J-pop, an abbreviated term for Japanese pop or Japanese pop music, is a musical genre that has been a part of Japanese pop culture since the mid-twentieth century. J-pop applies to various music genres, from [jazz](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-jazz) and vocal ballads to pop-rock and [folk](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/folk-rock-music-guide), and “idol pop,” which features the highly polished and aggressively marketed entertainers known as Japanese idols and idol groups. \n\nSince the early 1990s, the term “J-pop” has come to define music by singers and musical groups outside of the [hard rock](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/hard-rock-music-guide), metal, punk, and electronic music genres: pop bands and pop stars, boy bands, and girl groups, and some performers from the [hip-hop](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/hip-hop-guide) and rock worlds.\n\nLike its Western counterpart, J-pop music is accessible, upbeat, and radio-friendly. Its proponents reflect a positive attitude, and lyrics concern simple yet identifiable topics: first love and heartbreak, happiness, aspiration. Like Western pop, J-pop is marketed through extensive touring, promotional appearances, roles in TV dramas, and theme songs for anime programs and video games, like Hikaru Utada’s popular theme for *Kingdom Hearts*. \n\nHowever, J-pop differs from Western and other forms of Asian pop in sound, as it hews closer to Japanese musical tropes. As a result, J-pop artists have not yet received the global trending and popularity of South Korean or [K-pop](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-kpop) artists like BTS, Exo, or Blackpink.\nThe history of J-pop begins in the early years of the Showa era (the 1920s to 1980s) with ryūkōka, a form of popular music influenced by Western jazz and blues. \n\n- __Beginnings__. Ryukoka was supplanted by enka, a sort of emotional balladry, and kayōkyoku, a more polished and reserved variant, until the late 1950s, when popular music from the West, like rock and roll and [rhythm and blues](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/r-and-b-music-guide), began to infiltrate the Japanese music scene. These influences led to the rise of electric guitar-driven instrumental bands known as ereki and the “Group Sounds” movement that echoed the Beatles and other ‘60s-era pop-rock acts. \n- __Making of the sound__. Homegrown versions of hard rock, singer-songwriter-styled folk, and [punk](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/punk-rock-music-guide) soon followed. Pop diversified into the idol system in which music labels shaped singers’ images for maximum appeal to fans. Synthesizer-driven electropop and city pop, a sort of urban fusion of soft rock, funk, and boogie that focused on urban areas like Tokyo, grew in popularity. J-pop remained between the twin poles of enka (traditional Japanese music) and kayōkyoku until the 1980s and ’90s when the modern definition of the term became the music industry standard.\n- __The rise of the genre__. The J-pop music scene grew exponentially larger in the 1990s, thanks in part to groups like B’z and Mr. Children, which generated platinum sales with their band-oriented sounds. The group was supplanted in the late ’90s by dance-oriented singers like Namie Amuro, whose 1997 release “Can You Celebrate?” was the best-selling single by a female J-pop artist. Pop-rock acts like Glay and L’Arc-en-Ciel also came to prominence during this period, as did boy band and girl group acts like SMAP, Arashi, and Morning Musume.\n- __Evolving in the new millennium__. J-pop trends embraced hip-hop, folk, and [techno](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/techno-music-guide) elements in the twenty-first century. Some acts created music by sampling actors’ voices from anime TV shows using a singing [synthesizer](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-do-synthesizers-work). During this period, the most prominent J-pop acts were from the idol world: solo idol acts, like the Harajuku-influenced model Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and idol groups, like AKB48, which is split into rotating teams and sister groups to allow for simultaneous appearances in multiple locations.\nSeveral characteristics define the look and sound of J-pop artists, including:\n\n1. __Marketing__: J-pop groups tend to record a series of single tracks, or singles—instead of compiling a studio album—and then choose a single track as the lead single. J-pop singles are typically featured on a compilation album, often with an alternate “album mix” to generate sales for both the single and record. \n2. __Sound__: Given the colossal size of the Japanese music-buying market, there is little need for J-pop artists to adopt or conform to Western music styles. As a result, J-pop often features [chord changes](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-are-chord-progressions-learn-how-to-play-rock-pop-and-jazz-chords) and vocal delivery closer to traditional Japanese music than American pop or rock. Vocals tend to be higher in pitch, and [melodies](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/music-101-what-is-melody) can sometimes very simple; the closest Western comparison would be the hook-heavy “bubblegum rock” of the 1970s. \n3. __Visuals__: As with J-rock, the look of J-pop artists is one of the most significant elements of their music. Female artists will frequently dress in fantasy clothing or, as with the girl group NiziU, in a “kawaii” or cute and childlike manner that nods to youthful interests while obliquely referencing their sexuality. Male artists adopt bright colors and hip, youthful styles.\nThere are dozens of popular J-pop artists hailing from Japan. Among them are:\n\n1. __AKB48__: Currently one of the top-selling girl groups of all time, AKB48—named after the Akihabara district in Tokyo—is almost a music industry in itself. The group, which is composed of more than 100 members in multiple teams and sister bands, has been featured on television shows, in video games, anime, and manga. AKB48 holds multiple world titles for record sales, including selling more than 20 million singles.\n2. __Arashi__: The best-selling boy band in Asia, Arashi was founded in 1999 and enjoyed incredible chart success until its dissolution in 2020. Their 2019 greatest hits compilation bested both Taylor Swift and the K-pop juggernaut BTS in sales.\n3. __Kyary Pamyu Pamyu__: A former fashion model and blogger, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu embodies J-pop’s “kawaii” aesthetic with her larger-than-life fashion sense and childlike stage presence. Her look has made her one of the rare J-pop artists with a Western fanbase and attention from American record labels.\n4. __Official Hige Dandism__: The Shimane-based pop group Official Hige Dandism is arguably one of the biggest J-pop bands. Their 2019 single “Pretender” amassed a staggering 300 million streams on Apple Music, which sent the accompanying album, *Traveler* to the top of the Japanese music charts in the same year.\nBecome a better musician with the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com). Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by the world’s best, including Armin van Buuren, St. Vincent, deadmau5, Usher, Timbaland, Sheila E., Tom Morello, and more.\nJ-pop, or Japanese pop, is an eclectic genre of music from Japan that dates back to the 1950s.