Chances are if you’re reading this post, you’re a young, twenty-something with a well-paid job and a fashionable lifestyle. You managed to get in your mid-20s what your parents later achieved in their late ’40s. And you are in the middle of a booming time and a booming economy, and everyone around you says that greed is the ultimate virtue. And so, you get City Pop, a subgenre of J-pop (Japanese pop) that combined smooth and lively vocals with mature, danceable Western styles (think jazz or funk).
Created in the late 70s, City Pop was the kind of music that would be playing in your BMW or Porsche as you drove home from the bank or stock market and into the neon-mirrored streets of Ginza or Shibuya. The taste of success and wealth in so early a stage in your adult life, the sight of gleaming towers and arcades advertising everything from watches to Walkmans, and the tangible promise that you’d be able to live the high life in your new apartment tomorrow; such is the hedonism and and ambition reflected in the music of City Pop.
Haruomi Hosono – Sports Man (1982)
A year after Hosono, the Japanese jazz-fusion band Casiopea comes to the scene with Jive Jive. It enters the scene at the point where in-car stereos enabled yuppies to soundtrack their progress in life, not only in terms of affluence but also with their lifestyle, all helped by the asset price bubble that grew out of Japan’s technological exports in the period.
Casiopea – Right From The Heart (1983)
Two years after, Mariya Takeuchi takes the spotlight with her 1984 album Variety. It represented the peak of City Pop though the charts, and her jazzy, Swing Out Sister-esque flow is the encapsulation of post-war Japan in the mid 80s. (Curiously, Swing Out Sister themselves would find a surge of popularity in Japan in the late 80s, helped no doubt by the City Pop wave that dominated the 80s.
Mariya Takeuchi – Plastic Love (1984)
The whole idea of City Pop is about the growing prosperity of Japanese society; the colorful and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the industrial cities (Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, etc.); the optimistic, limitless growth of the Japanese economy; and the homage to the export-led capitalism that created global brands out of companies like Mazda, Kawasaki, and Toshiba. It was admired by listeners who saw the references with the innovative, advanced sound, and the desirable living standards that was the envy of the United States and Europe.
Nowadays, it has seen a renewed interest with the steady revival of the Japanese economy and the re-release of City Pop work by artists of the period (like Mariya Takeuchi, who came out with Trad in 2014). Though it has yet to be influenced by newer artists, this is a great genre to listen up close, as it distills the hopes and imaginations of a well-heeled and globalized society in what was the climax in modern Japan today.