‘Western Pop Acts in Japan: Putting the Cult into Culture’

I will be giving a presentation at the European Association for Japanese Studies (EAJS) conference on 25 August 2021 about ‘Western’ pop acts in Japan.

In 1995, Guy De Launey’s article ‘Not-so-big in Japan: Western pop music in the Japanese market’ was published. It sought to explain some of the reasons why the overwhelming majority of Western (by which that article implicitly and this paper more explicitly takes to mean those acts from North America, Europe and Australasia that release songs in the English language) do not enjoy great success – in terms of sales of CDs especially – in Japan. Although over 25 years have passed since the publication of De Launey’s article, there has been little, if any, additional academic study on this subject, with studies about pop music in Japan focussing on Japanese acts.

On the face of it, the reason why Western acts would want to crack the Japanese market is obvious – at the time (De Launey’s study and this one focus on the 1980s and early 1990s due to the focus on physical sales), it was the second largest market in the world. Yet, the data shows that other than some exceptions – primarily big stars from the USA – most acts did not manage to sell huge quantities of albums and the share of Western music continue to shrink during this period (to about 24% of total sales). So why was it that Western acts not only released albums in Japan, but many offered special versions of the CD or additional remix versions? What does this teach us about the nature of the music market and its fans in Japan?  What was the relationship between the acts and Japan? How and why did some Japanese people follow certain Western acts? These are some of the questions that this paper addresses.

Additionally, this paper considers the reasons why the Japanese release of Western acts’ CDs have been collector’s items, looking at issues ranging from rarity through to the importance of nostalgia as these CDs continue to sell at prices many times higher than their original retail price.

This paper is significant as it addresses a gap in the literature about pop music in relation to Japan.

This presentation ties to the book, Frankie Fans Say Welcome to our World, that I am writing.

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