I've always loved Japanese pop culture, childhood obsessions with Battle Of The Planets segued easily into the first flush of anime being popularised in the UK with Akira in my late teens. This coupled with the obsession with music that we all suffer from has led me to keep an eye on Japanese pop music.
Years of working in a record shop led me to completely dismiss the idea of genre as a judging tool for music, my early days of being sure that I didn't like Jazz or Country were slowly chipped away with my increased exposure to stuff that I didn't consider to be in my wheel house. Now I only believe there's two types of music, Stuff that I like & stuff that I don't like.
People get judgmental about pop music, once you start to "grow out" of it, it can be easy to dismiss more frivolous sounds and begin to rewrite your history to seem cool amongst your peers. I could easily gloss over some of my biggest childhood pop crushes with my more astute musical choices of the time, sit there enjoying the smug aroma of my own farts telling tale of how I bought 2 Tone 45s with my pocket money when I was 7 years old (which I totally did).
But f**k it, that's not me.
The first record I ever bought was Meatloaf & Cher doing "Dead Ringer For Love" I still think it's great, "Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat was my jam when I was 9, I rated Mel & Kim but wasn't feeling Kylie & Jason, I knew "Popped In, Souled Out" by heart, "Actually" by the Pet Shop Boys was rarely out of my walkman. Pop music was my thing & I suppose it has been ever since.
Nowadays like many people here, failed pop music, B sides & obscurities are largely what drives me to seek out great music I don't know but I still believe pop can be awesome & transcendent but current western pop music is a tough place to find gold right now.
Our boy & girl bands seem to have had any personality drained out to appeal to lowest common denominator, the boys ballad heavy, almost exclusively romantically marketed at girls, the girl bands are hyper-sexualised and also seemingly marketed at pre pubescent girls. I suppose the route people are expected to take now is to go straight from the factory farmed current pop crop (once you've "grown up" of course) into the increasingly sectarian & narrowly defined genre ghettoes.
J-Pop is different, and I can't begin to untie the knot of confusion & cultural difference that surrounds it, It can be as confusing as it is charming, at it's most alien it can be uncomfortably worrying (see the western press's collective clutching of pearls when Minami Minegishi of AKB48 shaved her head recently). Also it doesn't cater for the casual browser, It can be hard to wade through to find stuff you like & also hard to buy with familiar barriers like lack of international shipping & having to set up a Japanese account to even buy digitally (this is getting less painful though). But with all it's problems it's still a miliion times more interesting & just plain better music than Black Eyed Peas/Jessie J whatever.
What I'm saying is basically I'm in my 30s and with the experience of nearly 10 years selling second hand records for a living & varying depths of research into some pretty dusty & scholarly areas of music, there's not much that brings me more musical joy than some of the current Japanese pop music.
So here we go.
Toquiwa - Tokyo Merry Go Round
I started off with these to ease you in a bit, signed to David Gedge's label this lot were discovered busking (as The Pinky Piglets) & swiftly signed up. The album's great and they are so good live go and see them if you get the chance.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Invader Invader
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was a Tokyo fashion blogger who decided she should also be a pop star, possibly the most accessible to people over here due to a heavy western pop influences, but she doesn't just ape & recycle these she makes an awesome cake out of them then wears it on her head. I love her so much. This is her latest single.
Momoiro Clover Z - Roudou Sanka
This lot are terrifying & awesome, like a nuclear explosion, I added a track by them on the Best Of bonus CD. Part of the Idol sub genre which for a dude of my age is best kept at an acceptable distance, which is usually quite easy with the confusing military structures & graduations of AKB48 & Morning Musume and the general "creepy dude" vibe you can get spending time digging around in this genre. It's mostly not worth it for the lacklustre music you are rewarded with.
Momoclo are different, they're f**king amazing.
They have weird connections with heavy metal, Japanese pro wrestling & have caused controversy by acknowledging & making fun of the nerdier older male "Otaku" portion of their fan base, something that usually remains unsaid in the Idol world.
This one is about how great it is to work really hard at your job & oddly it's composed & arranged by Ian Parton of The Go! Team, take that Girls Aloud.
I often judge bands by how interesting or how much fun it looks to actually be in. Dress me up as a drunken salaryman & sign me up.
The Suzan - Home
I've mentioned these guys before, this album's still on regular rotation, they seem to be avoiding the UK in their tour schedule Amazing video.
Vanilla Beans - Nicola
These two are great, remind me of St.Etienne a bit. Perfect pop with out there tendencies coupled with a great image, what's not to love.
Momoiro Clover Z - Z Densetsu: Owarinaki Kakumei
These guys again, this is like a statement of intent for the band singing about how they're here to cheer you up with introductions for the individual members & involves the vocal talents of anime music legend Ichiro Mizuki and Pride Fighting Championship (?) narrator Fumihiko Tachiki
If I had to compare it to anything it'd be a teenage Japanese girl version of "Hey Hey We're The Monkees".
The video's pretty great too if you're a fan of Sentai TV shows like Kamen Rider/Ultraman.
Mishmash & Julie Watai - Soul Of Love (short version)
Julie Watai comes from the world of Furby hacking… I'm not kidding. Anyway this is great and the knitted space age video is a work of genius, not sure what Mishmash's deal is but I like this, definitely one to watch.
Mon not a band! - Pahipahi
Not sure if this is the right band name or title, i don't really know what's going on but i love the slightly off key vocals, and the fact that it's completely insane, apparently the girl tells the other girl who's trying to hide her mole that "Didn't you know? Facial moles are like a black hole for romance." It gets really odd & confusing about 4 minutes in, I'm not entirely sure knowing the language would help. I love this.
Vanilla Beans - Chocolate Mint Flavor Time
The lovely Vanilla Beans again, this time they seem to be singing about ice cream and revealing their baffling preoccupation with Scandinavia, and fair play to them. Their microphones are ice cream cones… ICE CREAM CONE MICROPHONES… People might think they're cooler than Vanilla Beans, but they're probably not.
Momoiro Clover - Chai Maxx
OK last one from these I promise, This was from before they added the 'Z' and when the still had Blue in the band (they all have a different identifying colour, because of course they do). I don't know what a Chai Maxx is, for some reason this is a boxing themed video, seems to be a 'don't give up/keep fighting' theme in line with their usual positive vibes assault. I wasn't convinced by the first 49 seconds (Momoclo are not averse to putting out a bit of filler) but then, holy shit… these people know how to write a pop hook.
I have the almost uncontrollable urge to learn this dance routine, it looks so much fun.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Candy Candy
And finally I'll leave you with Pamyurin, I love everything about this. The toast run, Mr Onion. Watch this then try & sit through a humourless self-reverant Lady Gaga video. Pop deserves better, Long live Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Link to Vid
So that's it for my J-pop girl chart (I don't know why it's only girls, the boy pop seems to be a lot crappier & less interesting for some reason, if you know good stuff that I'm missing, fill me in), I don't know whether my facts on the above are 100% I just dig around and rely on google translate most of the time. All I know for sure is that i genuinely love this stuff and I hope that this might help you if you're interested but don't have the time or inclination to zip up & wade in.
(Mods if the videos kill your bandwidth or something give me a shout & I'll turn them all into links)