J-Pop.

The beginning of the "City Pop era" is hard to precisely pinpoint, but is generally traced back to Taeko Ohnuki's 1978 LP, Mignonne (containing her famous song, "4 AM") or Tatsuro Yamashita's 1980 album Ride on Time. Precursors to the genre can be traced even earlier to Yamashita collaborator Haruomi Hosono's output, with his folk rock band Happy End being described as the "ground zero" for City Pop by writer Yutaka Kimura. Hosono's work with Tin Pan Alley and Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) would also be cited as influential on the development of City Pop. While YMO primarily produced Synth-Pop (with Japanese audiences referring to their take on the genre as techno kayō, or techno pop), their success led to the wide adoption of electronic instruments from the late 1970s. Hosono himself would return to the city pop scene after YMO's first dissolution in 1983.

Regardless of its origins, City Pop became the mainstream configuration of J-pop in The '80s. Yamashita remained one of the most popular artists in the genre throughout its history, and is called by some "The King of City Pop" along with his wife Mariya Takeuchi. Other popular City Pop artists from this time period include Miki Matsubara, Junko Ohashi, Anri, Akira Terao and Tomoko Aran. The genre particularly latched onto Japan's major economic boom in the late 80's, tying in with the country's feeling of optimism at a time when a cushy, comfortable lifestyle seemed accessible to anyone and everyone.

At the end of 1991, Japan's boom would come to an abrupt halt with the asset bubble's collapse, leading to the Lost Decades. Along with it, the optimism of City Pop would fall out of favor with the younger generations, who saw it as emblematic of the previous era's excesses. As a result, City Pop would be replaced in Japan's musical mainstream by Visual Kei, techno, and modern J-Pop, with its biggest artists and their influences shifting sound accordingly.

In the 2010's, City Pop would see a massive renewal in interest, especially online, entering the Western public consciousness for the first time thanks to its popularity as a choice for sampling in Vaporwave and Future Funk and bolstered by renewed attention towards pop and Electronic Music following the mainstream decline of rock. Mariya Takeuchi's 1984 song "Plastic Love" would become a particular viral hit on YouTube (despite its initial lack of popularity in Japan) thanks to a fan-made extended remix. The sudden Western interest in the genre would carry back over to Japanese audiences, to the extent where old City Pop artists would reissue their back-catalogs on CD and vinyl in the region, well after their heyday had passed.

A similar genre is New Jack Swing, which later became popular during the late 1980s to early 1990s (commonly associated with Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson) and had similar sounds to earlier city pop from the early-to-mid-1980s. For example, "Strange Love" (1984) by Haruomi Hosono and "City Dreams From Tokyo" (1986) by Hideki Saijo could be considered Ur Examples of new jack swing. Likewise, some songs produced by new jack swing pioneers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis have noticeable parallels with city pop, such as The Human League's "Are You Ever Coming Back?" and "Love Is All That Matters". The similarities arose due to both genres having similar influences, combining African-American funk with Japanese electronic instruments (notably the Yamaha DX7 digital synth and Roland TR-808 drum machine).

List of City Pop artists:

  • Yasuhiro Abe
  • AB's
  • Anri
  • Masahito Arai
  • Tomoko Aran
  • Hi-Fi Set
  • Haruomi Hosono
  • Miki Imai
  • Yuko Imai
  • Takao Kisugi
  • Toshiki Kadomatsu
  • Chu Kosaka
  • Toshinobu Kubota
  • Miki Matsubara
  • Yumi Matsutoya
  • Yoshitaka Minami
  • Meiko Nakahara
  • Junko Ohashi
  • Taeko Ohnuki
  • Eiichi Ohtaki
  • Omega Tribe
  • Piper
  • Hideki Saijo
  • Hiroshi Sato
  • Spectrum
  • Mariya Takeuchi
  • Masayoshi Takanaka
  • Akira Terao
  • Mariko Tone
  • T-Square
  • Hiroko Yakushimaru
  • Junko Yagami
  • Mai Yamane
  • Tatsuro Yamashita
  • Toshitaro
  • Akiko Yano
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra: A major influence on city pop, they indulged in the genre themselves throughout 1983.
  • Minako Yoshida
  • Yubin: Former member of K-Pop Girl Group Wonder Girls who makes City Pop-like songs like "Lady."
  • Yukika

Tropes associated with City Pop include:

  • Colbert Bump: Vaporwave and its offshoot Future Funk gave a massive boost in renewed attention to the genre, bringing it to Western attention for the first time decades after its heyday and gradually restoring Japanese interest in it as well.
  • Dead Horse Genre: Before Vaporwave and Future Funk revived interest in it, City Pop was pretty much dead in Japan after the asset bubble crash. Disillusioned youths dubbed it "shitty pop" and ended up gravitating towards Visual Kei, not unlike the rise of grunge east of the Pacific. It's safe to say that before the Internet, this genre was unheard of by the majority of Western listeners.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The genre heavily fell out of favor among Japanese listeners after the asset bubble burst in 1991, but gained a substantial Western fanbase in The New '10s (which, incidentally, eventually carried back over to Japan as well).
  • Gratuitous English: Common across Japanese pop songs, with City Pop being especially prevalent due to the heavy influence from Western music.
  • He Also Did: He may be known as the face/father of City Pop, but Tatsuro Yamashita was already known for making songs for anime movies like Summer Wars and Mirai of the Future, as well for the series like Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple and And Yet the Town Moves.
  • Instrumentals: There're various famous instrumental songs that transmitted the same upbeat vibe of this genre. Some artists like Tatsuro Yamashita made various instrumental songs in their albums (and even a complete disc), even as singles.
  • Popularity Polynomial: Popular in the Eighties, derided in the Nineties, popular again in the New Tens.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The history of the genre was strongly tied to the state of Japan's economy.
  • Revival by Commercialization: Thanks to the rise of Vaporwave and Future Funk in the 2010's, City Pop saw a massive renewal in attention, especially among Western audiences, carrying over to Japanese listeners as well with time.
  • Sexophone: Like a bunch of western 80's pop, a number of City Pop songs feature prominent saxophone parts as a tie-in to romantic lyrics.
  • Spiritual Successor: Western listeners typically view Future Funk as this to City Pop: not only does the former embrace the latter's upbeat atmosphere, but City Pop songs are frequently sampled by Future Funk artists.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: More trans-Pacific, but analysts frequently describe City Pop as Japan's version of yacht rock, sharing a similar soft rock sound and being tied to the decadent materialism of the 1980's. Its lavish production values also draw parallels with the British Sophisti-Pop movement, to the point where City Pop's newfound popularity in the west during the late 2010s helped spur a revival of sophisti-pop as well.

Works featuring City Pop:

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons: One of the songs that K.K. Slider can play when given an invalid song request is "Hazure02", a City Pop pastiche. The soundtrack album Atsumare Dōbutsu no Mori: Totakeke Music Instrumental Selection closes with a remix of the track called "Hazure02 -City & Pop Ver.-".
  • The Edutainment Jukebox Musical web series Cyberpunk Lab (aka. Cyberpunk Chronicles) has way too many City Pop songs to list here.
  • Mariya Takeuchi shows up as a contender in SiIvaGunner's King for a Day Tournament, using rips from both her own songs and those of other City Pop artists.
  • "Out of Time" by The Weeknd samples "Midnight Pretenders" by Tomoko Aran.
  • "Honolulu City Lights" from Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is a clear pastiche of the genre.