These days, the popularity of Japanese music has risen all over the world. Ranging from high schoolers to adults, almost anyone can develop a love for Japan’s catchy and meaningful music. However, it’s not just J-pop or the melody that gets us hooked, but the power and uniqueness behind these pieces and artists. Here are 15 Japanese female singers who have impacted Japan, and even the entire world, with their immense talent.
15 Awesome Japanese Female Singers
Let’s begin with the very talented Namie Amuro.
Former producer, songwriter, dancer, model, and actress, Namie Amuro changed Japan’s pop culture throughout her career (between 1992 and 2018). She has sold over 40 million records with her hip-hop-influenced sound.
I asked my Japanese friends and family what they believe her most memorable song was, and as expected, they all replied with “Can You Celebrate.” This is an upbeat ballad released in 1997 that starts calm and elegantly, before it transitions into introducing the power of Namie’s vocals. It also manage to slowly return to a soft melody, executing great emotion.
It was also the theme song for the famous drama, “Virgin Road.” Upon release, you would hear this song almost anywhere throughout the streets of Japan.
Not only diared Namie’s astonishing performances impressive, but her fashion sense as well. Namie Amuro’s fashion and style were so impactful that almost every girl during the 90s copied her looks. She introduced the ‘Amuraa’ style, a look that focused on short skirts, skin that was kissed by the sun, and platform combat boots that conveyed a confident yet sexy appearance.
Namie was a huge trendsetter during her time, gaining fans through both her music and fashion.
Aimyon is a 27-year-old singer and songwriter who releases fresh, nostalgic songs mainly focused on pop and rock. Many people can easily feel a connection to her lyrics, as they include little details such as her song “Harenohi”, where she sings “The Kita-Senju Station platform,” surprising many with the mention of such a small town.
Aimyon debuted in 2015 with her hit song, “Ikite itain dayo na.” I think the reason why this song gained so much popularity is that instead of denying suicide, Aimyon created lyrics that resonate more with those who are suicidal or have committed suicide. After hearing and looking closely at these lyrics, I have gained a lot of respect for her works.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
When it comes to kawaii or decora culture, what do you think of? Personally, singer and model Kyary Pamyu Pamyu instantly comes to my mind.
She debuted with her first song, “PonPonPon” in 2011, the same year of the devastating tsunami and earthquake which struck Japan on March 11. The music video for “PonPonPon” features Kyrary dancing and singing in a colorful circus-like room filled with cute junk and bizarre visuals, leaving many confused and disturbed, yet it became a global viral hit.
In 2011, Kyrary Pamyu Pamyu partnered with a well-known photographer and fashion magazine editor, Yasuma Yonehara, in creating a project called “One Snap for Love” to raise money for victims of the tragedy. Because of this, many people have speculated that the purpose of the song and crazy music video was to cheer people up.
Whether this is true or not, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s impact on Japan remains phenomenal as she has proved her power through her unique discography and visuals, bringing nothing we’ve seen before to pop culture.
Miwa Yoshida is known for being the lead singer of the band Dreams Come True (DCT), which formed in 1988. She has also released two solo albums and pop, new wave, jazz, and R&B songs. Her husband, who directed many of the group’s videos, Sueda Ken, passed away just as DCT started a concert tour.
Despite Yoshida’s busy schedule, she spent every free moment by his side until the tour was over. Yoshida has inspired many by showing strength and courage by continuing to work hard and giving her all on stage even after losing somebody so important to her.
Perfume is a J-pop trio from Hiroshima that releases songs that incorporate elements of techno, synth-pop, electropop, and dance-pop. Anytime I listen to their songs, it sort of reminds me of the galaxy or space, as they’re known for their heavily processed vocals.
Many people believe that autotune ruins a singer’s voice, but Perfume knows exactly how to use it to their benefit. According to Wikipedia, their song “Polyrhythm” appears in Dance Dance Revolution, Pop’n Music arcade music games, Taiko no Tatsujin, and Cars 2.
One thing I remember is visiting Japan during the summer and almost all of my friends were listening to them, and I see why; their songs are uplifting and perfect for the summer.
Ayumi Hamasaki didn’t grow up in the best conditions. Her dad abandoned her when she was 3 years old, forcing her to help her family with work at a young age. Unlike some lucky stars, Ayumi’s debut EP, “Nothing from Nothing,” failed to chart in 1955.
She finally began to gain popularity and positive feedback after releasing the single “Poker Face” in 1998, which rose to number 22 on Japanese charts. Ayumi Hamasaki’s popularity is primarily because of her emotional lyrics, which inspire many listeners, as she has overcome many hardships throughout her life, including being deaf in her left ear since 2008.
Making her debut at age 17 in 2020 with her single titled “Usseewaa”, Ado’s song peaked at number 1 on Billboard Japan Hot 100. Usseewaa quickly gained popularity among Japan’s youth and even outside of the country, as the lyrics explain the rage and dissatisfaction within society.
Early on, she covered Vocaloid songs before creating her original works with producers. When asked what impact Vocaloid songs had on her in an interview, Ado said, “It was unknown music, so fast and high-pitched a human could hardly sing it. Yet it was still so addictive, which impressed me”.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Anri’s albums were bestsellers. She recorded music for dramas, anime, and commercials. Anri’s music was mainly city pop, which happens to be one of my favorite genres.
What is city pop, you might be wondering? Well, city pop incorporates elements of soft rock, R&B, funk, and boogie. It has a very nostalgic feel to it (a similar reason, I think, why people love synthwave albums so much) and many Korean artists have released music similar to it as well. Anri even sang the closing theme for the 1998 Winter Olympics at Nagano, proving how big of an artist she was.
Nanase Aikawa was a famous pop and rock star in the late 90s who was known for creating a ‘bad girl image’ in contrast to the cutesier look many female artists were leaning towards at the time. She started a side project called “Rockstar Steady,” with songs talking about lesbian problems and other relating topics.
This made Nanase a big lesbian representation symbol in Japan, as it’s very rare to find any, even if it was later revealed that she married a man. She was able to create a large lesbian fan base and give many people something they could connect with.
BABYMETAL is a duo band (former trio) with the concept of creating a fusion of metal and J-pop. Many fans say that what they love about this band is their outstanding unique performances and how intriguing their songs are.
Through their lyrics and music, they give the message of positivity and self-empowerment and focus on real-world issues. BABYMETAL also gained lots of popularity within the West because they pulled off mixing two genres that don’t always vibe well together.
Izumi Sakai, the lead vocalist of the former 5-member pop-rock group, ZARD, was the only constant member of this band. ZARD was well known for producing theme songs for popular anime projects, like Slam Dunk, Detective Conan, and Dragon Ball GT.
Sadly, Sakai died at 40 from a staircase fall at a hospital where she was undergoing chemotherapy. This shocked the J-pop world, as many fans loved her singing, songwriting, and ZARD’s rock style. Sakai was the number one best-selling female artist of the 90s.
Hikaru Utada was a popular J-pop artist during the 2000s, with most of her albums reaching number one on the charts. What made her so popular? Simply put, she was very talented as was raised in a house of music.
Her mother, Keiko Fuji, was a famous traditional Enka singer. Her father, Teruzane Utada, on the other hand, is a Japanese record producer who is now Utada’s manager. As for Hikaru, she was born in New York City, which allowed her to bring a mix of international sounds to Japan and change J-pop forever.
Miyuki Nakajima is known as the “Queen in Asia”—not just because of her success in Japan, but throughout Asia. In fact, there are tons of famous Chinese and Cantonese covers of Miyuki’s songs.
There is even a popular Chinese saying that says essentially suggests that Miyuki Nakajima supported roughly half of the Chinese entertainment scene. Not only in China, but in countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, many people have covered her songs as well.
Yum is a singer, composer, lyricist, and pianist. She was extremely influential in the 1970s and 1980s in Japan. Yumi has also contributed to many theme songs for Studio Ghibli, Japan’s biggest animation studio.
My favorite song she has written is “Hikoukigumo,” which literally translates to airplane cloud, and was even used as the theme song for the Ghibli film “Kaze Tachinu.” This song holds a special place in my heart, as Yumi wrote this beauty out of sadness in honor of her ill friend who passed away. Whenever I visit Japan, I hear this song at least once, as it has become quite a famous piece of music.
Akina Nakamori is a pop singer and actress who won the 1981 season of the talent show Star Tanjo!. She has explored multiple music genres like pop, rock, R&B, enka, blues, folk, and Latin music throughout her 30-year career.
What made her stand out was the more serious and sad tone found in her songs, unlike the happier tones we hear in pop music. Because of this and her great talent, she has earned the title of “the queen of tragedy” and has become the 20th bestselling artist in Japan with over 25 million records sold.
When some people think about Japanese female singers, the image of a cute girl who sings ridiculous songs about candy or children’s music often comes to mind. What I want people to take away from this is that there is so much more to these extremely talented ladies who have not only greatly impacted Japan, but the entire world. They have shown great strength and displayed immense talent over the years, and the world is better off for it.
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The article was written by Emi.