2017 No.21

Japan’s Cutting-Edge Pop


A New Style for JAPAN POP Artists

Japan’s entertainment culture greatly respects old tradition yet thrives on professionals whose vision confronts convention and offers a singular perspective on performance.

Early in the Edo period (1603–1867), a woman actor named Izumo no Okuni wore masculine attire instead of the usual feminine outfit for yayako odori (girl’s dance)—complete with short and long swords—to perform a new dance in Kyoto. She was indeed what could be called “Kabukimono.” Her outstanding performance in an unusually flashy costume shocked and impressed the citizens of Kyoto and led to the renowned theater art known today as Kabuki.

Japan is a country that not only has nourished commoner culture in the Edo period and later but also welcomes a new set of values. This kind of historical background is what lies behind the continual emergence into the world spotlight of new types of Japanese pop artists.

KABUKI ZUKAN (“Kabuki Picture Scroll”) Vol. 2 (of two) Japan Edo Period, 17th century
The woman actor Izumo no Okuni’s kabuki odori became instantly popular with many followers, like the court lady dancing in the middle depicted in the picture scroll.
The Tokugawa Art Museum © The Tokugawa Art Museum Image Archives / DNPartcom

Kabukimono” in Brief

The word refers to a trend from around the end of the Age of Civil Wars to the early Edo period (late 1590s to 1640s), popular in the big cities of Edo (former name of Tokyo) and Kyoto. These performers were basically outsider artists in unique outfits who flouted convention. Their approach brought a singular twist to traditional aesthetics and values, a new turn that found favor among common people.


Photo by Dana Distortion, © Amuse Inc.

Powerful heavy metal with a roaring bass is matched by SU-METAL’s clear ringing voice, along with YUIMETAL and MOAMETAL, to form BABYMETAL, a trio known for sweet yet edgy dance performance and a unique groove. Their innovative fusion of J-POP and heavy metal continues to engage pop and heavy metal fans from Japan and around the world. Their live act is no exception to BABYMETAL’s groundbreaking style and philosophy, wherein the spirit of Kitsune sama, an incarnation of the fox deity that is the god of metal, enters the performers and inspires them to make their trademark fox sign with fingers.


Formed in 2010 as a trio, SU-METAL (center), YUIMETAL (left), and MOAMETAL (right) deliver a unique style of charming girl vocals melded with a heavy metal sound, accompanied by dance moves—a first in heavy metal—never failing to enthrall everyone who sees them on stage. The year 2014 saw them hit it big with their debut album “BABYMETAL” on the Billboard chart. Released in April 2016, their second album, “METAL RESISTANCE,” was in the Billboard Top 40, the first in 53 years for Japanese artists. In the same month BABYMETAL performed a solo concert at U.K.’s famed Wembley Arena, a first for Japanese musicians. In September of that year, they played a solo concert for two days at Tokyo Dome and drew 110,000 concertgoers.

© Taku Fujii



Eclectic as a tipped-over toy chest, each of DEMPAGUMI.inc’s six members is a full-fledged otaku—someone extremely devoted to manga, anime, video games, or cosplay—of different genres and claims her own worldview via social networks. Their live performances, with the stance of different, unique characters vying with each other, original lyrics and dancing, unite fans as one and are terrifically uplifting. Their musical style has remained the same since their debut album, featuring “Dempa” songs, electronica jammed fully with word-packed lyrics. Some of their most characteristic performance styles include a chaotic music that changes drastically in fast beats and in shouting back and forth to one another.

DEMPAGUMI.inc Profile

Six-person group formed by Furukawa Mirin, Aizawa Risa, Yumemi Nemu, Naruse Eimi, Mogami Moga, and Fujisaki Ayane. The group collaborates with various creators, including Tokyo Collection and designer Mikio Sakabe. They get much attention not only in Japan but also abroad, participating in fashion events in Taipei and Jakarta, for example. In 2013, DEMPAGUMI.inc appeared at JAPAN EXPO in France representing Japan and, from April 2014 to March 2015, were appointed PR Ambassadors for Culture City of East Asia 2014, Yokohama. In 2015, they went on a world tour, in December 2016 released the first best-of album “WWDBEST~Dempa Ryoko!~,” and in January 2017 did arena tours in Japan at Makuhari Event Hall, World Hall in Kobe, and Nippon Budokan.



© Avex Music Creative Inc.

WagakkiBand breathes new life into traditional Japanese sounds by fusing them with Western rock. Playing rock music on instruments like wadaiko (“Japanese drums”), koto (a long zither of 13 strings), shakuhachi (bamboo flute), and Tsugaru jamisen (three-stringed instrument of Tsugaru region) creates a lively melody that recalls Japanese festivals and has a fresh sound even to young Japanese. Their popularity took off when they created vocaloid songs* and fused the sound with Japanese instruments. This puts them in high demand. Part of their appeal comes from vivid costumes straight out of a 3D video game and a dynamic stage presence. The band tours aggressively overseas, and in March 2016 they had their first solo concert in New York, followed by a headline tour in North America in July. They continue to capture worldwide attention with their impressive originality.

* Songs created with the voice synthesizer developed by a Japanese musical instrument maker.

WagakkiBand Profile

A rock entertainment band fusing shi-gin (chanting traditional poems), Japanese instruments, and Western rock. Their video uploads featuring vocaloid covers gained immediate attention, which led to a mainstream debut in April 2014 with album “Vocalo Zanmai.” The album’s “Senbon Zakura” got over 52 million hits on YouTube and countless comments from around the world. The big band members are Suzuhana Yuko (vocal), Ibukuro Kiyoshi (koto), Kaminaga Daisuke (shakuhachi), Ninagawa Beni (Tsugaru jamisen), Kurona (wadaiko), Machiya (guitar), Asa (bass), and Wasabi (drums). Their second album, “Yasou emaki,” released in 2015, reached number one on the Oricon Chart and won the Planning prize of Japan Record Award. And their long-awaited third album, “Shikisai” was released in March 2017.