Summer J-Pop: B'z, Perfume, Capsule and more
Want to travel to Japan but can't afford it this summer? Tune into some songs and let the music take you on a journey to the Far East.
Japanese pop, or J-Pop, is often condemned as "unlistenable" by many music critics. You can't really blame them: the country's charts are routinely crowded by cheesy idol groups (some bearing cynical names like "Naked Boyz") and generic rock/folk groups singing clichéd songs about school romance and cherry blossoms.
As adventurous music fans have discovered, however, there are many hidden gems in J-Pop, in every genre from R&B to punk rock. Here's a list of some of the coolest J-Pop music groups (from the 1980s to present) to listen to this summer:
With their smash hit "Polyrhythm" picked up for the soundtrack for Pixar Studios movie Cars 2, the electropop trio from Hiroshima is once again the hottest commodity in J-Pop. Known for their super-synchronized, robotic dances that have to be seen to be believed, they brought back electronic music in a big way in Japan and have legions of fans abroad, including three Mexican guys who make videos based on their hits (at the end of the piece). Top summer songs include "Love the World," "Natural ni koi shite", "Laser Beam" and the unmissable "Perfume no Okite"
Photo sourced from official site
Rock group Orange Range is known for its laid-back, hip hop-influenced songs and quirky music videos. Despite their slacker image, the group from Okinawa has genuine talent, churning out some of the catchiest melodies in recent J-Pop history that has been used to market everything from Anime to Pocky (those chocolate-covered sticks you may have seen in Asian supermarkets). Best listens: "Locolotion", "Oshare Bancho"
Photo sourced from official site
Judy and Mary
The now-disbanded group is older than Super Nintendo, but they continue to be cited as one of the greatest Japanese rock groups ever formed. Fronted by the adorable Yuki (below), Judy and Mary had a winning combination of aggressively upbeat guitar solos and soaring, high-pitched female vocals. Yuki's DIY fashion and bizarre self-penned lyrics launched a template for "cute" rock that was widely copied during the 1990s, but never truly duplicated. Best songs: "Kujira 12" "Brand New Wave Upper Ground"
Photo sourced from Tenkai-Japan
They're like the J-Pop version of U2: classic rockers, squatting atop music charts since the 1980s. The duo is composed of Koshi Inaba, a former schoolteacher-turned-vocalist, and Tak Matsumoto, one of Japan's most acclaimed rock guitarists. Oh, and they're coming to Vancouver's Vogue Theatre in July. Get to know them with these listens: "Ai no mama ni" "Love Phantom" "Samayoeru Aoi Dangan" (Wandering blue bullet)
Photo sourced from JMusic365
There's really no avoiding Capsule in the J-pop scene these days. Once an edgy electronic group known only to Japanese clubbers and DJs, songwriter/producer/marketing genius Yasutaka Nakata inadvertently brought his unit into mainstream fame when he began writing songs for aforementioned female idol group Perfume. Capsule's frenetic dance songs can really drain the listener, and even though their latest albums have topped the carts, the songs are really only targeted at a fringe audience of techno music fans. Their latest album was scheduled to be titled "Killer Wave," but changed at the last minute due to the incredibly inappropriate context after the giant tsunami in Northern Japan.
Best choices:"Jumper" "E.D.I.T." "World of Fantasy"
Photo sourced from 5acts
The southern belle from Okinawa is Japan's equivalent of Janet Jackson. A naturally talented singer, she first achieved fame through bland dance songs and trendsetting fashion, but found her groove after she was dropped by her big-name producer and moved into more urban, soulful songs that drew on American hip hop and R&B influences. Today, she's one of Japan's biggest stars and sex symbols -- not bad for a single mom of a 13-year-old kid. Best summer tunes: "Wowa" "Can't sleep, Can't eat, I'm sick"
Photo sourced from Ningin
If you're feeling especially ambitious for something new, check out a TanzTraum Productions, a group of guys from Mexico who create remakes of popular Japanese music videos: