I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Memories of My Standout Singers: 1994 onwards

Getting recruited early in 1994 by that behemoth of English language schools, I got on that plane in November of that year to launch Phase II of my life in Japan. This time, I wasn't settled into the mountains but smack dab into a bedroom town of one of the largest cities on Earth. However, just like with that plane flight on the JET Programme, getting into the country once more was quite taxing with the NOVA higher-up dragging me from Narita Airport via the spaghetti-like railway system of Tokyo late at night until he finally got me to my temporary apartment in Shibamata, Katsushika Ward. I was happy that my two roommates who were an Australian couple were very welcoming as I settled in to see "HEY HEY HEY Music Champ" on Fuji-TV with the big comedic duo at the time, Downtown. Then, I caught one of my first commercials with Namie Amuro & Super Monkeys (later to become MAX) promoting "Try Me" which gave me my first glimpse at what teenage Japan was slowly metamorphosing into.

As I mentioned in Part III of my series on "Memories of My Standout Singers", there was a noticeable transition in Japanese popular music under way as the 1980s passed by. Well, in the three short years between gigs in Japan, there were also some changes. The music was indeed diversifying at the end of that decade but as I entered the country in the mid-1990s, a popified version of club and dance music was hitting the charts thanks to the Komuro Boom which occupied J-Pop for the first years of my time in Ichikawa City. Then when that trend started to peter out, a new aidoru wave poured onto the shores near the turn of the century but with the boys and girls appearing to amass under two banners, Johnny's Entertainment for the former and the Hello Project for the latter. At the same time, though, the genre of J-R&B started to form with singers performing hip-hop and soul which had me thinking of the disco component within City Pop back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Here is Part IV, the finale of the series.

1. Namie Amuro(安室奈美恵)

She was merely a teen at the time but I can't recall any singer at her age who managed to not only set the music charts aflame but also spearhead fashion trends in Shibuya, the Mecca of teen culture. Amuro chased her chance and caught it like a Kevin Pillar (a particularly acrobatic Toronto Blue Jay) pop fly, as she became one of the prime accelerants for the Komuro Boom. This may be the only time in history that will actually have Pillar and Amuro in the same paragraph.

2. TRF

Another group of folks in the Komuro Boom years, TRF had already gotten some measure of fame before I arrived but it seems as if this modern song-&-dance unit really started pulling things off from late 1994 into 1995. This was the alphabet group that was on top of the charts years before another bunch of alphabet groups consisting of girls would take over J-Pop. "Boy Meets Girl" was just the start.

3. Sing Like Talking

As I've mentioned, this is the group that I accidentally but fortuitously stumbled upon. Sing Like Talking is one of the few mistakes that I've actually been happy to make in my choices. Chikuzen Sato(佐藤竹善)and his band may have debuted even before my first post-university voyage to Japan, but, hey, better late than never. These are the guys who covered my dear genres of AOR and urban contemporary.


Actually with these fellows, the music was just part and parcel of the fact that they were everywhere on TV, whether it be commercials, variety shows and dramas. SMAP was the unit that finally introduced me to the huge conglomeration of boy bands that is Johnny's Entertainment which is currently topped by Arashi(嵐).

5. Morning Musume(モーニング娘。)

Well, if SMAP were there, then I guess the Balance of the Force was provided by Morning Musume. At one point, I had thought that the concept of aidoru was truly dead and buried but with the rise of these girls at the end of the final decade of the 20th century, I was proven wrong. Although AKB48 and their sister groups are now dominant, almost 20 years ago, it was these ladies, and like SMAP, at one point, they and their other sisters under the Hello Project umbrella were everywhere.

6. Misia

Aidorus were back in a new dynamic guise and then I saw singers who were hip-hopping and rapping and funking out the place. A decade earlier, it was all about rocking out with the guitars but coming to 2000, it was R&B. For me, I preferred the more old-school soul and that was provided by songbird Misia among other singers like bird and Monday Michiru. Listening to "Tsutsumikomuyouni"(つつむ込むように), I got those old chills again from her voice.

7. Ego-Wrappin'

My interest in Shibuya-kei was all belated so I was catching up with Pizzicato Five discs. There was also a brief dalliance in North America with Louis Prima and all sorts of boppy jazz in the 90s which didn't transfer over here to Japan. However, going into the new century, I was literally shaken out of my sofa (and that's not easy to do) when I first heard the Osaka band Ego-Wrappin' perform "Psychoanalysis". Yoshie Nakano and Masaki Mori(中納良恵・森雅樹)may hail from the Kansai area but for some reason I've always thought of them being right at home in the live houses and clubs of Shibuya, Tokyo with their mix of old-time swing jazz and rock attitude.

35 years of evolving Japanese popular music. I can't even imagine what the next 35 will bring. Enka funk? Aidoru jazz? Who knows?

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