Among all the Japanese music with lyrics (=songs), the ones preferred by the younger generation is called J-POP in general. The term was created by J-WAVE, one of the most popular FM radio stations in Tokyo and periphery.
Definition: J-POP includes most of the pop-idol songs but excludes “enka” (traditional ballad), and as for the discussion on whether or not to include folk songs remains controversial. In most cases, folk songs with rather strong social messages are not counted as J-POP music. Songs in the following genres are many times also excluded: hard rock / heavy metal / guitar rock / rock’n’roll / (punk rock) / hard core punk / loud rock / heavy rock / (hip hop) / reggae / techno, house and trans (dance music) as well as music and “anime songs” and sometimes “visual-kei”.
Hence, “pop” in J-POP does not necessarily refer to a narrow definition of “cherry, light music with high tempo and rhythm” but has a broad meaning of pop music (*that is to say, pretty much everything but the above) in Japanese language i.e., Japanese folk, Japanese rock and Japanese popular songs (“kayoukyoku”). Having defined so, the definition is actually vague and blurry making most music genres except for extreme ones like heavy metal or hard core punk part of J-POP –-–-–- not to mention that many of the so-called J-POP music are like blends of different genres.
The history of J-POP as an established music genre is short, as the term came up and became the mainstream music in Japanese society in the 1990s. With the karaoke boom that had started a short while before the emergence of J-POP, people started to favor music that is more popular and easier to sing, over the really good music that are rather difficult to enjoy singing. Thus, J-POP quickly gained popularity for its catchiness, for songs were easy to remember and sing at karaoke by listening to them only a few times on the radio
With the great help of the boosting bubble economy in the early ‘90s J-POP experienced a great growth and enjoyed huge CD sales even without the silicon audios that we have today (although, it’s not the silicon audio whatnot that’s directly causing decreasing CD sales). This was also the time period when “charismas” started to emerge from the music entertainment industry who gave immense impact to the society.
One of the first “charismas” (meaning ‘charismatic figures’ in proper English) that the music entertainment industy produced in the dawning of J-POP era is Amuro Namie. The biggest characteristic about her is perhaps the combination of powerful singing and dancing, as there were very few artists who performed in this matter back then and before. It was a very fresh style of singing, and her performance as well as herself – with beautiful feature (and figure) and the latest fashion – became the symbol of powerful women during the bubble era, consequently producing a remarkable population of “Amlers” who copied her style and fashion from head to toe.
The next “charisma” who came out in the latter half of 1990s was Hamasaki Ayumi. In her music she expressed the dreams, wishes and hopes at the same time as weaknesses and concerns quite realistically but in a pop manner, and gained sympathy from a wide range of women in Japan. Some analysts claim that her songs served as “revitalizers” to the depressed feelings and minds of the people in the post-bubble economy.
The figure acknowledged to be the “charisma” today is Koda Kumi. The most conspicuous point about her – which has also become a new social (fashion) fad in Japan – is what is called “ero-kakkoii” (sexy and cool: ‘ero’ comes from erotic). Because of her appeal in sexiness she tends to attract male fans as much as female fans, whereas the previous two attracted more females. As for her style – perhaps somewhat close to Christina Aguilera? Again, analysis are made on Koda Kumi that she represents the women today who are not just powerful but are also more active in opening themselves and appealing to men.
Like this, analyzing the history of J-POP allows us to observe the flow of Japanese socio-history and culture as well as people. From the next arcitle let us focus on the musical characteristics of J-POP.