Stratosphere: The City Pop Special

Photo Credit: K-POP Generation

Originating from the neon-lit streets of 1970s Japan, city pop was a genre that emerged during a time of post-war economic miracles. The middle class regaled in their own extravagance, fulfilling their every whim as they saw fancy. This fervor spread through Tokyo and demanded a new sound to match it. Thus, city pop was born. With its roots in the West, the genre drew heavy influence from the then-popular style of rhythm and funk. While every other Japanese rock band was incorporating English into their music, city pop artistes chose to sing solely in Japanese.


Over in Korea, city pop had its own short-lived emergence. Seoul was on its own growth journey, albeit spattered with needless curfews and protests. The Korean music industry saw music as a way of pushing their own agendas and city pop gave way to stronger music with political undertones. Now, almost forty years later, the genre has shown a resurgence with the likes of Yubin (former Wonder Girls) and Baek Yerin giving the genre some much-needed love.


Here are three city pop tracks to check out:

1. NEON, by Yukika

The Japanese singer first appeared in 2016 South Korean drama The Idolmaster KR and debuted in the tie-in idol group Real Girls Project. She debuted earlier this year with NEON, an upbeat track about being alone at night in a city full of neon lights.

The neon lights shaking in the air at dawn

I’m here standing alone


2. Venus (샛별), by Rainbownote

The duo with an obsession for the Sailor Moon aesthetic have played at various festivals across Korea, sharing stages with the likes of Lee Hi. Venus is a song about love that’s like a shining star.

You wanna be alright

Hold me like a star


3. Night in Seoul (서울의 밤), by uju

With her husky and sensual voice, the retro sound of the 80s is a perfect fit for this singer-songwriter. This track perfectly captures the essence of city pop and 80s Seoul.

Oh, the night in Seoul

is shining


It’s easy to see why city pop has slowly permeated its way back into the forefront of K-pop. Now more than ever, millennials find themselves caught in the vicious throngs of our advanced capitalist society and the late 20th century has become romanticized as what many deem the ‘happiest times in their life’. Like a lighthouse in a storm, city pop is a beacon of hope and a reminder of those simpler times. In an industry where mainstream pop often feels cold and inspired, city pop is fresh, light and most importantly, nostalgic. Says 25-year-old graphic designer, Claudia Sutrisno, “Unlike other genres, listening to city pop is a strange experience for me. It’s a paradox — as vague as it may seem, I reminisce memories of the past that I’ve never even encountered, and evokes a longing for something I can’t figure out.” And so while city pop may be stuck in its own era, it’s safe to say the genre is here to stay.

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