Due in part to the fact that this period ultimately coincides with the peak of Japanese entertainment international popularity – all headed by one super powerful franchise, Pokemon – this is probably the period most recognized by lovers of Japanese entertainment everywhere. It is with Ayumi‘s rise and decline (1999/2000 to late 2000s) that we mark the start and end of this particular “era” of the gyaru subculture.
If you look at her Japanese wikipedia page, most fans seem to mark 1998 as the turning point between Ayumi‘s “idol” and “artist” periods. To mark this particular period, I’ve turned to some major later Avex classics to showcase the music of this era.
Ayumi Hamasaki – Boys & Girls
This song is representative of its parent album, LOVEppears (1999), featuring a strong dance beat, production by Max Matsuura, lyrics written by Hamasaki, and composition and arrangement handled by major collaborator during this period, Dai Nagao (who is credited on this album as D.A.I.). Most important to note is the fact that the lyrics are meant to emotionally connect with the listener, despite the heavy use of third person throughout all of Ayumi‘s lyrics. A great analysis of the song is done by friend of the website Kiminobeat.
Ayumi Hamasaki – M (Non-Stop Mega Mix Version), no video
But, you’re going to say, the original is so fantastic! Why link to this? Well, that’s because at the time of her ascent, Ayumi‘s remixes were just as heralded as her original songs. When she released all her songs last year for her creator remix challenge, it came as a welcome treat for a lot of her older fans that used to often look forward to what was at first just remixes on her singles, and then eventually full remix albums. A quick listen to this song (which I hope leads listeners to the full album) should show why – the remixes were a wonderful introduction to the ways in which a masterful rearrangement of her tracks could produce an entirely different emotional experience to her works.
Kumi Koda – Cutie Honey
When Final Fantasy X-2 hit stores in 2003, critics raved about the game but very few cared for the music. This was absolutely not the case with fans, and to this day many a longtime J-RPG gamer will remember fondly the very first time they heard of Kumi Koda was with her tie ins Real Emotion / 1000 no Kotoba, her very first single to hit the top 10 on Oricon and the source of her popularity overseas.
(This author will neither confirm nor deny if she cleared the game to 100% to get a very sad short clip of Tidus)
As if to follow up on this, Koda subsequently released Cutie Honey, a cover of the original opening theme for the Cutie Honey series. This would be the public’s first exposure to her signature erokawaii style, which at the time was considered extremely scandalous due to her “skimpy” clothing.
Kumi Koda – You
In December of 2005, Koda began one of her most ambitious projects of all time, with 12 weekly consecutive releases of some of the best songs in her entire career starting December 7th, 2005 and ending February 22nd, 2006. You marked the start of this series.
With a very memorable piano line and a mixed R&B and pop sound, its lyrics are very typical of gyaru music that often talk of broken relationships and missed chances.
As always, I’ve included below the Spotify playlist for easy listening, as well as additional songs that reflect the gyaru music of this period.