(Written by Deku)
There are endless genres in music, with new jargons popping up every now and then. City Pop is one such genre from Japan, which rose to popularity in the early 1980s, with the arrival of car-stereos. But do the Japanese folks still remember it today? Let’s ask some people and check this out!
We asked few people if they knew about ‘City Pop’:
None of them were familiar with the term but they attempted to make some clever guesses.
“I haven’t heard of it. It’s probably pop music, with something to do with the city”, one of the guys guessed.
“I’m not sure. I have a feeling it’s upbeat”, another one guessed.
“I’m not sure but is it ambient Western music?”, a person asked us.
We met a lady who had a feeling that she had already heard about the genre before (Spoiler alert: She was right!). “I think I’ve heard of it but maybe I haven’t”, she said.
Another interviewee wasn’t sure, like others so we asked him to make his guess about the genre. “Well it’s ‘pop’, so I think it’s Western music”, he answered.
“Not sure, but I think it’s J-Pop from the 90s”, a lady grinned while she made a close guess of the era.
Our last interviewee guessed that it’s probably some cheerful music, while admitting that he wasn’t sure about it.
We asked them to guess the artists that belong to the genre…
Once again, they tried to make some guesses since they had no idea about the genre.
“Hmm, someone young…?”, said a young lady. “I can’t think of anyone”, another lady standing next to her said.
“Nothing comes to mind”, a young guy seemed confused.
“I’m not familiar with the genre, so I don’t know”, a youngster smiled.
“I have no idea, sorry. But I would imagine that young people listen to it”, a lady guessed.
“Maybe someone young who plays the guitar or something”, another man made his guess.
“Hmm… Hirose Kohmi?”, a lady answered.
Mariya Takeuchi’s Plastic Love: The Song that Popularised City Pop!
Mariya Takeuchi (1984, Credits: Alan Levenson)
If you have been an avid internet user since the past 4 years, chances are that you must have seen the above image. The picture has been used as the cover image for the song: Plastic Love, several times and has also spawned in the form of several fan arts on the internet! The person in the picture is none other than Mariya Takeuchi, the artist of the song.
An extended, fan-made rendition of Plastic Love suddenly became viral in 2017, thanks to YouTube’s algorithm. It was created by a user who goes by the name Plastic Lover. But a copyright claim during the same period, only served to increase the gossip and the sudden spread of the song. Turns out that the claim wasn’t from the music label, but from the photographer (Alan Levenson) who took the above picture which was used in the song. The claim was soon removed after the photographer was credited.
Warner Music Japan created a music video in 2019 due to it’s sudden rise to fame, 35 years after the song was released!
The song has now become the face of City Pop. But the question is: Is it popular in Japan? We played the song to find out!
Once again, a few people hadn’t heard about her before.
While it clicked for a handful of folks, especially for those who had heard her songs before.
The above person was unable to identify the song but felt that he might have heard it before. We asked him if he listens to Mariya Takeuchi’s music. “No, not really. But I know who she is”, he replied. He later admitted that he might have listened to it in the past. “It sounded nostalgic to me”, he said.
“I don’t know, but it sounds like Yumi Matsutoya from my generation”, a person said. “This is actually Mariya Takeuchi”, we told him. “Oh, Mariya Takeuchi”, he replied back, instantly recognizing the personality.
“I’ve heard of Mariya Takeuchi before but I didn’t know of this song”, said a guy.
Another lady didn’t know about the song but recognized the singer. “I listened to her when I was young, along with other mainstream artists. So I listened to a lot of artists like Mariya Takeuchi and Tatsuro Yamashita”, she explained.
An elderly person was familiar with the artist but hadn’t listened to the song previously. “She’s from my generation, right? I don’t listen to her these days, but I did when I was younger”, he told us.
Have they listened to City Pop before?
Since our interviewees are now familiar with what City Pop sounds like, we decided to ask them if they had heard similar songs before.
“Back when I was very young”, an old lady chuckled. “The previous song sounded like Anri”, she added. Anri is the stage name of Eiko Kawashima, another Japanese singer who made her debut in 1978 with the song Oribia o Kikinagara (While Listening to Olivia). She was quite active in the 80s too. Just like most other City Pop songs, her works have been categorized into vaporwave and future funk genres too.
A youngster mentioned that he ‘would not go out of his way’ to listen to this genre. “It sounds like something that would be playing at a fancy shop”, he explained.
One of the guys stated that he probably hadn’t heard the song or anything similar to it before, anywhere in the city.
A lady said that she might have heard Plastic Love or a similar song, playing in a place like a cafe, especially because of it’s romantic tone.
“I don’t listen to ‘City Pop’, but I have listened to Mariya Takeuchi before”, a person replied back confidently.
Another lady smiled back, saying that she doesn’t listen to a lot of music anymore but she did listen to it in her childhood days. “It’s something I’d hear on the radio and think: This is old school!”, she gleamed.
We asked them if they were familiar with the genre’s popularity overseas?
Once again, most natives of Japan weren’t familiar with its popularity overseas. We asked them to give their opinions of why they think it is popular. “Because it doesn’t exist overseas?”, guessed a lady.
“It has an exotic feel, so maybe that’s why it’s popular”, said another guy.
One of the youngsters had an interesting opinion about this: “I didn’t know that but There’s a time lag for Japanese culture to be accepted abroad. Things that were popular here in the past are now becoming popular abroad. I learned about it on TV, so maybe this is an example of that”.
An elderly person had a somewhat similar opinion. “Music comes and goes in a 20- or 30-year cycle, and old songs can become “new”, or foreign songs can sound new to us. So, I think that’s what happened. This is just my imagination”, he explained his theory.
“I didn’t know that. Maybe because the songs are catchy”, another elderly person made a guess.
We got to know some more interesting facts from our interviewees. “Many people from abroad sing old Japanese hit songs at Karaoke because they’re used as themes in popular Japanese dramas, and are broadcasted in other countries”, one of them answered.
A lady stated that she was familiar with Mariya Takeuchi’s recent popularity on YouTube. “I don’t know the details, but I heard that the melody line was very catchy”, she stated.
Our last interviewee was surprised to know about Plastic Love’s surge in popularity among non-Asian countries like the United States. “Wow, around the world! I wonder why!? Maybe they just like Japanese things!”, he exclaimed.
Want to understand City Pop & Japanese music better? Get FREE Japanese Lessons from Yuta here!