Japanese urban pop goes viral years after its boom

Tel Liyanto wasn’t born for the Japanese boom of the 1980s, but he loves the urban pop hits of that era, now going viral thanks to an international generation of young fans.

The glamorous soundtrack that accompanied Japan’s economic miracle returns to popularity decades after it hit the airwaves with its synths, influenced by soft rock, boogie and soul.

The retro genre became so popular that the Canadian star The Weeknd included a sample of the 1983 theme "Midnight Pretenders" on his last recordingand record labels race to reissue urban pop vinyl that was thought to be forgotten.

"It’s like the record: a nostalgic sound but also modern"said Liyanto, a 27-year-old Indonesian who works at a creative agency, as she danced in a Tokyo bar to urban pop.

"I listen to it to dance, I listen to it to relax"he told AFP.

From its origins in online music circles, the "revival" was amplified by YouTube’s algorithm, which detects when a song is liked and sharedand recommends it all over the world.

The most popular topics, such as "Plastic Love" by Mariya Takeuchi, reach tens of millions of views on YouTube.

The song’s rhythmic base and lush brass have the upbeat vibe of "Tropicana Club" from Wham!, but its Japanese lyrics tell a different story.

"Since the day my heart was broken, I’ve lived life with day and night turned upside down."Takeuchi sings on the theme, which some comments describe as a "hidden gem".

"Why am I suddenly listening to ’80s Japanese pop and why is it so good?" someone asked in a comment.

– New but familiar –

Kei Notoya, a 33-year-old DJ, was hooked on urban pop the first time he heard it at a college party.

Since then he has accumulated some 3,000 records, some of which he sells in seconds in his virtual store Tokyo Condition.

"Japanese music at the time copied much of American rock, soul, and R&B."commented to AFP. "Sounds new but at the same time familiar".

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"People who weren’t born then can feel the energy, the atmosphere of the ’80s and ’70s by listening to these songs."Held.

The popularity led to Japanese record labels to upload more songs from its old catalog to streaming services.

A plethora of songs ignored for years and newly unearthed keeps interest in the genre alive, Notoya explained.

The inclusion of a sample of Tomoko Aran in the recording "out of time" by The Weeknd, "is the most popular example of an old Japanese song introduced to a wider audience"noted Patrick St Michel, who writes about music from Japan.

"Midnight Pretenders" was re-released last year on vinyl alongside other urban pop favourites, including "Plastic Love"refreshed with a modern video from the Warner Japan label.

– Melancholy –

Gary Ieong, co-owner of the White Noise Records store in Hong Kong, assured that the reissue of "Plastic Love" has been "really popular" in your business.

Young people who listen to the song on YouTube want to buy the album "as a souvenir for art"he told AFP.

The music also has a following on TikTok, where fans adapt their favorite songs into anime-style illustrations or dance to them in 1980s outfits.

New listeners are also drawn to urban pop for the "element of melancholy that hides"yesAccording to St Michel.

"That is something that appears in all urban pop songs and makes them go viral. There’s something sad too, it’s not just hedonism"he added.

But nothing is forever, and the first to revive urban pop online in the 2010s are already onto something else, St Michel noted.

"It’s like a race to find what interests the internet crowd. They are the ones who decide", he added. "That’s the beauty of it".

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