Japan’s pop scene is enjoying a surge in acts that have expanded their reach outside of their home country: the electro-pop trio Perfume, which became the first Japanese girl group to perform at Coachella last year; the four-women band CHAI, which has toured extensively throughout the U.S., U.K. and Europe for the past two years; and the four-man band Yogee New Waves, which has been touring in Asia and collaborating with notable local artists, to name just a few.
Below is a list by Billboard Japan highlighting some other notable J-pop acts that haven’t quite hit the global stage yet, but are making their presence known as trailblazers in their respective genres.
A singer-songwriter based in Kyoto, Kaho Nakamura came into the spotlight with her highly acclaimed album AINOU from 2018 that took elements of soul, jazz, and beat music to create her own brand of pop. The 27-year-old has a rich feel for language that she expresses in her experimental songs that also possess universality, which makes for an enjoyably perplexing experience for listeners. Also noted for her improvisational concert performances, she is an artist who will surely be included in future conversations about Japanese songs.
Answer to Remember
Japanese jazz drummer Shun Ishiwaka’s new project, Answer to Remember’s self-titled debut album released in December 2019 is packed with his signature daring drumming style. The album also features over 20 of today’s vanguard acts, including New York-based jazz trumpeter Takuya Kuroda and up-and-coming rapper KID FRESINO, serving as a platform for showcasing some of Japan’s leading next-generation musicians.
Currently a music university student, Hasegawa began releasing music from 2016 on SoundCloud. In 2019, he released his first album, AIR NI NI, a genre-defying tour de force with contemporary music, jazz, breakcore and other influences. The 21-year-old’s concerts mix programmed music with his skilled keyboard performance, and watching him churn out complicated and speedy refrains and chords onstage is like watching Louis Cole’s drumming, only on keyboards instead.
A three-man hip-hop unit consisting of Zo Zhit (MC/track maker), TAITAN MAN (MC), and BOTSU a.k.a. NGS (MC/DJ), Dos Monos incorporate elements from free jazz and prog rock in their blistering tracks and performances, which have garnered wide acclaim from both hip-hop fans and general audiences. The trio signed with the U.S. label Deathbomb Arc, home of JPEGMAFIA and other cutting-edge artists, in 2018. The group has been steadily building a presence outside of Japan since, collaborating with U.K. rockers black midi on a remix of their song “bmbmbm” and are slated to perform at this year’s South by Southwest in March.
A young track maker/rapper/music producer born in 2001, tamanaramen — her stage name is “Tamana Ramen” (yes, that ramen) — creates atmospheric tracks reminiscent of the Icelandic experimental band múm and pairs them with introspective, dark lyrics that resonate with mainstream hip-hop, performing her numbers with a lispy, whispering voice. The teenaged artist released her completely self-produced EP called organ in 2019, which she made using GarageBand. Her field isn’t limited to music: She has participated in movies and also does spoken-word performances, and is one the leading next-gen artists in J-pop.