Visual Kei (ヴィジュアル系) is a Japanese music trend know for its flamboyant artists. Visual Kei artists are often known for wearing large amounts of visual striking makeup, massive hair styles, over-the-top costumes, striking behavior. Many times, the style is taken up by male artists and utilized to create an androgenous appearance that is particular popular within the gothic Lolita and J-Rock scenes. The closest relation of the music style in Visual Kei to western music is that of glam-rock, punk, or in some cases metal. However, the clothing and makeup are often considered the most important factors of Visual Kei.
Visual Kei as a subgenre of J-Rock emerged during the 1980s combining the growing influence of City Pop and Glam Rock from the United States. Bands like X Japan, D’erlanger and Color pioneered the use of fashion and colorful appearances to define the genre and develop a new style and subculture. The actual term was derived when X Japan drummer Yoshiki Hayashi used the term as a shortened version of his band’s slogan, “Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock.”
Visual Kei was an almost entirely Japanese genre and largely remains so, though attempts have been made to spread its influence with the development of labels like Free-Will in 1986 and the 1992 overseas tours and album releases by X Japan in the US and European markets.
During the 1990s however, Visual Kei become incredibly popular in Japan with album sales reaching record levels and regularly competing with major J-Pop artists. Bands like Glay, Luna Sea, and L’Arc-en-Ciel grew out of the 1990s boom of Visual Kei and became incredibly successful while bands like Malice Mizer and Penicillin became important despite their lower album sales.
At the end of the 1990s, punctuated by the 1998 death of Hideto Matsumoto of X Japan and the 2000 disbanding of Luna Sea, Visual Kei declined sharply. However, in 2006 and 2007, a new wave of Visual Kei bands have been arriving, driven by reunion tours from Luna Sea and X Japan as well as multiple tribute bands, new wave versions of these bands and the international success of L’Arc-en-Ciel.
Visual Kei bands are often best noted by their early use of visual elements to get noticed and grow in influence before changing their visual style to match the mainstream. Bands like Glay and L’Arc-en-Ciel maintain minimal Visual Kei elements despite their heavy use of such methods to become popular in the first place. Due in large part to the growing popularity of anime and other mainstream aspects of Japanese pop culture in North America and Europe, Visual Kei has become increasingly popular in recent years outside of Japan, though its audience is still limited. The first domestic releases of albums in these markets did not occur until 2003 however when greatest hits albums from bands like X Japan, Glay, and L’Arc-en-Ciel were released.