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City pop

City pop

City pop (Japanese: シティ・ポップ, Hepburn: shiti poppu) is a loosely defined form of Japanese pop music that emerged in the late 1970s and peaked in popularity during the 1980s. It was originally termed as an offshoot of Japan's Western-influenced "new music", but came to include a wide range of styles – including funk, disco, R&B, AOR, soft rock, and boogie – that were associated with the country's nascent economic boom and leisure class. It was also identified with new technologies such as the Walkman, cars with built-in cassette decks and FM stereos, and various electronic musical instruments.

There is no unified consensus among scholars regarding the definition of city pop. In Japan, the tag simply referred to music that projected an "urban" feel and whose target demographic was urbanites. Many of the artists did not embrace the Japanese influences of their predecessors, and instead, largely drew from American funk, soft rock and boogie. Some examples may also feature tropical flourishes or elements taken from disco, jazz fusion, Okinawan, Latin and Caribbean music. Singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita, who was among the genre's pioneers and most successful artists, is sometimes called the "king" of city pop.

City pop lost mainstream appeal after the 1980s and was derided by younger Japanese generations. In the early 2010s, partly through the instigation of music-sharing blogs and Japanese reissues, city pop gained an international online following as well as becoming a touchstone for the sample-based microgenres known as vaporwave and future funk.


Definitions of "city pop" have varied and many of the artists tagged with the genre have played in styles that are significantly different from each other. Yutaka Kimura, an author of numerous books about city pop, defined the genre as "urban pop music for those with urban lifestyles." In 2015, Ryotaro Aoki wrote in The Japan Times:

The term was originally used to describe an offshoot of the emerging Western-influenced "new music" of the 1970s and ’80s. "City pop" referred to the likes of Sugar Babe and Eiichi Ohtaki, artists who scrubbed out the Japanese influences of their predecessors and introduced the sounds of jazz and R&B — genres said to have an "urban" feel — to their music. ... The term has drifted in and out of the musical lexicon ever since. ... With a term as vague and broad as city pop, it’s natural that no one seems to be agreeing on what the label actually means anymore."

Jon Blistein of Rolling Stone concurred that city pop was "less a strict genre term than a broad vibe classification." According to Japan Archival Series supervisor Yosuke Kitazawa, there "were no restrictions on style or a specific genre that we wanted to convey with these songs" but that it "was music made by city people, for city people." Kitazawa identified two distinct styles that exemplified city pop: "the former a lush, tropical romp, the latter a thumping rug-cutter".

Pitchfork's Joshua Minsoo Kim called it "a vague descriptor for Japanese music that incorporated jazz and R&B", while PopMatters' Chris Ingalls categorized it as "a type of soft rock/AOR/funk". Wax Poetics' Ed Motta offered, "City Pop is really AOR and soft rock but with some funk and boogie too. Because when you hear funkier City Pop tunes, you hear not only the influence, but in some parts they steal from groups like Skyy, BB&Q Band, and those kinda American boogie and funk groups." An Electronic Beats writer characterized city pop as Japan's "answer to synth pop and disco".


Musical origins

Musically, city pop applies songwriting and arranging techniques commonly found in jazz – such as major seventh and diminished chords – that are drawn directly from the American soft rock of the era (bands such as Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers). Yutaka cited the band Happy End as "ground zero" for the genre, whereas Motta traces it to the mid-1970s with the work of Haruomi Hosono and Tatsuro Yamashita. Vice contributor Rob Arcand similarly credited Hosono as a "key influence" on city pop. In the mid-1970s, Hosono founded the band Tin Pan Alley, which fused southern R&B, northern soul and jazz fusion with Hawaiian and Okinawan tropical flourishes. In the view of Fact Mag's Mikey I.Q. Jones, this led to the style of music that would be dubbed "city pop".

The genre became closely tied to the tech boom in Japan during the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the Japanese technologies which influenced city pop included the Walkman, cars with built-in cassette decks and FM stereos, and various electronic musical instruments such as the Casio CZ-101 and Yamaha CS-80 synthesizers and Roland TR-808 drum machine. According to Blistein, electronic instruments and gadgets "allowed musicians to actualise the sounds in their heads" and cassette decks "allowed fans to dub copies of albums". According to Blistein: "An opulent amalgamation of pop, disco, funk, R&B, boogie, jazz fusion, Latin, Caribbean and Polynesian music, the genre was inextricably tied to a tech-fueled economic bubble and the wealthy new leisure class it created."


City pop became a distinct regional genre that peaked in popularity during the 1980s. According to Vice, the most popular figures of the genre were "accomplished composers and producers in their own right, with artists like Tatsuro Yamashita and Toshiki Kadomatsu incorporating complex arrangements and songwriting techniques into their hits, ... The booming economy also made it easier for them to get label funding". Yamashita is sometimes referred to as the "king" of city pop. City pop also influenced instrumental jazz fusion bands such as Casiopea and T-Square, which subsequently influenced Japanese video game music. City pop's influence also spread to Indonesia, leading to the development of a local style known as pop kreatif. The genre lost mainstream appeal after the 1980s. In the description of Kitazawa, "Many Japanese people who grew up with this kind of music considered city pop as cheesy, mainstream, disposable music, going so far as calling it 'shitty pop'."

Since the 2010s, city pop has seen a resurgence with artists such as Mariya Takeuchi gaining an international online following, as well as becoming a touchstone for the sample-based microgenres known as vaporwave and future funk. Kim credited "Blogspot blogs and Japanese reissues" circa 2010 with "introduc[ing] music nerds to a strain of AOR, funk, disco, and yacht rock trafficked under the amorphous term ... The music had largely been neglected by Westerners and derided by many Japanese as cheesy, but as YouTube algorithms launched songs into the wider collective consciousness, city pop surged in popularity ..." In 2020, The Japan Times contributor Patrick St. Michel reported that, "Abroad, boutique labels are reissuing rare records or releasing compilations, though millions have largely experienced city pop through songs such as [Takeuchi's 1984 song] "Plastic Love" or the seemingly endless playlists backed by anime snippets on YouTube." Another song of the genre that regained popularity was "Mayonaka no Door (Stay with Me)" by Miki Matsubara on TikTok in 2020, when Japanese parents’ responses to the song were recorded on their children’s phones.

See also

  • List of city pop artists
  • Beach music
  • Contemporary R&B
  • New jack swing
  • Urban contemporary
  • Yacht rock


Collection James Bond 007

Further reading

  • Kimura, Yutaka (2011). Japanese City Pop Disc Collection (Shohan ed.). Tōkyō. ISBN 978-4401636181.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)

External links

  • Salazar, Jeffrey (September 2021). "Memory Vague: A History of City Pop". Masters Theses. doi:10.7275/23823987.0.
  • Sommet, Moritz (2020-09-30). "Intermediality and the discursive construction of popular music genres: the case of 'Japanese City Pop'" (PDF). Journal of HANDAI Music Studies.
  • Ross, Alex Robert (May 18, 2020). "The curators of Pacific Breeze 2 on their favorite hard-to-find city pop gems". The Fader.
  • St. Michel, Patrick (February 28, 2016). "City pop revival helps Suchmos at just the right time".
  • Winkie, Luke (11 January 2019). "City Pop, the optimistic disco of 1980s Japan, finds a new young crowd in the West". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 22 October 2019.

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: City pop by Wikipedia (Historical)