City Pop

YouTube recommendations, Reddit, obsessive DJs, anime and TikTok all contributed to the recent rediscovery of late 70s to mid-80s City Pop in the West. A loosely defined Japanese genre, City Pop arose in the context of the emerging successful Japanese economy of the time and was associated with a particular upwardly mobile, cosmopolitan lifestyle, an idealised and stylised idea of urban sophistication, symbolised by new technology like the Sony Walkman, in-car FM radios and hi-fi sound systems. Musically, City Pop was influenced by disco, boogie, jazz funk and soft rock, and the best of the genre was characterised by superb songwriting, lush, opulent orchestration, complex arrangements, and production values as sleek and burnished as a brand new Mitsubishi.

In the ‘90s Japan experienced a ‘lost decade’ of economic hardship, and the positive, aspirational themes of City Pop fell out of favour. The recent Western rediscovery and reappraisal of the genre has revealed a catalogue of high quality, high-gloss pop, constructed from some of the very best parts of disco, AOR and jazz funk, repurposed into a distinctively Japanese musical concoction which is pristine, sleek, bittersweet, clever, highly accomplished and unashamedly pretty.

Harold Heath

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YouTube recommendations, Reddit, obsessive DJs, anime and TikTok all contributed to the recent rediscovery of late 70s to mid-80s City Pop in the West. A loosely defined Japanese genre, City Pop arose in the context of the emerging successful Japanese economy of the time and was associated with a particular upwardly mobile, cosmopolitan lifestyle, an idealised and stylised idea of urban sophistication, symbolised by new technology like the Sony Walkman, in-car FM radios and hi-fi sound systems. Musically, City Pop was influenced by disco, boogie, jazz funk and soft rock, and the best of the genre was characterised by superb songwriting, lush, opulent orchestration, complex arrangements, and production values as sleek and burnished as a brand new Mitsubishi.

In the ‘90s Japan experienced a ‘lost decade’ of economic hardship, and the positive, aspirational themes of City Pop fell out of favour. The recent Western rediscovery and reappraisal of the genre has revealed a catalogue of high quality, high-gloss pop, constructed from some of the very best parts of disco, AOR and jazz funk, repurposed into a distinctively Japanese musical concoction which is pristine, sleek, bittersweet, clever, highly accomplished and unashamedly pretty.

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