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.
Pool Bit Boys – Sunshine
Released January 28th, 1998
You’ll see the name Daisuke Asakura A LOT as part of this feature, and Pool Bit Boys rode his techno-rock wave from 1997-2000 with seven singles across two studio albums. In the grand scheme of things, their career may have been short, but they burned bright (apart from the lyrically problematic What’s Life?… which is probably better off forgotten). Comprised of Japanese vocalist Kinji Ito and Hawaiian-born guitarist/rapper DAN, Pool Bit Boys was formed via variety audition series Asayan, which also fed into the longstanding Hello Project umbrella of girl groups.
Sunshine is Pool Bit Boys’ second single, released mere weeks after their debut. And though I adore all of their music, this feels like their defining moment. It’s such a ball of infectious, upbeat energy, galloping along a rollicking, keys-laden techno beat with surges of electric guitar egging it on. Like so many of the best pop songs, it’s well aware of how great its chorus is, and wastes no time getting to it. But I think I might even prefer that chanted post-chorus hook, embattled with blistering guitar.
Yet as knock-you-out amazing as this all is, Sunshine’s verses and pre-chorus have always been my favorite aspects of the song. I just love the melody here. It’s got such verve, pulsing forward as if embarking on some grand adventure. The stadium-rock power chords give me goosebumps, and add great drive to an already propulsive arrangement. Kinji’s vocals have an unadorned warmth – not perfect in all places but approachable and almost conversational in their delivery. And then we’ve got that rapid-fire rap bridge from DAN, which brings the perfect level of cheesy fun to the bombastic climax. The words “techno music” don’t always conjure images of charismatic frontmen, but these guys are incredibly charming performers.
And that guitar solo that caps off the track? Whew! This is one of my absolute favorite J-pop songs – 90’s or not.