Everyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge fan of Japanese music. 10 years ago (roughly) I was in that period where I listened to everything and mostly to the most well-known bands here in the west, like Gackt, Miyavi, Dir en Grey, X Japan, Moi Dix Mois etc. But I moved on from those. I've taken a big step back from visual-kei since those years. Mostly because I find that a lot of them (and I mean A LOT) sound exactly the same. I discovered Hello! Project through Morning Musume back in 2006 and it's still my most beloved Japanese agency, with the widest spectrum and the most versatility. For the last 3-4 years I've watched in sadness as more and more fans of Hello! Project have left and moved on to AKB48, whose charm I really don't understand. So here I am to give you a list and a small introduction to the Asian groups I have in my iTunes library. Most of them are in some way or another associated with Hello! Project and/or Up-Front Promotion. Beware, this is going to be a long post!
Morning Musume needs no further introduction from me. They are the idol group that started the idol surge in Japan. They were massive in the early 2000s and are now experiencing a new Golden Age with 5 number 1 singles on the Weekly charts in a row. Members change regularly and you never know what to expect from a single. There's their biggest hit ever, Love Machine, the jazz/blues inspired Mr. Moonlight, then there's the multi-genre Souda! We're ALIVE, the cuteness overload of Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago or Go Girl Koi no Victory, flamenco inspired Iroppoi Jirettai, the rocky Kanashimi Twilight, the dubstep inspired Wakuteka Take a Chance, and their latest single which I can't really put my finger on: Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe.
Berryz Koubou started as a children's group back in 2004. Their line-up has only changed somewhat with the graduation of one member since the start. From the early days of Piriri to Yukou! to my favourite Very Beauty, to the weird ones of Yuke Yuke Monkey Dance and Dschinghis Khan, to the cover of Thai hit Cha cha sing, to their more recent Rock Erotic. They have grown up and their music with them. Though, they are no absolute favourite of mine I love to see what their next single is going to be like.
C-ute started the same way as Berryz but in 2006 and their success has been greater. From the cuteness of Meguru Koi no Kisetsu, to the classical Japanese inspired Edo no Temari Uta II, to the rocky Dance de Bakoon!, to the sexy Ai tte Motto Zanshin, they prove that they can do anything awesomely :)
Buono! was one of my favourite H!P groups consisting of one member from C-ute and two from Berryz. Most of their songs have a rock sound and although being pop idols they pull it off amazingly well. And I love their outfits in every single video. There's the 60's inspired Rottara Rottara, the speedy and rocky MY BOY, and Zassou no Uta with is garage sound.
Juice=Juice is the newest group in H!P and they caught my fangirl heart immediately with their very first song Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne, which is incredibly catchy.
S/mileage isn't really a favourite, but I follow them on principle of being H!P. My favourite song by them is Choto Mate Kudasai.
Hello! Project overall has a tendency to mix group members into new (but short-lived) units. Right now I love Dia Lady. Old mix groups include DEF.DIVA, GAM, High-King, MilkyWay, ROMANS, ZYX, Aa!, Athena & Robikerottsu, Guardians 4, Kira Pika, Gomattou, Shugo Chara Egg!, Nochiura Natsumi, and Lilpri. But over the years (H!P has been on since '98) there have been groups and soloists as regular as those above. They have since been disbanded or left the agency. Those are: T&C Bomber, W, Country Musume, Coconuts Musume, Sheki Dol, Tanpopo, Pucchi Moni, Minimoni, Melon Kinenbi, Miyoshi Chinatsu, Nakazawa Yuko, Icecream Musume, Maeda Yuki, Abe Natsumi, Heike Michiyo, Goto Maki, Kusumi Koharu, Mano Erina, Biyuuden, Fujimoto Miki, Iida Kaori, and Matsuura Aya. All of them tend to have their very own style of music. On top of this many past members of Morning Musume tend to release some sort of solo work, but not going full-time into being a solo artist.
TNX is another agency affiliated with Up-Front Promotion and H!P. It's smaller and not exclusive to girls, although they mostly do have girls. There's enka singer Karen, girl groups Canary Club and THE Possible, soloists Ogawa Mana and Tokito Ami, as well as Tsunku.
Up-Front Promotion nowadays host many of the past and graduated members of H!P and groups including past members of H!P, but also their own people. Bitter & Sweet, Hangry & Angry, KAN, LovendoR, Nakajima Takui, Up Up Girls, Dream Morning Musume, Kikkawa Yuu, Kitahara Sayaka, Sharan Q, and Tasaki Asahi.
Then there are those that have left Up-Front behind completely and are no longer affiliated with any part of it anymore. I still keep track of them, because well, I love H!P. For example there's the folk rock group PEACE$TONE, classical Japanese group PRIEST, MoexKon, Kago Ai, Ohtani Masae, Shibata Ayumi, Umeda Erika, and Qian Lin.
Alright, moving away from Up-Front and Hello! Project. (And I've still only scratched the surface of the expanse of it)
My favourite Japanese rockbands are ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, BUMP OF CHICKEN, Ellegarden, L'Arc~en~Ciel, Miyavi, Miz, Tommy heavenly6, Vidoll, Karasu, Golden Bomber, MUCC, Kamiki Aya, Kitade Nana, and Lolita 23q.
ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, BUMP OF CHICKEN, Kamiki Aya, Miz and Tommy heavenly6 play quite ordinary western rock, while Ellegarden goes for the punk sound. BUMP OF CHICKEN tends to have a soft rock sound, and Miz knows English amazingly well for someone Japanese, same goes for Ellegarden. Kamiki Aya and Tommy heavenly6 always fight for the top spot of my favourite rocking girl.
L'arc~en~Ciel, Miyavi, Vidoll, Karasu, Golden Bomber, MUCC, and Lolita 23q are visual-kei (ish, there are so many kei nowadays) bands. Miyavi easily takes the top spot, although he has lost some popularity with me in recent years. I discovered both Golden Bomber and Lolita 23q as recently as last year. And then there's Kitade Nana who I'd say goes towards the visual-kei style, but not really.
My favourite Japanese pop groups outside H!P and Up-Front are J-Min, miwa, Rie fu, Beckii Cruel, Otsuka Ai and Nishino Kana. miwa easily takes the top spot here. I discovered her just after I had left Japan in 2010 and I've loved her guts ever since. She can do no wrong. Otsuka Ai was my first favourite outside Hello! Project and although she has in the last years completely changed genre into something I'm not sure if I like, I'll still always follow her career. J-Min is acoustic and Rie fu is largely English, but otherwise they are quite similar. Beckii Cruel's single last year was an eye-opener for me since I loved it, and Nishino Kana has a quite wide spectrum of good songs. She's slowly starting to take over from Otsuka Ai.
Moving on to Korean groups.
I haven't listened to much Korean music, but the first band I came in contact with was the rock band Cherry Filter, which remains my favourite to this day. Their singer Youjeen has an amazing voice.
I haven't really gotten on the Korean boy band train. But lately I've discovered two Korean boy bands that I sort of like. They are CNBLUE and FTISLAND. CNBLUE is mostly pop, sometimes leaning towards rock, while FTISLAND is mostly rock, sometimes leaning towards pop.
Then there's the completely new girl group of SPICA. I came across them by chance and listened to their single You Don't Love Me, which is 50's or 60's inspired and completely awesome.
Then ofc, you can't mention Korean without Girls' Generation. The first song I heard by them was Gee, and then Oh!. Both of them remain my favourites to this day, but I still follow their releases.
And that's it. I have been trying to find groups from China and Taiwan and other places of Asia too, but good pop rock seems hard to come by outside Japan and Korea. Seems like it's mostly r'n'b out there. I do have one Chinese song that's not affiliated with H!P and that's by Wilbur Phan: