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HYPER JAPAN’s short introduction to J-pop

dempagumi_imageThis summer’s HYPER JAPAN Festival will showcase some amazing Japanese musicians, many of whose musical style can be categorised as ‘J-pop’. But what exactly does this phrase mean? A huge range of artists and sounds fall under the umbrella term of ‘Japanese pop’, and explaining which characteristics gather them into one single genre is difficult, if not impossible. Instead of trying to draw up a sketchy list of what defines J-pop, we’ve asked Tom Smith of JPU Records to introduce you to a few interesting artists who belong this genre instead:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you are likely to have experienced J-pop in at least one of its myriad forms. One great example of the omnipresence of J-pop in contemporary UK life is BABYMETAL, a bunch of chocolate loving schoolgirls from Japan who recently took the UK by storm, even managing to sell out the massive O2 Academy Brixton. Here’s one of their videos if you need a reminder of who they are:

Although heavy metal is a major feature in all of their songs, at its core BABYMETAL is a product of J-pop. The unit was born from Japan’s ‘idol’ scene, a sub-genre of J-pop that’s so lucrative that genre leaders, a group called AKB48, managed to have all five of their singles make the top of Japan’s biggest selling singles chart of 2014. In other words, 50 per cent of the top ten was AKB48 songs – the top half. Here’s their biggest selling single of the year, which managed to shift nearly two million copies.

Japanese idol music is nothing new; it’s been going strong for decades and has heavily influenced the pop music of Asia too. In recent years the scene has exploded, and now you’ll find groups with all kinds of themes. For AKB48, their theme is a group of local idols (AKB is the abbreviation for the part of Tokyo they’re from; Akihabara) that you can meet by visiting their theatre.

Idol is especially huge in Akihabara, and the area has seen many local dance units projected to mainstream success thanks to their devoted fans. An example of this is, a group of girls who started out working at a maid-café-meets-theatre in an Akihabara backstreet, and are now amongst the hottest J-pop bands of Japan. Here’s the trailer for their brand new album, out now on iTunes.

Each member has a topic they are particularly passionate about, from video games, to anime, cosplay and online gaming. Before they were arena filling superstars, you could go to their theatre (called Dear Stage), watch them perform, and then chat with them over drinks at the cafe. Now they’ve hit it big, with huge promotional banners hanging in various places around Tokyo, including from Shibuya 109 (the place to go for girls fashion in Tokyo), as well as cosplay endorsements pretty much everywhere.

There’s even an idol band whose concept is to imitate the ever-changing nature of Tokyo, through the medium of song and dance. Check them out, they’re called TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE and they’ve already played shows around the world. This particular song of theirs has had nearly 1.5 million hits on YouTube:

Idol is just one part of the huge genre that is J-pop. If it’s a more edgy, hard-rock feel of J-pop you’re after, look no further than bands such as SPYAIR, a high-energy pop-rock band with many songs used in anime, or the all-girl guitar band SCANDAL:

If you’re more a fan of the futuristic sounds of techno-pop or synthpop, artists such as world-famous girl trio Perfume or feisty ‘mannequins’ FEMM will be right up your street.

This introduction has barely skimmed the surface of the ridiculously broad and eternally surprise-filled bundle of wonders that is Japanese pop. Whatever your taste in music, there will be something here that you can’t stop listening to for weeks, something that gets your head bobbing along every time like one of your Aunt Gladys’s nodding dogs. So delve in, have a good root around for your next favourite artist, and rock up to the HYPER JAPAN Festival this summer to discover even more gems from this music scene that just keeps on giving.