Pop downer and bangers ready for TikTok: the year of Japanese music so far


Music, like most aspects of modern life, didn’t feel normal in 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic began to worry Japan in late February, artists began to adjust to a new one. reality.

My most vivid memory of this year’s gig was going to the Tokyo Dome on February 25 to watch the J-pop Perfume trio – surplus hand sanitizer was in the lobby, and video panels inside the stadium displayed guides on how to wash hands.

It also turned out to be my last memory of live music in 2020. The next day major concerts and events started to cancel following a request from the central government. Soon after, smaller live houses and clubs across the country closed. The performances have been uploaded, with companies once hostile to digital dumping live footage onto YouTube. Pikotaro promoted good hygiene, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kind of got wrapped up in a scandal thanks to a General Hoshino meme. Completely normal for the course.

In the midst of these strange times, Japanese music continues to change. Last year heralded a dramatic shift in J-pop, and so far 2020 has been on the cards, revealing artists creating ideal songs for TikTok and embracing the depressing vibe that’s befitting this stage of the world. 21st century. There are just as many changes happening away from the limelight, with Japanese rappers finding out how to shine and independent creators twisting pop into new forms.

A lot has happened six months in the year already, and to help you catch up, here are the Japanese songs of 2020 that best reflect what’s going on.

Shuta Sueyoshi – “Hacking”

Japanese musicians and labels have long resisted sharing their songs online because they feared losing control of their production. Giving back your work to fans is how a # 1 is created in 2020, and TikTok has become the laboratory from which eventual successes emerge. This is old news in most countries around the world, but it is only just starting to become a reality in Japan. Part of the beauty of this approach is seeing what the masses see as meme-worthy, often to the surprise of A&R teams. AAA member Shuta Sueyoshi buried the plinky-plonks pushing “Hack” towards the end of his January 2019 album “Wonder Hack”, but Japanese TikTokers found the track this spring and turned it into a hit, in part thanks to a hook that offers space for choreography born in the bedroom and details that regulars on the platform love (the little mouth pops at the very end). “Hack” offers a blueprint for how a TikTok-ready song should sound – and how letting the masses take control can be a godsend.

Shin Sakiura’s achievement. Kan Sano – “Honto Wa”

This one is less about the specific sound of the song and more about the two artists involved. Shin Sakiura and Kan Sano have become staples of J-pop this year, having written and produced songs for emerging artists such as Sirup, Iri and Rude-a among many others. “Honto Wa” offers a simplified version of what the two of them do best, which is to create a pretty funky melody that leads to an ear worm of a chorus. Think of this as a model for how a lot of J-pop will sound in the next few years.

4s4ki exploit. Rinahamu – “Nexus”

“Nexus” immediately gives a punch, thanks to the opening line: “You want to see your friends / I want to see my friends. This is an inadvertently devastating word during a global pandemic that has left many people isolated. Beyond that dagger from the 40s era, the climax of 4s4ki’s album “Your Dreamland” (pronounced Asaki) connects several musical trends from the past decade into one powerful force. She is inspired by hip-hop and J-pop in equal parts, boasting while delivering the kind of serious lyrics that Ayumi Hamasaki could be proud of. Music, meanwhile, finds producer Kotonohouse condensing a decade of the genre of maximalist Japanese electronic music found on SoundCloud and netlabels into a single track balancing heaviness with a sense of melancholy. Even the pop idol gets a scream with Rinahamu’s presence. “Nexus” turns the disparate corners of Japanese music of the 2010s into a single, focused blast.

Valknee, Haruko Tajima, Namichie, Asoboism, Marukido and Akkogorilla – “Zoom”

It’s been a big year for Japanese rap, although what it means changes dramatically depending on where you look. Internationally, Teriyaki Boyz’s 2006 song “Tokyo Drift (Fast & Furious)” (yes, from the worst installment in the “Fast & Furious” movie franchise) has become an Internet challenge. At home, however, a new generation of MCs have risen to make their mark on the national stage – from Wich to Tohji to Chelmico. The best example of the genre’s direction, however, comes from this COVID-19-inspired posse cut that finds six of Japanese rap’s best women coming together on a song inspired by the online meeting platform made ubiquitous by work at – home demands. It’s fierce, confident and varied, with each performer showcasing their own flair in a few bars. There is no formula to follow, and thank goodness for that.

Yoasobi – “Race in the Night”

Japan’s flagship song for 2020 perfectly illustrates two trends. The first is the prominent place online music communities have found in J-pop. Yoasobi is a duo made up of Ayase, a Vocaloid producer, and Lilas Ikuta, who have spent time in YouTube groups covering popular songs. It’s the same general makeup of equally popular projects like Yorushika and Zutto Mayonaka by Ii Noni (better known as Zutomayo). Yoasobi also emphasizes the listener’s interest in musical authenticity – the band members write the music themselves rather than create by committee, and their episode of The First Take (a YouTube series further highlighting the major changes in country) helped turn this song into a chart-topping hit and made a talking point on morning television.

It’s also a downer of a song. “Racing Into the Night” (“Yoru ni Kakeru”) is based on a short story posted online that culminates in – spoiler alert – a couple jumping off an apartment building. J-pop has taken a heavy turn lately, from the shot-dead pop of reigning best female artist Aimyon, to recent Zutomayo releases, to extreme examples like “Ruru’s Suicide Show on a Livestream” by Shinsei Kamattechan. . Yoasobi has gone further than anyone else this year, showing that a song inspired by the generally monotonous feeling of life in Japan (or really anywhere) in the 21st century can excel just as much as false happiness. Don’t think of it as tearful J-pop – think of it as a “wave of reality”.

In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces.

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