Everybody has heard of K-pop, a movement started by Korean musicians incorporating different styles of music and fashion choices into a globally acclaimed act which is currently dominating the charts worldwide. But, much before K-pop came into existence, South Korea’s neighbouring country Japan had and still does have something different to offer. Japan is a country which has vastly contributed to today’s global culture be it in the form of technology, anime or manga but just like Korea, they were also one step ahead of the rest of the world in fashion and music and gifted the world something that’s very dear to my heart, visual kei.
Visual Kei or J-Rock as it’s more commonly called is a movement started by Japanese musicians which takes heavy inspiration from 1980’s hair metal and glam rock. The outfits incorporate flamboyant and elaborate costumes accompanied by heavy makeup and crazy hairstyles and the music is a combination of several different genres of rock music mainly ballads, speed metal, power metal and glam rock.
Visual Kei’s origins can be traced back to the 1980s in the city of Fujioka in Gunma Prefecture by a small local band called Buck-Tick. Buck-Tick is credited with finding the genre alongside X-Japan and Luna Sea. Their album ‘Hurry Up Mode’ is largely considered to be the start of the movement within the country. But the genre took off globally with the release of X-Japan’s 1991 album ‘Blue Blood’. X-Japan is widely considered to be the biggest and most successful Japanese band to date. Initially started in 1982 by the musical genius Yoshiki, X-Japan has sold over 30,000,000 records to date and has been considered the most famous act of the genre. X-Japan’s ‘Kurenai’ and ‘Endless Rain’ are considered to be genre-defining tracks, they have also performed overseas with famous acts such as Marilyn Manson and shot music videos in Hollywood for tracks such as ‘I.V’ and ‘Rusty Nail’.
By the 2000s, the genre had achieved international success and the second wave of acts had emerged termed Neo-Visual Kei with bands such as the GazettE, Dir en Grey, Versailles and lynch. And even solo artists such as Takamasa Ishihara who is more commonly known by his stage name Miyavi. These bands adapted a new style of music with the incorporation of new genres such as nu-metal by the GazettE and Dir en Grey, and even now core styles such as metalcore and deathcore by bands such as Nocturnal Bloodlust. With this new wave also came a new style of dressing which drew heavy influence from the nu-metal trend in the USA which incorporated spiky and messy hair with a more grunge or emo clothing style.
By the 2010s, the Visual Kei landscape had again drastically changed with bands getting more experimental and opting for more toned-down yet theatrical outfits. Bands such as Versailles still stuck to their roots but acts such as Dir en Grey and the GazettE drastically changed their styles. The change in the GazettE’s style could be noticed with the release of the music video for their hit song ‘Ugly’ which included a more sleek fashion sense and sound. The GazettE’s album ‘Dogma’ would be their final album incorporating such an intense style with the ‘Dogmatic Final’ being the final concert where fans would see such an elaborate style on display. By the end of the 2010s, bands such as the GazettE either toned down their style or stopped identifying as a visual kei act altogether, for instance, Dir en Grey and Nocturnal Bloodlust.
Now in the 2020s, the genre is again going through a drastic change with new elements being incorporated into the music and style. For instance, the GazetteE’s 2021 release ‘MASS’ incorporated a way more toned-down fashion sense and electronic synths. Acts such as Dir en Grey and Nocturnal Bloodlust completely departed with hints of the genre being seen in their music videos. There has also been major criticism around newer visual kei bands regarding their originality as many are seen copying from each other or previous acts and fail to stand out.