If there’s one song that spoke to the power of YouTube algorithms in 2018, it would have to be Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love”. Almost out of nowhere, this decades-old Japanese pop song which had once dominated the charts in its native Japan found second life as one of 2018’s surprise Internet hits. Takeuchi’s song, which was saccharine, an easy listen, and decidedly 80’s in its production, made fans fall in love with her all over again. Millions of listens (and a couple dozen copyright takedowns) later, it was clear that listeners were craving more. While they found satisfaction in similar artists like Taeko Ohnuki and Miki Matsubara, there was a hard limit on how much city pop is out there. Well, if city pop is what fans want, that’s what they are going to get.
Now, a year after the city pop resurgence, it seems like major record labels in Asia have finally caught on. South Korea’s JYP group tested the waters with Yubin’s city-pop-inspired “Lady”, which proved to be a success. In response, Estimate Entertainment released Japanese singer Yukika’s similarly nostalgic debut single “NEON” earlier this week.
“NEON” is a breezy pop song that gives the modern KPOP formula a new twist. Instead of being brash and electronics-heavy, “NEON” takes a softer, nostalgic approach to win over its audience. There’s a sense of familiarity to the song’s soft synths and violin strings, while Yukika’s airy vocals harken back to an earlier time when things seemed to slow down. Just like the pop idol songs of the past, “NEON” is inherently innocent. It offers a brief respite from the fiercely breakneck hits of modern pop by capturing the essence of what made songs like “Plastic Love” come back in the first place. Of course, the winning KPOP formula is still being applied here (we still get sprinkles of English and a perfectly choreographed dance sequence in the video), but “NEON” is a welcome change of pace, and an interesting debut for Yukika.
That leaves us with a few lingering questions. If “NEON” turns out to be a success, will more KPOP machines take notice? Just how far will the city pop resurgence go? Will audiences enjoy this musical culture shift?
But maybe that’s not something for the listener to decide–that’s a question that only the YouTube algorithm will answer.
Artist pages: Spotify
Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think.
He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.