I’d been wanting to do this post for a while and I kept forgetting to do it, but here we are finally. So, City Pop! What is it? And why is it relevant?
City Pop became popularized in Japan in the 1980s, but it had its origins in the 1970s with Japanese artists like Tatsuro Yamashita and a group called Happy End. It is described as a fusion of a number of different musical styles including funk, R&B, soul, jazz, and boogie. Its popularity in the 80s was actually attributed to the spread of car stereos, which led to music with a distinct city theme (I guess, because you listen to it when you’re driving through the city). As a result, Tokyo became the inspiration for many of these songs.
The popularity bled out into Korea, and there were a number of artists in the 1980s and 90s who created music inspired by the City Pop styles that were pioneered in Japan.
City Pop Now
I first stumbled upon City Pop when I was trying to find a YouTube playlist to do work to. The chill beats/lo-fi mixes that I was listening to were putting me to sleep and I wanted something a touch more upbeat to keep me from snoring right there at my keyboard. YouTube, with its all-knowing power, recommended a playlist titled Japanese Citypop/Funk Summer Chill MIX. I listened to it and instantly fell in love. It was this perfect playlist that was somehow both calming and energizing. It made me want to get in my car and drive to the beach.
I wanted to keep listening so I gathered a large collection of playlists to rotate. For a long time, I stayed ignorant of what it was that I was listening to and where it had come from, but I’m too much of a curious person to stay ignorant for long.
So I researched and found that City Pop was a rich genre with a number of popular artists including the aforementioned Tatsuro Yamashita but also Haruomi Hosono, Mariya Takeuchi, Bread & Butter, and Seaside Lovers. And! It’s making a comeback. People are all getting back into Japanese City Pop–including K-Pop idols.
Korean City Pop
Korean City Pop was a thing back in the 80s and 90s, yes, but it’s also kind of a thing now. There are several female K-Pop idols who have had City Pop-inspired comebacks. This includes Yubin and Baek Yerin.
Baek Yerin’s song La La La Love Song sounds like it was pulled straight from the City Pop scene in the 80s. It is, first of all, sung in Japanese, which is a direct nod to the original City Pop.
Then, of course, there is Yubin’s comeback. It is quintessential City Pop but in the 21st century. The entire concept is 80s City Pop from the music video to the styling of her live stages, to the song itself. For many international fans, it was the first time they’d heard City Pop at all.
But that’s not the end of it. There are other artists who are developing their own City Pop songs. The Japanese actress and singer, Yukika, recently debuted in Korea with her song Neon. What’s funny is that it is a Japanese concept implemented by a Japanese artist, but the song itself is in Korean for a Korean audience. It just goes to show that the popularity of the concept extends far beyond just Japan.
Exploring City Pop
City Pop is a really cool genre and I highly recommend checking it out if any of the above songs appeal to you. Here is a list of playlists, both Japanese and Korean, to listen to. Let me know what you guys think about City Pop!