Notice that I didn’t title this post “How to Get Japanese People into Western Pop”; after all, Western culture is already incredibly popular over there (*cough* for some ghastly reason *cough*). I specifically used the word “Weeb” because I imagine that a lot of non-Asians who love Japanese culture don’t exactly love Western music (as much). However, what happens when a J-Pop star feels very, very Western? Welcome to milet, Generation Z’s equivalent of Hikaru Utada.
I don’t know much about milet, but Apple Music shows a number of singles and EPs dating to 2019. However, almost all the songs in those EPs, and new ones, end up on milet’s first album, eyes (not to be confused with MYTH & ROID’s eye’s), released in June of 2020. She has become extremely popular already, with her album surpassing King Gnu’s smash hit album, Ceremony, on Japan’s Billboard (and btw, King Gnu is hugely popular in Japan, so that’s a big deal) and ranking in 1st place for a good while.
This milet album was incredibly challenging to get through. Something about the use of synth, sound production, and milet’s singing voice felt like the Western pop that I hate. “How can you hate it if you never listened to it, weeb?” you ask. Oh, I listened to it. Throughout high school, it played on the radio that they happened to have in classrooms on Pandora, and during various social gatherings that I begrudgingly attended (specifically in vocational school). Being exposed to this stuff was traumatizing. The annoying repetitiveness and lack of variety drove me insane, and defined my distaste of mainstream hits. From what I call “The Happy Song”, to “I Think We Can be Something for Real Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-uwu”, to “The One That Sounds Like it’s Saying ‘Jar Jar Binks’”, these… tracks are the reason that I eventually got into J-Pop. While not perfect (looking at you, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), Japan has some amazing and varied music, a lot of which I ranked above many classic Western bands of old. It was my perfect escape.
But then milet… ugh. I didn’t really mind the music of her songs, but what triggered me the most was her singing. She sounds exactly like a lot of those Western singers I didn’t like, whose names I cannot say because it was on the radio and I never knew who they actually were. milet’s voice is… how do I even say it? I don’t at all mean to be hurtful with the following statements; I legitimately cannot think of a better way to describe her voice. milet comes off as nasally, whiny and like she’s constipated. Look up the song that’s like “Hello from the other side” or something like that in the chorus… that’s basically how milet sings.
After getting through a third of her album, I was actually able to tolerate milet. Some of the songs have genuinely good atmospheres and melodies that aren’t ear-grating like the aforementioned “Happy Song”. Despite the album reeking of mainstream, there was still a decent amount of variety and experimentation. Also, from watching anime and actually meeting Japanese people in person (in Epcot), they seem to have an inherently pleasant way of speaking, which makes milet a better singer. I know it sounds stereotypical, but there truly is a visible difference in timbre between her and whoever does “Yer Guhna Hear Me Rooooa-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohar”.
Overall, I found her album surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe someday, I’ll actually try to listen to people like Adele and Taylor Swift (or I won’t). With milet’s rising success and admirable English-speaking ability, I could see her being cast as the lead in a hypothetical Japanese Disney Princess movie (even though Mili’s singer, Cassie Wei, would be way better), and having listened to her music before it was cool would make me the hippest guy on the block. If you’re someone who’s trying to convince your J-Pop loving friend that there’s another hemisphere of music out there, then milet’s a good transitional point.
I’m a big fan of J-Pop, and I’m a seriously big fan of metal. So, it stands to reason that I’d LOVE the kawaii metal group, BABYMETAAAAAAAAAAAAL! Heh-heh, you saw the title of this post; it’s not that simple, not even remotely. In fact, I only started listening to them over the course of Feb. 2020! Just keep in mind that no matter how critical I get, I don’t straight up dislike the group; otherwise they would’ve been on my Top Five Least Favorite Japanese Music Artists post.
So, what is BABYMETAL? Well, you probably should know, for they seem to be one of the few Japanese music artists that have become known even among those who don’t follow Japanese culture. Formed about a decade ago, they have grown incredibly popular, with performances all over the world. They even have a full bio for themselves and each of their studio albums on Apple Music. That’s how you know they’re a big deal! Their claim to fame is the unusual combination of cutesy idol J-pop and angtsy metal.
With such a brilliant idea, BABYMETAL should’ve been right up my alley. But in execution, it’s nothing more than the same catchy beats of idol pop, but with an edgy paint job. They’re mainstream in disguise. “Well, you cur, you seem to like risky and eccentric groups,” you point out (Assuming that you’ve read my other music posts up to this point), “BABYMETAL is an incredibly brilliant and ballsy band. You’re having the same reaction as the old farts who hated Elvis Presley and the Beatles because it was different from the crap they grew up with. You’re no different.”
BABYMETAL is ballsy? Actually, I think the exact opposite is true. My problem with them isn’t that they’re too eccentric for me. On the contrary, BABYMETAL is mainstream to the max. It sounds like an idea that couldn’t possibly fail; by combining catchy, “radio-friendly” tunes with metal’s angry vibes, they are able to appeal to both pop and metal fans at once. And that bothers me to no end. It’s kind of like how a lot of young adult novels are marketed as dark and brooding, but have the same romance tropes as a Disney movie. I suppose what I’m saying is that BABYMETAL is the YA novel of music.
“Well, hang on a second,” you argue once more, “you’re saying that the problem with BABYMETAL is that their songs are catchy, which is typical of most mainstream artists. But isn’t that, you know, THE POINT?!” You cross your arms in defiance. “If BABYMETAL tried to do stuff like- say- prog rock, then they wouldn’t be BABYMETAL. The POINT of BABYMETAL is to BE catchy, because that’s how idol music IS. Are you claiming that a rock or metal band cannot be a rock or metal band without taking some kind of creative risk?! You know, Rob Zombie- an ACTUAL rock artist- loves this band, and I’m willing to bet that he knows more about music than you, bub!” You’re probably correct for the most part. If BABYMETAL has succeeded at anything for me, it’s challenging the very definition of a “rock band”. Like you (or rather, my personification of you) mentioned earlier, they honestly are a challenge to the stuff I liked when I first got into music, such as Rush and Queen, with their continuously changing musical styles and experimental ideas. Despite how “open-minded” I claim to be when it comes to some of the weird music I like (including Queensryche and Genesis to boot), I ended up becoming alienated from mainstream music. It’s funny how the human mind works. However, at this juncture, I have no authority to objectively define “rock”, and honestly, with how much it’s changed since Presley, I doubt ANYONE has that authority. It’s pretty much a matter of subjective perspective at this point; it all depends on how me, you, or Zombie have come to understand “rock” based on our own different experiences.
In the end, though, I do like a guilty pleasure. I’ll admit that some of their songs are pretty darn succulent. Maybe, once in a while, I’ll put on a BABYMETAL song and rock out. But even then, I have to immediately follow-up with a REAL group, like BAND-MAID or Crossfaith. Maybe if they had the same manager as, say, Dempagumi.inc, they’re music would’ve been more varied and better. Heck, some Dempagumi songs, like Precious Summer, are already kawaii metal as it is.
But because I listen to too much music, I’m inevitably going to have to axe BABYMETAL from my life. They aren’t the worst thing ever, but to me, they are severely overrated. I honestly can’t recommend this group to anyone, especially dedicated metal fans. If you want a better version of the same general idea, try Passcode. Or, if you want a different unusual combination of styles that organically mesh together as if it was the most natural thing in the world, try Wagakki Band.
As much as I love Japanese music, I admit that nothing’s perfect. There are many artists that I’ve had to abandon, but mostly because I listen to too much music, and I just couldn’t squeeze them in. But sometimes, I straight up don’t enjoy the music itself. This list will showcase the Japanese music artists that I couldn’t enjoy no matter how hard I tried. Now you’ll get to see how much of a contrarian I am, for most of these artists are among the most popular Japanese singers in the world.
I really wanted this to be BABYMETAL, which would’ve made all five entries contain mainstream artists. But my feelings for them ended up being extremely complicated, so I resorted to sakanaction instead for fifth.
Normally, I love weird bands, and sakanaction is one such band. They’re more or less the Japanese Pink Floyd, and I don’t exactly like Pink Floyd. The band’s music tends to be very surreal and mellow, which isn’t my favorite combination.
But to be honest, it’s the vocalist who made me drop sakanaction. The actual song compositions do create some very unique vibes, but the moment that he starts singing, it all feels dissonant and messy. For some reason, I just cannot stand his voice! Maybe the dissonance is on purpose, or I just don’t appreciate some hidden nuance in the band. I’ve started getting into King Gnu and Queen Bee lately, who come off as better versions of sakanaction, and have more emphasis on rock.
I started with someone more obscure. But noooow, you’ll start seeing some actually popular people.
“How dare you hate MIYAVI, you curr!” you exclaim (assuming you’re a fan of his), “This man’s helped refugees from all over the world!” Sorry, but, the music’s got nothing to do with that. In all seriousness, I did want to love MIYAVI’s music really badly. He seems like a really good person, based on what he posts on his Twitter. But no matter how great of a person he is, I can’t enjoy his music.
MIYAVI’s music comes down to very basic groovy beats with a side of synthesizers, and an admittedly sick-sounding electric guitar. The production and mixing of the music makes it sound really bee-bopping and loud, but it’s neither of those things upon closer inspection. His music’s not the worst ever, though… not by a LONG shot.
3) Hikaru Utada
You might not know who this Utada person is as you read this post… until just now, when I told you that she’s done songs for Kingdom Hearts. “Oh, she’s that person who did that song! But… I love that song!”
Thing is, Utada’s apparently got more to her name than Kingdom Hearts. She’s got over three million Twitter followers for a reason! But I don’t know what those three million people see in her music that I don’t. Most of it is very slow and… slow? Boring, too. Nothing of what I heard from her ever stood out to me.
But if there’s one thing Utada does right, it’s the process of singing. She’s got a seriously lovely voice; deep and soothing. I was also told by an associate that she does all song composition, production, and mixing herself. If that’s true, then Utada does earn at least some respect from me.
I’m kind of cheating on this one, for Perfume was one of the first non-anime J-pop groups I ever tried to get into… like, eight years ago. I’m a different person than I was at that time, so I can’t authoritatively state how I’d feel about Perfume if I tried to listen to them now, especially since I only watched the official music videos then and didn’t have Apple Music. But based on what I remember, I can be DAMN sure that I would wholeheartedly dislike Perfume to this day.
Perfume is a chill techno group and that’s that. Their music is full of catchy beats and sci-fi atmospheres that I find to be very bleh for whatever reason. It’s not “ceaseless dribble”, but it’s not something that I’d particularly enjoy. There’s not really anything else I can say about them other than that.
1) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
It’s one thing to not like an artist. But I cannot STAND when the marketing behind someone is a straight up lie! Kyary seems to be one of the most popular Japanese singers in the world, and I can only scratch my head in confusion.
One look at any of her album covers or music videos will likely elicit a reaction to the effect of, “Holy crap! This chick’s so wiggety-whackin’-weird! I love it!” There is a lot of… er… otherworlldly imagery associated with Kyary. It helps promote her content while also establishing an identity to make her stand out from the rabble.
But imagery is imagery, nothing more, nothing less. What I mean is… her music is the exact opposite of her image! To be fair, I only listened to half of Kyary’s best of album… but I felt like it was enough. Despite how “weird” she is, the music itself is mainstream. So disgustingly, by-the-book mainstream. The songs are basic, with simple, catchy beats and no variance. All of this is dressed up by her unusual choice of lyrics, as well as the production of the music videos.
Call me a hipster, but I also dislike Kyary because I’m jealous that she’s more popular than one of my favorite pop groups, Dempagumi.inc. Dempagumi is what Kyrary says she is; wild, eccentric pop music. As I mentioned in this post, Dempagumi addles with the brain’s pattern recognition by always switching up the tempo to constantly keep you on your toes. Kyary doesn’t do any of that crap! The only good version to come from her is nano’s cover of Ponponpon eight years ago (that video is still up by the way, highly recommend checking it out)!
I don’t want to be a troll. I went into listening to all of these artists with full intention of enjoying them. But I simply didn’t. What do you think about the people I introduced here? Do you enjoy them, and if so, why? You probably have found some way to appreciate them that I failed to notice. Who are your least favorite J-pop artists? Feedback is welcome!
I’ll always love the classic rock of yesteryear more than anything. But over the last several years of my life, I’ve realized the unique greatness of contemporary Japanese music. In this blog I’ll discuss my favorite Japanese music artists.
5) Hysteric Panic
This spot was originally going to ONE OK ROCK. For all intents and purposes, ONE OK ROCK’s members are very talented, and very experimental-two qualities that I seek in bands. However, just going off of the sheer percentage of discography that I loved, Hysteric Panic is way better than them in my book. So why do I like this basically unknown J-thrash band so much?
I love Hysteric Panic because of their energy. They more or less only play thrash, but they’re so darn good at it that I can’t even complain. They also have a wide range of vocals, from a high-pitched, Axl Rose-sounding guy, to a guy who sounds like a constipated alligator. Regardless of if it’s multiple guys or the same guy, this wide range of screams makes Hysteric Panic stand out as a thrash band. Give them a whirl if you love Metallica or others like them!
4) MYTH & ROID
Led by TomH@ck of OxT, MYTH & ROID was originally my favorite Japanese band, and was in 1st on early drafts of this post. Although they are a solid prog-rock band that has more of an identity than most people in the ainsong industry, I realized that I find the artists in the Top 3 more irreplaceable. I don’t know if it’s because MYTH & ROID has way less discography or what, but them’s the brakes.
But hey, they’re still in Top 5 for a reason. MYTH & ROID has managed to craft a distinct style that basically allows them to do whatever they want, as long as they maintain one consistency: MAKE. IT. AWESOME. Out of all the artists on this list, I have always exclaimed “WTF?!” with every song of theirs the first time I heard it.
Recently, I have been exposed to music from the bizarro minds of truly eccentric people, such as DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu. But at the time, I remember when I threw on Styx Helix because it was a Re:ZERO song, and thought it was a decent techno-chill song. I later noticed that they also did OP 2 of the same show. I put on that song, Paradisus Paradoxim, and it completely blew me away with how different it was. I fell in love with MYTH & ROID right then and there… and then fell slightly less in love with them over time.
While they are no longer my favorite, they are still a great band that stands out from the rest. I recommend giving them a listen if you’re tired of that mainstream crap.
Didn’t expect a pop group, did you? And an IDOL group on top of that?! Well, this entry was originally going to be the jazz-pop duo, ORESAMA. As great as their music is, their record label, Lantis, seems to not want anybody overseas to be able to support their artists, so I basically grew out of them.
However, one MyAnimeList article helped fill the ORESAMA-shaped hole in my heart: The announcement of Dempagumi.inc member, Mirin Furukawa’s, marriage. I immediately had to know what a band with such a weird name was, and sure ‘nough, they’re on Apple Music! One greatest hits album later, and I found myself- for the first time ever- unironically in love with a pop idol group.
Dempagumi’s gimmick is that they are otaku. A lot of their songs are about Akihabara and… well, I don’t know what else because they’re singing in a language I don’t know very well. Additionally, their singing reaches such outrageous tempos at times that it just HAS to have been artificially sped up in post!
Speaking of the tempo, Dempagumi’s main musical style is fully caffeinated J-Pop with tons of synthesizers and videogame sound effects. They try to get you hooked by messing with that pattern-recognition area of your brain that made you bee-bop to Gangam Style. What they do is start off with a fast, catchy beat, and then arbitrarily and abruptly shift into a different, faster tune altogether. This is best exemplified in W.W.D., one of my favorite songs from them. Since their style is designed to mess directly with your brain on a nueral level, you can’t not be caught off guard even if you’re expecting it. It’s science! They’ve been around for over ten years, and they still bamboozle me even during their newest songs. The only flaw with Dempagumi is that there are some songs that are a little more mainstream, and while those are nice and la-dee-da, they aren’t the Dempagumi that I love.
Seriously though, this group should be monopolizing the idol industry! I doubt that any of the members themselves are involved in the creative process of their songs, but whoever is involved… is a freakin’ genius. I highly recommend Dempagumi.inc to anyone who wants a twist to mainstream pop. Start with their greatest hits album: WWD Best Demparyouko, since, like I said, they’ve kind of been active for over ten years…
This is a band I literally found out of nowhere. Although they’ve grown substantially more popular with their most recent album, I was a fan since summer 2019- snug within the range of “before it was cool.” When I made the life-changing decision of subscribing to Apple Music, one of the first bands I got into was- no, not BAND-MAID- but Passcode. Passocde’s great and all, but in the similar artists tab, I couldn’t help but notice BAND-MAID. And the rest is history.
BAND-MAID, whose claim to fame comes from their maid cafe-like attire, is a hard rock band that skirts the line of metal, and a damn powerful one at that. One distinct feeling I get from their music is not something I ever feel in any other J-Rock bands: Classic Rock. Yeah, I know it’s an oxymoron, but a lot of their stuff reminds me of AC/DC, Van Halen, Dio… basically, all the rock bands of yore that I love. “You only like them because they’re mimicking Western culture, you traitorous lech!” you exclaim. Well… it’s true that they do come off as Western, but they’re excused because they still manage to have some sort of identity, despite how much they emulate those aforementioned artists.
If I have any concern, it’s that I don’t know what direction they’re headed in. Despite the fact that their newest album is objectively their most successful and important one, I feel mixed about it. It sounds a bit… lighter than previous records (I’ve only listened to the first half of it, though). I won’t fault them for trying stuff; in fact, I love it when artists try stuff. But I don’t know if they’re merely trying stuff, or if they’re trying to pander to the masses. If it’s the latter, they’d likely abandon the metal music identity they’ve spent the past five years building.
But for the time being, BAND-MAID is a ludicrously good group. Apple Music doesn’t have their very first album, but it has everything else. I personally started with their third studio album, Brand-New Maid, but you can honestly start anywhere.
It shouldn’t surprise me that Japanese-American singer nano wound up being first on my list. After all, she is one of the few people in the anisong industry who really has a true style that is entirely their own.
nano generally does very aggressive hard rock and metal tracks, but also throws in electronic, or even in the case of one particular song, combines rock with traditional Japanese instruments. I find her older stuff to be rough around the edges, but from her album, Rock On, and onwards, she’s gotten better and louder. Her albums are one of the best showcases of the evolution of an artist that I’ve ever heard. A lot of credit goes to whoever produces and mixes the music in order to bring out the best of her powerful voice and the instruments that her buddies play.
nano’s music is divided into two distinct types: Regular J-rock that’s used as assets for anime and such, and straight up Western-influenced hard rock. The latter is typically used in albums, as the designated filler songs. However, I find those to be some of the best filler, and often times among nano’s best songs. I recommend going through all of her albums, or at least starting with Rock On and going chronologically from there.
Overall, Japanese music is freakin’ great, and I don’t get why it’s not more popular. I get that the Japanese generally like to keep to themselves, culturally, but most of this stuff is as easily accessible on big-name streaming service as their Korean competitors! It’s… it’s THERE! Well, whatever. Hopefully, this post will raise just a little more awareness for the stuff. I highly recommend you follow these artists, and whoever else you find interesting, on Twitter. Most of the Tweets are in Japanese… but… it takes only two clicks to translate their Tweet… so just follow them already!
Honorable Mentions: Passcode, RAISE A SUILEN, Burnout Syndromes, ASCA, ONE OK ROCK
I’ve really gotten into Japanese music lately (‘cuz I’m a weeb). There are sooooooo many artists out there, all with varying styles. In fact, there’s almost too many of them, and it doesn’t help that new ones keep coming out of the woodwork every year! In today’s blog, I’m going to highlight three who have peaked my interest, and could end up being really awesome in the foreseeable future.
NOTE: Finding information on REALLY famous Japanese people is hard enough on the English-speaking Internet, so I can’t even imagine finding info on these more obscure people. As such, I’m mainly going to talk about the music, please do not take anything I say about their backgrounds as gospel.
I’ve recently come to realize that the anisong industry- the market of people, like Konomi Suzuki, who perform music used in anime- isn’t all that great. A lot of those artists kind of sound similar to each other, the exception being the J-prog-rock band, MYTH & ROID. Mayu Maeshima is their original vocalist, and she left the band last year. In April of this year, I found a music video for Mayu’s solo debut: Yellow.
And that song bamboozled me. It was slow, strange, outright depressing, and if it wasn’t for me recognizing Maeshima’s voice, I would not have thought that she was in MYTH & ROID. A couple months ago, she released her first album, From Dream and You, and with this she cements the style of her music.
Sad. As. F***.
Maeshima’s music is what I’d call “sad ReoNa.” It’s mostly acoustic-based, with a folksy style, and really sad lyrics. “Hang on, Mack, you don’t know Japanese. Did you somehow learn the language fluently since your last post?” No, it’s just that Maeshima sings in English. I don’t know why she does it, but she still sounds good doing it.
I do have a couple of concerns with Maeshima. Based on the first album, I fear that she might become one of those artists who’s only liked for their hits. Yellow and When You Went Away have noticeably more oomph than the other stuff on there. I’m not saying that the other stuff is bad per se, but if there’s not a solid enough consistency moving forward, she’ll kind of have a Tears for Fears situation where people associate her with two popular songs and nothing else. Also, I haven’t caught a whiff of a single live gig since she debuted, which I’d interpret as bad. But hey, whatever happens with her, I hope she’s happy and that she becomes super popular!
According to information on this young woman’s social media, she had a career as Shiena Nishizawa before becoming EXiNA. I don’t know anything else because, like I said, finding information on these people is hard for a non-Japanese like me.
EXiNA is basically an angstier nano. Her songs generally have a gritty, electric-punk-rock-with-hard-rock style. Her voice is also surprisingly deep and very angry-sounding. To quote the second track of her first album, her music will make you “crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy!”
Unfortunately, the licensing for her seems to be a bit shaky, at least here in ‘Merica. None of her first singles came out over here, which isn’t really a big deal since their all on the album, which we do have. However, her subsequent single, Jesus Knows, came out over here a couple weeks late, her newest single (at this time) is unaccounted for, and an article I read about a recent gig mentioned songs I hadn’t even heard of. I’ve also checked a friend’s Spotify and confirmed the same case there too. It’s a miracle how much Japanese media has been unleashed worldwide, and you never know when it’ll be gone. So, check out EXiNA while you still can!
Dual Alter World
I only found out about this duo, consisting of voice actress Kotori Koiwai and RYU, the guitarist of Blood Stain Child, on Apple Music’s New Music Mix playlist. They looked interesting, so I gave them a whirl.
And WOW, what a band! DAW is like a fusion of Kanako Ito and Passcode; with the cyberpunk atmosphere of the former, the sheer chutzpah of the latter, and the potential to surpass both. So far, they only have one album, Alter Ego, and it’s lit. The big problem, however, which is only for non-Japanese speaking people, is it’s a concept album. Each track, for the most part, alternates between an ambient spoken track and an actual song. It’s not a problem for me because I never know what’s happening in concept albums anyway. Overall, the album is really great, and the way it ends is disturbing and reminds me of Queensryche (the classic, OG lineup of course). That’s not a vibe I expected a modern band to have at all.
In conclusion, DAW is great so far and has the best potential out of the three. If they continue to evolve and experiment over time, they could become really powerful. Hopefully this isn’t a one-off thing or I’ll look like a real idiot.
I know I’m a puny little blogger. But hey, anyone who likes this post is another potential customer for these artists. It’s all free advertising for them!