Popular Music


‘A new stereophonic sound spectacular’: Shibuya-kei as transnational soundscape

Martin Roberts

School of Communications, Hallym University, Chuncheon, South Korea E-mail: mroberts@tokyobossa.com


This paper focuses on Shibuya-kei, a style of independent popular music that emerged in Japan in the late 1980s and which has been influential in the popularisation of J-pop worldwide. Although usually treated as a uniquely Japanese musical genre, Shibuya-kei was from its inception defined by an ostentatious internationalism, fusing jazz, easy listening and bossa nova with British, American and French retro-pop styles. Tracing the international itineraries of Shibuya-kei musicians and the role of Western musicians and labels in promoting it outside Japan, this paper characterises Shibuya-kei not as just another J-pop genre but as a transnational soundscape, a collaborative project produced by a network of musicians circulating between Japan and the UK, the US, France, Germany, Spain and Brazil. As such, the paper suggests, it requires us to rethink the place of the national in relation to popular music.

Martin Roberts completed a doctoral dissertation in French Studies at Trinity College, Cambridge, and is a scholar of global media and culture, with a focus on the role of audio-visual media in the formation of national and cosmopolitan cultural identities. His publications include essays on world music, ethnographic documentary film, film culture and lifestyle television. He is currently working on a book on the relationship between globalisation and subcultural identities. He has taught at Harvard, MIT, and for over a decade at The New School in New York. He is currently a visiting faculty member at Hallym University in South Korea.