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Music / Mariya Takeuchi

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Mariya Takeuchi in 1980, originally used for the single "Sweetest Music" containing "Plastic Love".
(photo credit: Alan Levinson)

"I'm just playing games, I know it's plastic love..."

Mariya Takeuchi (竹内 まりや) (born March 20th 1955) is a Japanese Singer-Songwriter signed to Moon Records, currently owned by Warner Music Group, who is best known for being one of the defining voices of the "City Pop" movement in The '80s— think 60's Western rock-&-roll mixed with some funk or jazz, and you'll have kind of an idea of the genre she tends to work in. She is one of the best-selling female artists in Japan with a career spanning over 40 years.

She is from ultra-rural Shimane Prefecture in far-west Honshu, the third daughter of an innkeeping family. Despite such a rural lifestyle, her family loved music and she quickly took a liking to Western songs, especially The Beatles, and used that to broaden her horizons. She spent her final year of high school in Illinois under an international exchange program. Shortly after she returned to Japan and enrolled in Keio University (where she majored in English Literature), she was one of two winners of a 1974 English recitation contest sponsored by The Japan Times.* In other words, unlike most Japanese singers past or present, she's near-fluent in English. Despite this, she has said she never felt any need to branch out worldwide even though she could have easily done so.

She made her singing debut in 1978 as a proto-Idol under RCA Japan, but quit in 1981 due to burnout from five albums in three years. During her hiatus, she married musician Tatsuro Yamashita— today widely considered one of the major pioneers of City-Pop and 80's Japanese music in general— and began writing her own songs. She returned with a bang in 1984 with the chart-topping album Variety. This album includes her song "Plastic Love", which wasn't a big hit at the time but would become a worldwide internet sensation 35 years later, receiving an official music video in 2021.

Yamashita has produced all of her albums and singles from Variety onward. Every full album from then on except one has hit #1 on the Oricon charts and all have been certified platinum.

In addition to her own work, she has served as a lyricist for other J-Pop singers, including penning a few songs for "Eternal Idol" Seiko Matsuda, as well as Akina Nakamori and many others. On a sadder note, Takeuchi wrote nearly a dozen songs for Idol Singer Yukiko Okada prior to her untimely death (for more on her, see her page). She has self-covered some of her songs originally meant for others.

Beginning in 2014, Takeuchi veered away from studio albums and focused more on singles. In 2020, she rerecorded an earlier single "Song of Life". While the original did okay, the redo— which coincidentally is her 50th single— shot to #1, making Takeuchi at 65 the oldest Japanese woman to earn a #1 single. It's also her first #1 single since "Camouflage" in 1986.

Mariya's Discography

Studio Albums

  • Beginning (1978)
  • University Street (1979)
  • Love Songs (1980)
  • Miss M (1980)
  • Portrait (1981)
  • Variety (1984) (first album where she wrote her own songs, also first album with Tatsuro Yamashita)
  • Request (1987)
  • Quiet Life (1992)
  • Souvenir (2000) (live album, and the only one under Moon to not top the charts— it hit #3)
  • Bon Appetit! (2001)
  • Longtime Favorites (2004) (a Cover Album)
  • Denim (2007)
  • Trad (2014)

Tropes applying to Mariya Takeuchi's music:

  • Break-Up Song: "Plastic Love", which Takeuchi herself described as a song about a woman who lost the man she truly loves.
  • B-Side: "Plastic Love" was actually a B-side song for Mariya's 1984 "Variety" album. While "Variety" is one of her most successful albums, with it reaching No. 1 on the 1984 Oricon music chart, her single for "Plastic Love" merely reached No. 85 instead.
  • Gratuitous English:
    • Several of her songs sprinkle English throughout, especially in the chorus. It's most notable in "Plastic Love". Takeuchi can speak it extremely well as a result of being an exchange student, so any English in her songs is guaranteed to be both grammatically correct and pronounced almost flawlessly.
    • In contrast, her single "Sweetest Music" is completely in English.
  • Happily Married: "Let's Get Married", about a couple hopelessly in love deciding to marry. It's a tribute to her own marriage to Tatsuro Yamashita.
  • Nostalgia Filter: The young listeners of "Plastic Love" or other City Pop hits regularly have the same wistful, "rose-tinted glasses" sentiment of feeling weirdly nostalgic over an era that many of them... late Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z... were too young or born too late to experience. It's like an inverse of the Fleeting Demographic Rule. Wordsmiths have actually coined a neologism for this phenomenon: "Anemoia".
  • Really Gets Around: "Plastic Love"'s protagonist tries to soothe her bitterness about losing the only man she loved by dating and dumping (and it's implied she does another 'd' word in there) lots and lots of men at dance clubs.
  • Stepford Smiler: "Plastic Love"'s viewpoint 'hero' puts on a show of being a seductress who breaks so many hearts; it's all an act to cover up her utter sadness over losing the man she really loved, hence "Plastic Love".