In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of city pop, thanks to YouTube and TikTok making songs go viral and introducing them to a new generation. This subgenre of music is hard to define, stemming from a mix of genres including funk, disco, soft rock and more.
Up-and-coming city pop artists also took inspiration from various American music styles at a time when Japan’s economy was booming and new technologies such as the Sony Walkman were being introduced.
This list is made up of both well-known classics and songs you may not be too familiar with, all of which should be added to your next Japan-trip playlist.
1. I Can’t Stop The Loneliness, Anri
One of Anri’s biggest hits released in 1983, “I Can’t Stop The Loneliness” has a light and upbeat feel to it which will instantly lift your spirits. Ironically, the lyrics are relatively sad, as it is about the singer’s longing for someone who has found a new lover. Yet, Anri’s youthful singing voice alongside the happy melody gives this track a summery and nostalgic feel. A must-add for any summer vacation playlist.
2. Midnight Pretenders, Tomoko Aran
“Midnight Pretenders” by Tomoko Aran will make you feel like you are in a dream-like trance. Some may already recognize the first few seconds of this song as it was recently sampled by the Weeknd for his song “Out of Time.”
With its laid-back and partly sultry aura, this song has a certain ambiance, making you feel as though you are drinking luxury cocktails at a rooftop bar somewhere in Tokyo. It is also a great track to listen to when you are getting a date night, given its romantic lyrics.
3. Say Goodbye, Hiroshi Sato
In the first few seconds, the influence of technology can be heard through the electronic instruments and Hiroshi Sato’s robotic-sounding vocal performance. Don’t be too fooled into thinking that the subject of “Say Goodbye” is light-hearted because of its bubbly tune; the song is actually about someone leaving a toxic relationship.
Interestingly, parts of the song were sampled and used in the 1975’s song “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy),” released back in 2020, showing the influence Sato’s sound has had on contemporary artists.
4. Sparkle, Tatsuro Yamashita
Tatsuro Yamashita is often referred to as the “king” of city pop because of the way he pioneered the genre through his experimental sound. Sparkle is one of the best summertime songs, mostly because of the uplifting energy the impressive mix of electric guitar, percussion and background vocals create. This year, the song had a bit of a refresh with an aesthetically pleasing music video, featuring some slick choreography. It is that type of song that gets you in the mood to dance.
5. 4:00 A.M., Taeko Ohnuki
Taeko Ohnuki is one of the most influential city pop singers, having once been part of a group called Sugar Babe alongside Tatsuro Yamashita. Her 1978 song, “4:00 .A.M” is pretty empowering, due to Taeko Ohnuki and her group of backup singers’ vocal performance. The trumpet, trombone, guitar and flute, work together in harmony to create a soulful sound and beautifully complements the vocals. With its melancholic feel, this song is perfect for those chill nights at home.
6. Sweet Love, Junko Ohashi
Junko Ohashi’s sophisticated voice and the amazing saxophone solos, make this song feel luxurious. It is one for when you want to get into a more confident mood. The singer has released an updated version of the song, which has a bit of a different feel to the original version, partly due to DJ Hasabe being featured. It is still a version worthy of listening to as you can see how Junko Ohashi’s vocals have only gotten stronger with time.
7. Fly-day Chinatown, Yasuha
Yasuha’s debut single, “Fly-day Chinatown,” not only made her famous but is a song that will get you up and dancing. Yasuha’s powerhouse vocals make this song bold, bright and dynamic. As soon as it starts, you feel as though you are part of the vibrant cosmopolitan life with the cheerful tune and lyrics about partying on a Friday night. It truly is the perfect 80s disco and club song.
8. Dress Down, Kaoru Akimoto
Dress Down is another track where you can hear the influence of technology. The sounds used at the beginning are reminiscent of those you would hear in a pachinko parlor or video game. Kaoru Akimoto’s singing style has a quintessential 80s feel to it, tender but powerful. With its upbeat tempo, “Dress Down” is a great song to work out too, as it will boost your motivation and confidence.
9. Stay With Me, Miki Matsubara
“Stay with Me” by Miki Matsubara was one of the songs that went viral on TikTok. The song also gained popularity thanks to a cover posted by Rainych Ran on YouTube, which has now amassed a total of 8.3 million views. Catchy and comforting, this song feels truly nostalgic, even to those who didn’t grow up listening to it.
Its jazz feel and charismatic vocal performance makes this song a great addition to any good mood playlist. You can truly hear the longing in Miki Matsubara’s voice as she lovingly sings the line “Stay with me.”
10. Plastic Love, Mariya Takeuchi
The song that kickstarted the recent revival, “Plastic Love” is the quintessential city pop song that needs to be on everyone’s playlist. Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love” is about a woman experiencing a breakup who believes that love is fake and manufactured. Listening to it will make you feel a strange combination of loneliness and hope for those days when you are overcome with overwhelming emotions.
Do you love Japanese city pop? What are your favorite songs? Let us know in the comments!