J-pop, short for Japanese pop, is, according to Wikipedia, a loosely-defined musical genre that entered the musical mainstream of Japan in the 1990s. Modern J-pop has its roots in 1960s music such as The Beatles and replaced kayokyoku (“Lyric Singing Music”, a term for Japanese pop music from the 1920s to the 1980s) in the Japanese music scene. The term was coined by the Japanese media to distinguish Japanese music from foreign music, and now refers to most Japanese popular music.”—-Wikipedia
Throughout my perusing of the top ten lists of this site, I noticed that there was no list about the Japanese music industry. This, I felt, a shame since there is so much ground to cover on such a topic. This is a basic topic, but one that I felt would be an interesting read. And thus my idea to create the Top Ten J-Pop Songstresses list was born. I am not as into J-Pop, or Japanese music as a whole, as I used to be. However, it seemed like it would make for a nice list idea.
Of course, this list is purely subjective. Also, I cannot possibly know of every female J-pop artist so this list is narrowed down by who I am aware of in the J-pop genre. Other factors for picking out the top ten included popularity and overall success, talent (a singer-songwriter who composes her own music and can also play piano, guitar, etc VERSUS just a singer), likability, and, of course, personal preference. However, it should also be noted that some of the people on this list I am not a fan of (which is where the other factors come into play). Others, however, may be on here solely because of that reason. Just know that the list is subjective and I’m sure every reader will have ideas for who could be on the list instead. Also, note, this is my first contribution to this site!
10. Angela Aki
One of my favorite musical artists in general, Angela Aki is notable in that her musical style is, for the most part, quite unlike that of the others on this list. Much of her music is orchestral or acoustic and in nearly, if not ALL, of her songs she plays the piano, one of her trademarks, and for good reason, being incredibly gifted at it. Her look is also very unique in the Jpop industry-her wild black hair, black glasses, and distinctly non-Japanese features are an incredibly refreshing sight. Aki was born to a Japanese father and Italian-American mother and is fluent in both Japanese and English and sings in both. She may also be known to fans of the Final Fantasy series for her song “Kiss Me Good-Bye”, used as the theme song for Final Fantasy XII, as well as singing a cover of the Final Fantasy VIII theme song “Eyes On Me.” Her most successful singles include the aforementioned “Kiss Me Good-Bye”, “This Love”, “Sakurairo”, and “Tegami (Haikei Jugo no Kimi e).”
9. Nami Tamaki
Despite being one of the singers on this list that I am not quite as fond of and not writing her own music, Nami Tamaki is truly talented, being known for her powerful dancing. Making her debut in 2003 with her single “Believe”, she has since put out 6 studio albums and 2 compilation albums, 4 of those albums making it into the top 10 and 2 of those four making #1 in Japan. Her voice is pleasant and her dancing is unique and powerful. Her music also steps out of just J-pop, sometimes taking very a very dark rock sound. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt to mention that she’s gorgeous.
8. Yuna Ito
Yuna Ito is an interesting artist on this list. First, it should be noted that she is in fact American, being born in Los Angeles and raised in Hawaii (though she is of Japanese ancestry). She is thus fluent in both Japanese and English. Additionally, she is one of the few on this list that is an actress as well, making her debut in film along with music in 2005 with her role in the film “Nana” and her single “Endless Story”, used as the theme song for the movie. She has since released three studio albums, her debut album, “Heart” ranking #1 in the charts in Japan. Quite honestly, it’s hard not to find her charming. Her sweet appearance and strong vocals, being inspired by the vocals of Celine Dion, are just downright pleasant. Also, it’s interesting to note that she and Angela Aki are good friends in real life.
Another singer on this list that I am less fond of, Hitomi is notable in that she is one of the artists on this list that has been active the longest, starting her music career in 1994. Also, her success is another reason she’s on this list, having sold over 8,830,000 copies of all her albums, singles, and video releases in Japan, according to Wikipedia. She is perhaps one of the first major J-pop artists and her biggest hits include “Candy Girl”, “Love 2000”, and “Samurai Drive.” Since her debut, she has put out 9 studio albums and 1 compilation album. She has also written the lyrics to nearly all of her songs. She is known in Japan for her supermodel allure.
One of my favorites on this list, Yui is an incredibly talented young woman, writing, composing, and arranging her own music, playing multiple instruments (she is well known for her guitar playing), and being an actress. Despite being a J-pop artists, she often delves into rock and it suits her well. Her voice and looks are strangely deceiving, having typical cute qualities (high voice, sweet features), yet she is not at all cute and is incredibly intimidating in a way, making me love her even more. She has released 4 studio albums and one compilation album and many of her songs have been used in animes (Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, etc). It must be said, I highly recommend her.
5. Kumi Koda
Koda is another interesting artist on this list. She is well known for delving into the Urban and R&B genres as well as her provocative and sexy image (Just watch the music video for Taboo. That’s all the proof you need). She is a talented dancer and has also won many fashion awards. Her voice, however, is not to my liking. Yet, despite that, it’s hard not to love listening to her dance tracks. Koda’s songs have explored themes of sexuality and taboos, a few of them even dealing with homosexuality, something I appreciate, being gay myself. Since the start of her career in 2000, she has written the lyrics to her songs and has released 9 studio albums and countless compilations. Her number one singles include “You”, “Feel”, “Yume no Uta / Futari de…”, “Freaky”, “Taboo”, “Stay With Me”, and “Alive / Physical Thing.” Despite her somewhat annoying vocals (in this guy’s mind, anyway), she is definitely one to look up.
4. Namie Amuro
Notable for being the longest active singer on this list, Namie Amuro is incredibly popular in Japan, even being revered as the “Queen of Japanese pop music.” Amuro is another person on this list that is just plain fun to listen to, the majority of her music consisting of dance-pop and later incorporating R&B and hip-hop. At the height of her popularity, she was also a fashion leader in Japan, leading to the Amuraa craze in Japan which evolved into ganguro, for better or for worse (mostly for worse…just look up ganguro.) Her popularity fell in the mid 2000’s, though in more recent years, she has gained it back. She is without a doubt a huge contributor to Japanese pop culture and fashion.
3. Ayumi Hamasaki
Well, where to start? She is among the most successful musical artists in Japanese history, selling over 50 million albums there. She also holds many records in Japan, such as most number one hits overall by a female artist, most consecutive number one hits by a female artist, highest sales, and most million-sellers. Since 1999, she has had at least one single top the charts each year. Hamasaki is the first female singer to have eight studio albums since her debut to top the Oricon (Japanese music charts) and the first artist to have a number-one album for 11 consecutive years since her debut. So…pretty successful eh? She also writes all of her own music and dabbles in composing her songs (Her album, “I Am…” was composed entirely by her). She is known for her honest and heartfelt lyrics. However, her voice and dancing have been negatively compared to other popular Japanese artists and even her fans have labeled her voice as screechy. Despite this, she remains enormously popular in Japan and is an icon of the Japanese musical and fashion industries.
Aaah, Boa…No Top Ten anything dealing with Jpop list could be without her. However, despite her being number 3 on this list, I am not a fan of hers at all. But she is more than deserving of number 2 on this list. The major difference between her and everyone on this list is that she isn’t even Japanese. She is Korean, but this does not keep her from being incredibly popular in both countries. Heck, she’s popular all around the world! She even released an album in the US back in 2009. She covers quite a few genres, though her area of expertise is dance music, being an INSAAAANELY talented dancer. Since her debut in 2000, she has released NINE Korean albums, SEVEN Japanese albums, and the aforementioned English album. Needless to say, BoA’s pretty successful. And onto number one…
1. Utada Hikaru
Number one goes to Utada Hikaru. Making her debut in 1998 at the age of 15, Utada Hikaru, or affectionately known amongst her fans as Hikki, has been labeled a J-pop goddess. Her debut album, “First Love”, is to this day the best selling album in Oricon history. In other words, Japanese music history. Utada has had three of her Japanese studio albums in the list of the Top 10 best selling albums ever in Japan (“First Love” at number 1, her sophomore album “Distance” at 4, and her third album “Deep River” at 8) and has had six of her albums be in the top 275 best selling albums ever in Japan. Utada has an estimated 52 million records sold worldwide.
Born in New York and raised both there and Japan, Utada is fluent in both English and Japanese. She has released 5 Japanese studio albums and 2 English studio albums and 3 compilation albums. She is particularly well known for singing the theme songs to the Kingdom Hearts series, “Hikari” (“Simple and Clean” outside of Japan) and “Passion” (“Sanctuary” outside of Japan). She writes all of her music herself (excluding her English albums) and has arranged and produced nearly all of her music. Additionally, she plays both piano and guitar.
In 2010, she announced that the following year she would go on hiatus. She released her final album till her hiatus, Utada Hikaru Singles Collection Volume 2, a compilation album that included 5 new recordings. Without a doubt, she is most certainly a J-pop goddess.
By Michael Beatrix