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Japanese singer-songwriter Junko Yagami finds global appeal with 'city pop' revival

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

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


    Junko Yagami(Image courtesy of author)

    My songs seem to have been well received around the world. On YouTube, my 18th single "Tasogare no Bay City" (Bay City in evening twilight), first released in 1983, has had about 7 million views, and comments have been posted in various languages such as English, Spanish and French. It's a genuine pleasure for me that even those who know nothing about the singer "Junko Yagami" are listening to the song. I've also noticed that not only my songs, but other artists' pieces, like Miki Matsubara's "Mayonaka no Door - Stay with Me" (Door at Midnight - Stay with Me) are also getting many plays.

    "City pop" apparently refers to Western-oriented, urbane and sophisticated Japanese pop music that was trendy in the late 1970s to 1980s. But why do people now like a song that's nearly 40 years old? I think that many artists in Japan at that time, including myself, adored 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 seeking comfortable music may have stumbled upon city pop, which "sounds like Western music" without realizing that it is music created by their "ancestors." If that is the case, it is like reimported music.

    The influences of Western music from that era are still applied in my songs. Though it is a bit technical, my use of syncopation to write melodies is quite simply the same as in Western music. By dividing the beats into quarter notes or eighth notes and combining them, a tense feeling in the rhythm and a sense of speed and fun in the melody can be created. It is the opposite of standard Japanese pop in the 20th century, which did not often use syncopation.

    The most important thing I learned from Western music is intonation in songs. The simpler the backing track is, the better; and it is perfect when the rhythm and phrases completely match the main melody. Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" is a typical example. It is a given that a singer needs expressive ability, though.

    Oddly enough, I moved to America, adoring Western music, and have spent half my life there, but now I am into singing "songs no one else can sing" in Japanese that touch Japanese people's hearts while pronouncing Japanese beautifully. Nonetheless, I think that the songs I write now will also probably be treated as "city pop" in the decades to come. That's because Western music has permeated my consciousness -- I only exist as I do because of Western music.

    (Japanese original by Junko Yagami)

    Profile: Junko Yagami

    A singer-songwriter who was born in the central Japan city of Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Yagami debuted as a professional singer on her 20th birthday with a piece titled "Omoide wa Utsukushisugite" (The memories are too beautiful). She has numerous 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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