5. Prosperity pop
April 26th, 2020

Tatsuro Yamashita - Ride on Time
(File under: music, japan, city pop)

Listen: youtu.be/ylLOm3c0R0s

City pop is the sound of the newly prosperous, a Japanese take on yacht rock with funk, disco, and jazz influences, written by and for a generation of young urban professionals with freshly installed cassette decks in their Toyota Celicas. It’s the sound of flash and excess, chrome and leather—walk-on music for capitalism. Very little of city pop speaks to the present moment: it’s a 40-year-old genre so contextually removed from my life that it may as well have been recorded on Mars, and yet one song fuelled my entire week.

‘Ride on Time’ by Tatsuro Yamashita is so smooth you could easily mistake it for the worst kind of MOR muzak, or at least you could if it didn’t slap so hard it leaves a mark. It’s got it all: a grimace-inducing bassline, sax solos like absurd sunsets—all of it played with implausibly tight musicianship. If a suit jacket with its sleeves rolled up to its elbows could make music, it would sound like this. Somewhat inevitably it rose to fame after being featured on a commercial for Maxwell cassettes.

I discovered Tatsuro thanks to this video of a DJ playing an hour of Japanese city pop and jazz funk, and kept pulling at the thread all week. There’s a seed of something in the genre that seems to have been blowing back and forth across the Pacific ocean for decades, planting itself in a scene and sprouting into something new. From west coast easy listening, to hype music for Shibuya yuppies, to vaporwave and future funk (both of which sample city pop gratuitously). It might not have much to say in 2020, but something feels strangely defiant about listening to music so tonally out of step with the current collective melancholy.

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