So you’ve decided to finally check out this Jrock thing. This Jrock Jpop or whatever-you-call-it, the Japanese stuff your friend keeps on playing over and over in the car, between classes, even in class, at the house, at work, over the phone–you just can’t escape it.
What is Jrock? Don’t you need to know Japanese to "get it?" Why do some bands have guys dressed like girls? What’s with all the makeup? And isn’t all Japanese music like bad ’80s music–or at least mass-produced, high-pitched, cutesy and saccharine?
Jrock (or J-rock) is short for Japanese rock. It refers to Japanese rock music, rock music made by Japanese musicians in Japan.
You don’t need to know Japanese to "get" Jrock. Have you ever listened to really great music without words? Or ended up humming the melody to a song whose words you forgot? In the end, it’s all about the music, man–at least, that’s what we believe. One of the best things about Jrock is the quality of music. Meaningful and perverse lyrics are a bonus (if you do know Japanese), but sometimes words just get in the way. When was the last time you shut down your brain and rode on sweet waves of pure sound?
If you want to keep thinking, fine. The reason that the one cute-looking girl in that one band is really a guy–and they are all guys, here–is because the band is a visual kei band.
Visual kei means "visual style," and it’s Japan’s own rock movement. After country, folk, and classic rock washed over Japan (most notably with the Beatles’ first performance there in 1966), cover bands popped up. Next came copy bands, which emulated Western styles in Japanese. But then, Japanese musicians began to do their own thing, and for reasons more than just to "sound like that Western band." They incorporated bits of Japanese culture, tradition, and philosophy that weren’t mainstream yet long a part of Japanese history, blending it with the new, modern and popular outlet of rock. In the early ’80s, visual kei was born amid heavy makeup, wild hairstyles, costumes, and the effeminate appearances of male musicians.
With Jrock artists–as with scores of musicians–makeup is part of the show. The Japanese in particular are no strangers to makeup. But any artist will tell you that makeup is part of being on stage. Some musicians wear it; others don’t. Most Jrock musicians do–and all visual kei bands do.
And not all Japanese music sounds like it came from a Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store. Jrock sounds like rock music. It can also sound like punk-rock, folk-rock, pub-rock, indie-rock, pop-rock, and metal, with some hardcore, electronica, jazz, Europop, and classical music. Jrock isn’t even the musical equivalent of manga (Japanese graphic novels) or anime. It’s just music.
That’s the lowdown on Jrock, super-simplified. If you have questions about Jrock or this article, please e-mail us. We’re happy to answer any you may have