One of many "underground" societies in this nation, is a group of people who come from every part of the country who love japanese music
. Now, by japanese music, I am not speaking of the "traditional koto playing" CDs available in the new age sections of our american CD stores. Nor am I speaking of musical acts such as Cibo Matto
, that simply happen to have asian members. I am speaking rather, of the music that people (predominantly young people, but my friend's mother in japan was actually quite hip to it also) who are actually in Japan actually listen to. This music itself is divided by these fans (as the fans themselves are divided) into the categories of "J-pop
" and "J-rock
It should be duly noted that there are some people who classify all such music as "J-pop" due to its popularity. However, many of us, such as myself use the distinction between "J-rock" and "J-pop" to differentiate between two very different as well as very prevalent musical styles. Think of it as the difference between Marilyn Manson and Britney Spears. Both have great popularity, but the sound is much different. Also, it has been my experience that many who love J-rock have a great disdain for J-pop, and vice versa, but to a seemingly lesser degree. (i.e. you will find more fans of Ayumi Hamasaki who enjoy the song "Cage" by Dir en Grey, but far fewer Dir en Grey fans who enjoy the song "Boys & Girls" by Ayumi Hamasaki.)
So, how does one differentiate between the two? Let's start with J-pop. J-pop music commonly centers around a "hook". A chorus that sounds like it was designed by a group of scientists to be catchy and marketable. The arrangement and instrumentation is also one of the key factors in differentiating. J-pop is usually very "plastic" sounding, based almost entirely in synthesizer, though occasionally featuring an electric guitar here or there. Examples of what I myself would call "J-pop" are songs such as "Tumblin' Dice" by Tomomi Kahala, "Flower" by Kinki Kids, "Boys & Girls" by Ayumi Hamasaki, or any piece from V6's entire repertoire (which I personally avoid at all costs.)
J-rock includes acts such as Dir en Grey and Pierrot who's music features much more experimental ideas as well as real instruments. It is not uncommon however for many J-rock songs, singles at least, to also center around a hook. (i.e. "Yuwaku" by Glay) It seems best to me to base the difference on the arrangement of the song. J-rock has a more "real" sound to it. As opposed to a lead vocal over synthesized background music, J-rock sounds like a whole rock band playing a song. The subject matter and emotions conveyed in the song are also usually deeper or at least in many cases darker. J-rock also features the world of "visual rock", where the bands dawn elaborate costumes and make-up on stage, relating to that groups particular visual idea. (note: this is much less comparable to 80's "hair" rock as it would be to, say, Marilyn Manson's stage performances.) Visual bands include the legendary
X Japan, which sparked the career of Hideto "hide" Matsumoto (widely recognized as the greatest japanese rock legend of our time) Dir en Grey, Pierrot, Raphael, Buck-Tick, Malice Mizer, Gackt and so on. Though the stage look is not essential to classifying a group as J-rock, most J-rock bands have some elements of Visual rock in them.
Many debates circulate around bands that seem to overlap the two genres. Such debated groups include ultra popular bands such as Glay or L'Arc~en~Ciel. Both camps have members who "claim ownership" of these bands. This is the result of them being so popular that they bridge the gap in many ways. However, it is also fair to say that musically they are closer to J-pop in terms of the "catchy" quality of their music.
I realize that the odds are very few people reading this will ever have heard of any of the bands that I have mentioned in this article. This is not my fault, but rather the fault of a great degree of musical Xenophobia in America. Music that comes from other countries, especially if it is in a different language, faces a great deal of scrutiny. I personally, have heard many people who never actually listen to japanese music, denounce it as them imitating our music from the 80's. All I ask is that someone listen to a large variety of it before making such broad generalizations about the music of an entire country. I would certainly not like to have people listen to a single Britney Spears or Backstreet Boys song and make such assumptions about every musical group in the country based on it. Good luck to those who wish to investigate this music. I will tell you right now, that the internet is your greatest, if not only, resource for finding out about japanese music if you live in America.