Meet the Artist: Tatsuro Yamashita

The Man, The Legend

Tatsuro Yamashita (達郎 山下) was all the rage in Japan during the 1970s and 1980s. In the same way Michael Jackson was known as the “King of Pop,” Tatsuro Yamashita was known as the “King of City Pop”, a genre he helped pioneer.

Originally part of the band Sugar Babe with Kunio Muramatsu and Taeko Ohnuki in 1973, the group would soon disband in 1976. The transition into a solo career happened around the same time when Yamashita released his first album, Circus Town.

He’s since become one of Japan’s most successful solo artists, with 40 singles, 17 studio albums, and over 9 million album sales. Some of his more famous albums include Spacy (1977)Moonglow (1979)Ride on Time (1980), and Melodies (1983).

Not only is the man is a talented vocalist, his skill with various instruments could make him a one-man band. He does percussion (drums, timpani, glockenspiel), string instruments (guitar, electric sitar), and piano pieces.

He’s currently married to fellow city pop musician Mariya Takeuchi, and the pair occasionally collaborate with each other. (She’s also incredibly gifted and worth a listen.)

The Newlyweds

But What Is City Pop?

To gain a better understanding of the genre, it’s best to picture the events leading to its creation. Japan had gained newfound prosperity after the end of WWII, reaching a fever pitch during the economic boom of the 80s. The far-reaching modernization and westernization introduced new musical elements like funk, boogie, disco, R&B, synth, soft rock and technopop. Artists like Anri, Junko Ohashi, Yasuhiro Abe, and Taeko Ohnuki took kindly to these sounds and incorporated them in new, unforeseen ways. The resulting music would be deemed ‘urban’ in sound and associated with the modern city lifestyle. Hence, ‘city pop.’

While the genre’s popularity peaked at the end of the 80s, there’s a strong possibility you’ve heard a few city pop songs before! It has enjoyed a resurgence online, due in part to compatibility with modern music like vaporwave and future funk. Just as disco never dies, perhaps city pop, too, will stick faithfully by us as the years pass.

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