JPop (or J-Pop) is an abbreviated term for Japanese Pop, referring to a certain brand of Japanese music. Tracing its roots back to the earliest influences of Western music in the 1950s, JPop has grown to become one of the largest music scenes in the world, influencing sounds and artists in numerous Asian countries as well as Europe and North America.
JPop’s history can be traced as far back as the jazz music era of the Sho-wa period when Jazz reintroduced instruments in Japan that had previously only been utilized to perform classical music. This new form of music introduced an element of fun to a culture’s whose music had long served a formal purpose and music cafes soon became popular venues for entertainment.
During World War II, Imperial Army pressure saw the halt of Jazz Music in most clubs. However, after the war concluded and United States forces moved in to occupy Japan, multiple new music styles were introduced including Mambo, Blues, and Country. These new forms of music were taken up by Japanese performers to entertain American troops and resulted in the first pop hits from artists like Shizuko Kasagi and Izumi Yukimura in the early 1950s. In the same era well known American jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong visited Japan and further spread the genre.
In 1956, Kosaka Kazuya and the Wagon Masters performed a Japanese version of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel and rock and roll started to grow in popularity in Japan. This period saw the first attempts to combine traditional Japanese sounds with western Rock and Roll music when artists like Sakamoto Kyu released songs like “Ue wo Muite Aruko”. In this same period, other artists started playing American songs with covered lyrics, leading to much of today’s popularity of Karoake.
During the 1970s and 80s a focus on “New Music” with multiple instruments and more complex arrangements arose with a focus on love and personal experience in lyrics. Artists such as Takuro Yoshida and Yosui Inoue were among the most popular New Music artists of the time.
In the 1980s, City Pop developed as a common theme with pop music being inspired by big city themes and the proliferance of Tokyo throughout many pop culture outlets. Wasei Pop became the term utilized by most media outlets to describe both City Pop and New Music and by the 1990s, most magazines and media outlets were referring to it simply as J-Pop for Japanese Pop.
The first major Japanese supergroup emerged during the City Pop days in the form of Chage ad Aska, a singer/songwriter duo who dominated the charts for the better part of the 1980s and into the 1990s. The group’s popularity only declined after a new resurgence in Japanese pop music in the 1990s via the hits of artists like Namie Amuro and Tetsuya Komuro and the dance music fueled pop music that still largely dominates the charts today.
In the late 1990s, the JPop scene exploded with dozens of new artists appearing every year and becoming instant mega celebrities. Utada Hikaru’s debut album in the late 1990s, First Love, sold more than 7.5 million copies, integrating R&B style lyrics and song writing into the genre. Another megastar in the genre, Ayumi Hamasaki generated millions of record sales with her almost solely pop infused dance hits and love songs while other female groups like Morning Musume pushed the pop-techno craze and introduced the girl group concept to Japan.
Music in the early 2000s was dominated by the global spread of R&B and Hip Hop as the primary influence and it showed in the music of bands like ORANGE RANGE and Ketsumeishi. However, JPop superstars from the late 1990s like Ayumi Hamasaki, Otsuka Ai, and Utada Hikaru continue to reach the top of the charts with each new album and Ayumi Hamasaki remains the number selling solo artist in Japanese music history.
Ken Hirai, an R&B solo male singer has had numerous hits in recent years reaching the top of the charts repeatedly with hip hop group ORANGE RANGE selling more than 2.5 million copies of their own modern JPop album – Musiq.
The top selling album in 2006 was Hirai’s “10th Anniversary Complete Single Collection”, followed by Kumi Koda’s “Best Second Session” and Kobukuro’s “All Singles Best”. In 2007, album sales for Mr. Children’s “Home” topped the charts with Koda Kumi’s “Black Cherry” in second place and Ayumi Hamasaki’s most recent best hits album in third place.
Since it came to prominence in Japan’s record shops, JPop has grown exponentially, affecting nearly every aspect of popular culture in not only Japan but countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Phillipines among many others. Anime, television shows, and video games regularly use JPop theme songs and voice actors while movies are repeatedly made featuring top stars from the genre. Often times the closing and opening credits for popular television shows will be changed each season to reflect a new song from a popular JPop artist as well.
JPop has even started to spread its influence into European and North American markets through animation and video game exports as well as dance club remixes and worldwide tours of the most famous artists such as Ayumi Hamasaki. Utada Hikaru, the New York born JPop singer/songwriter even released an English language album in the United States in 2005, though it did not fair nearly as well in English language markets as it did in Japan.