|Stylistic origins||Various (mainly glam rock, heavy metal and punk rock)|
|Cultural origins||Early 1980s, Japan|
|Typical instruments||Vocals, electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, keyboards|
|Eroguro kei • Oshare kei|
|Japanese popular culture • Japanese street fashion|
Visual kei (Japanese: ヴィジュアル系 Hepburn: Vijuaru Kei, lit. "Visual Style" or "Visual System") is a movement among Japanese musicians, that is characterized by the use of varying levels of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics. Some Western sources think that visual kei refers to a music genre, with its sound usually related to glam rock, punk rock and heavy metal. However, visual kei acts play various genres, including those considered by some as unrelated to rock such as electronic, pop, etc. Other sources, including members of the movement themselves, state that it is not a music genre and that the fashion and participation in the related subculture is what exemplifies the use of the term.
- 1980–2000: Origins and success 1.1
- 2000–present 1.2
- Criticism 2
- Popularity 3
- Gallery 4
- See also 5
- Notes 6
1980–2000: Origins and success
Visual kei emerged in the early 1980s, pioneered by bands such as X Japan, D'erlanger, Buck-Tick and Color. The term visual kei is believed to come from one of X Japan's slogans, "Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock". There are two record labels, both founded in 1986, that were instrumental for helping the visual kei scene spread, they are Extasy Records in Tokyo and Free-Will in Osaka.
Extasy was created by X Japan's drummer and leader Yoshiki and signed bands, not limited to visual kei acts, that would go on to make marks on the Japanese music scene, including Zi:Kill, Tokyo Yankees and Ladies Room. Luna Sea and Glay, who went on to sell millions of records, with Glay being one of Japan's best-selling musical acts, had their first albums released by Extasy. Free-Will was founded by Color vocalist and leader Dynamite Tommy, while at the time not as popular as Extasy, it had many moderately successful acts, such as By-Sexual and Kamaitachi. Currently Free-Will is still going strong and has been a major contributor in spreading modern visual kei outside Japan, whereas Extasy followed its owner and became based out of the US, signing and producing American acts, and has since faded away.
In 1992, X Japan tried to launch an attempt to enter the American market, even signing with Atlantic Records for a US album, but this ultimately did not happen. In the late 1980s and until the mid 1990s, visual kei received increasing popularity throughout Japan, when album sales from visual kei bands started to reach record numbers. The most notable bands to achieve success during this period included X Japan, Luna Sea and Buck-Tick; however, a drastic change in their appearance accompanied their success. During the same period other bands, such as Kuroyume, Malice Mizer and Penicillin, gained mainstream awareness, although they were not as commercially successful. By the late 1990s, the mainstream popularity of visual kei was declining; X Japan had disbanded in 1997 and one year later their lead guitarist hide died, and in 2000, Luna Sea decided to disband as well. In 1998, Billboard's Steve McClure commented that "To a certain extent, hide's death means the end of an era, X were the first generation of visual kei bands, but the novelty has worn off. For the next generation of bands, it's like: That's it. The torch has been passed to us."
Notable newer visual kei bands include Dir en Grey, Alice Nine, The Gazette and D'espairsRay, who have all performed overseas. Veterans of the scene have also established new acts, such as Malice Mizer's Mana with his band Moi dix Mois, and three members of Pierrot forming Angelo. In 2007, visual kei was revitalized as Luna Sea performed a one-off performance and X Japan officially reunited with a new single and a world tour. With these developments, visual kei bands enjoyed a boost in public awareness, with bands formed around 2004 having been described by some media as "Neo-Visual Kei" (ネオ・ヴィジュアル系).
There has been criticism directed at newer visual kei bands for having lost the spirit of their forefathers, copying each other and becoming all the same. As far back as 1998, Neil Strauss reported that to visual kei bands "after X" makeup and outrageous looks became "more important than music". In 2008, Kirito vocalist of Pierrot and Angelo said "Now it's more like people are dressing up a certain way because they want to be visual kei or look visual kei. They are doing it to look like others instead of doing it to look different. This is obviously very different from when we started out more than ten years ago.", and Sugizo of Luna Sea expressed concern in 2010 that "They cannot make good sounds and music is more like a hobby for them. I cannot feel their soul in the music".
Although from the newer generation himself, Dir en grey bassist Toshiya said in 2010 "To be honest, when we first started and we were wearing a lot of makeup on stage and stuff, there were a lot of bands doing that at the time in Japan, and people thought it was cool. But not anymore, ha ha." and added "The music was so unique, too – bands like X Japan. At that time, there weren't any two bands that sounded alike; these days everyone sounds exactly the same." Kenzi of Kamaitachi, The Dead Pop Stars and Anti Feminism commented in 2009 that "Back in the day, there were bands, but people would try to do things differently. Nowadays, there's one band, and everyone copies off of them.", with Free-Will founder and Color frontman Tommy concluding with "I don't think our breed of visual kei exists anymore."
Visual kei has enjoyed popularity among independent underground projects, as well as artists achieving mainstream success, with influences from Western phenomena, such as glam, goth and cyberpunk.
The music performed encompasses a large variety of genres, i.e. punk, metal, pop and electronica. Magazines published regularly in Japan with visual kei coverage are Arena 37 °C, Cure, Fool's Mate and Shoxx. The popularity and awareness of visual kei groups outside of Japan has seen an increase in recent years.
- "Visual Kei 101 – Segment 1: the GazettE".
- """International Music Feed feature "J Rock.
- Sollee, Kristen (25 June 2006). "Japanese Rock on NPR".
- Reesman, Brian (30 November 2006). "Kabuki Rock".
Suzuki, Chako (January 2007). "Pretty Babies: Japan's Undying Gothic Lolita Phenomenon". fashionlines.com. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
Visual Kei is exactly as it sounds: Rock music that incorporates visual effects and elaborate costumes to heighten the experience of the music and the show. Visual Kei started in the 80s and became so popular by the 90s that the nearly all-female fan base started dressing up as their favorite band members (known as 'cosplay') who were often males that wore make-up, crazy hair, and dressed androgynously or as females (usually, the more feminine the rocker, the more fans rush to emulate them).
- Heinrich, Sally (2006). Key into Japan. Curriculum Corporation. p. 80.
- Yun, Josephine (2005). Jrock, Ink.: A concise report on 40 of the biggest rock acts in Japan. Stone Bridge Press.
- Arulvarathan, Subha (15 April 2006). "For those about to J-Rock".
Minnie, Chi (15 April 2006). "X [Japan]: Reliving the Height of Japan's Superlative Visual Rock Band". asiaarts.ucla.edu. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
...a fleeting genre known to fans as 'Visual Kei'. Nonetheless, this fusion of metal, punk and gothic aesthetics ignited at least two generations of followers with its shocking visual appeal...; 'Visual Kei' as a genre has more or less expired since the late '90s. The music that derived from the scene has transformed and visual bands have generally subdued their appearance.
- Gibson, Dave (2 November 1998). "Rising Sun".
- Crawford, Allyson B. (14 August 2009). "D'espairsRay Explains Visual Kei Movement, Expressing Emotions".
- Robson, Daniel (27 April 2007). "Shock-rock act Dir En Grey snub cartoons for cred".
"UnsraW interview". JaME-World.com. 27 April 2007. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
[...]Visual kei is not really categorized based on the type of music...
Robson, Daniel (20 November 2011). "Interview with YOSHIKI in Brazil". JaME-World.com. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
But visual kei is more like a spirit, it's not a music style or, you know… I think it is a freedom about describing myself, a freedom to express myself, that's what I believe visual kei is.
"Interview with ANGELO". JRock Revolution. 24 November 2008. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
Well I still don't think "visual kei" is a name for a genre; I see it as a bigger picture, as a part of rock. The visual aspect is something for a band to set themselves apart from others, at least that's what it was ten years ago. Now it's more like people are dressing up a certain way because they want to be "visual kei" or look "visual kei." They are doing it to look like others instead of doing it to look different. This is obviously very different from when we started out more than ten years ago. That's how I see it.
"the Underneath Debuts: Interview Part 1". JRock Revolution. 29 February 2008. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
Well, visual kei isn't a genre of music; it's used to categorize the bands that show their unique characteristics with their costumes and makeup, though sometimes the music doesn't necessarily fit the image. Either way, it's used to describe such bands that show their individualism through their appearance.
- "Visual Kei 101 – Segment 2: the GazettE".
- Dejima, Kouji. "Bounce Di(s)ctionary Number 13 – Visual Kei". bounce.com (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 1 March 2008. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
- Inoue, Takako (2003). Visual kei no jidai. Tokyo:
- "Visual Kei and EXTASY RECORDS". JRock Revolution. 25 August 2007. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- "The Jrock Legend: X JAPAN". JRock Revolution. 26 August 2007. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- "Shinjidai ni Totsunyu! Neo Visual Kei Band Taidō no Kizashi".
- "SUGIZO on LUNA SEA". JRock Revolution. 10 February 2010. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- "Interview: The Killing Red Addiction". JRock Revolution. 12 July 2009. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- Mascia, Mike. "Dir en grey feature interview".