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chillphin

City Pop

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Jun Togawa in art mode.

Again, this has nothing to do with "city pop" except maybe in questioning it. Far from being some obscure microgenre, city pop was just a name for the dominant pop music of the time, expressing the dominant ideology of the time.

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An old idol falls, a new idol is born. Momoe Yamaguchi was considered the biggest pop star of the '70s, then she abruptly retired to get married, and Seiko Matsuda became the "eternal idol" in the '80s. Yamaguchi's final music such as this song LA Blue was exploring a city pop aesthetic, which often involved recording in LA. Some LA based session musicians (or members of Toto) who later worked on songs like Human Nature for MJ were playing on city pop songs by Mariya etc, and of course MJ was also influenced by Japanese artists like YMO, explaining the similarity of some of the Jacksons' '80s work and city pop.

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1978 album from Taeko Ohnuki and 1985 album from Togawa. Both of these (great) albums have apparently been rejected by the artists later on, admitting they were forced, even sellouts, but even if this is Jun Togawa's poppiest album, it's still less pop than PIL and Joy Division.

 

The way Jun Togawa covers and deconstructs Angel Baby on this album is so radically unlike the way Haruomi Hosono and friends had once paid sweet homage to nostalgic American rock n roll favorites and created "city pop" in the process.

 

Tbh I am feeling Jun Togawa much more than city pop right now. Like vaporwave and Grimes, any good intentions that most poptimist artists may have had (re: critiquing America, or patriarchy, or capitalism, or critiquing Japanese culture's deformation by those things) were swallowed by the irony of needing to become what they most opposed in order to "convincingly" critique it, an irony that they may even have rejected as distancing and condescending to their audience (e.g. Grimes later claimed nothing she did was ironic) while simultaneously becoming attached to the perks of their new pop life, to the point they started to sincerely embody the opposite of what they once believed in.

 

Jun Togawa never did that. Selling out.

 

Not selling out and selling out are both miserable in their own ways and the art that comes out of selling out tends to be more interesting actually (even if/because the artist may be less worthy of personal admiration) but there is a certain moral center in the way Jun Togawa engaged in the pop game, in a way that seems to have prevented her own complete commodification (somehow she even evaded being fetishized as an orientalist otaku icon decades later, the way Mariya Takeuchi is). This morality is lacking in Radiohead, and lacking in the nu-Grimes who makes libertarian comments against public transit and worker rights (to stay in character??).

 

One can play devil's advocate and say that all pop is inherently "commodifying all the pain," so it's no difference if one fights against that process or not, and maybe fighting is just performative and bourgeois and the artist who fights is really just asking for it but wanting to retain their appearance of good character because this is what their privileged circle, who know no harm will come to them for a minor resistance, demands... so maybe the listener who prefers artists who fight their own commodification is like someone who doesn't trust a person who was assaulted unless they can prove they fought, and maybe just like in that case, such a preference ends up reinforcing the oppressive ideology- it implies anyone who doesn't, or can't have the luxury to, visibly oppose capitalist racist patriarchy, must WANT to be assaulted by it, which is of course, a reactionary view...

 

But when the end result of trying to avoid that false dichotomy is a pop with NO resistance, a pop born out of a knowledge that there is no inside or outside capitalism/patriarchy/racism, and therefore resistance is impossible... well, most people just take that kind of pop as a sincere affirmation of capitalist racist patriarchy, or appreciate it in later decades for the very nostalgia it was (not) critiquing, and the artist who developed that style with all this fancy justification, may just be thinking too much.

 

That's when you need that punk to come along and sing Angel Baby out of tune.

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Can you retitle the thread Jun Togawa thx. If anyone is actually still reading or was ever reading and prefers full albums rather than live performances, these two albums are a good representation, the first is her earliest work as a lead vocalist of Guernica (which could appeal to Joanna Newsom fans if you want something with more electronic production but in a theatrical classical art pop style), and the second is a best of comp Togawa had personal involvement in creating, that includes most of her best solo songs and work with her backing band Yapoos from the '80s.

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This is like the requiem to city pop.

 

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin*

The plum and cherry blossoms have wilted

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin

The nobleman’s daughter has trouble getting to sleep

Once the rifle bought from missionaries has been put to use

Her dreams have been pierced

Gingiragin**

For the first time, she has tasted coffee at dawn

Was it as good as imagined?

 

You’re a virgin

I’m a virgin

We’ve got a Virgin Blues

 

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin

A sad, very sad sound

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin

A lonesome middle-aged man gets no sleep

Hibari and Keiko have been brought on stage***

Let’s skip the ceremony and have a raunchy party

Gingiragin

And after drinking, we will pick up the check

Women and men keep fooling one another

(repeat)

 

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin

If it just cannot be stopped

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin

Let’s apply some medicine

Red antiseptic the front and back sides

Event though nothing is permanent

A miserly woman’s desire goes Gingiragin

Get it up, stick it out, whip it out

If it doesn’t perform properly

Then step on its shell and crush it!

(repeat)

 

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin

How much longer does this muddy swamp go?

Gin gin gin gin bloodshot virgin

I fondly remember my father’s footsteps**

Holding a box lunch in my hand

(*resembling the Japanese national flag)

I wonder where I’m going, ready and horny Gingiragin

Marilyn Monroe no return

A fallen rose shall never return

(repeat)

 

* “Gin gin gin gin…” is a phonetic pun from “virgin” & onomatopoeia of a feeling to stream down a blood vessel.

** “Gingiragin” is a non-translatable onomatopoeia describing “a blazing sunset” or “fiercely glowing neon” or alternately “the avaricious atmosphere of a nouveau riche person”.

* Hibari and Keiko are both names of Japanese famous singer & actress.

** These are meant to imply the sound of Japanese soldiers’ footsteps from a past war.

 

 

In the last song and some of her other songs from the albums I already posted, it sounds like there's a strong influence of Andean traditional music, kind of like how Duran Duran appropriated it in The Chauffeur (imo) so it could just be an '80s trend. I think this is a covers album at least partly though (Isao Tomita is the composer of another song) meant to commemorate or possibly spit on the legacy of the Showa era and featuring sounds from throughout that era (thus, the "1926-1989" in the video) so I'm not sure what meaning this Andean style of music has in that context. Any of her Latin influences could also refer to the Spanish Civil War or political events in Latin America?, or maybe just Latin influenced North American and Filipino jazz and big band stuff that was popular in Japan. I need to read books about her but I don't know if they even exist in translated versions. I can't believe she is not seen as a fucking icon everywhere. Some people seem to compare her to Bjork but she seems way more unprecedented than that, more like a Bowie or Lou Reed level of influence. It's funny that Pitchfork obsessed over such boring English language acts like Boris when she exists.

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Some actual pop... altho it rocks harder than Radiohead have since the '90s or maybe ever.

This is a full length professsionally filmed show btw, mixed with some backstage footage. I already posted the video of one song from this one.

 

Has anyone listened to much of Akina's stuff? At the height of her stardom, she made an album in 1986 (the same year she also made Fushigi, that highly experimental album) called Crimson, with an all-female writing team. Celine Dion did that in the 2000s as well. It's interesting how no one talks about that when celebrating Grimes (or Bjork) for her rhetoric about working with women. Unfortunately while Celine's projects are on most streaming services, Akina's are not (except her comeback from last year), and the Crimson album isn't on Youtube in full either, at least I haven't found it yet.

 

Akina Nakamori attempted suicide less than three months after filming this joyful concert. The cause was allegedly romantic betrayal. Unfortunately while she was not successful, her career never recovered the same momentum it had in the '80s. Jun Togawa's younger sister Kyoko succeeded in her own suicide attempt 13 years later. Kyoko, an actress, was also an occasional pop star in her own right (well, with three albums, she was still more prolific than Fleet Foxes) and worked closely as a backing musician with Jun on some of her work.

 

A song by Kyoko, called Sand Dune:

 

 

Utada Hikaru, who just released a new album this week, was also related to a pop star. Her mom was Keiko Fuji, considered one of the greatest Enka singers of the 20th century. When Jun Togawa references "Keiko" along with Hibari in that song Virgin Blues, it might be meant as a reference to Keiko Fuji and another old school singer, Hibari Misora (who Jun is said to have imitated in some of her stylistic choices in the '80s).

 

In 2013, Keiko Fuji jumped from a building and died. Utada was recovering from her mother's passing in her 2016 album Fantôme and maybe in her new album Hatsukoi from a few days ago as well.

 

Utada did a collab on the 2016 project with Sheena (Shiina) Ringo too, which reminds me that Jun Togawa was apparently one of Sheena's biggest influences. I think a lot of people like myself have been into Sheena Ringo for a long time but were not aware of Jun Togawa, who has almost no exposure outside Japan. They are both so great and tbh I don't really care much about Utada (although she is consistently listenable, and probably created a lot of the blueprints of Kpop in addition to Jpop today) and I wish Sheena Ringo had worked together with Jun Togawa and gave her more exposure...

 

Which, I guess, she may not even want. Jun Togawa has her own highly relatable struggles with mental health, from what I read. But Togawa is actually touring now so she can use more fans.

 

Edit: ok so the thing about Akina's reason for suicide is probably just a dumb rumor like the Asia Argento/Bourdain stuff, where people who don't have firsthand knowledge of celebrities' inner lives always think suicide and self-harming is always directly caused by breakups. What I posted before is just what one of the Youtube comments said about Akina (only the emptiness of this board could justify my carelessness in posting so much stuff I just learned and can't verify due to my Japanese illiteracy), but in reality the song Liar is already part of her setlist in this Akina live show, recorded in April '89. Liar is the song that is said (by the same commenters) to be about her cheating ex, a mediocre rock star. Whatever happened later with her supposed suicide attempt in July 1989 may be unrelated to him. I just wanted to bring it up because she seems so happy in this live performance and not ALL of it can be fake smiles. The way she smiles and winks directly at the camera(man/woman) in "1/2 myth," I have NEVER seen anyone do that before in a filmed performance, it literally caused my heart to jump, and clearly she loves her fans with a passion. I think sometimes Radiohead fans or even pop-loving ex-Radiohead-fans like me have a tendency to dismiss super-happy pop music or even super happy non-pop music and we prefer moodier or more angry stuff (even something like the way many of us loved Anti by Rihanna more than her earlier, lyrically happier eras) so I wanted to say something about the underlying struggles of this artist who seems so happy to be alive, which might make her more relatable on this community (if it still existed...) than just this perfect happy pop queen we see in the video.

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So I found some (non Japanese, not necessarily trustworthy) sources that refer to Eiichi Ohtaki's highly influential album A Long Vacation as "city pop."

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0T2z8u9XFm0

 

This is one of the Japanese albums everyone has probably listened to, it's just behind works of Ohtaki's former band Happy End in all the J-rock lists (like Rolling Stone's 100 best albums, which also includes some Jun Togawa, but NOT pop artists like Akina Nakamori), and even though it has a breezy "sunshine pop" aesthetic on the surface (kind of like Happy End), it doesn't seem to have suffered from any kind of anti-pop discrimination even back in the day when "city pop" was scorned, which makes sense since anti-pop people are usually fine with '60s and early '70s style pop of this nature, they just don't like the disco and funk and smooth jazz/fusion and modern R&B and electronic elements found in "city pop", and the Ohtaki album sounds more '60s/70s, it has only a bare minimum of funky production elements that would signify it to be from 1981.

 

Actually I was amazed when I checked the respective years of Ohnuki's Sunshower and Ohtaki's Long Vacation (I used to mix up these artists due to their names...

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Sorry for any shade directed at you, Mariya. You are a legend (as is Anri). My point in these posts no one is reading was just that we, especially as "alternative" type listeners who usually favor non mainstream, sometimes politically radical music in our own societies, should not overlook the legacy of the more radical Japanese underground, alternative and art pop artists while getting swept up in this exotified poptimist trend around the bourgeois yuppie form of mainstream funk-rock known as "city pop," which with some notable exceptions, was mostly made by and made to appeal to economically and socially secure middle aged people, hence its (rightful) unfashionability among the youth and punk hipsters until recent "rediscovery" (perhaps partly because millennials too, are now "selling out" and entering middle age and this kind of music now speaks to us, as it spoke to '80s yuppies, and as its US equivalent of yacht rock spoke to Reagan and Thatcher voters).

 

City pop should be appreciated for sure, especially because modern so-called "indie" and "alternative" music from western countries is increasingly based on an appropriation of '80s pop funk, and it would be hypocritical to celebrate these modern gentrified "indie" acts (including the more lyrically critical ones, like Destroyer and Blood Orange) if we maintain a vestigial bias against the original music styles they were based on. For example, it would be dumb to say (as alternative oriented people used to many years ago) that Roxy Music's Avalon era is bad, if one is a fan of 2010s Destroyer. It would be dumb to think Anita Baker and Whitney Houston sucks and listen to Blood Orange.

 

I love the pop funk and "city pop" sound as much as anyone else (maybe more tbh, cause I am excited about this sound even when coming from super uncool '80s stuff by American and British artists). But it isn't the only good kind of Japanese music that was made in the '70s and '80s, or even the only good kind of funk-based music (e.g. Chakra was not city pop, but a post punk/art rock band with funk elements).

 

Nor are the only alternatives that were made in Japan just the same old noise rock bands that got namedrops from Jim O'Rourke or Julian Cope or Pitchfork and westerners have been talking about forever. We should never go back to those days! We should listen to all types of music, there is no longer any "good" style we need to stick to. But ironically, the minds of punk hipsters were SO closed during that older period, that they even ignored genuinely punk and alternative music, if it was fronted by women, or if it had even the slightest avant-pop inclinations. There are many punk and metal fundamentalists out there who might not even be consciously prejudiced, but they genuinely do not know what the word "pop" means because they ignore all mainstream music. The closest thing they know to mainstream music is a rock or punk band with female vocals or even with decent bass/drum parts or actual production, so they consider any bands with female vocalists (no matter how weird/noisy) or any well-produced, or rhythmically-strong (post)punk records to automatically be "pop." These people are absolutely insane, and thankfully they are dying out with gen x since all millennials grew up with electronic music and even the punk types love it, but nonetheless these insane gen xers and boomers managed to manipulate the word "pop" into meaning something it doesn't, so that even now, you'll find reviews that describe a band like the Courtneys as a "pop band" or something, or people who can't distinguish between "dream pop," a guitar based genre of indie rock music using mostly pre 1990s technology, and actual pop, which is always defined by using the most modern technologies of its time.

 

So, there are decades of bullshit written by these pop-ignorant gen xers that led to an artist such as Jun Togawa not being taken as seriously as she should be because, from the extreme rockist fundamentalist perspective, a woman who makes avant garde music is still inherently pop. A male white artist could make all kinds of compromises of their integrity and blatantly craft songs with pop aspirations and even sell millions and be on TV and radio, yet still never get the "pop" tag (Thom Yorke for example) but a female artist or anyone who isn't considered white will be suspected to be pop.

 

Not as many people really think that way nowadays as much, but it still messed up the way we think about older artists.

 

So before we jump ahead to destroy taste altogether and listen to yuppie city pop, let's first expand the canon of experimental music to include Jun Togawa and other experimental and alternative artists excluded from the canon due to ignorance and sexism and racism.

 

I know very little about Japanese music and I am trying to educate myself partly by making so many half-informed posts in the hope that people who know shit will get annoyed at my posts and dispute them and share actual knowledge (even if it's not their job to educate). But in my opinion (especially after I just listened to Akira Terao, who is the biggest city pop act ever) there was so much music that is more interesting than "city pop," including not only alternative/punk but also idol stuff, pop aimed at a more youthful audience, but consequently more radical than the "sophisticated" adult middle of the road city pop.

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Two great Tatsuro Yamashita songs, both performed by others. Yamashita is better known as Mariya Takeuchi's husband, and he had an amazing funk tune on one of Marcos's playlists. His late '70s and early '80s albums are masterful expressions of what would soon become institutionalized as smooth jazz, to the point it's really a shame he was a little too early to ride that wave and get international radio hits. Some of his stuff is bland enough to play alongside Kenny G... altho I lowkey like '80s Kenny G, who still maintained a funk/R&B basis to his sound and great bass/drum parts. Anyway, Yamashita is even better in that regard, and he also collabed with legends such as Mariya obviously, but also Taeko Ohnuki.

 

The first song is a piece that Yamashita and Ohnuki freestyled together on the spur of the moment in a live radio broadcast in 1983. A year later when Yamashita was commissioned to do a soundtrack to a surfing movie, Big Wave, he used the same music and added a different vocal part, with Ohnuki no longer involved, and replaced by (pretty bad tbh) English lyrics and vocals which nevertheless sound like a proto-Prefab Sprout. The original version by Ohnuki is so beautiful in comparison. Actually everything I've heard so far by Ohnuki is great. Don't stop with the Sunshower era.

 

The second song is a cover of Yamashita's shoulda-been smooth jazz radio hit Sparkle. This is the opener of Yamashita's For You album ("you" could be Mariya, who is totally deserving of an album in her honor), but it mostly went unnoticed outside Japan at the time. A Honolulu-based funk band called Greenwood wanted Yamashita's magical sound be more internationally known, and they translated some of the lyrics and recorded a stunning cover. Unfortunately the band folded before the single could be released properly; it was very rare for years, then rediscovered in the past decade.

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I know very little about Japanese music and I am trying to educate myself partly by making so many half-informed posts in the hope that people who know shit will get annoyed at my posts and dispute them and share actual knowledge (even if it's not their job to educate). But in my opinion (especially after I just listened to Akira Terao, who is the biggest city pop act ever) there was so much music that is more interesting than "city pop," including not only alternative/punk but also idol stuff, pop aimed at a more youthful audience, but consequently more radical than the "sophisticated" adult middle of the road city pop.

 

lol i'm definitely open about this so definitely appreciate your observations and questions

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thread of the year <3

I can't believe you returned and now someone besides some hatsune miku roko basilisks will be reading my ignorant posts.

 

If you watch just one video, I'm curious as to your and everyone's thoughts on Mushroom Dance. Faye Wong explored Cocteau Twins influences in the mid '90s at a time when she was one of Hong Kong's biggest pop stars but Akina Nakamori, ten years earlier than that, was the second biggest pop star in the second biggest music market on earth and she created an album that sounds like stuff that hadn't even been made yet by the Cocteau Twins, who were still very underground at the time.

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i didnt know there were a buncha mad copycat flash animations of suki suki dai suki on youtube. one was like, a compilation of many and the op didnt recognize mystic messenger and said the plot was stupid what is internet kdkdjgjkflfknfks.

 

anyway i will kill myself before cyberpunk actualization makes crusty music review/fan crevices unavoidable in music listening. even tho im happy a good part of the queer community loves people like jun togowa for the same reason they love strawberry switchblade, so there are technically not fr weird places to go to for musicexploration, ive put distance from that kind of listening experience cus im like 40 years old and just listen to simple and clean cus everythin else is irrelevant

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don't kill yourself :( unless you have to... you're one of only two good radiohead message boarders left in the world. (other one is chillphin, to be clear.)

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If some other Utada song was in Kingdom Hearts do you think it would have the same legendary status?

 

I'm such an embarassing non-otaku I didn't even hear Simple and Clean until last year and I couldn't understand why it's so beloved, but I like some other stuff by her. Passion is a really good song.

 

 

I guess I'm lucky in not being part of those fan cultures you mention, so I was able to experience Togawa's music/videos before I ever encountered any of her fans. I never heard of Togawa until last year too.

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i didnt read that article but no i dont think so. i never think abt sanctuary or her other songs unless im in a jpop mood and simple and clean music box version is too good

 

the way i navigate round weebs ruining japanese music is to pay attention to music blogs not in english or girl run music blogs/tracklist makers from soundcloud cause theyre more open minded and less twisted in their taste by japanese porn and lolis. and then listen to stuff straight white males hate like listening to anything on rym that gets comments abt bein "not real___" or fake trash blahblahblah has opened a lot of good bands to me

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