City Pop

-or- How I Learned To Stop Worrying About the Radio In My Supra
by Gristle McThornbody

Once the domain of vaporwave-blaring hipsters pining to be ironic under the guise of A E S T H E T I C, city pop is Japan’s answer to the bombastic 80s. Clawing back from relative obscurity, we are treated to neon-filled, tape deck fueled ode to the big city life. Filling this watercolored, pastel world is the melodic and often horn-filled songs that toast to the bustling life of a never-ending, 24-hour day. To some degree, it mirrors America in the same time, with artists like Chris Cross who –well sparkle- with some technopop elements, while letting the mix aerate with elements that naturally advect into our stream of consciousness, and you have the recipe for that musical entrée.

Our collective need for ready-made escapism gave us many gems. Such artists like Toshiki Kadomatsu, who gave us “Off Shore/Summer Emotions” off his album Summer Time Romance~From KIKI (1984) entirely simulates the experience of sitting on the beach in Waikiki with a radio while the warm Pacific laps at your feet. A quick sidebar, the weather nerd/professional in me awards points to the faux, but not entirely inaccurate, weather forecast included on the canned bumper between tracks-something that adds to the authenticity of a lazy afternoon of beach bumming.

However, not all were always as immersive. Chakra’s “Myun Myun” that came from her 1981 album Satekoso+5 seemed to be a predictor of the rise of the otaku culture’s obsession with the similar-sounding “nyan”. Heck, even I can be guilty of replacing the myuns with nyans on many a long road trip on the PA Turnpike. Not much more can be said of this earworm, other than its ability to be as annoyingly unshakeable as “Baby Shark”.

If you are looking for an atypical example of the genre, look no farther than “Midnight Shuffle” from Cosmos’ 1982 album Bourbonsuite. A great instrumental, the lack of lyrics allow the listener to hone in on the building blocks that make city pop great: techno beats, the bassline from heaven, and the horn section that would make James Brown happy.

A discussion on city pop would be remiss without a brief look at the 1984 cut by Mariya Takeuchi “Plastic Love”, off of VARIETY. This song remains remarkable not only for its wonderful sound, but also because of its demonstration of YouTube’s recommendation algorithms (by Stevem), and the intense musical analysis by Zen Huxtable. Moreso, momOki, “Do It Again”? Quite. It’s a solid set of music to listen to as my southbound WMATA Blue Line train is held at the station just before Ronald Reagan National Airport, turning an otherwise lame situation into a groovy, smooth experience. Such that city pop, and perhaps the sunset colored world of the 80s in general, may be an acquired taste, it’s worth a look at. Do it, if not for the historical context, the bass lines, or the interesting themes, do it because that’s what the current stream of weeaboos are into, and damnit all if you’ll be left out of the latest fad of otaku –and indeed all of- internets culture.

Fuck yeah, look it up!
City Pop musical genre (ca. 1978-1989)
Succeeds: Disco, New Wave
Precedes: Shibuya-kei, Future Funk