Despite its title, I’m quite confident that this list does not represent the “best” J-pop tracks of the year. It’s a much more filtered list than my K-pop countdowns, because I just don’t keep up with J-pop as strongly as I’d like to. So, what you’re getting here is twenty great tracks by artists that I follow. J-pop demands a lot more effort from international fans, often region-blocking videos or simply not promoting them at all. Given this, there are probably a ton of great 2019 J-pop tracks that I haven’t even heard.
With that said, take this as a recommendation list of J-pop that appeals to my tastes. Hopefully it will appeal to yours as well!
Some agencies make it very hard to embed music videos (damn you, Johnnys!), so if the song is not accompanied by a youtube video, click the image to watch the video on bilibili instead.
Ballistik Boyz – Tenhane (1000%)
King & Prince – Naughty Girl
Nissy – Addicted
TVXQ – Guilty
V6 – Super Powers
20. One N’ Only – Category
This hard-hitting EDM/hip-hop hybrid has been in vogue for years now (especially in K-pop), but something about Category lands just right. Its standout chorus has the energy of great BTS tracks like Fire and Idol.
19. Kamenashi Kazuya – Raise Your Hand
Kamenashi’s debut single was led by the more restrained Rain, but I was more obsessed by this uplifting synth-rock anthem, which brought his sound back to the arena-ready nature of KAT-TUN’s roots — guitar solo and all.
18. Taemin – Famous
Taemin continued his strong run of J-pop singles, bringing his signature Korean sound to the dark, funky Famous. (full review)
17. Kis-My-Ft2 – Edge Of Days
My favorite Kis-My-Ft2 songs borrow heavily from rock, and Edge Of Days brought that to bombastic levels with its chugging guitar and chorused hook. (full review)
16. Jr.Exile – Supersonic (Generations vs. Fantastics)
My favorite cut from Exile Tribe’s insanely ambitious, multi-part sci-fi battle royale. There’s more than a bit of vintage SHINee in this one, fused to a frenetic J-pop backdrop.
15. Fantastics – Time Camera
Time Camera throws a sentimental pop melody over a propulsive synth beat and that turns out to be more than enough to craft an early standout in Fantastics’ burgeoning discography.
14. Red Velvet – Sappy
Red Velvet’s best 2019 single turned out to be Japanese. Sappy harnesses their quirky side for a brassy pop confection that plays around with percussion in exciting ways. (full review)
13. Goo Hara – Midnight Queen
The late, great Hara re-teamed with producers Sweetune for this modern disco banger, and the results were fantastic. I only wish we’d get to hear her voice again. (full review)
12. IZ*ONE – Suki To Iwasetai
Before their J-pop output quickly went south, IZ*ONE delivered the stunning Suki To Iwasetai, which took a more classic Japanese route with symphonic flourishes and a big, layered chorus. (full review)
11. Twice – Fake & True
Twice had an amazing 2019, and that extended to their Japanese work. Fake & True continued their flirtation with more sophisticated club sounds to crackling effect. (full review)
10. Shuta Sueyoshi – I’m Your Owner
Opening with the best synth-line of the year, Sueyoshi’s I’m Your Owner was the perfect playground for his unique vocal timbre, hearkening back to the high-energy trance production of the 90’s while retaining modern touches.
9. Sexy Zone – Honey Honey
What an irresistibly bright, buoyant throwback! Honey Honey cribs from so many musical eras, but never forgets the infectious pop hook that makes it all work. Seriously, how can you not love that chorus?
8. Twice – Breakthrough
The rare song that lives up to its title, Breakthrough pushed Twice’s sound in a completely new direction and upended their Japanese discography. They pull it off better than I ever would’ve expected. (full review)
7. Kis-My-Ft2 – Hug & Walk
Ever miss those old, cheesy EDM dance tracks before the genre went all self-serious? Well, Kis-My-Ft2 has something to say on the matter, and their Hug & Walk is big, goofy and tons of fun in a modern-reinterpretation-of-LMFAO kind of way. (full review)
6. Sexy Zone – Child
After a couple of clunkers, Sexy Zone came roaring back in October with Honey Honey and Child. This track paints them in a more mature light, buttressed by an addictive, guitar-strumming beat and mile-a-minute pop hook. It’s a unique sound, and accentuates the best of their talents.
5. The Rampage – Full Metal Trigger
This was only released a few days ago, but it’s so great that it rocketed straight into my top five. The Rampage are on a roll, and Full Metal Trigger is such a potent encapsulation of their 90’s hip-hop, heavy-metal-meets-bombastic-J-pop goodness.
4. Pentagon – Cosmo
Though they’ve retreated to more familiar sounds for their K-pop career, Pentagon’s Cosmo briefly hinted at something more grand and challenging. Cosmo hits like a sledgehammer when it really gets going, building tension until we hit those climactic moments. (full review)
3. The Rampage – Swag & Pride
Horrible song title, excellent rap-rock anthem. Swag & Pride gives The Rampage their best chorus yet, marrying their natural intensity to the kind of stadium-ready melodies popular with 80’s hair metal. It’s all wrapped up in an ambitious J-pop production that turns the guitars up to eleven.
2. WARPs – Rock Tonight
A modern update of one of my favorite sounds of all time: early 80’s, MJ-esque funk pop. This is the only song WARPs have released so far, but they’re the J-pop group I’m most anticipating in 2020 — especially if they stick with this style. There’s a palpable joy to Rock Tonight, buoyed by their slick performance and that addictive percussion. (full review)
1. Hey! Say! JUMP – Beast & Rose
Though I imagine this level of theatrical cheese will not be for everyone, Beast & Rose gives me everything I want from this kind of over-the-top J-pop single. Its sing-to-the-rafters hook and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production invites you to cast aside all pretensions and just give in to the madness. That about sums Hey! Say! JUMP up as a group, and fuels the rest of their excellent (and surprisingly diverse) 2019 album Parade. (full review)