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.
Ayumi Hamasaki – Boys & Girls
Released July 14, 1999
As the best-selling Japanese solo artist of all time and the “Empress of J-Pop,” Ayumi Hamasaki doesn’t need me vouching for how great she is. But in case you’ve never heard her music before, I’m here to give you an introduction with the fabulous Boys & Girls.
Ayu’s sound has evolved throughout the years. She’s tackled just about every genre imaginable, making her immense discography varied, but uneven. It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that I prefer the bombastic dance pop of her first few years. After debuting in 1998 with Avex Management, Ayu gradually built a fanbase before Boys & Girls hit like a semi-truck. It was her first million-seller, and highlights the trance-dance sound that characterized her music during this era.
Ayu’s icy vocals may take some getting used to, and they were particularly piercing during these initial years. But, Boys & Girls’ megawatt chorus hits instantly. You’ll hear it right off the bat, after a flurry of introductory guitar distortion. This opening chorus is quickly followed by a surging dance breakdown, the likes of which carries through the rest of the track. The larger-than-life production is typical of super-producer Max Matsuura, but Boys & Girls represents its pinnacle. It’s a stirring, euphoric dance track, and deserves its much-lauded place in J-pop history.