There's perhaps no other nation on Earth
with the enthusiasm for pop music that Japan has. In fact its love affair with
popular music goes back to the 1920s and the Taisho era, when 'ryukoka' or
'popular song' began to adopt western instruments and techniques. Blues and
jazz from the U.S. also started to have an influence and crooners like Ichiro
Fujiyama began to emerge.
But it was when music from the West swept
the planet in the 50s and 60s that Japan embraced it wholeheartedly. Elvis and
rockabilly began to invade the charts, and Japanese bands aping the same style
formed, like The Drifters in 1956. The seismic shift, however, came when The
Beatles arrived in 1966 to play at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. Riot police
were deployed, and The Drifters opened for them, only lasting 40 seconds before
having to give up and let the main act take the stage.
Beatlemania never really went away
following that performance, and the origins of modern J-Pop can be traced
directly back to the early 60s and its 'group sounds', the style which saw the
creation of mop-topped Japanese bands like The Spiders, The Ventures, The
Tempters and The Tigers. (There was even a psychedelic band called The Mops).
Some sang in English but many stuck with Japanese, which arguably created a
more solid base for the country’s own pop music industry to blossom thanks to
early bands like Happy Ending.
Foku, or folk music, began to bleed in to
ryukoka from America, too, in the 1970s, with artists like Shiro Miya hitting
the number one spot with ‘Onna No Michi’, which sold 3.25 million copies. An
album by Yosui Inoue spent 113 weeks in the top ten, 13 of those at number one.
These early incarnations of J-Pop proved that there was a voracious appetite
among young people for these new and exciting sounds emanating not from the U.S.
or Europe, but from their own shores.
The 1980s saw an explosion of what became
known as 'city pop', and Shibuya-kei, a genre which emerged from the Shibuya
area of Tokyo, but it was in the late 80s and early 1990s when J-Pop came of
age and became an all-encompassing term for the country's hugely popular music
scene. It was initially used as a term to describe the more western-sounding
bands, such as Pizzicato Five and Flipper's Guitar.
But it was also a boom time for bands like
the three-piece rock band Wands, and B'z, the duo comprising Tak Matsumoto and
Koshi Inaba, who have sold to date more than 80 million albums in Japan alone.
Rock band Mr Children, also had phenomenal success, and enduring bands like
Southern All Stars, who formed in the 70s, frequently top charts of the most
influential bands in Japanese music. Meanwhile, GLAY and Dreams Come True, who
both formed in 1988, have dozens of albums between them and sales in the hundreds
Hikaru Utada emerged in 1999, selling 7.65
million copies of her debut album, a remarkable first step to becoming one of
the biggest stars in Japan, and along with Ayumi Hamasaki is a force to be
reckoned with in terms of female J-Pop artists, between them selling over 100
J-Pop now pervades all Japanese culture
from film and animation to adverts, marketing and video games. In fact, through
video games it has reached a far wider audience across the globe. Games like
the Kingdom Hearts series, the first instalment of which was released in 2001,
features theme music from Hikaru Utada and an all-star voice cast featuring the
likes of teen stars Hayden Panettiere and Mandy Moore, giving it a broad appeal
beyond its Japanese origins. Meanwhile, bands like the pop duo Puffy have made
headway in the States, where they're known as Puffy AmiYumi, and scored their
own animated series on the Cartoon Network.
Now a billion dollar industry, there are
innumerable splinter genres in J-Pop, from J-Rock and J-Reggae to J-Ska and
J-Punk (there is also K-Pop over in Korea). Its enduring popularity is
doubtless down to the fact that despite picking up certain influences from
Europe and the U.S., it has its very own style - even pronunciation. It is
Japanese to the core.