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Top 10 J-pop Female Idols of the 70s and 80s (Part 2)

Yu Hayami.

Yu Hayami.

Recap: Part 1

1. Akina Nakamori 2. Kyoko Koizumi 3. Miho Nakayama 4. Minako Honda 5. Momoe Yamaguchi 6. Pink Lady 7.Seiko Matsuda 8. Shizuka Kudo 9.WINK 10. Yumi Matsutoya

In part one of this hub I explored who I considered to be the top female idols in Japanese pop music during the 70s and 80s. To date it is one of my most popular articles, and I have received inquiries on whether or not I would write a sequel a two. To this I can only say, "So long as there are amazing idols of this era to discover, of course I will!"

By no means was that first list the be-all-end-all of great idols from classic J-pop. Far from it. Many great women poured their sweat and tears into carving a name for themselves, and some still enjoy great success today. But the thing that separates this list (and any subsequent one) from its progenitor is that, unlike that list, this one is in no particular order. So sit back, relax, watch a few vids and prepare to even feel a little sad - being an idol was often a dark and dangerous career.


#11 - Yui Asaka (浅香唯)

Yui's story is one of rags-to-riches and almost back to rags again. She debuted in the mid-80s as the winner of a grand prix contest ran by a comic magazine - subsequently she changed from her real name, Aki Kawasaki, to that of a manga character. Thus Yui's career veered in and out of manga and anime promotion while she also released music and acted in popular dramas. She got her big break with the single "Star" which was the theme for the drama she starred in, "Sukeban Dekka". By the end of the 80s she was crowned one of the queens of J-pop alongside Miho Nakayama and Shizuka Kudo (both in Part 1). But in the early 90s she veered away from the trendy pop of the day and began writing rock into her music. After plummeting sales and a tiff with her old record company, Yui went on a hiatus from music that she has only broken momentarily since.

Yui has a strong, mellow voice that blends well with both "cutesy" promotional pop and darker dance ballads. She's one of the rare idols to have multiple great albums from start to finish.


#12 - Yu Hayami (早見優)

Yu's charm comes from her unique soulful pop voice, her westernized features, and of course, her fluent use of English (she spent a majority of her childhood in Guam and Hawaii.) It was her foreign life that caught the attention of a scout at a department store in Yu's home of Hawaii. When she returned to Japan she took up a very successful career in music and acting that culminated in the major hit single "Heart wa Modoranai (Get Out of My Life)" which was a cover of the same song by Lady Lily.

Yu's greatest music comes from her hard-hitting dance songs (mostly in English) of the late 80s. it's highly possible that she could've been the idol to finally make a breakthrough in the western market had she stuck with it - but alas, Yu cut her career short after her peak, and today mostly focuses on her family and the occasional acting gig.


#13 - Mari Hamada (浜田麻里)

Throughout the 80s, Mari Hamada was Japan's own Queen of Metal. And that's kind of an understatement. You see, Mari wasn't "just" an idol (in fact, she wasn't really one at all) dressed up in big hair and spandex and screeching out heavy metal tunes - Mari WAS heavy metal in Japan, and one of J-rock's only big female representatives. She loved, lived, and breathed heavy metal. Even towards the end of the decade when she went more "mainstream" in search of better commercial success, Mari never let go of her hard rock roots. She started her own career and has followed it through to this day.

Mari is not your average, everyday female J-pop singer from the 80s. She hits notes that most other idols on these lists will never be able to dream of hitting. She is neither a "vixen" nor a "girl next door". She's just Mari, a woman who really loves rock music and gives it her all.


#14 - Yoko Oginome (荻野目洋子)

Yoko got an early start in show business when she won a contest in elementary school, although that endeavor soon failed a year after it began. It wasn't until her single "Dancing Hero (Eat You up)" was released in 1986 that Yoko saw her fame shoot through the roof and her name become a household commodity. She was known as the dancing queen of J-pop in the late 80s, a title reportedly passed to fellow idol Chisato Moritaka when Yoko's popularity began to dwindle. She continued releasing music through the 90s but now focuses on her family.

Yoko's music is mostly characterized by heavy synths and pulsing dance beats - hence the title of Dancing Queen. Although her everyday look was rather tomboyish at times, Yoko never strayed from gaudy outfits and wild wigs in her promotional videos and live performances. She was without a doubt one of the most "colorful" idols during her day, long before artists like Lady Gaga made it trendy.


#15 - Candies (キャンディーズ)

The Candies were a trio of young women named Ran, Sue, and Miki, that represented the idol ideal in the mid 70s. Their polished girls-next-door image and perfectly composed songs gained them entrance into Japan's heart with their fourth single "Toshishita Otoko no Ko", although it was their seventh single "Haru Ichiban" that became their staple theme song. Nothing seemed to be stopping Candies until the coming of Pink Lady (see Part 1) in the late 70s. Faced with an unbeatable rival, the Candies called it quits in 1978 even after thousands of fans offered them their support. While they would all try their hands at some form of solo career, most of the members fell out of the limelight except for the occasional reunification. Sadly, that is a thing of the past now, as member Sue passed away from recurring breast cancer in early 2011.

Candies had a typical safe pop sound for the 70s - but they did it excellently and their songs are still being sung and covered today.


#16 - Yuki Saito (斉藤由貴)

With a lovely, optimistic voice, Yuki Saito blasted into the mid-80s with her million-selling debut single "Sotsugyou". What followed were more successful singles and albums, including her best known hit "Kanashimi yo Konnichiwa" in 1987. But when not having a successful singing career, Yuki is perhaps best known as the first actress to portray Saki Asamiya in the 80's hit series "Sukeban Dekka" (a role later passed on to Yui Asaka above). After a string of hits in all realms in the 80s, Yuki married in the early 90s and gradually fell into obscurity. She still releases and performs today, albeit sparingly.

While Yuki sung the usual idol pop songs, she also delved into many crystal clear ballads that have perhaps become her most identifying sound. Songs such as "Shoujo Jidai" and "Yokan" are great representations of her ability to sing enchanting melodies.


#17 - Princess Princess

Like Mari Hamada above, Princess Princess were not your average "idols" - but they did break a lot of ground for female bands and helped change the image of "idol" to more what it is today. All five members were selected through a large audition in 1983, but didn't begin releasing as "Princess Princess" until 1987. From here their popularity exploded, including the release of "DIAMONDS" in 1989 which became the first million-selling single in Japanese history. Princess Princess would break more records by becoming the first all-female group/band to perform in the prestigious Budokan avenue. They broke up in 1995 after declining sales and creative differences.

Princess Princess were different "idols" in the sense that they performed all their own instruments and wrote all their own music (for the most part). They were so creatively involved in their music that it eventually lead to burn out in the 90s. Still, their collective hard work can be heard in all their albums and singles, most of which are considered classics today.


#18 - Junko Sakurada (桜田淳子)

Alongside close friend, ex-bandmate, and rival Momoe Yamaguchi (see Part 1), Junko Sakurada was considered one of the 70's Queens of Pop. In fact, she and Momoe were so close that they often performed together even after embarking on their successful solo careers. But Junko was not dependent on Momoe for her success. She had a string of top 10 singles and albums throughout the 70s and had an arguably larger acting career through the 80s after halting her music career in 1983. Junko's career fell off the Earth, however, in the early 90s when she participated in a large arranged marriage ceremony as part of the Unification Church led by Sun Myung Moon. Her popularity plummeted and Junko retreated from celebrity life. She was last heard from in 1999 stating that she was very happy with her husband and children and did not wish to be bothered. Although her career lasted longer than her old friend Momoe's, both of them had similar fates - in very different ways.


#19 - Yukiko Okada (岡田有希子)

From the time she was a child Yukiko wanted to become an idol, even going so far as to enter every audition and contest she could find until she was finally accepted into Japan's "Star Tanjou!" a precursor of American Idol. She won. What followed were a few seemingly blissful years as a successful idol in both music and acting. In 1986 Seiko Matsuda (see Part 1) wrote lyrics for Yukiko's last (while alive) single "Kuchibiru Network" alongside composing superstar Ryuichi Sakamoto. The single shot to #1 and the dance that went along with the song became a hit with all her fans. Yukiko's star was just taking off.

But under all sweet lyrics and happy songs, something was wrong with Yukiko. On April 8, 1986, Yukiko's manager found her with slashed wrists in her gas-filled apartment. He took her to the Sun Music (her company) offices where she leaped to her death hours later. The reasons for her suicide remain a mystery, and today her loyal fans continue to hold memorials for her outside the Sun Music building on the anniversary of her death. Even decades after the end of the Golden Age of J-pop and the idol era, the women who forged it are celebrated and remembered.


#10 - Onyanko Club (おニャン子クラブ)

Rounding out this list is the mother of all "woah, there's how many members in that group?" units that has seemed to have existed in J-pop since the dawn of time. Before there was AKB48 or even Morning Musume there was Onyanko Club, a monster idol group that consisted of 52 official members and 3 extra "unofficial" ones. Many J-pop greats can credit Onyanko Club as their origin, the most famous and successful of which is probably Shizuka Kudo (see Part 1). Further fun fact? Yasushi Akimoto created both Onyanko Club and AKB48. The reign continues.

Onyanko Club didn't last very long (Akimoto learned most of his lessons in management here, undoubtedly) but remains a large part of J-pop's memory. With many hit songs and spawning many more solo careers, Onyanko Club helped change the future of J-pop, whether it meant to or not.

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