Artist Spotlight: Tatsuro Yamashita / The King of City Pop

Prior to discovering city pop, I thought I was always an alternative music listener. The truth is, I like comfortable music too. In fact, I paid nearly seventy dollars for “Pocket Music” on vinyl. I’ll explain why (and what) in just a moment, especially since it seems like I’ve been robbed. I wouldn’t want to seem gullible, after all.

City pop is the term the west has used to describe Japanese pop from the 70s and 80s. In Japan, this genre was commonly known as “new music”. City pop seems to encompass more than just music though; it represents an entire way of life. Much like vaporwave (another genre popularized by the internet), city pop is best experienced in tandem with other media, like vintage technology such as cars and electronic instruments or old commercials. To younger people today, city pop represents a different time where people enjoyed all of the benefits of capitalism and lived life to the fullest. I’d describe it as nostalgia for a time you weren’t born in, a time where everything was better. Perhaps city pop is popular because the new generation feels disenfranchised, but that’s a different story.

There are many different angles to this recent phenomenon, I admit. But to me, the music is what counts. City pop tends to have certain common themes, like love, summer, cars, shopping and so on. It’s subject matter is usually relatable to most people. Still, I’ve always felt that it means more. Artists who popularized the genre might agree, as they often composed skillfully, creating music that was complex and straightforward at the same time. The deceptive nature of city pop captivated me to no end, which is why I love the genre now.

Now back to the burning questions: who exactly is Tatsuro Yamashita, and why did you pay so much money for one record? Well, Tatsuro Yamashita is one of the best selling Japanese recording artists of all time. He is often thought to be the king of city pop. He made a song called “Christmas Eve” that became a Christmas classic in Japan, and topped the charts multiple times with albums like “For You”, “Ride On Time”, “Melodies”, and most recently 2011’s “Ray Of Hope”. Remember how I said city pop could be deceptive? Well, Yamashita is a good example of that: he composed music that blended easy listening with complex chords and lush vocal harmonies. The result is music that speaks to a lot of people, myself included. When I listen to his music, I can’t help but think that it’s magic.

As for the record, give me a break! It’s hard to import records from Japan, especially since “Pocket Music” was one Yamashita’s most successful records, and since city pop only became popular in the United States recently. It was an early issue too; that record was printed in the 80s! I think it was worth it. I’ll be listening to city pop some more this summer, and I hope that you’ll give it a try. There are plenty of great city pop artists out there: Mariya Takeuchi, Taeko Ohnuki, Anri, Toshiki Kadomatsu, and Miki Matsubara are great examples. Give it a chance and let me know what you think in the comments!

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