If you were to map my musical DNA, a sizable portion would be indebted to 90’s J-pop. To me, this is a truly magical time in music, but it’s rarely discussed or shared outside of Japan.
Being an aficionado of certain sounds within this era, I’ve tracked down hundreds of highlights over the years. And I think it’s time to share my carefully curated playlists with the world.
With this in mind, we have a new ongoing Bias List feature – The 90’s J-Pop Roadmap.
I’ll be writing about (and rating!) a number of singles from Japan’s 90’s pop boom, constructing a timeline of the era piece-by-piece.
Whether you’re familiar with these artists or not, I invite you to go on this journey with me and discover new classics you may have never heard before.
Nanase Aikawa – Koigokoro (Love Feeling)
Released October 7th, 1996
Nanase Aikawa debuted in 1995, and her rambunctious pop rock sound acted as a foil to the brighter girl-pop tones of the era. To me, she’s one of the defining voices of the decade, bringing a punky edge to her anthemic singles. And though she’ll almost certainly appear in this feature again, I think that Koigokoro (Love Feeling) is the pinnacle of her discography, and one of the best songs of the 90’s.
Koigokoro is pure melodrama, played out over a surging instrumental with plenty of drama in its own right. It hits you in the gut right away, as a wall of guitars push us right into the center of action. The verses are utterly gorgeous, as Aikawa delivers a delicate melody over galloping percussion. The chorus has a free-falling, tumbling quality that feels slightly chaotic in the best way. This is followed by a killer guitar riff, adding a jolt of searing catharsis.
Aikawa’s expressive vocals anchor the track. She’s got one of my favorite 90’s pop voices, with a great texture and character all its own. She was often cast as the quintessential “bad girl,” but there are much more layers to her performance than that stereotype conveys. This is most evident during Koigokoro’s incredible bridge, which bounds along dynamic percussion and fractured guitar to a create a sense of chaos – as if the song is collapsing around itself. It’s just brilliant songwriting — a truly flawless track that gets better and better the more time you spend with it.