I am currently reading the book J-POP進化論―「ヨサホイ節」から「Automatic」へ (“The Evolution of J-Pop”), which chronicles the melodic changes in Japanese pop songs from the ’50s to today. I’m still stuck in a chapter about the differences between the traditional Japanese pentatonic scale, the Western octave, and the bluenotes of “Black” music, but I’ll let you know if discover something interesting. When talking about music, most Japanese tend to use the “do re mi” nomenclature for notes, which has been disorienting, but now when the bass player yells, “Play me a Fa,” I’ll know what he’s asking for (Also, for those at home taking notes, there is no “ti” sound in the old Japanese soundbank, so it’s “shi“.)
I was just eating my Friday night luxury Yoshinoya dinner and listening to the ’90s J-Pop selection on the restaurant speakers. Some people use the word “J-Pop” as a way to say “the Japanese mainstream music market,” but J-Pop is certainly its own genre and has its own body of rules and conventions. Once you know the J-Pop melodic range, rhythmic timing, and word choice, it’s easy to make up heartful J-Pop ballads on the spot, just like you can “do” hip hop or punk. I would be tempted to call the bands who break through with their own nontraditional and rule-breaking works — Puffy, Halcali, and the Shibuya-kei gang etc. — something other than “J-Pop”. It would be like calling the Beatles a “skiffle band.”
We’ll see what this books argues, but it seems to me that the collusion between artist management companies, record labels, and the television music programs keeps diversity in the industry very low. And subsequently, the closed-off production environment creates a musical form with very strict adherence to conventions.