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.
Shazna – Aqua
Released September 22, 1999
The visual kei movement was huge in the 90’s, and I love the whole idea around it. However, I’ve never been a big fan of the actual music, past or present. It’s just not the type of sound I usually go for. Shazna’s Aqua is an exception for one big reason: it’s their one song produced by Daisuke Asakura.
Yes, it’s Asakura again. I think this is the third song in a row? Shazna’s general sound during their nine-year stretch combined elements of goth, rock and new wave. Aqua draws primarily from the latter, with a synth-heavy backbone that gives it a poppier appeal than much of their work.
I love the guitar on this. It has a nice clean, timeless feel to it. It’s very “arena-ready.” Vocalist Izam’s tone gets a bit nasally for my taste, but has a clarity that fits this song well. And then there’s that surging melody. Aqua might not get stuck in your head upon first listen, but it’s a sneaky earworm that rewards a deeper dive. Of course, at this point Asakura was churning out great tracks pretty much every month. I count forty-four on my playlist from 1999 alone, and that’s after years of a rapidly-expanding catalog that had already grown into the hundreds.