What do you think of when you hear J-pop? It may be an unknown term for you or you may think of cutesy concepts, that portray childish characteristics, over the top fashion and questionable music videos.
Unfortunately, many people define J-pop as something cutesy, that is certainly one aspect of the Japanese music scene, but it does not describe it as a whole. The audience should also keep in mind that there is an abundance of Japanese idols. A Japanese idol is a young manufactured starlet that is marketed usually for their cuteness. I can talk to you more about Japanese idols in another post! For now we are going introduce the more mature side of J-pop that seems to have a slight Western influence in their music.
1. Ayumi Hamasaki.
Ayumi Hamasaki is refereed to as the Empress of Pop in Japan, some people call her the Japanese Lady Gaga. In 1995 she was signed on Nippon Columbia label, she performed and also took part in acting. Eventually, Ayumi left Nippon Columbia label and in 1998 she was signed on Avex Trax, one of the biggest record label companies in Japan. She made her debut with “Poker Face”, however she first four singles were not very successful. That all changed when she released her debut album “A Song for xx” from then each single was better than the other. Ayumi was awarded wtih a Japan Gold Disc Award from Best New Artist. Throughout her career she has sold 50 million records and has released 16 studio albums, amazing. Ayumi Hamasaki still performs and last year she released a winter themed album.
2. Utada Hikaru.
Utada Hikaru is a Japanese/American singer and songwriter, she comes from a family of performers and her music roots stem from doing recordings with her mother and releasing songs under the band name “U3”. In late 1997 Utada moved from Manhattan to Japan in pursuit of her music career and to attend school at the same time. In 1998 she released her English album that did not do well. In 1999 she released her second album, “First Love” which sold eight million copies in Japan. Utada and Ayumi are along the same ranks of popularity in Japan, along with the third musician I’ll be mentioning below. She has sold over 52 million records and she was named “one of the most influential artist of the decade” by Japan Times.
3. Namie Amuro.
Namie Amuro is known as the Queen of Jpop, she is half Japanese and half Italian! She debuted at the age of 14 as part of the girl group “Super Monkeys”. Eventually Namie left her old record label Toshiba-EMI and signed on Avex Trax. She gained instant success and her single “Can you Celebrate” (1997) and it became Japan’s best selling single. Namie had to put her career on hold for while to focus on marriage and her pregnancy, but she made her comeback in 1998. According to Music Station, Namie is 12th best selling artist on Japan.
4. Daichi Miura.
I discovered Daichi Miura last year and I was blown away by his dance choreography and vocals. I like to think of him as the Japanese Justin Timberlake, I don’t know if you guys would agree, but that’s what I think of every time. In 1997 he debuted as part of the group Folder, but he left the group 2000 and in 2005 he came back as a solo artist. He has the charisma and talent to become something big in Japan and potentially overseas. Daichi Miura is signed on Avex Trax!
5. Do As Infinity.
There are no words to describe my love for this band, their music is soulful, meaningful and it touches my soul. Do As Infinity is another group that’s signed under Avex Trax. The band debuted in 1999 with three members: Tomiko Van (vocalist), Ryo Owatari (guitarist) and Dai Nagao (guitarist and composer). Eventually Dai Nagao left the group to pursue a solo career, nevertheless, the group continued release music with just two members. In February 2015, they released their 11th studio album.
6. AAA – Attack All Around.
These guys are one my favorite Japanese bands, they present different concepts throughout their music career. Cheerful, dramatic, soulful, sad and dramatic! The group is a mix of boys and girls: Takahiro Nishijima, Misako Uno, Naoya Urata, Mitsuhiro Hidaka, Shinjiro Atae, Shuta Sueyoshi and Chiaki Ito. One of the members, Yukari Goto, left the group in 2007 due to health issues. As most of the musicians in this post this group is signed under Avex Trax and they debuted in September 2005. According to the record label, they are refereed to as “super performance unit”. The member joined the group through Avex auditions. Prior to forming AAA, some members performed as backup dancers for Ayumi Hamasaki and Ami Suzuki. Throughout the years, AAA, gained big success and they even went on their first Asia tour.
7. Hitomi Shimatani.
Hitomi Shimatani exhibits grace, class and authenticity with her music! Hitomi began her career as an Enka singer (resembling traditional Japanese music) in 1999, but later on she transitioned into the dance/pop genre. Despite identifying herself as a dance/pop aritist, there still a hint of her Enka roots when she performs. Hitomi Shimatani’s music has appeared in many video games and animes. Unfortunately, Hitomi’s success declined with time, but her success throughout most of the 2000s shows that she had a great potential.
8. Nami Tamaki.
Nami Tamaki’s music appears in many video games and animes. Nami entered the music scene when she auditioned for Sony Music Japan in 2001, and officially debuted in 2003 with her song “Believe”. Most of her music was featured on the anime show “Mobile Suit: Gundam Seed” making her very popular with anime community. Nami is known for being a good dancer, and she is usually compared to Korean star, BoA. In 2008, she announced she will be leaving Sony Music Japan to join Universal Japan. Since then Nami has been releasing music but in 2015 she took a break from her music due to a vocal nodules condition. She announced she will continue with her music as soon as she recovers.
9. Girl Next Door.
Girl Next Door is a Japanese band that debuted in 2008 under Avex Trax! The band has three members: Chisa (vocals), Yuji Inoue (guitarist) and Daisuke Suzuki (keyboard). The band released many singles that were successful, however on December 8, 2013 they officially disbanded. I was disappointed to her the news, but I’m glad they existed and released catchy music.
I can’t end this list without mentioning Japan’s beloved boy group, Arashi. The group was formed under Johhny’s Entertainment and they debuted on September 15, 1999. The group has five members: Satoshi Ohno, Sho Sakurai, Masaki Aiba, Kazunari Ninomiya and Jun Matsumoto. With their single “Love So Sweet” the group started to become more popular and make lots of sales. Arashi has sold over 30 million records and they are the second best selling boy band in Asia.
Thank you so much for stopping by to read my blog post, there will be more music content coming up! Let me know which artist was to your liking from this list!
See you soon!