Niko Batallones dives into Japanese pop music, in all its fascinating, impenetrable glory.
Week 1: The Introductory Course
We kick off the series with a potted history of J-pop as we know it, from its origins to its technicolor stripes today. We trace its evolution, its many movements, and attempt to explain why it’s different from the music of their Korean neighbors.
Week 2: The Essentials Course
We list down five essential J-pop artists – in the sense that they’re perfectly good starting points. These acts have waved the Japanese flag across the world, from the legendary Utada Hikaru and L’Arc-en-Ciel to the quirky Pizzicato Five.
Week 3: The Idols Course
We trace the history of the Japanese idol – the musical act that dominates the country’s music scene, if only because of its sheer scale. From the early days of Momoe Yamaguchi to the dominance of AKB48, we explore how it reflects Japanese society.
Week 4: The Soloists Course
In contrast with the Japanese idols, solo artists have pushed the boundaries of J-pop with a keener sense of artistry – and more guts to assert that. We go from icon Ayumi Hamasaki to pop-rock virtuoso Yumi.
Week 5: The J-Rock Course
The history of J-pop and the growth of Japanese rock bands have always been intertwined. We look at the bands that have shaped the genre, from visual kei pioneers X Japan to current flag-wavers One Ok Rock.
Week 6: The Otaku Course
Chances are you’re more exposed to Japanese pop than you think. We look at the music that accompanied anime and video games, from Joe Hisaishi’s scores to Hayao Miyazaki’s films, to Nobue Uematsu’s work on the iconic Final Fantasy series.
Week 7: The Alternatives Course
Many artists from J-pop’s fringes have pushed the boundaries just enough to change the country’s pop landscape. We look at the contributions of the likes of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Cornelius and Sheena Ringo.
Momoiro Clover Z and the sea of glow sticks
Our New York correspondent Jeany Lee watches the NYC stop of Momoiro Clover Z, one of the biggest Japanese groups at the moment – and one that’s inspired long queues outside the Playstation Theatre from the night before – and looks into how J-pop has inspired little pockets of Tokyo in countries around the world.
[Written by Niko Batallones. Researched by Niko Batallones and Shalla Yu. Art direction by Niko Batallones. With thanks to Adette Razon, James Habitan, Saturn de los Angeles, and especially to Icka Alcantara.]