City pop is a genre defined by nostalgia. Though, as Cat Zhang writes, that nostalgia is algorithmically generated — and its recent popularity is wrapped in the acceleration of global exchange and a whole Western mythology of Japan as the capitalist future. Yesterday, Zhang published an elegant capsule history of the genre in Pitchfork, which also explains why the music is surging in popularity in the US.
Naturally, it started in Japan. “The upswing of city pop likely originates with the Japanese themselves: a few decades ago, domestic crate diggers started critically reevaluating vintage Japanese music, or wamono,” Zhang writes. Then, some decades later, it hit Western ears.
“Japanese music isn’t particularly accessible overseas: The country has been exceptionally slow to embrace streaming, prioritizing the consumption of CDs, and its expansion into foreign music markets has also been sluggish,” Zhang writes. “One recent breakthrough was the compilation Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1976–1986, released in 2019 by the reissue label Light in the Attic as part of their Japan archival series. The project, which now has a sequel, took four years to bring to fruition.”
The other part of city pop’s sudden American popularity has to do with the recommendation algorithms that drive our social platforms. City pop thrives on YouTube because its algorithm can’t recognize nuance. “[T]he algorithm will simply route listeners from “lo-fi beats” videos to “Plastic Love,’” Zhang writes.
The whole piece is fascinating. As the writer Kyle Chayka wrote today in his newsletter DIRT:
[N]one of these artifacts are completely authentic, and none the result of a single gaze, self or other. The stitched-together footage and the remixed, re-uploaded music are the kind of fictions that culture is always producing, the present digesting the past in order to produce something hybrid and new.