Sometimes it’s a bit jarring to try to listen to a song in another language. You don’t understand the words, and you can’t really sing along to the track. Still, there’s something about its pure quality that still makes it a worthwhile listen. One of my favorite records of the last few years is “Unravel,” a Japanese pop song by Toru Kitajima (better known as TK) from the Japanese pop band Ling Tosite Sigure. A haunting melody, it seeps into one’s soul with its angst and frustration as one listens to TK’s pained falsetto. The balance between the piano, the drums, and the electric guitar create a sonic mural that evokes a hypnotic emptiness. There’s something about the fragility of TK’s voice that makes “Unravel” inescapable and beautiful.
Growing up, I was exposed to anime, the popular form of Japanese entertainment known for producing critically acclaimed productions such as Spirited Away and Dragon Ball. As a result, I became familiar with groups such as Flow and Scandal, which provided the opening and ending theme music for various shows. I was initially reluctant to start following such groups and expand an already–eclectic music taste that included hip–hop and electronic dance music, but I had a brother who I liked to imitate (for just about everything) and he seemed to enjoy it. The first J–pop band I learned about was Flow, one of the most popular collectives in their genre in the last fifteen years. I had happened to hear their songs “Colors” and “World End” in a show I watched a few months before and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I decided to start with them. Soon enough, I was bumping my head to tracks such as “Blaster” and “Sign.” Despite not comprehending more than a few words, I loved the passion, enthusiasm, and sheer quality Flow brought to their music.
Eventually, I started to listen to other groups, including Scandal and Radwimps, and came to appreciate the unique style of every band. Where Flow is cacophonous and boisterous, Scandal sounds harmoniously buoyant, while Radwimps comes across as melancholy. It’s clear that each one might have a niche audience, but there’s no doubt that anyone can enjoy their content. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a concert yet because J–pop groups don’t tour in the U.S. very often, but I wouldn’t hesitate if given the chance. Check out this live show for Flow on YouTube—the crowd is massive and the atmosphere seems awesome.
I don’t get as much of an opportunity to listen to the average record these days purely because I don’t listen to as much new music anymore in general. Still, I appreciate my experience as a fan and always keep an eye out for new releases from my favorite bands. When Radwimps released Your Name, the soundtrack to the eponymous hit film, I immediately found it on Spotify and continuously hit the replay button for songs such as “Sparkle.” There’s nothing to be afraid of in listening to J–pop—it’s a unique genre full of outstanding artists and amazing songs. If knowing the lyrics is important to you, a quick Google search of the translation will do the trick. It’s definitely worth checking out.