Top 10 J-pop Female Artists of the 90s and 00s (Part 2)
Recap: Part 1
1. Ayumi Hamasaki 2. BoA 3. Chihiro Onitsuka 4. Hikaru Utada 5. Kumi Koda 6. Maaya Sakamoto 7. Mika Nakashima 8. Namie Amuro 9. Nanase Aikawa 10. Ringo Shiina
Women have been at the forefront of Japanese pop music since its legitimate inception at the beginning of the 90s. Whether striking out on their own or as a part of a great band, Japanese (and Korean, and Chinese!) women have been celebrated and fanned over in Japan for the past few decades.
Although Part 1 of this series attempted to present the Top 10 women of J-pop in the 90s and 00s, it's impossible to say that those 10 are the only artists to shake anything up, enjoy great success, or are worth listening to. There are hundreds of great solo artists from this time period, but starting from here, in part 2, the lists are all pure bias, popularity, and genre raiding to keep everything interesting. Enjoy!
11 - Ai Otsuka (大塚愛)
During the early 00s Ai Otsuka broke out as a peppy force to be reckoned with, the "New Guru of Love". Her hyper happy songs matched with her poignant ballads put her on the J-pop map as a top contender for the crown of "Queen of J-pop". And for a few years it seemed Ai Otsuka was on her way to snatching all the wigs around with her charming smile and little bunny mascot, "LOVE". But only a few years after her debut Ai decided to slow things down in her career as she married "RIP SLYME" member Su and had a daughter with him a year later. Today she's very slowly getting back into regular releases, but Ai seems perfectly content to take things as they come with her usual easy temperament.
I've had a casual love for Ai since her debut in 2003, but have never been a hardcore fan of hers. Still, every once in a while I'm in the mood to binge on her sweet voice and clever songs. When she hits a song well she hits it hard, and is a definite recommendation for those not afraid to get a little perk in their ears.
12 - hitomi
hitomi (real name Hitomi Furuya) stayed in the mild limelight for most of her career beginning in 1994. A prodigy of super producer Tetsuya Komuro, hitomi did things differently with him in the sense she wrote almost all her own lyrics instead of having them handed to her by Komuro. Her Komuro hit "CANDY GIRL" is one of her most recognizable songs, but after her split with Komuro in 1997 she went on to be a formidable songwriter in her own right. Hitomi's supermodel looks helped her become popular, but she's also a successful songstress and someone who always does things her own way. Her popularity has taken a considerable dive in recent years, but she continues to do whatever she wants without apology. Her label, avex trax, also seems to still be smitten with her despite low sales given their perchance for giving her gifts like her own sub-label.
hitomi is the type of artist to go under your radar until you finally get the hankering to listen to her. It's like "Oh, yeah, hitomi! I love her!" That said, she has a ton of great hits and albums, and part of her charm is not standing out. Every time you remember to listen to her it's like discovering her all over again.
13 - alan
This part's resident "foreigner" is Alan Dawa Dolma (simply known as "alan"), a Tibetan singer who makes half her living in Japan as a Japanese singing J-pop artist. alan, who is classically trained in Chinese erhu and Tibetan wailing, won an avex audition in her native China and was offered the chance to have both a career in China and Japan. What resulted was a fresh sound unheard of in recent J-pop history. With alan's classic Tibetan wails and Chinese instruments at her back, she was able to break into a market that is usually not as open to foreign talents. Today she enjoys steady enough success in both China and Japan.
alan is a real gem to discover when wading through all the J-pop artists at your disposal. Her big, shocking voice that pelts out the ballads is one to not miss. Even better, she also sings in Tibetan and Chinese to keep a little variety going.
14 - Ami Suzuki (鈴木亜美)
Like hitomi, Ami Suzuki was another prodigy of Komuro's in the late 90s. But coming in during the late 90s, Ami faced the decline of Komuro's producing power, but not before breaking a few records and selling millions of records first. In fact, Ami's popularity was so high at one point that she was considered Ayumi Hamasaki's #1 rival (see Part 1). But her fairytale came crashing down when her parents discovered discrepancies with her company, Sony, and sued. Ami ended up blacklisted and turned to self-producing on indies labels in order to keep pursuing her musical dream. Eventually avex trax defied her blacklist and picked her up, and now Ami enjoys a new career and moonlights as a DJ.
Ami's story is an inspiring one, and her music is even better. If you like some good electronic dance music, definitely check out her avex work - and likewise, if solid 90's TK pop is your thing, Sony stuff is the way to go.
15 - Kaela Kimura (木村カエラ)
The daughter of a Japanese mother and a British father, Kaela (full name Kaela Rie Kimura) was scouted at an early age to be a model. While she modeled on the side she also pursued a pop--rock career and went from band to band before trying her hand at solo activities once she gained some popularity as the host of a TV show. Her popularity took off and now she enjoys considerable success in the pop-rock world with many #1s and respectable sales. Even her sudden marriage and pregnancy didn't deter her output or love for music.
Kaela's music is fun, quirky, and all sorts of unique. Her surprisingly deep voice keeps things moving in every great single and album. The only things more fun than her songs are her colorful and weird videos to go along with them.
16 - ARIA
Since urban music isn't as mainstream in J-pop as it is in other music industries around the world, many women have issues with making a steady name for themselves in the racket. Women like ARIA, however, have managed to stand out and make a decent name for themselves. She got her start at an open mic and never looked back. While she never achieved great popularity (in fact, she got dropped by her record label for low sales), ARIA has never strayed from her urban roots and continues to take her career in stride.
ARIA is probably my favorite J-urban artist. Although there are other female solo artists who have left bigger marks on J-urban, ARIA's rich vocals and great beats (even when she's doing poppier electronica) are the perfect jams after a long day.
17 - RURUTIA (ルルティア)
Nobody is quite sure where RURUTIA came from or who she really is since she's one of the most intensely private people in J-pop. All that's known is that her name comes from the Tahitian word for "blissful rain". Regardless of her mysteriousness, RURUTIA has a dedicated small fanbase that has stood by her even after she left her old record label to pursue the freedom of indie releases. Her breathy vocals glide across heavy lyrics and intense compositions that are often backed with airy arrangements.
RURUTIA is one of the most intriguing artists in all of J-pop. Aside from her charismatic mysteriousness, her music is refreshing and reminiscent of the times when all music was heart melting.
18 - aiko
A student of the Osaka School of Music, aiko (full name Aiko Yanai) blasted onto the J-pop scene around the turn of the millennium with her cheery love songs and sweet disposition. Since then she's sold millions of records and has won the hearts of many listeners and fans. Before Ai Otsuka was crooning about love and heartbreak, near-namesake aiko was writing the book of love songs.
I don't listen to aiko very much, but when I do, she's very enjoyable. She has a voice that, for me at least, takes a bit to get used to but when I'm in the mood she does just fine. There's no particular song by her I love more than others, but likewise there's none I dislike more - that's the real charm of aiko: everything she does is of equal quality to everything else.
19 - Anna Tsuchiya (土屋アンナ)
Anna Tsuchiya (full name Anna Marie Heider Tsuchiya) is a half-Japanese, half-American model turned rock singer that has one of the boldest personalities in J-pop. Often called "crass", "unpolished", and "low class", people tend to forget that Anna is also called "genuine", "fun", and "bold". Her music ranges from silly pop songs to rockin' hard songs to all the genuine ballads in between. When she's not using questionable English in her songs she's starring in high profile movies such as "Kamikaze Girls" and "Sakuran". She also lent her singing voice to Nana Oosaki in the NANA anime.
Anna is one of my favorite people to follow thanks to her fun personality and equally fun music. There are few Anna songs that aren't great to grooving to or falling asleep to (in a good way!) and all her movies are great to watch too. Her vibrant personality and lack of fear in challenging Japanese society and its preconceived notions about femininity and the role of a wife and mother is very refreshing indeed.
20 - Hitomi Yaida (矢井田 瞳)
Hitomi Yaida (known as "Yaiko" to her fans) is often compared to Ringo Shiina (see Part 1) because of her dedication to overseeing all of her own work. Yaiko calls her music "heart rock" and in the early 00s it was all the rage, with singles such as "B'coz I Love You" and "my sweet darlin'" killing the Oricon charts. Her yodel-like vocals and dedication to her guitar have kept her on the J-pop map for over a decade now with never a dull moment between the years.
I've always had a fondness for Yaiko's ingenious songs and unique style of singing, and that fondness has exploded into adoration in the past couple of years. Even her slow and sad songs offer a quick pick me up on those dreary days when a little sunlight is necessary.