’80s Japanese Art Pop

When the decade rolled over from the 1970s to the ‘80s, a shift was occurring behind the scenes of Japan’s popular music apparatus. Session musicians started to get their reps in with the early ‘70s folk rock boom — which transformed the influence of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell into something distinctly Japanese — then transitioned to the funk and soul infused style of city pop as the nation’s tastes began to change. Records from abroad became more plentiful through widespread distribution via King and other labels, and Japan’s best players became hungry to explore new sonic frontiers and challenge themselves. The three members of synthpop supergroup Yellow Magic Orchestra represented a microcosm of this phenomenon, with each being pulled into distinct pockets of interest. Yukihiro Takahashi was obsessed primarily with British rock, collaborating with members of New Musik and Roxy Music on his solo masterpiece Neuromantic. Haruomi Hosono concerned himself with the sounds of Americana, riffing on exotica and bluegrass. Ryuichi Sakamoto was arguably the most forward thinking of the trio, tapping into everything from early electronic to flamenco and working with an absolutely staggering number of international musicians. (Just look at the massive personnel list of 1989’s Beauty, as an example.)

Japanese “art pop” doesn’t represent a specific style or thematic throughline; it expresses the vast universes of sound that were beginning to be explored as Japan’s economy thrived and culture was both exported and imported more than ever before. Many of the artists on this list would intersect, intermingle, compete, and collaborate, exchanging ideas freely as they flouted the conventions of genre and held fascination with music beyond their borders.

Shy Thompson

Pizzicatomania! cover

Pizzicatomania!

Pizzicato Five
Mania Manièra cover

Mania Manièra

The Moonriders
Boy Soprano cover

Boy Soprano

Miharu Koshi
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OshareTV

Oshare TV
Sex, Energy and Star cover

Sex, Energy and Star

Friends of Earth, Haruomi Hosono
Philharmony cover

Philharmony

Haruomi Hosono
End of a Rainbow cover

End of a Rainbow

Mariko Wakabayashi
Retinae cover

Retinae

Dip in the Pool
Fushigi Shojo cover

Fushigi Shojo

Chiemi Manabe
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Après-Midi

Testpattern
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Rice Music

Masami Tsuchiya