Japanese singer-songwriter Junko Yagami finds global appeal with revival of “city pop”

The artwork of “Tasogare no Bay City” (Image courtesy of Yamaha Music Entertainment Holdings Inc.)

Japanese singer-songwriter Junko Yagami, known for her pop hits in the 1970s and 1980s, achieved success on YouTube, with a video of one of her singles released in 1983 that has been viewed over 7 million times and generated comments in multiple languages. In a contribution below, she reflects on the trend and influence of Western music on her work.

Junko Yagami (image courtesy of the author)

My songs seem to have been well received around the world. On YouTube, my 18th single “Tasogare no Bay City” (Bay City at Evening Twilight), first released in 1983, has been viewed approximately 7 million times, and comments have been posted in various languages ​​such as ‘English, Spanish and French. It is a real pleasure for me that even those who do not know anything about the singer “Junko Yagami” listen to the song. I also noticed that not only my songs but also other artists’ tracks like “Mayonaka no Door – Stay with Me” by Miki Matsubara (Door at Midnight – Stay with Me) are also played many times.

“City pop” apparently refers to the sophisticated, urban, western-oriented Japanese pop music that was all the rage from the late 1970s to the 1980s. But why do people now love a song that’s almost 40 years old? years ? I think a lot of artists in Japan at that time, including myself, loved western music. We were influenced by the latest western music, wrote songs and sang them. Simply put, “Tasogare no Bay City” is Western music. Therefore, people in Europe and the United States looking for comfortable music may have come across urban pop, which “looks like western music” without realizing that it is music. created by their “ancestors”. If so, it’s like reimported music.

Influences from western music from that time are still applied in my songs. Although it’s a bit technical, my use of syncopation to write melodies is just the same as in western music. By dividing the beats into quarter notes or eighth notes and combining them, a feeling of tension in the rhythm and a feeling of speed and pleasure in the melody can be created. It’s the opposite of standard 20th century Japanese pop, which didn’t often use syncope.

The most important thing I have learned from Western music is the intonation in the songs. The simpler the backing track, the better; and it’s perfect when the rhythm and phrases completely match the main melody. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” is a case in point. It stands to reason that a singer needs an ability to express himself, however.

Oddly enough, I moved to America, adoring western music, and spent half my life there, but now I sing “songs that no one else can sing” in Japanese that touch the hearts of Japanese people. while beautifully pronouncing Japanese. Nonetheless, I think the songs I write now will probably be treated as “city pop” in the decades to come as well. This is because Western music has permeated my consciousness – I only exist because of Western music.

(Japanese original by Junko Yagami)

Profile: Junko Yagami

A singer-songwriter born in Nagoya, central Japan, in Aichi Prefecture. Yagami made her professional singer debut on her 20th birthday with a track titled “Omoide wa Utsukushisugite” (Memories Are Too Beautiful). She has many hit songs including “Mizuiro no Ame” (Sky Blue Rain). She moved to the United States in 1986, and resumed her stage career in Japan in 2012.

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