I go through several phases a year of listening purely to Japanese/Korean pop (J-pop/K-pop) or Japanese themed music. Did I say ‘phases’? What I really meant to say was ‘go through life’. I listen to this shit a lot.
You might have heard of some of the bigger names – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Girls’ Generation, Babymetal (they made quite an impression on the internet last year with their track ‘I Love Chocolate’… and I think that they subsequently performed at Download…) Well, I love all of these artists. And way more. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
I guess the obsession started with The Great Anime Revival of 2007, a massive event which only my sister and I attended – after school/college we’d race down to our dad’s great big office chair and curl up to watch whatever anime we’d chosen. There were some greats. This is how J-pop became a thing for me. A lot of big bands (or bands that became or have become big) created the opening music for an anime or J-drama which then, more often than not, become wildly popular. Making music for one of these shows was a sure sign of success. During the Revival I quickly realised the appeal of J-pop, in particular – it’s so happy. Music nerds might disparage it for its lack of technicality – but I love it, and you can’t deny the cheesy, awesome feels it gives you. Dem feels.
Here’s a list of some of my favourite J and K pop songs and artists that I’ve accumulated a love for over the years.
1. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
I thought I’d start with a big name. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is wildly famous for her TOTALLY MAD sets, her intriguing music videos and general quirky image. She’s released a butt-ton of music at this point and appeared in several zany adverts, including ones for KFC and Adidas. Her face is everywhere in Japan. She’s often likened to Gaga but, if I’m honest, I think Gaga looks a little tame in comparison with Kyary. Kyary’s bizarre, colourful appeal seems to come totally naturally, and is never-ending.
I’ve noticed a lot of YouTube reaction videos sprout up in response to her first music video, ‘Pon Pon Pon’ (released in 2011) which became a bit of an indie sensation for those of us in Britain interested in the Japan music scene. Since then she’s released way more songs, including my personal favourites ‘Tsukematsukeru’ and ‘Invader Invader’, though I couldn’t tell you what she’s talking about. I have no idea.
Myself and my best friend managed to see her live last year when she did a tour date in London and it was probably one of the funnest experiences of my existence so far. In-between songs Kyary played videos of her at a casino (murking everyone) and generally running around causing glittery havoc. She also had a homicidal stuffed bunny reign the stage for about five minutes in-between costume changes who pretended to shoot everyone, at which the audience laughed uproariously (…)
We also created an excellent sex-pun game (the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu sex pun game). I discovered that you can basically make any of the titles of her songs sound dirty with a little extra, for instance:
‘I’d be happy to Ninja your Bang Bang.’
‘You can Pon Pon Pon my way way way.’
A mature, civilised game to play with friends.
2. Halcali – Long Kiss Goodbye
This song also really reminds me of my best friend because we used to listen to it constantly at college, a period in which I desperately wanted to be a harajuku girl (and to an extent, somewhat still do.) I don’t know much about the band’s discography or history but I really like their new-school, hip-hop inspired songs, in which they rap and very well, too.
Perfume is a girl band that was formed in the early 2000’s and has received some pretty great success, particularly after the recognition received for their single, ‘Chocolate Disco’, which I used to consistently torture my bus friend with by singing it in his ear in a creepy fashion on the way home from college. ‘Chocolate Disco’ is about girls getting pumped up to ask their crushes out on Valentine’s Day (as in Japan it’s the tradition that girls approach boys that they like on Valentine’s Day with chocolates.) Cute premise (though I hate Valentine’s Day) with cute execution.
4. Chieco Kawabe – Sakura Kiss
Chieco sang the opening theme for one of the most hilarious anime ever created, Ouran High School Host Club, and it was totally, brainwashingly, madly addictive. And the video is pretty sweet to boot. Running around in animal costumes to play Cupid to a shy couple seems like a pretty Japanese thing to do.
Also, if you are thinking that love and romance are pretty popular themes in the Japanese pop industry, then you would be right. It is basically the only theme.
5. Ikimono Gakari – Kimagure Romantic
I’ve only very recently discovered this band in the back of my sister’s car, but I am already addicted to them. sakanaction (no I’m not shit at grammar, that’s just how their band name is spelled) is fronted by an unarguably fit male singer, and they release pop-rock-electronic music of a whimsical, wish-I-was-on-a-beach-right-now fashion.
7. Girls’ Generation
Another pretty famous group. You’ve almost definitely heard of them, even just vaguely in passing, provided that you have ears. Girls’ Generation release their music often in English as well as Korean so are somewhat “making it” in America right now. Also reminiscent of college days and university (as I made a lot of friends who were a bit in love with some/all of the members. One of them has even recently moved to South Korea with the pretence of becoming a foreign languages teacher, but I think that he’s secretly sitting in his room with a pair of binoculars waiting for Tiffany.)
On top of this, I can vouch from experience that ‘Beep Beep’ is the best break-up song ever (as in, if you’ve just been broken up with, as opposed to playing it whilst you break up with someone.) It super cheered me up in those dark days – I don’t care how cheesy I sound, it really did. I am not the wallowing kind. More the K-pop, dancing along, forget-your-blues-to-incomprehensible-happy-lyrics kind.
ShinEE are a Korean boyband with an awesome following, probably because they can all really dance and, let’s face it, that’s an attractive quality. However I can only honestly say that I really, really like a handful of their songs, but the handful that I do like are AMAZING, at least lyrically.
Fantastic fantastic fantastic fantastic, elastic elastic elastic elastic!
9. Changin’ My Life – Smile
This is another, brilliant recuperative song if you’re having a shit time (I can almost hear you vomming in your mouth. Sorry. But it’s true.) You pretty much have to embrace your inner-corny when listening to J-pop as corniness is pretty much ingrained within the entertainment culture of Japan and if you don’t like it then you’re a weirdo.
I heard this for the first time when watching Full Moon Wo Sagashite (otherwise known as Full Moon, Woah Sack of Shite), another adorable anime about a girl living her dreams and falling in love with a weird angry fairy.
10. Utada Hikaru – Simple and Clean remix
You can’t pass-up a good Final Fantasy remix, and the Utada one is simply amazing:
(This is not the exact remix that I’m talking about but it’s the closest one that I could find to it on YouTube – sorry!)
This is not a strictly Japanese band (okay, they’re not Japanese) but they do have strong Japanese influences. I also like to listen to them when I’m studying, though this often ends in me bouncing wildly up and down with half a flapjack hanging excitedly out of my mouth.
12. school food punishment – you may crawl
More of a pop-rock band, school food punishment (again, spelled that way) is a perfect example of great alternative Japanese music. And they have the best angsty rock name that I could ever think of.
I genuinely can’t imagine anyone not liking this song, in particular. The first time I heard it I think I linked it to everyone who was online at the time and begged them to listen. You know when you get really excited after hearing a song for the first time? Yeah.
13. Mass of the Fermenting Dregs
Again, pretty good for those interested in alternative bands more than straight-up, pop happiness. There are some pretty epic guitar solos in this album. And they also don’t have a bad, angsty name either.
14. Epik High
Epik High are a Korean rap group who I appreciate for a couple of reasons. Firstly, their music is very different from anything that I’ve listed so far, as they adopt more of a gritty, serious stance with their music – aside from obvious tracks like ‘Love Love Love’. Secondly, they’re super ethical – they made one of their albums (though I can’t remember which one) really cheap to make sure that everybody could afford it (music is crazy-expensive in Japan and Korea, as are DVD’s. Like £50 per DVD. I’m not even joking.) So they deserve a little love. ‘Love love love’.
15. Super Junior – Sorry Sorry
A hilariously lovable boyband. I laugh at each song (in a nice way), because they’re like the Backstreet Boys inflated x13396349. Instant fangirl following.
It particularly amuses me when people make a real effort to look sexy for a camera (slow-mo shirts lifting up, glaring as though spotted fly on camera lens, e.t.c.). Super Junior perfects this.