by Devon Sponheimer
Want to get into J-Pop but don’t know where to start? Let the Japlanning team help you out with the J-Pop Mix Tape; a beginners guide to the infectious world of Japanese pop music.
Japan is the second biggest music market in the world, behind the US. Arguably their biggest, and most popular genre is J-Pop. A term coined in the 90’s by Tower Records (Remember them? They still exist in Japan!) It covered all music that belonged to the Recording Industry Association of Japan.
However over the years it has been used to cover music with that pop tune we all know. Walking around Japan, you will start to hear it everywhere too. Major intersections, like the world famous Shibuya crosswalk, amongst countless more, you will find giant screens going through the top 10 singles in Japan, and they will slowly seep into your brain and you will get a taste for it, fast.
Let’s get started with our Intro to J-Pop with some of the biggest artists in the genre so you can start building your collection and create your Intro to J-Pop mixtape!
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
I’d be remiss if she wasn’t the first one I mentioned after seeing her in Chicago for her Nanda World Tour. Want to check out KPP in all her glory? Read articles our existing article on KPP here and here.
Suggested Track: Everything. But check out 'Furisodation', a coming of age story.
Bonus Track: Crazy Party Night - Kyary’s latest single is dripping in Halloween goodness and sure to be a hit for many Halloweens to come in Japan. You couldn't walk around a corner in Tokyo this Halloween without hearing or seeing it.
Arashi, having been around since 1999, are often described as “the nation’s boy band”. The band consists of Masaki Aiba, Jun Matsumoto, Kazunari Ninomiya, Satoshi Ohno and Sho Sakurai. The band’s lead singer (Ohno) recently partnered up with JAL to promote the 2020 Olympics by designing the outside of a limited edition plane for the “Fly 2020” campaign. Arashi can sing, they can act, and they can design planes. Triple threat?
Suggested Track: Love So Sweet (Incidentally the theme for my favorite J-Drama Hana Yori Dango 2 aka Boys over Flowers. I may or may not be still pining for Hanazawa Rui.)
A girl pop group out of Hiroshima, these three met in actor’s school. If you love autotune, and technopop/electropop, these are your ladies. Consisting of Kashiyka, A~chan and Nocchi, they’ve since gone international and made their first trip to the U.S. in 2014.
Suggested Track: Magic of Love
Bonus Track - Star Train. Perfume’s latest track is a departure from their usual hyper electric tunes, and shows some great range and shows their reflection over their latest world tour.
A Japanese American, this singer/songwriter was my first introduction to J-Pop with her song featured on Kingdom Hearts. In 2009, she was considered “the most influential artist of the decade” by the Japanese Times.
Suggested Track: First Love. A ballad, and arguably what Utada does best.
Sekai no Owari
Featuring KPP’s rumored boyfriend Fukase, this band is famous for their unique performances. Other members include: Nakajin, Saori and DJ LOVE (Try not to get creeped out by the clown mask). Fan of Anime? Then you’ll know them from Anti-Hero and SOS from Attack on Titan.
Suggested Track: RPG. There should be more accordion in modern day songs.
AKB48 “The idols you can meet!”
I know we’d be disappointing many if we didn’t mention this group. A girl group with their own theatre, check our AKB48 guide here. AKB48’s dance moves are simple enough for anyone to pick up, so give it a try!
Suggested Track: Fortune Cookie Love (恋するフォーチュンクッキー) – With a sea of hits, this smash hit for the group in 2013 has been their biggest. With a big production video clip and an infectious dance moves more than half of Japan learnt.
Rebranded in 2014, this four person rock band just signed to Universal Music Japan. They’ve been on a heavy tour schedule this year, so I’m excited to see what the future brings. Want to learn more? You can check them out on J-Rock sessions with [Alexandros] on SBS PopAsia.
Suggested Track: Wataridori. We don’t know where to start on this one; Devon has this one on repeat, forever.
Really a band that could only have originated in Japan (and now exists on my workout mix). A Metal Idol Band, BabyMetal is comprised of 3 singers Suzuka Nakamoto “Su-metal”, Yui Mizuno “Yuimetal” and Moa Kikuchi “Moametal” along with the Kami Band. Even Su-Metal herself says that when they first heard the idea, they were quite taken aback. Do mash-ups like these make metal more accessible to the masses? You be the judge.
Suggested Track: Their breakout hit: Ijime, Dame, Zettai I’ll let the video do the talking.
Bonus Track: Gimme Chocolate. They may be J-Rock, but this sound is all about getting chocolate, because, of course, it is. It’s a must listen.
Old school meets modern day with the Yoshida Brothers. Their music is a fusion of the Tsugaru-jamisen style of Northern Japan and added western flavor. Both brothers play the shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese instrument.
Suggested Track: Kodo (Inside the Sun Remix) featured on Nintendo Wii Commercials in the U.S.
Bonus Track: Yoshida Brothers X Monkey Majik “Change”.
With a few different members, they have been around since 1981 so you can’t deny their staying power. They opened for Nirvana. Enough said.
Suggested Track: Let’s Knife