As most of you readers probably know, GN loves foreign music. I love music from around the world. I listen to music from France, Turkey, Russia, Tanzania, Brazil, Spain, and many other countries around the world. But my favorite countries rest in Asia. Yes, GN is a big-time fan of Asian music.
As a Black/African American, most would look at me and wonder what made me love music from other lands and nations so much. I only speak English fluently. My parents never raised me to like foreign music. Well, not directly.
When I was younger, my parents would always take me to Mexican Food restaurants. I grew up eating Mexican food because they liked it. And you know what kind of music I would hear playing? Spanish music. After getting songs stuck in my head, I began to enjoy the music. I began listening to the music on my “alarm clock radio”…something only us ’90s kids would understand…
It was then that I began to like music spoken in a language that was different from my own. I never let language stop me from liking music.
Later, when I was around age 10, I acquired a love for anime. Cartoon Network’s Toonami block introduced me to so many animes, but it also introduced me to RPG video games. One of those video games was Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts had a commercial that played repetitively on every channel. The commercial had a very catchy song linked to it. (Many of you have probably heard this story before, if you’ve been following my blog.) That song was my favorite for months. It had a mesmerizing sound and beautiful vocals. But I never knew who sang the song. Finally, when I bought the game, I looked at the back of the booklet that came with the game and found out who it was. Now, I’m not going to give who it was away because that singer is going to be on my list. But I just wanted to share a brief summary of how I got hooked on foreign music, and how Asian music became a favorite of mine.
Even though I knew about that artist, I always thought the person was an underground American artist because the artist spoke excellent English. Little did I know she was a famous singer overseas! I didn’t really realize other countries had their “own” music (I know, it was very ignorant of me).
At the time, I was also a Bratz fan. Bratz came out with a song that was only released in Asia. At the time, I had to have everything Bratz. So, I did some research on this song, and found out about another famous Asian star. It was then that it dawned on me: There are other great singers out in the world that AREN’T American. My mind and my options were opened. Since then, I’ve been a fan of Asian music.
This all happened in 2003.
Now, I like tons of Asian artists. I’ve acquired a love of many different kinds. Over the years, I’ve gotten into artists from other continents, too.
So, now that you’ve been updated with my history, it’s time for me to share with you all some Asian artists I just can’t get enough of. I love all Asian music naturally, but these 20 artists really pop out to me. On this list, I will do a countdown, starting from #20!
20. Jo Kwon
I was introduced to this sexy K-pop star through f(x) Amber’s instagram. She was right about him. He’s super sexy. Not only is he sexy, but he does sexy in a unique way. Jo Kwon really impressed me with his performance, “Animal”. He is an artist that I consider “ground-breaking” in Korea and around the world. He proved that men can strut in platform heels and still look good doing it! I honestly can only respect him as he highlights his own beauty. Ever since that performance, I have been wanting more from him. He’s a rare gem in a boxed world.
I was first introduced to this J-rock band when watching the Detective Conan anime. One of Zard’s songs was the 4th Opening theme. But it was the 22nd Opening theme that made me follow this band full-throttle. Whenever I think of Japanese music, this band is always one of the first that come to my mind. Their music is energetic, but what made them even more special was their lead vocalist. There are very few female rockers in the world, and she was one-in-a-million. Unfortunately, she has passed away. 😦 But their music is still amazing.
I first learned of K-pop boy group BtoB this year on We Got Married Global. I heard about their song “Beep Beep”, but the song that really sparked my interest was “Wow”. Teddy Riley raved about this group’s New Jack Swing style, which is what made me check out that song. The fact that BtoB successfully tried New Jack Swing was impressive enough, but they also are really charming young men who love music. Sungjae has become a favorite of mine, as he seems to really love music. I’ve been watching him on KBS’s A Song for You. He never ceases to entertain me. BtoB is a K-pop group with one American member.
I was introduced to this K-pop group on a BoA fan message board site. BoA was compared to the YG entertainment group. At first I was offended, but I still gave them a shot. When I heard the song “I Love You”, I immediately knew there was something different about them. They were so different from all the other groups. They didn’t do the “cute” thing. But they also sounded so…AMERICAN. They kind of reminded me of Rihanna in many ways. I was addicted to that song for a long time. They always struck me as more mature than the other girl groups. It wasn’t until later that I saw more edgy, fun sides to them. Their performances were always unique. They never danced silly or cute dances. They used profanity in their performances. They dressed risque and pointed with swag at their viewers with their long, sharp nails. While this tough edge made them a more “alpha, dominant” female group, it never took away from the sex appeal or girlishness. They had a charm all their own. I couldn’t resist getting their latest album, Crush.
Gackt has always been one of my favorite J-rock stars. I was introduced to him while passing through Japanese music websites. Final Fantasy deepened my interest in him. His unique image and sound make him universal. Something about his androgynous looks makes me mesmerized. And his image is in far contrast to his music, which is very masculine in nature. I love every moment.
15. Mai Kuraki
This J-pop star takes the #15 spot for me. She is an amazing vocalist. She used to remind me of Utada Hikaru back in the day. My sibling first introduced me to the J-pop star through the song “Perfect Crime” and I loved that song. But I first gained extreme interest in her after her song “Revive” appeared on the Detective Conan anime. She definitely has some epic and addictive songs.
14. School Food Punishment
This Electronic J-rock band caught my ears with the song “Sky Step”. My sibling also introduced me to this band. Their fast transitions mid-tempo makes their music easy to recognize. There isn’t one song I hate from this band and I can listen to them over and over again without losing interest. Their genre is also considered Post Rock. Unfortunately, this band disbanded in 2012. 😦 But their music is still hypnotizing and addictive.
13. Keiko Lee
This Japanese Blues/Jazz artist is one of my favorites. I first heard her music on the anime Requiem from the Darkness. She sang both the opening and ending songs. I swear, when I first heard her voice, I couldn’t believe a woman like her was singing. Her style is similar to Billie Holiday. She has quite a bass. Her bass adds a haunting shade on everything she sings. Her music can be alluring, seductive, and mysterious all at once. You should hear her cover of “We Will Rock You”. It’s most definitely a unique spin on that song. Check it out when you have time. It’s bone-chilling. The best part for me is that all of her music is in English, my native language.
12. Show Luo
This Mandopop star captured my heart with his amazing performances. Originally part of two different boy bands, he struck out on his own after several of his members left for military service. Most people probably know him from his cover of High School Musical 2‘s “Bet On it”. But I know him from the song “Zhen Ming Tian Zi” featuring female pop sensation Jolin Tsai. His music is catchy and his performance value is high. If you are in the C-pop neighborhood, you should definitely check him out. And for all you ladies, you’ll have plenty of I-Candy.
11. Super Junior (Including Suju-M)
I’ve known about K-pop boy band sensation Super Junior ever since I’d visited the SM Entertainment main website back during their debut. What stood out to me was the number of members they had. I also liked their boy-next-door appeal. The song I remember listening to often is “Sexy, Free, and Single”. Even though I knew about them for years, I wasn’t a fan until last year. It was Super Junior-M’s member Henry that helped my interest in the group increase. I saw Henry play the guitar for “Someday at Christmas (Happy Holidays)”, saw him play the piano for “Trap”, the violin for “Fantastic, and I just wondered, “What CAN’T he do?” I felt this was a reflection on the group. They must be some really talented men. The song that I first gave a chance was “Swing”. Ever since, I’ve followed them closely. Their upbeat and catchy music keeps me dancing for days.
I became an even greater fan of the original Super Junior after seeing Kangin on KBS’s A Song For You. He’s funny and also very experienced with music.
Recently, I’ve become a huge fan of this K-pop group. I was first introduced to Got7 on We Got Married Global. I usually hate boy bands. But the three members on that show (Jackson, Mark, and Bam Bam) made me fall in love with this group. Jackson, Bam Bam, and Mark are three of Got7’s international members. Got7 is a multi-national group, which always sparks my interest for various reasons. This makes them well-rounded. Their music style is mostly hip-hop, which gives them some edge. I love their hard but boy-next-door appeal. These are gentlemen who display honesty and frankness. There is something very real about this group. This group seem like normal boys that anyone can relate to. But what’s most impressive are their acrobatic skills onstage. It’s hard not to be amazed by this boy band. The music is attractive, the members are attractive, and the performance value is high. Once I had a taste of this group, there was no turning back. They continue to impress me. The first song I heard was their debut song “Girls Girls Girls”.
This K-pop boy band was the talk of the town during their debut. They were, in fact, the second Korean boy band I had ever listened to (after TVXQ). I was first introduced to them through SM Entertainment’s main website. I learned more about them through fan-made AMVs on Youtube. From the song, “Lucifer” to “Ring Ding Dong”, I couldn’t get this group out of my head for weeks on end. Their unique sense of style, colorful personalities, and strong unity kept me interested in this group for a long time. And I’m still a major follower. My interest in this group has increased after watching them on variety shows and seeing their performances of “Everybody”. They are just so unique, and yet, underrated in comparison to SM Entertainment’s other artists. They brought in a new age wave of Kpop.
8. Crystal Kay
Crystal Kay was one of the first J-pop artists I became interested in. Basically, she’s a veteran. What really struck me about her was her dark skin. Just like me, she was African American, but unlike me, she spoke fluent Japanese. I thought it was the most impressive thing and very inspirational. Crystal Kay is part Korean as well, though she doesn’t speak any Korean! Some of her inspirations include Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Speed, and my personal favorite, Namie Amuro. This girl has amazing vocals and an international appeal. The first song I heard from her was actually M-flo’s “Reewind!” featuring Crystal Kay from the “M-flo Loves __” collection. But I was so obsessed with that song for a year, I quickly became a Crystal Kay fan. And she just had her first U.S. debut! So exciting! Check out her performance of “Girlfriend” with BoA Kwon. Not only is her music amazing, but she has a soulful and bubbly personality that oozes charm.
7. Ayumi Hamasaki
What J-pop fan doesn’t know about Ayumi Hamasaki? Ayumi Hamasaki is the most unique pop singer in Japan. She has the foundation of a pop singer, but the performance value of a rock star! Ayumi Hamasaki is one of the few artists in the world who has creative control of her music. She fought for that right. She is widely known for her constant change in image. What I loved about her music is the edgy rock sounds she mixes with pop music. The first thing I heard from her was her album I Am…Yes, I heard the whole album. I was on a website back in 2003 called J-fan.net. They used to have a collection of Japanese artists. I happened to stumble upon Ayumi Hamasaki. I remembered the name from Inuyasha, which I watched occasionally. When I heard this album, I was taken aback. It was so amazing. Ever since, I’ve gotten every album after. Ayumi is never boring. Ayumi made “Poker Face” a thing even before Lady Gaga. Check her out if you haven’t already.
6. Kristine Sa
Vietnamese Canadian singer Kristine Sa stole my heart, mind, and ears with her vocals. Her music is amazing. She is widely known in the anime community, but is still relatively underrated. Her music is addictive. I seriously have every song she ever released. Ever since I accidentally stumbled upon her website, and heard the song “Consequence”, I was sold. I also managed to have a long conversation with the star. She was really friendly.
5. Jade Villalon/Valerie/Sweetbox
There are many reasons the Filipino J-pop star is among my Top 5. The girl can sing, but in her music, her personality and attitude burst forth. Jade Villalon’s music is clever and full of her wit. And I just love her face. Something about her baby face. I was first introduced to her on a blog I used to visit a long time ago. I do not remember the name of that blog, but I would like to thank them for introducing me to the artist. THANK YOU, WHEREVER YOU ARE! The first song I ever heard from her was “Liberty”, which was released during her Sweetbox days. That song was deep for me. The lyrics stood out to me. Many know her from the Final Fantasy song “1000 Words”. I seem to like those Final Fantasy songs…
4. Namie Amuro
I first stumbled upon this J-pop diva on http://hmv.co.jp. I was eager to find new J-pop artists. Namie Amuro stuck out to me because her music was steeped in Hip-Hop at the time. I just loved her voice. She was sexy and her performances grabbed my attention immediately. At the time, it was different to see a J-pop artist steep their music in hip-hop, especially females. And I always loved her tattoo and “lucky” belt that she wore. She just had a bad-ass image. I’ve never missed a single album of Namie Amuro’s. The first song I ever heard from her was from her album Style called “Namie’s Style”. Once I heard that epic hip-hop number, I had to have that album…and every album that came after. Namie Amuro has changed her style frequently. She also sings Dance Pop and Electronic Pop. I really just can’t forget about this edgy diva. And no matter how old she gets, she just looks younger and younger!
Oh yes. If you have been reading my blog, this should come as no surprise to you. What may be surprising is that they are only number 3 on my list! The quirky, unconventional all-girl K-pop group consumed my life last February with their album Pink Tape and slayed me this summer with Red Light. But I’ve known about f(x) since 2012’s “Electric shock”. I was introduced to f(x) through another K-pop star’s message board and decided to give them a shot. I was introduced to them the same day as 2ne1 from the same fan board. At first, I only planned to listen to the song once. But that song would not get out of my head! Later, I had done an article on androgynous fashion, which brought me in contact with f(x)’s Amber Liu and her story. My fascination with the group grew. I am now a huge fan! I believe this group has what it takes to be an international phenomenon. The diversity and individuality burst through. Their image is very unique and their music is spiced with variety. They are well-rounded for all age groups and all musical ears. To add, their lovable personalities allow you to fall in love with them. This multi-national group exceeds all language barriers. There’s so much I can say about this group. It’s even hard to really have a bias in this group. What I like about them is that they are girls who are just as entertaining as the boys.
BoA Kwon…was technically the first Asian pop star I was introduced to. She was the first artist that I was introduced to as “foreign”. I was introduced to BoA through a Bratz song called “Show Me What You Got”. The Bratz single was only released in Japan. A Bratz fan shared it on a popular Bratz Yahoo group. It was then that I realized there were other artists in the world outside of my own country, the USA. BoA is also the reason I have been introduced to so many other artists! After finding BoA on her Japanese website, I realized she was under the label Avexnet. After trying to find her album, I stumbled upon HMV’s main website, which led me to Namie Amuro and Crystal Kay. I found Ayumi Hamasaki while trying to listen to BoA’s album Valenti. I would always visit the SM Entertainment official website to keep up with the latest BoA Korean releases, and that’s how I was introduced to Shinee and Super Junior. Through BoA’s fan board, http://www.boajjang.com, I was introduced to 2ne1 and f(x). So it was really BoA that broadened my J-pop and K-pop experiences. Really, she is the reason I became interested in World music in general. I was so amazed that she was a pop star in a foreign country, I wanted to search for other artists in different lands. And this is all thanks to the Bratz dolls. 😉
BoA has always kept my interest with epic dance moves and hypnotizing music. This girl can REALLY dance. She is purely a musical genius at this point. It only makes sense that she would be #2 in my life. BoA is one of the best female performers in the world. I really saw this in the “The Face” tour. My first full-out BoA song was “Double”, and I first heard it directly on it’s Japanese release date, October 22, 2003 at 15:30.
Yes, my #1 favorite Asian artist is Utada Hikaru. This J-pop star was my FIRST Asian artist. She was the first singer from Asia that I’ve ever loved. And at the time, I didn’t even know she was a J-pop star! I was introduced to her through the Kingdom Hearts commercial. Her song was the exact thing that drew me to the game in the first place! I loved her song “Simple and Clean”, and the remix got me dancing every day. That song was stuck in my head for months until I broke down and bought the game. What a clever selling tactic, and it worked on my young, impressionable mind. When I found out who sang the song, I became a huge fan of that one song for YEARS. Later, I found out she was a huge J-pop star. Out of all of the artists on this list, she is the only artist I have seen live. I attended her “In the Flesh” Tour. This is the artist I would jump planes to see. Many artists I’ve liked later have either reminded me of her or have been affiliated with her, like Kristina Sa and Jade Villalon. She set the stage. Her impressive vocals, musical experience, and unique concepts always struck me. My whole family enjoys her music, so it’s the glue that ties us together. Utada is an experimental artist who speaks two languages. This is why her albums have such wide-ranged appeal.
So that’s my full list! Share with me your list!
My sister also shared with me her list, if anyone is interested in knowing about new artists.