Welcome to World Goes Pop, a regular feature where we’ll be taking a closer look at pop’s global presence. Each time we’ll be focusing on one country’s pop music industry: its history, its stars, and its evolution. Up first: Japan.
Good ol’ Japan. We all know about the anime, the pocky, and the socially maladjusted sex-averse youth. But like every other modern nation on the globe, they’ve got their own burgeoning pop industry, with its own superstars, insider masterminds, and loveable underdogs. As the inaugural World Goes Pop entry, we’ll take a closer look at some of the players in Japanese pop (J-pop from here on out) and try to give an overview of pop’s takeover of the land of the rising sun. So forget about chinke, baka stuff like this, and get into the real iikamo shit. YATTA!
J-pop took form during the 1950’s and 60’s, when musicians started to gig at US military bases around Japan after WWII. In 1966, the Beatles played the Budokan, setting the stage for rock’s ascension in glorious Nippon. Still, it wasn’t until electronic experimentalists like Eiki Yazawa and synth pioneers like Yellow Magic Orchestra demonstrated that you didn’t need guitars or real instruments to make music that modern J-pop found its voice.
Like Kraftwerk a few years earlier, it’s impossible to overstate YMO’s influence on the global pop landscape; in 1977 their albums Solid State Survivor and X-Multiplies were #1 and #2 on the Japanese charts for seven weeks straight. Unlike North America, where people lose their shit over trance synths in pop music in fucking 2012, Japan’s love affair with electronic sounds and textures has been apparent in their pop music since the very beginning.
The Japanese ‘idol’ phenomenon also had a large impact on the country’s pop music. While us North Americans of course have had our fair share of golden boys and girls over the years, we never could quite match that fabled Japanese efficiency: During the 1980s or the “Golden Age of Idols”, dozens of new idol singers and singing groups could rise and fall in the space of a few months. One of the first and biggest was duo Pink Lady, performing here on pre-downfall & Behind the Music-superstardom Leif Garrett’s 1979 special. Remembered for a string of #1 Japanese hits, an anime series (The Story of Pink Lady: Angels of Splendid Fame), and a US variety show with comedian Jeff Altman (the imaginatively-named Pink Lady and Jeff, a recurring entry on worst TV shows of all time lists, probably due to the fact that Pink Lady couldn’t speak a word of English).
Besides running a larger number of starry-eyed youngsters through the grinder and being waaay more upfront about doing so, the Japanese idol industry pretty much morphed into a mirror-mode version of North American boy bands and Britneys by the 1990s. Searching through youtube will return some pretty standard stuff -
Though sometimes you’ll stumble onto something like –
Alright, enough history. Let’s get to what we all came here to see: crazy, batshit insane videos from Japan’s modern pop stars!
Here’s fashion blogger and singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (full stage name: Caroline Charonplop Kyary Pamyu Pamyu; coincidentally my mother’s maiden name) with ‘PonPonPon’. Produced by veteran Japanese producer Yatsutaka Nakata, this day-glo mess of a video manages to win you over through sheer sensory overload. If it wasn’t for Kyary’s off-puttingly pre-pubescent steez I’d be into it. As it stands uh, I like the beat?
Capturing all the charm of two average dudes drunkenly struggling through disco hits at karaoke (with the dance moves to match), T-Pistonz and his partner in crime KMC mostly earn their living through licensing songs like this one. They scored their biggest payday writing the theme song for the anime and videogame series ‘Inazuma Eleven’.
And finally, here’s the current #1 on the Japanese charts, idol mega-conglomerate AKB48 performing “Give Me Five!”. They currently hold the Guinness world record for largest pop group, with a total of 57 members spread out over four squads: Team A, Team B, Team K, and the second stringers of Team, uh, 4. The AKB48 recording process is apparently very democratic, meaning fans can vote on which members they want to see featured on the group’s next song. Come on Tomomi Kasai, it’s your time to shine!
So there you have it: A glimpse into Japan’s pop music world. Wasn’t that completely choberigu? Don’t answer that. Stay tuned for next time!