Top 10 J-pop Female Artists of the 90s and 00s (Part 3)
Recap: Part 2
1. Ai Otsuka 2. aiko 3. alan 4. Ami Suzuki 5. Anna Tsuchiya 6. ARIA 7. hitomi 8. Hitomi Yaida 9. Kaela Kimura 10. RURUTIA
In this ongoing series celebrating the solo women of Japanese pop music, we've looked at some incredible women who have both rewritten musical history and just gone with the flow while doing things their own way. We continue no differently from before. Below are ten more amazing Japanese women to whet your appetite, whether you're looking for new artists to check out or to feel nostalgic over.
Part 1 of this series had me listing the ten solo artists I thought truly were the best and most legendary, the biggest shakers and movers in J-pop of the 1990s and 2000s. Part 2 was a lot more casual with just more recommendations - Part 3 here is pretty much just like Part 2. I tried to mix it up based on debut year, genre, and vocal sound to keep it interesting. Of course feel free to suggest your own faves you think should be included for others to check out in the comments below, and she may end up in the next part or sometime soon! Enjoy!
21 - Rina Aiuchi (愛内里菜)
Rina Aiuchi was a formidable dance-pop artist of the early 00s, representing the peppy pop side of GIZA Studios. Her hot dance tracks matched with her echoing voice and self-penned lyrics made her not only a hot-seller but also a relatable artist. Anime fans will probably recognize her tracks, like most other GIZA artists, from the opening, ending, and movie themes of the extremely prolific show "Detective Conan", which Rina made many contributions to. Rina was also popular off the records as well, appearing in many TV interviews - this was in part of her speaking voice, which is really high and chipmunky, a great contrast from her deeper singing voice. Even after her popularity started to decline in the mid 00s, Rina kept at the steady and high quality releases. However, in 2010 she announced her retirement due to "health reasons". Rina had been known to be sick fairly often in the past, so it was not a shocking revelation.
Rina is one of those special artists to me. She was one of the first artists I got really into when I discovered J-pop - songs like "It's crazy to me" and "OVER SHINE" were high school jams in my life. I've followed her all the way to her retirement, which both saddened and relieved me - sad because J-pop was losing such a great artist, but relieved because it was obvious she was starting to wear down. Rina has an extensive discography worth checking out, especially if you love electro-inspired pop.
22 - Kana Nishino (西野カナ)
Kana has one of those pop "fairy tale" stories that we always hear about and wonder how they actually happened. Although she was easily accepted as a winner to one of Sony's contests, Kana's debut was shaky. She struggled to sell either of her first couple of singles which were mostly bubblegum pop in nature. Then she went through a mild image change, morphing herself into a little RnB princess with big lips and vacant eyes. However, Kana is anything but "soulless". Her personal lyrics strike chords in young women all over the world and has lead her to being one of the top selling solo artists of the past few years - and don't get anyone started on her amazing download sales! Kana has become the new princess of teen-pop and shows little sign of slowing down.
I've followed Kana since her debut with the single "I", and although I've always enjoyed her pre-switch stuff more, I can't deny she has a lot of talent. Both her ballads and more upbeat stuff are top-notch and I don't have to wonder how she's become so popular. I do wish she would smile more, though! She kinda makes the same blank face in all her photoshoots - then again, so does Ayu (see Part 1) these days, and it's always been fairly obvious to me Kana takes a lot of her styling inspiration from Ayu.
23 - MISIA
MISIA is one of those artists that's just hard to miss - her five-octave vocal range is so famous that it draws hundreds of thousands of spectators to MISIA's concerts every year. She got her start in high school when she did vocal training with African-American gospel singers in her area of Fukuoka, which lead to her passing an audition held by BMG Japan. Since her debut she's been one of Japan's best selling artists, and also one of its biggest humanitarians: she's particularly interested in charity work in Africa and biodiversity conservation.
I haven't been listening to MISIA very long (where the heck have I been?) but I got interested in her after hearing her on the radio in Japan all the time and seeing her great album and single covers throughout shops. Her voice has equally blown me away, which is enough to draw me into her world of Western influenced RnB, gospel, and soul, genres I'm not too usually into. But MISIA dominates them in Japan, and even I can't argue she's not one of the top queens of the industry.
24 - Hitomi Shimatani (島谷ひとみ)
After winning the "1st the Japan Singer" concert sponsored by avex trax in 1997, Hitomi Shimatani was trained to become an enka styled singer, but her debut single, an enka cover, didn't find any success. After immediately switching over to modern pop Hitomi started finding greater success, especially with her hit song, the cover "Amairo no Kami no Otome". Halfway through her career she took up the bold "crossover" concept, which included fusing pop music with classical elements. This ended up becoming the trademark sound of her career, even after she returned to her acoustic cover roots.
I can remember the days when Hitomi Shimatani was one of the "it" artists and everyone loved her crossover style. Even today I still listen to her songs nostalgically and dream of the day when she returns to it. Her voice is absolutely perfect for the classical fusion. But, as long as she's ultimately happy doing the music she's been doing, then I can't complain too much. We'll always have the greats "Viola", "Falco", "Garnet Moon", "Perseus", "Mermaid", "Destiny", etc. to listen to over and over.
25 - Miliyah Kato (加藤ミリヤ)
Miliyah and her princess RnB exploded onto the J-pop scene in the mid-00s and she's been a leading force since, with hits such as "Sayonara Baby" carving the way. There's something about Miliyah's breathy voice and casual style that has entranced listeners since her debut. She's probably equally famous for all her collaborations with contemporary Shota Shimizu, who balances out her voice well and brings his own separate talents to the table. Her albums continue to blast the charts and downloads while Miliyah explores other musical avenues, such as rock music.
Miliyah was one of my first favorite artists when I started listening to J-RnB. Her unique voice coupled with catchy songs and poignant videos make for a great time. And even I've fallen into the spell of her many collaborations with Shota Shimizu. My only big criticism of Miliyah are most of her photos - her neutral face is one that makes you think she's about the to cry / be ill at any moment. Poor girl.
26 - LISA
LISA is perhaps most famous for being an original member of hip-hop superstar group "m-flo". Back in the 90s she and her former schoolmates created the group and found great success. After said success, LISA decided to go solo and did so around 2003. Her first album, "JUICY MUSIC", was more light pop in nature, but eventually LISA went back to her urban roots. Today she also dabbles in house music while also writing for and producing other artists.
Words really can't describe how much and why I adore LISA, and have for years. Something about her "I don't give a damn" attitude while embracing whatever she wants? Yeah. Something like that. She always has this air of complete confidence around her no matter what she does, while also being completely down to Earth. Makes me sad that she was never more popular, but I can tell she's quite happy where she is and is still making a solid name for herself in music. Oh, and I love her voice. Both uniquely recognizable but not annoying. Who knew it was possible!
27 - Mai Kuraki (倉木麻衣)
Mai Kuraki is a label mate of Rina Aiuchi (above) and represents another side of the GIZA cash coin - RnB. Alongside Hikaru Utada (see Part 1), Mai was one of the forerunners of introducing Western RnB to J-pop. And she was almost as equally successful as Hikaru, with her debut album "delicious way" selling over three-million-and-a-half CDs and becoming the ninth best selling album in J-pop history. Since then Mai has departed from the RnB sound, gravitating more towards pop-rock and ballads.
It took me a long while to get into Mai's style, partly because her voice didn't appeal to me when I was younger. But now I really love her, and listen to her regularly, including her early hits like "Perfect Crime" and "NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP". Mai has a really great optimism to her career that keeps it going great. I actually believe her most recent albums are better than her older ones, which, to me, is a mark of a great artist.
28 - Tsukiko Amano (天野月子)
Tsukiko Amano is one of those artists that tends to fly under radars until discovery - and then it's just total and utter chaos in your mind as you go, "Where has she BEEN all my life?" Her kick-your-ass vocals coupled with her screaming guitar and general rock sensibilities is one of the best in the business. She's probably most famous for providing the theme songs to the Fatal Frame video game series. A few years ago she annonuced she was retiring from the music business to focus on her other passion of illustration, but a year later returned to music with the new name "Tsuki Amano". (The "子" in her name can mean "rat", and when the year of the rat ended she decided on a new name.)
Oh man, where to begin? Tsukiko Amano is really that good. If you love rock music at all, you have to try her out. She writes all her own stuff and plays her own dang guitar. If that ain't sexy in the music world, I don't wanna know what is.
29 - Nami Tamaki (玉置成実)
Like many other new talents of her time, Nami got into the business by winning a contest put out by her record label, in this case, Sony. Nami and her electro-pop jams were on heavy rotation in anime all across Japan, bringing her to not only countless Japanese fans but those overseas as well. Her name was so well known by Western anime fans that Nami was one of the first Japanese acts to have her albums regularly imported in American music stores. Her popularity waned after a few years, however, and she made a couple label switches before finally settling into her new indies label that allows her to explore more mature topics and sounds. However, most people will probably always know her as the "Mobile Suit Song Girl".
Nami was one of those names and faces always on your mind during the mid-00s. Even if you didn't care much for her high vocals, you still got exposed to her. I've always been a mild fan of hers although every so often she puts out a really killer song, like "VISUALIZE" or "Sanctuary". I'm also excited for her new sound and can't wait to see where she goes with it.
30 - Ataru Nakamura (中村中)
Ataru was a very innocuous woman when she first appeared on the music scene, and it wasn't until she mentioned in an interview that she had actually been born male that her popularity took off. In a society where it's difficult to find positive trans* role models, people flocked to Ataru and her heartfelt rock-pop music. Her life experiences have given her a unique take on life, as she often writes about finding her inner self and her feelings growing up. She also writes for other artists and bands, her most famous instance probably being the song "chewing gum" originally used by the boys from group "AAA". Ataru's most popular song is her debut "Tomodachi no Uta", which is covered extensively, including by classic artists such as Hiromi Iwasaki.
I was first exposed to Ataru with her song "Kaze Tachinu" and now I can never get enough of her and her great music. Even though she does mostly pop-rock styled music, it's very peaceful to listen to. Plus her unique voice helps her to stand out. You can also hear her confident personality in just about any song she puts out.