• Rose Smith

City Pop: An Old Genre Making a Comeback

Japanese City

 Photo Source: Pixabay

     It’s commonly said that fashion is cyclical—old styles come back, sometimes in a way people didn’t expect. In the age of the internet, accessibility due to country barriers start to come down, and you never know what sort of thing can be brought back into cultural relevance. City Pop stands as one of these examples. 

      City Pop is the name of a music genre originally from Japan (though other countries such as Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand also have had a City Pop genre trend in the past as well). Taking a lot of influence from Jazz, R&B, and American pop artists such as Donna Summers and Michael Jackson, City Pop was a disco-like genre popularized in the 80s (The Japan Times). The genre started in the 70s with the band Sugar Babe, but it didn’t take until the 80s for the music genre to really gain a foothold in Japanese music culture (nippon.com).  From there, it was seen as an “urban pop music for urban lifestyles,” trying to make a sophisticated, worldly, and sexy soundscape. As Japan’s economy began to decline in the 90s, the genre’s popularity began to decline and move into obscurity.

      However, City Pop has started to make a comeback. Around 2015, Japanese indie music artists started to make music under the umbrella of “Neo City Pop” (The Japan Times). While Neo City Pop as a genre doesn’t seem to have a centralized definition, artists who use the term want to induce feelings of “sophistication, fashionableness, and nostalgia” and still produce the same kind of urban music that other artists did back in the day. On the United States side, 80s City Pop has been rising as an underground genre. Van Paugam, a Chicago-based DJ, has been credited for bringing the genre to the United States and giving it relevance through playing it at DJ sets and ripping old City Pop music and posting it to YouTube (Chicago Reader). Since 2016, the subreddit surrounding City Pop has moved from 50 to over 12,000 subscribers. 

      City Pop has also inspired other modern genres, specifically Vaporwave and Future Funk. Earlier this year, I wrote about Vaporwave and how it tries to make a weird and distorted sense of nostalgia (If you’re curious, you can check it out here). Many Vaporwave and Future Funk artists sample City Pop music for their own songs, since it comes from the 80s and can create a sense of nostalgia even if you haven’t lived through that era. If you listen to a lot of Vaporwave or Future Funk and then listen to a City Pop mix, then you will be sure to recognize at least a couple tracks.

     City Pop as a genre has been making a comeback in an interesting way. In Japan, its name is being brought back in the indie scene to make sophisticated and urban music made to invoke a sort of nostalgia. In the United States, the 80s music genre is getting brought back in its original form to be enjoyed, and across the world Vaporwave and Future Funk are repackaging it and making it into a modern genre for more people to enjoy. No matter what, if you’re looking for a new music genre to discover, definitely go on a music deep dive for City Pop. You won’t regret it. I recommend listening to a City Pop mix on youtube and do stuff while playing it in the background (just as you might do it with lo-fi hip hop beat mixes). It’s really relaxing and great to eat or do chores to. Below is a mix done by DJ Van Paugam called Summer Break. It will help you get acquainted with City Pop as a genre. Hopefully, you will have found a new music genre to dive into this summer. 

Rose Smith is the blog editor of Twenty-two Twenty-eight. When she isn’t writing about the world around her, she is often found listening to music, watching movies, and going on walks with her dogs.

You can find her on Instagram here and on Twitter here.