I’m a J-Pop newbie, but I love writing these chord progression articles because it exposes me to all sorts of new music and new ideas to use for my own writing.
Sometimes a new article leads to me taking down a few notes or writing down some ideas to use later, but in this case I’ve gained a few new groups to follow. I always thought of J-Pop as a very simple style of music, but it turns out there is some real complexity in the music and J-Pop blends the styles of different genres in ways that you simply don’t hear in Western music.
Specifically, there’s an incredible blend of rock, metal, techno and pop that I’ve just not heard anywhere else…and it works incredibly well. J-Pop has a new fan.
1. i VI V
This relatively simple J-Pop chord progression comes from “Kaibutsu” by YOASOBI. This is one of many songs I found that mixes pop with rock and techno, and it’s also one of the songs that has really turned me on to the genre.
Between the keyboard, and what sounds to be some 8-bit tracks (like straight out an old school video game), and the relaxed vocal parts, this song has a sound that really pulled me in. These chords came from the verses.
Chords from the song: G sharp minor, E major, D sharp major
2. i vii III VI7
This one comes from “Kaikai Kitan” by Eve, and I would probably classify the sound as pop rock rather than pure pop. It’s clearly played with a traditional rock band setup (guitars, bass and drum kit), and it has a bit of a darker vibe through the verses while brightening up for the choruses.
The one thing that really screams J-Pop is the chorus, where this chord progression was taken from. It’s got incredibly fast and happy vocal parts that stand out over the rest of the music. Overall, a really fun song.
Chords from the song: G minor, F minor, A sharp major, D sharp major 7
3. i III VII VI
This J-Pop chord progression comes from “Evolution” by Ayumi Hamasaki. The song is very fast paced and the vocals stand on top of everything else in the song.
Related List: 10 Upbeat Chord Progressions
For much of the song the chords come basically just from a bass line, but these chords are from the intro and they are played by electric guitars. Honestly, this song is really complex and has a lot of different sounds coming from a lot of different places, so I had a hard time picking things out.
Chords from the song: A flat minor, B major, G flat major, E major
4. i III VI iv v
This chord progression is from “Starlight” by BABYMETAL. BABYMETAL was actually my first taste of J-Pop many years ago and I thought that this must be a really unique group in the genre. And in some ways I was right, they are truly a metal group just with J-Pop vocals. But in other ways I was wrong, there are a lot of groups with this kind of depth and personal identity.
Related List: 11 Heavy Metal Chord Progressions
This chord progression is an odd one, but it works well in the context of the metal genre.
Chords from the song: E flat minor, G flat major, B major, A flat minor, B flat minor
5. i VI VII III
This J-Pop chord progression comes from a very different style song, “Homura” by LiSA. It’s more of a ballad and the version I listened to was played only with piano and vocals.
These chords were taken from the song’s verses and they showcase a surprising trend that I am seeing over and over again in these songs, minor keys. The vast majority of J-Pop songs I’ve analyzed have been in a minor key. Coincidence? Not sure, but maybe not.
Chords from the song: B minor, G major, A major, D major
6. VI V i
This is from the chorus of “Usseewa” by Ado. The verses in this song just keep on a single chord while a walking bass line plays in the background. But this chord progression is played by the full band.
Also, side note I have to say that this is one of the most badass rock vocal performances I’ve ever heard. I normally prefer male vocals, but Ado has seriously earned my respect with this performance.
Chords from the song: G major, F sharp major, B minor
7. i iv VII III VI i VII V
In fact, I enjoyed “Usseewa” so much that I went on a little Ado listening spree. This progression is from her song “Gira Gira” and is another wonderful vocal performance.
The chords here are from the song’s verses, and the driving force is the bass line. In the background, you can hear some electronic sounding horns in between verses, but overall most of the rhythm/chords can be attributed to the bass.
Chords from the song: B minor, E minor, A major, D major, G major, B minor, A major, F sharp major
8. I V III7 vi
This chord progression comes from “Pretender” by Official HIGE DANdism, and if you watch the music video you can actually see some of the guitar parts played out.
The song comes of as a sort of soft rock anthem that you might hear by a Western rock band. Although it ends up sounding like a rock anthem written and performed by a pop band. Anyways, it’s a surprisingly catchy song and I kind of love this chord progression.
Chords from the song: G sharp major, D sharp major, C dominant 7, F minor
9. I ii vi IV
This chord progression comes from one of the biggest J-Pop hits of 2021, “Poppin’ Shakin'” by NiziU. This song is a pop song through and through. It has the catchy la la la’s and the techno-like build ups and drops leading into the chorus.
For as familiar as the themes in this song feel, it’s hard not to like it. Pretty much all the chords are just played by synthesized sound and much of the sound is electronic, but it’s got a solid composition and good performances.
Chords from the song: E major, F sharp minor, C sharp minor, A major
Writing J-Pop Music
A chord progression will never be enough to write in a particular style of music. Many of these progressions will be found in countless genres.
So what exactly separates J-Pop from other styles of music?
Well I can’t say exactly what it is, but I did keep track of some of the common themes that I have noticed while listening. Themes that seem to separate this music from other styles.
Now I do want to say one thing. The impression I got listening to several groups is that J-Pop is probably a Western term used to contain a wide range of Eastern music. Something like BABYMETAL doesn’t really belong to the same genre as LiSA. They’re very different styles. So keep in mind that J-Pop music is an incredibly diverse grouping of Japanese music.
So with that in mind, here are some of the themes I saw:
- Minor keys – I mentioned this in the article, but a lot of the J-Pop music I analyzed was in a minor key.
- Minor i major V – In general, I saw a lot of minor keys, but even within that I often saw a major V chord within the minor key (normally the V chord is minor in a minor key).
- Fast tempos – Certainly not across the board, but Japanese Pop seemed to have a significantly higher average tempo than Western Pop.
- Female vocals – Female vocalists in front of rock/metal groups are very common in the genre
- Techno themes – J-Pop seems to draw a lot from electronic music, where Western pop draws more from natural music
So that’s my list. In general, I think the best way to learn to write within a particular genre is to listen to that style of music while writing and try to mimic certain aspects of the music. Of course don’t copy 100%, but draw inspiration from the music and copy small things like a rhythm, chord progression, voicing or small section of a melody.