I came across an article recently in the magazine of the London Evening Standard while travelling… Apparently J-Pop is the latest big trend in clubbing in the Big Smoke. My involuntary reaction was to think wistfully “natsukashii, na….”
Natsukashii means something like nostalgia. But that’s a bit lost in translation. It’s how you react when you think back fondly to a time gone by, perhaps in reaction to seeing an old photo, or hearing an old song. The concept is well explored in this wordpress blog.
My own J-Pop knowledge is at least 14 years out of date. So any young hipsters of the London J-Pop scene won’t recognise much in my selection. But then Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was number one in the UK this week in 1998 and people still listen to that. I have no idea why, though, so let’s stop the analogy there.
Some music is timeless. Some is just pop of its time. Either way, here is my nastukashii mini-selection (circa 1996-8, ie when I lived in Japan).
- Pizzicato Five – Groovy is my Name
Pizzicato Five were at the forefront of the shibuya kei trend – a kind of Japanese nouveau-retro Gainsbourg-inspired, Francophile (and occasionally Francophone), pop-jazz movement in the 1990s. They were pioneers in sampling (allegedly inspired by DeLaSoul’s brilliant debut album, Three Feet High and Rising) – everything from Astrud Gilberto to the Beach Boys!
- UA – Rhythm
I have already mentioned UA’s Milk Tea in my Desert Island Discs post, so here I’ll pick another of her many hits. Many Asian artists are able to mimic Western genres, but UA really makes each one her own. This one reminds me of bands on the Acid Jazz label at the time, like the Brand New Heavies or Incognito.
- Ryuichi Kawamura – Glass
The lyrics are pure nonsensical soppiness, but it’s slow and I can just about manage the key, so I bought the CD single, and in my efforts to integrate culturally, learned all the words from the sleeve to impress my friends and colleagues in the karaoke booth. It gained me a bit of street cred with my high school students, as Kawamura – with his floppy fringe and penchant for eyeliner – was also lead singer with Japanese New Romantic-esque rock band Luna Sea.
- Puffy – Watashi no ikiru michi
The epitome of late 90s nonsensical J-Pop. I can’t find the original video online, but it all looked very tame even by 1996’s standards – two pigtailed girls twittering on about following their own path. It debuted at number one in Japan; is Puffy’s biggest selling single and it starts with a promising guitar chord but really it’s all very cutesy and catchy! (And the absolute simplest for gaijin to learn for karaoke!!)
- Southern All Stars – 愛の言霊～Spiritual Message
Formed in the 70s, “Southern” or “SAS” for short have been one of the best-selling Japanese groups over more than 30 years, selling more than 47 million albums and singles in Japan alone. I had to include this one for its demonstrative superlative use of English in the title. But I genuinely like the Latin vibe of this track. I couldn’t find a version online that wasn’t someone killing it by karaoke but came across this fantastic 1996 J-Pop compilation. SAS are at about minute 8:15, but don’t let that stop you from listening to the whole lot!
The Nippon-o-philes among you will notice the absence of SMAP. (I ask you – what kind of a name for a band is that?!) I have to admit, I couldn’t tell their songs apart. But I did enjoy their cookery show. Think Ready, Steady, Cook with Boyzone band members instead of professional chefs and you get the gist.
Have you got to know any J-Pop? What are your favourites? Which tracks make you think “natsukashii”? Post your suggestions in the comments box – maybe you can update my knowledge by a decade or so!
© Lynn Sheppard