Much like the sensation you get trying to navigate your way through the Shibuya Crossing, the world of J-Pop is as exhilarating as it is confounding. J-Pop isn’t merely a genre, it’s an experience—a phenomenon that demands to be explored and discovered. It all started with Johnny & Associates, the Japanese talent agency responsible for creating wildly popular “idol pop” boy bands such as Arashi and SMAP. But where idol pop truly realized its potential was via girl groups such as Morning Musume and AKB48. Playing up their kawaii sensibilities (and taking them to dizzying new heights), these girl groups heralded a fresh movement, signaling the arrival of bands like the electro-pop trio Perfume and the flight attendant–themed pop-rock outfit PASSPO.

But there’s more to J-Pop than manufactured girl groups or boy bands. The late ‘90s and early '00s saw real talents break onto the scene. Artists like Namie Amuro, Misia, Hikaru Utada, and Ken Hirai all brought something new to the turntable, penning their own songs and producing their own music. One artist far ahead of her time in that respect, Utada, went on to work with the top producers of the day, including Timbaland, Danja, and Stargate. She may be singlehandedly responsible for introducing the urban/R&B sound to the J-Pop landscape—long before it was considered cool. Her music remains a gateway to the genre for many people outside Japan. Today, as the kawaii tween trio Babymetal are a thrash metal-singing phenomenon, J-Pop continues to push boundaries and captivate the world with its never-ending supply of quirks, novelties—and great music.

Playlists