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City pop

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City pop (Japanese: シティ・ポップ, Hepburn: shiti poppu) is a loosely defined form of Japanese pop music that emerged in the late 1970s and peaked in popularity during the 1980s. It was originally termed as an offshoot of Japan's Western-influenced "new music", but came to include a wide range of styles – including funk, disco, R&B, AOR, soft rock, and boogie – that were associated with the country's nascent economic boom and leisure class. It was also identified with new technologies such as the Walkman, cars with built-in cassette decks and FM stereos, and various electronic musical instruments.

There is no unified consensus among scholars regarding the definition of city pop.[2] In Japan, the tag simply referred to music that projected an "urban" feel and whose target demographic was urbanites. Many of the artists did not embrace the Japanese influences of their predecessors,[2] and instead, largely drew from American funk, soft rock and boogie.[8] Some examples may also feature tropical flourishes or elements taken from disco, jazz fusion, Okinawan, Latin and Caribbean music. Singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita, who was among the genre's pioneers and most successful artists, is sometimes called the "king" of city pop.[3]

City pop lost mainstream appeal after the 1980s and was derided by younger Japanese generations.[8] In the early 2010s, partly through the instigation of music-sharing blogs and Japanese reissues, city pop gained an international online following as well as becoming a touchstone for the sample-based microgenres known as vaporwave and future funk.


Definitions of "city pop" have varied and many of the artists tagged with the genre have played in styles that are significantly different from each other.[2] Yutaka Kimura, an author of numerous books about city pop, defined the genre as "urban pop music for those with urban lifestyles."[9] In 2015, Ryotaro Aoki wrote in The Japan Times:

The term was originally used to describe an offshoot of the emerging Western-influenced "new music" of the 1970s and '80s. "City pop" referred to the likes of Sugar Babe [ja] and Eiichi Ohtaki, artists who scrubbed out the Japanese influences of their predecessors and introduced the sounds of jazz and R&B—genres said to have an "urban" feel—to their music. ... The term has drifted in and out of the musical lexicon ever since. ... With a term as vague and broad as city pop, it's natural that no one seems to be agreeing on what the label actually means anymore.[2]

Jon Blistein of Rolling Stone concurred that city pop was "less a strict genre term than a broad vibe classification."[1] According to Japan Archival Series supervisor Yosuke Kitazawa, there "were no restrictions on style or a specific genre that we wanted to convey with these songs" but that it "was music made by city people, for city people."[1] Kitazawa identified two distinct styles that exemplified city pop: "the former a lush, tropical romp, the latter a thumping rug-cutter".[1]

Pitchfork's Joshua Minsoo Kim called it "a vague descriptor for Japanese music that incorporated jazz and R&B",[6] while PopMatters' Chris Ingalls categorized it as "a type of soft rock/AOR/funk".[10] Wax Poetics' Ed Motta offered, "City Pop is really AOR and soft rock but with some funk and boogie too. Because when you hear funkier City Pop tunes, you hear not only the influence, but in some parts they steal from groups like Skyy, BB&Q Band, and those kinda American boogie and funk groups."[3] An Electronic Beats writer characterized city pop as Japan's "answer to synth pop and disco".[4]

Musical origins[edit]

VIP Liner bus with images of Mariya Takeuchi drawn by Mari Yamazaki.

The catch phrase for the Japanese promotion of Terry Melcher's second album "Royal Flush," released in 1976, was "Mellow (Mexican Country Hollywood) City Pop!".[11] Higurashi's single "Orange Train" released on May 25, 1977, and [12] Tomoko Soryō's album City Lights by the Moonlight released on October 25, 1977 were marketed using the phrase "city pops".[13] Also in July 1977, an article in the music magazine "Record Geijutsu" introduced Minako Yoshida, Takao Kisugi, Tatsuro Yamashita, and Jun Fukamachi, Yoninbayashi, Junko Ohashi (Minoya Central Station), and others as "city pops" musicians.[14] The term "city pops" began to be used to refer to a genre of music. Furthermore, some Japanese music and entertainment magazines described Eric Carmen as "New York City Pop style"[15] and the Alessi Brothers, who came to Japan, as the leaders of "American City Pops".[16]

Thus, "city pop(s)" is a Japanese-made English term that record companies and music magazine editors began using in the late 1970s to promote and criticize music from Japan and abroad that has an urban and sophisticated atmosphere. Its usage was not strict, and it was sometimes used for songs and musicians classified as Japanese folk rock (フォークソング, lit.'folk song') rather than city pop from today's perspective. At that time, the term "city pops" was used more often than "city pop". A similar term, "city music", was also used. For example, the term was used in an article introducing Sugar Babe (active period: 1973-1976) and its members Taeko Onuki and Tatsuro Yamashita after its breakup.[17] City music was also used for Yoshitaka Minami, Yumi Arai, Minako Yoshida, and Akiko Yano.[18] Sugar Babe's album "SONGS" (1975) is also often said to be a pioneer of city pop, although the term "city pop" was not in widespread use during their time.[19]

In a book published in 2002, music critic Yutaka Kimura redefined city pop(s) as "Japanese city pop," attributing its origin to Happy End (1969-1972),[20] despite Happy End itself being an unsuccessful band with little influence at the time. This is criticized as a "Happy End historical view" (はっぴいえんど史観),[21] although each member of Happy End was very active in the Japanese rock and pop music scene after the band broke up. The term "city pop" has since become predominant over the term "city pops" probably due to the popularity of the term "J-pop" that spread in the 1990s.

Musically, city pop applies songwriting and arranging techniques commonly found in jazz – such as major seventh and diminished chords – that are drawn directly from the American soft rock of the era (bands such as Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers).[8] Yutaka cited the band Happy End as "ground zero" for the genre,[9] whereas Motta traces it to the mid-1970s with the work of Haruomi Hosono and Tatsuro Yamashita.[3] Vice contributor Rob Arcand similarly credited Hosono as a "key influence" on city pop.[22] In the mid-1970s, Hosono founded the band Tin Pan Alley, which fused southern R&B, northern soul and jazz fusion with Hawaiian and Okinawan tropical flourishes. In the view of Fact Mag's Mikey I.Q. Jones, this led to the style of music that would be dubbed "city pop".[7]

The genre became closely tied to the tech boom in Japan during the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the Japanese technologies which influenced city pop included the Walkman, cars with built-in cassette decks and FM stereos, and various electronic musical instruments such as the Casio CZ-101 and Yamaha CS-80 synthesizers and Roland TR-808 drum machine. According to Blistein, electronic instruments and gadgets "allowed musicians to actualise the sounds in their heads" and cassette decks "allowed fans to dub copies of albums".[1] According to Blistein: "An opulent amalgamation of pop, disco, funk, R&B, boogie, jazz fusion, Latin, Caribbean and Polynesian music, the genre was inextricably tied to a tech-fueled economic bubble and the wealthy new leisure class it created."[1]


City pop became a distinct regional genre that peaked in popularity during the 1980s.[4] According to Vice, the most popular figures of the genre were "accomplished composers and producers in their own right, with artists like Tatsuro Yamashita and Toshiki Kadomatsu incorporating complex arrangements and songwriting techniques into their hits, ... The booming economy also made it easier for them to get label funding".[8] Yamashita is sometimes referred to as the "king" of city pop.[3] City pop also influenced instrumental jazz fusion bands such as Casiopea and T-Square, which subsequently influenced Japanese video game music.[8] City pop's influence also spread to Indonesia, leading to the development of a local style known as pop kreatif.[23] The genre lost mainstream appeal after the 1980s.[2] In the description of Kitazawa, "Many Japanese people who grew up with this kind of music considered city pop as cheesy, mainstream, disposable music, going so far as calling it 'shitty pop'."[8]

21st century resurgence[edit]

Since the 2010s, city pop has seen a resurgence with artists such as Mariya Takeuchi gaining an international online following, as well as becoming a touchstone for the sample-based microgenres known as vaporwave and future funk.[8][24] Kim credited "Blogspot blogs and Japanese reissues" circa 2010 with "introduc[ing] music nerds to a strain of AOR, funk, disco, and yacht rock trafficked under the amorphous term ... The music had largely been neglected by Westerners and derided by many Japanese as cheesy, but as YouTube algorithms launched songs into the wider collective consciousness, city pop surged in popularity ..."[6] In 2020, The Japan Times contributor Patrick St. Michel reported that, "Abroad, boutique labels are reissuing rare records or releasing compilations, though millions have largely experienced city pop through songs such as [Takeuchi's 1984 song] "Plastic Love" or the seemingly endless playlists backed by anime snippets on YouTube."[25] Another song of the genre that similarly regained popularity was "Mayonaka no Door (Stay with Me)" by Miki Matsubara in 2020, eventually taking the No. 1 spot on Spotify's global viral chart for the week of December 10–16[26] and breaking Apple Music's J-pop top 10 in 92 different markets.[27] Artist Ginger Root has cited city pop as influential on his music.[28] In 2022, Universal Music Japan reissued limited editions of a total of 107 albums from the 1970s and '80s under "City Pop Selections by Universal Music", showing the resurgence of popularity of the city pop genre.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Blistein, Jon (2 May 2019). "City Pop: Why Does the Soundtrack to Tokyo's Tech Boom Still Resonate?". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Aoki, Ryotaro (5 July 2015). "City pop revival is literally a trend in name only". The Japan Times.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Ed Motta drops exclusive City Pop Vol. 2 mixtape of smooth and funky Japanese AOR". Wax Poetics. April 28, 2016. Archived from the original on June 29, 2019. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "City Pop: A Guide To Japan's Overlooked '80s Disco In 10 Tracks". Electronic Beats. November 1, 2016.
  5. ^ "City Pop: A Guide To Japan's Overlooked '80s Disco In 10 Tracks". Telekom Electronic Beats. 2016-11-01. Retrieved 2023-05-12.
  6. ^ a b c Kim, Joshua Minsoom (June 2, 2020). "Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972-1986". Pitchfork.
  7. ^ a b c Jones, Mikey I.Q. (January 22, 2015). "The Essential... Yellow Magic Orchestra". FACT Magazine.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Arcand, Rob; Goldner, Sam (24 January 2019). "The Guide to Getting Into City Pop, Tokyo's Lush 80s Nightlife Soundtrack". vice.com. Vice. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Japanese City Pop – A Quick Introduction To Tokyo's 80s Soundtrack". Vinyl of the day. February 21, 2019.
  10. ^ Ingalls, Chris (May 13, 2020). "'Pacific Breeze 2' Is Another Refreshing Dive into the Waters of City Pop". PopMatters.
  11. ^ Tanigawa, Etsuji (July 1976). "ディスコ・ガイド" [Disco Guide]. Latin American music (La musica iberoamericana) (in Japanese). No. 269. Latin American music. p. 117. doi:10.11501/2267431.
  12. ^ Shibasaki et al. 2022, pp. 35–36.
  13. ^ Shibasaki et al. 2022, p. 37.
  14. ^ "インフォメーション" [Information]. Record Geijutsu (in Japanese). No. 322. Ongaku no Tomosha. July 1977. pp. 372–374. doi:10.11501/7975949.
  15. ^ "最先端をゆくアメリカン・バンド :リトル・フィート" [Cutting Edge American Band: Little Feat]. Music life (in Japanese). No. 368. Shinko Music. September 1977. pp. 143–147. doi:10.11501/2339558.
  16. ^ "欧陽菲菲" [Ōuyáng Fēifēi]. Weekly Myojo (in Japanese). No. 1084. Shueisha. July 1979. doi:10.11501/1825744.
  17. ^ "輝きはじめたシティ・ミュージックの花" [The Flower of City Music that Began to Shine]. Young Folk. No. Fall 1976. Kodansha. 1976. p. 151.
  18. ^ Shibasaki et al. 2022, pp. 96–97.
  19. ^ Shibasaki et al. 2022, p. 92.
  20. ^ Kimura, Yutaka (September 2002). ジャパニーズ・シティ・ポップ : Selected 500 over titles of albums [Japanese City Pop : Selected 500 over titles of albums]. Disc guide series : The DIG presents ; 10 (in Japanese). Shinko Music. p. 2. ISBN 978-4401617739.
  21. ^ Shibasaki et al. 2022, pp. 128–129.
  22. ^ Arcand, Rob (October 10, 2018). "Haruomi Hosono Is the Japanese Experimenter Who Changed Pop Music Forever". Noisey.
  23. ^ Yunata, Alvin (August 7, 2021). "Kembalinya Musik Pop Kreatif dalam Terminologi Baru: Indonesian City Pop". Harper's Bazaar Indonesia.
  24. ^ Markowitz, Douglas (October 10, 2018). "5 Vaporwave and Future Funk Tracks to Get You Ready for YUNG BAE". Phoenix New Times.
  25. ^ St. Michel (August 6, 2020). "City Pop on Vinyl brings back the glitzed-out sounds of Japan's bubble". The Japan Times.
  26. ^ "Global Popularity of 1979 City Pop Track 'Mayonaka no Door – Stay With Me' Explained". Billboard. 2022-12-21. Retrieved 2023-12-11.
  27. ^ Kobuchi, Akira (2022-08-01). "Mayonaka no Door: The Story Behind a 100 Million-Play YouTube Phenomenon". nippon.com. Retrieved 2023-12-11.
  28. ^ Summers, Juana; Rivera, Enrique; Intagliata, Christopher (2022-12-29). "Ginger Root's Cameron Lew wants his new EP to showcase city pop as familiar yet fresh". NPR. Retrieved 2023-12-11.
  29. ^ "City Pop Selections by Universal Music". Universal Music Store. Retrieved 5 February 2024.


  • Kimura, Yutaka, ed. (2011). ジャパニーズ・シティ・ポップ (ディスク・コレクション) [Japanese City Pop (Disc Collection)] (in Japanese) (Shohan ed.). Tōkyō: Shinko Music Entertainment. ISBN 978-4401636181.
  • Kurimoto, Hitoshi (2022-02-23). 「シティポップの基本」がこの100枚でわかる! [The "basics of city pop" can be found in these 100 albums!] (in Japanese). Seikaisha. ISBN 978-4065270868.
  • Shibasaki, Yuji; Kishino, Yuichi; Sommet, Moritz; Kato, Ken; Hasegawa, Yohei (2022-04-22). Shibasaki, Yuji (ed.). シティポップとは何か [What is City Pop?] (in Japanese). Kawade Shobo Shinsha. ISBN 978-4309291604.

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