A Timeline of J-POP As Narrated By A Weeaboo Who Knew Nothing About Japanese Culture

This is an attempt to explain the timeline of the Japanese pop music scene by someone who doesn’t follow the current scene or did a little bit of half-assed research and call it a day. Since this is just something I whipped up in a matter of days, I decided not to link the songs here since it would take much time.

NOTE: This doesn’t cover everything in the wide history of Japanese music, so meaning there will be nothing from the 1960s or from 2020 because I am like that. This list won’t be strictly about J-POP though as some anison might seep into the list.

Anyhow, let’s begin.

1970s: The era of J-POP as we knew it kind of started and how it developed from post-World War II to what is now known as kayoukyoku. This was an era that brought us music acts like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Pink Lady, Sheena and the Rokkets, Tatsuro Yamashita, his wife Mariya Takeuchi, Yumi Arai and others.

It’s also during a time of social change in the country where student radicalism declined and a more artsy, more apolitical Japanese music scene emerged and thus the birth of a more stylized music, different from the enka songs of old and the roots of a genre zoomers call “City Pop”.

My Top Picks:

  • Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon – Happy End
  • Rydeen – Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Funky Flushin’ – Tatsuro Yamashita
  • It Can Happen To You – Ryo Fukui
  • Galaxy Express 999 – GODIEGO
  • Futou wo wataru kaze – Yumi Matsutoya
  • Farewell Party – HI-FI SET
  • Kaze Wo Atsumete – Happy End

1980s: My favorite decade when it comes to J-POP, no, Japanese music in general. This is where modern J-POP took over and a lot of things happened in this time period. The rise and fall of City Pop in the early years, the rise of people like Akina Nakamori and Seiko Matsuda, Yasushi Akimoto’s rise to power with Onyanko Club, Johnny Kitagawa making stars out of people like Hiromi Go, Hikaru GENJI, Masahiko Kondo and others.

Other acts made their name in the 1980s too like TM NETWORK, YAPOOS with lead singer Jun Togawa, SPECTRUM giving All Japan Pro Wrestling one of its memorable wrestler themes, PSY-S, Toshiki Kadomatsu, anisong legends like Hironobu Kageyama, MIO, Mami Ayukawa and others.

This era also gave us bands like BOOWY, RC SUCCESSION, The Blue Hearts, Bakufu Slump to serve as foil to the already declining idol boom and this is also where we saw the last hurrahs of YMO (until their return in 1993), unfortunate endings like those of Yukiko Okada (after falling off a seven-story building), BOOWY (which, like Lantis idol group µ’s, ended at their height of popularity) and the Japanese economy (which will last for a decade).

My Top Picks:

  • SUMMER SUSPICION – Kiyotaka Sugiyama and OMEGA TRIBE
  • Marionette – BOOWY
  • Machibuse – Hitomi Ishikawa
  • Kita Wing – Akina Nakamori
  • TRAIN-TRAIN – The Blue Hearts
  • Shoujo A – Akina Nakamori
  • Valentines Radio – Yumi Matsutoya
  • First Date – Yukiko Okada
  • Super Chance – Carlos Toshiki and OMEGA TRIBE
  • Love Clone – YAPOOS
  • Hito ni Yasashiku – The Blue Hearts
  • Linda Linda – The Blue Hearts
  • Tengoku no KISS  – Seiko Matsuda
  • Slow Motion – Akina Nakamori
  • Ushiroyubi Sasaregumi – Ushiroyubi Sasaregumi
  • Good-Bye Boogie Dance – Anri
  • Kai-Koh – Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Anime Ja Nai ~Yume Wo Wasureta Furui Chikyuu-jin Yo~ – Masahito Arai

Seriously, I can’t fill this list out because there’s too much to mention here.

1990s: The start of the Heisei era, Japan is in a recession, Son Gohan tried to take his father’s spot as the main character of Dragon Ball, FMW rose up as the top 3 wrestling promotion in the country, Super Sentai became popular in the west as Power Rangers, the 1990s is as eventful as the 1980s was, if not more.

In the case of Japanese music, this also saw the rise of new players in the scene, Daiko Nagato of Being Music Factory and Tsunku of Hello! Project. Just like the 1980s, the Japanese music scene had some changes during this era. The early 1990s saw the rise of 1980s leftover B’z into mainstream popularity with hits like LADY GO ROUND, LADY NAVIGATION, Taiyou no Komachi Angel while shifting into hard rock as time went on. Acts from Nagato’s Being Music Factory also broke into mainstream conscious ness like Izumi Sakai (ZARD), WANDS, ZYYG, DEEN (the only one surviving into the 2020s), Maki Ohguro and others.

The Blue Hearts riding into the sunset paving the way for bands like The Pillows, Number Girl, Mr. Children, Ufuls, The Brilliant Green and noodles affected the ever rising indie rock scene. Johnny K. having his best year yet with successful groups like V6, Hey Say JUMP, and TOKIO while Akimoto gets a taste of failure by the way of Checkicco. Tsunku takes Aki-P’s place of being the idol king by giving the world the super idol group of the 1990s: Morning Musume with VISION FACTORY (now Rising Production)’s SPEED trailing in its tracks.

The ‘90s also gave us some not-so-popular and obscure acts like Pizzicato Five, EAST END, TUNES, Kome Kome Club, T-BOLAN and the like.

My Top Picks:

  • Makenaide – ZARD
  • Sweet Soul Revue – Pizzicato Five
  • Kanojo wa Kyou – The Pillows
  • Heaven’s Kitchen – Bonnie Pink
  • Still – the FIELD OF VIEW
  • IGGY POP FAN CLUB – Number Girl
  • 1000 Violins – The Blue Hearts
  • Robinson – SPITZ
  • Asia no Junshin – PUFFY
  • Yume De Aru Youni – DEEN
  • Sekai ga Owaru Made Wa – WANDS
  • Funny Bunny – The Pillows
  • Hitomi Sorasanaide – DEEN
  • My Friend – ZARD
  • LOVE MACHINE – Morning Musume
  • Touch – Number Girl
  • Good Morning – Morning Musume
  • A Cruel Angel’s Thesis – Yoko Takahashi
  • Sobakasu – JUDY & MARY
  • Kimi Sae Ireba – DEEN
  • Tiny Boat – The Pillows
  • Like A Love Song (Back To Back)  – The Pillows
  • 1/3 Junjou na Kanjou – SIAM SHADE
  • 1/2 – Makoto Kawamoto
  • Baby Portable Rock – Pizzicato Five
  • Only For Him – Bonnie Pink
  • Kono Mama Kimi Dake Wo Ubaisaritai – WANDS
  • Mayowanaide – the FIELD OF VIEW
  • Girigiri Chop – B’z
  • Instant Music – The Pillows
  • Gomen ne Makura – Hiro Takahashi
  • Dango-san Kyoudai – Kentarō Hayami, Ayumi Shigemori, Himawari Kids and Dango Gasshōdan
  • Rhythm Emotion – TWO-MIX
  • Choo Choo Train – ZOO
  • Kimi ga Hoshikute Tamaranai – ZYYG
  • Just Communication – TWO-MIX
  • Guts Daze – Ufuls

Seriously, I will never finish this if I keep putting in my top picks.

2000s:  This is when Japanese music started to have these Space Channel 5 vibes and became an international export. This is also when Momusu became pop royalty until Aki-P’s rise from the grave with AKB48 in 2006. This also gave us the merging of the East and West as artists like Utada Hikaru and Hamasaki Ayumi duked it out for pop chart supremacy as well as STAR CHILD, a division of King Records, pumping out anison legends like Mizuki, Tamura and Horie.

The rock scene at the time gave us acts like GOING UNDER GROUND, Sambomaster, ONE OK ROCK, ZAZEN BOYS, ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, FLOW and others. Oh yeah, Vocaloid made waves here as well, so there’s that.

This era also saw the loss of people in the industry like ZARD’s vocalist Izumi Sakai and Hiro Takahashi who provided us that kino ending song to Yu Yu Hakusho.

My Top Picks:

  • Ride On Shooting Star – The Pillows
  • Hikari – Utada Hikaru
  • Sekai Wa Sore O Ai To Yobunda Ze – Sambomaster
  • Mountain A Go Go Two – Captain Straydom
  • Power Gate – Nana Mizuki
  • Renai Revolution 21 – Morning Musume
  • Smile – The Pillows
  • NUM AMI DABUTZ – Number Girl
  • Subterranean Baby Blues – DOES
  • Daigakusei – ZAZEN BOYS
  • Innocent starter – Nana Mizuki
  • Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari – Morning Musume
  • Mayonaka Shonen Totsugeki-dan – STANCE PUNKS
  • K2G (Kimi ni Go) – PUFFY
  • 20th Century Lovers Orchestra – monobright
  • Harmonia – RYTHEM

Once again, we won’t finish here if I list all of them.

2010s – 48gmania is in full swing, what used to be visual kei aesthetic crossed over to pop rock songs. This also became my cut-off period for Japanese music fandom since it has started to look and sound the same. It also didn’t help that the hallyu wave started to cross over to Japan as well. Not much to follow here and the only thing that I can remember is that Atsuko Maeda left AKB48 and acts like LiSA, Linked Horizon, Gen Hoshino, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and others started to pop up. Also, Johnny Kitagawa died, there’s that.

Another thing, this is where 2D idol songs penetrated Oricon charts, thanks Sunrise!

My Top Picks:

  • Dilemma – ecosystem
  • Midnight Television – SCANDAL
  • Flying Get – AKB48
  • Uchuu You Way – monobright
  • Movement – The Pillows
  • Tougenkyo Alien –  serial TV drama
  • Doraemon – Gen Hoshino
  • Kimochi 100% – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
  • Roulette de Kuchizuke o – Chiaki Kuriyama/9mm Parabellum Bullet

That is all for now.

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