Japanese song

How Youtube’s Algorithm Turned An Obscure 1980s Japanese Song Into A Hugely Popular Hit: Check Out Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love”

Spend some time listening to 1980s hits, Japanese pop, or disco classics on Youtube, and you’ll almost certainly come across Mariya Takeuchi’s addictive song “Plastic Love.” Although first released in 1985 in Japan, it remained almost entirely unknown to the rest of the world until a few years ago when it suddenly achieved huge popularity. Now, after racking up over 20 million views, the song has quite a few people – even many of those who put it in heavy rotation on their personal playlists – asking what it is and where it is from. come. The video essay above, by Japanese animation and music explainer Stevem, breaks down the story of “Plastic Love” as both an obscure Japanese pop song from the 80s and a cult phenomenon. internet era.

‘Plastic Love’ became the best-known example of ‘city pop’, a genre we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture and which Stevem describes as ‘a type of music that reflected the shiny new modern Japan’. which emerged when the country’s rebuilt economy boomed in the 1970s and 1980s. “Since Japan did not and could not have a military, some of this money was invested in new technologies : cassettes, walkmans, VHS, cars, televisions, video game consoles.

The “booming cosmopolitan lifestyle” soundtrack took “tracks from new wave, synth pop, disco, jazz and whatever else was relevant at the time and pushed them into a mixer to make what might be one of the sharpest in pop music to come out of the land of the rising sun.

Young Mariya Takeuchi was one of the early defining pop idols of the era. Scoring a number one album in 1980, she lowered her profile over the next few years, marrying singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita (now recognized as an urban pop icon in her own right) and collaborating with him on a titled album Variety, with which she resurfaced in 1984, reclaiming the top spots on the Japanese charts. “Plastic Love” is her second track, laying down a “shimmering hypnotic groove, hitting you with its rhythm and never letting go”. Not only “a meditation on heartache, it really speaks to the hollow, plastic feeling of what people do to fill the sorrows of their lives and their loneliness”, acts as “buying commercial goods in the hope that they will make us feel more and avoid facing our own personal anguish.

Whatever the musical strengths of the song, it took an algorithm to bring them to the world’s attention. Youtube, which fans of 80s Japanese pop discovered early on as a way to share their music, has become a veritable “record store in the digital space, affecting how people define their taste in the modern era, mass-producing the feeling of finding those obscure gems for yourself in a way that feels natural, making it so good with the puppet strings you’re wearing I can’t even see them “Plastic Love”, as Vice’s Ryan Basil puts it, “is a rare song that doesn’t exactly need words to expertly describe a specific, defined feeling – a feeling of lust, grief, love, fear, adventure, loss, all taken in the middle of a whirlwind evening on the town.” Countless music fans here in the 21st century – living in Japan, Takeuchi’s homeland, elsewhere in Asia like me, in the West or elsewhere – can now make the startling statement that he makes: “It is, for now , my favorite pop music. world song. »

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts about cities, language and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: A Walk Through 21st Century Los Angeles and the video series The city in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.