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2005 Year in Review

by Jonathan Mays,
2005 was a year of growing—and stalling—potential for J-Pop in North America. On the bright side, there were some cool concerts, a few good CDs, and finally, some J-Pop tracks on iTunes. But in a year that Japan's iTunes moved a million tracks in under a week, it's still depressing to see how few of those songs find their way to America.

It will be a long time before another J-Pop concert on this continent reaches the level of L'Arc~en~Ciel's in 2004. Nevertheless, the parade of artists this year was impressive both in number and diversity. The Pillows showed it is possible to sell out several J-Pop concerts on consecutive days. South by Southwest, a popular festival for independent artists, met some success with Bonnie Pink and Japan Nite. There was also a nice mix of pop and rock across several anime conventions.

Major anime con performances: m.o.v.e., Dream, KOTOKO, Maaya Sakamoto, the Indigo
Tours: The Pillows, POLYSICS, Pine*am, Kumiko Katō, Yoko Ishida

In case you didn't notice, Utada followed up her weak Exodus album with Exodus '04, a remix single from the same album. And speaking of not noticing, Tofu Records quietly offered new albums from Asian Kung-Fu Generation, L'Arc~en~Ciel, and T.M. Revolution.

Geneon, of all companies, remains the strongest in the field, with a steady stream of new CDs every month and the occasional concert tour. Last year I was going to predict that major label Avex would make its mark on the US in 2005. Good thing I didn't; they're still getting their act together, though their iTunes USA library is increasing slowly by the week.

The most unexpected, and maybe most interesting J-Pop development this year was AOL's entry into the arena with J-Pop and anime internet radio stations. Streaming radio is an area of great potential because you don't have to work directly with the Japanese labels (i.e., people who slow things down) to broadcast. Of course, as the folks at Japan-A-Radio and Keiichi would be quick to note, streaming J-Pop is nothing new. But anytime you get someone like AOL involved, there is a chance for something big and exciting to happen.

Finally, it has little to do with the state of J-Pop or its outlook in 2006, but last November, the Puffy AmiYumi duo had their own float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. That ought to at least make you smile.

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