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Visual kei
Stylistic origins Glam rock, Punk rock, Gothic rock, Metal, Alternative rock
Cultural origins Japan
Typical instruments Guitar, bass, drums, keyboards
Mainstream popularity Mostly within Japanese independent scene; some followings across the globe
Nagoya kei, Oshare kei, Kote kei, Koteosa kei
(complete list)
Other topics
List of visual kei artists
Japanese popular cultureGothic Lolita

Visual kei (ヴィジュアル系 vijuaru kei?, lit. "visual style") refers to a movement among Japanese musicians,[1][2] that is characterized by the use of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics.[3][4] Some sources state that Visual Kei refers to a music genre, or to a sub-genre of J-rock (a term referring to Japanese rock in general[5][6]), with its own particular sound, related to glam-rock, punk and metal.[7][8][9][10] However other sources state that Visual Kei's unique clothing, make-up, fashions, and participation in the related sub-culture is equally as important as the sound of the music itself in the use of the term.[11][12][13]



Visual Kei emerged in the late 1980's (however, evidence of presence in even the early 70's should be noted,) pioneered by bands such as Boøwy, X Japan, D'erlanger, Buck-Tick, and Color.[14]

The term Visual Kei was created with "PSYCHEDELIC VIOLENCE CRIME OF VISUAL SHOCK" that was a slogan of X Japan.[15]

Color vocalist "Dynamite Tommy" formed his record company Free-Will in 1986, which has been a major contributor in spreading modern Visual Kei outside Japan.[14]

In 1992, X Japan launched an attempt to enter the European and American markets, but it would take another 8 years until popularity and awareness of Visual Kei bands would extend worldwide.[4]

In the mid 1990s, Visual Kei received an increase in popularity throughout Japan, and album sales from Visual Kei bands started to reach record numbers. The most notable bands to achieve success during this period included, X Japan, Glay, and Luna Sea, however a drastic change in their appearance accompanied their success.[14]

During the same period, bands such as Kuroyume, Malice Mizer, and Penicillin, gained mainstream awareness, although they were not as commercially successful.[14]

By 1999, mainstream popularity in Visual Kei was declining, X Japan had disbanded, and the death of lead guitarist Hideto Matsumoto in 1998 had denied fans a possible reunion. It was not long before Luna Sea decided to disband in the year 2000.[14]

In 2007 the genre has been revitalized, as Luna Sea performed a one-off performance, and X Japan reunited for a new single and a world tour. With these developments, Visual Kei bands enjoyed a boost in public awareness, described by the media as "Neo-Visual Kei".[16][14]


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.[4][17] The music performed encompasses a large variety of genres, i.e. pop, punk, heavy metal and electronica.[1][4] Magazines published regularly in Japan with Visual Kei coverage are Arena 37°C, "Cure", Fool's Mate and Shoxx. Noted bands who at least at some point sported a Visual Kei theme include Dir en grey,[2] Luna Sea[18] and Malice Mizer.[19]

Popularity and awareness of such groups outside of Japan has seen an increase in recent years. [20]

See also


  1. ^ a b "International Music Feed feature "J Rock"". Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  2. ^ a b Monger, James Christopher. "Allmusic biography of Dir en grey". Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  3. ^ Strauss, Neil (1998-06-18). ""The Pop Life: End of a Life, End of an Era"". Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  4. ^ a b c d Reesman, Brian (2006-11-30). ""Kabuki Rock"". Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  5. ^ Heinrich, Sally (2006). Key Into Japan. Curriculum Corporation. pp. 80. ISBN 1863667725. 
  6. ^ Yun, Josephine (2005). jrock, ink.: a concise report on 40 of the biggest rock acts in Japan. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 1880656957. 
  7. ^ "visual kei is a branch of Japanese rock (affectionately referred to by fans as J-Rock). ... it aims to experiment with various established genres such as rock, punk, metal, goth and glam in an attempt to create a wholly new sound. " For those about to J-Rock by Subha Arulvarathan , the Carillon, March 15, 2006, Issue 20 Volume 48, official student newspaper of the University of Regina.
  8. ^ "Josephine Yun, author of the book Jrock, Ink., explains that visual kei originated in the late 1970s and early 1980s as Japan's rock scene began cultivating its own identity. 'It was rock 'n roll, punk rock, glam and metal with a twist — a twist just as angry and rebellious as what came before it — but a poetic one, artistic, with painstaking attention to detail,' Yun explains." Kabuki Rock, by Bryan Reesman,, The Latin Recording Academy, November 30, 2006
  9. ^ a fleeting genre known to fans as “Visual Kei” (aka “Visual Rock”). Nonetheless, this fusion of metal, punk and gothic aesthetics ignited at least two generations of followers with its shocking visual appeal" X [Japan]: Reliving the Height of Japan’s Superlative Visual Rock Band, By Minnie Chi, Asia Pacific Arts, bi-weekly web magazine, UCLA Asia Institute
  10. ^ "That's why Hide and others in the new rock movement are so important: they're original and they're selling millions of units. As the guitarist of X-Japan, Hide (real name Matsumoto Hideto) was a pioneering member of a new J-Pop sub-genre called "visual rock." Born of a combination of hard rock and metal, visual rock leans toward a more theatrical presentation emphasizing imagery as much as music. One only needs to watch an X-Japan video to recognize its decadent glam influences, as drummer Yoshiki is often decked out in lace stockings and torn black leather vests. However, the band's androgynous looks can be attributed as much to kayou kyoku (traditional Japanese pop) as to the eccentric costumes of '70s David Bowie and '80s hair bands. It is precisely this hodgepodge of international styles that makes visual rock such a noteworthy new genre. Couple that with the high-dollar, idol-influenced publicity that goes behind these bands, and you've got a new brand of rock that makes KISS look like shoegazers." Gibson, Dave Get ready America; Japan's J-Pop phenomenon has all eyes facing east. Retrieved September 10, 2007;
  11. ^ "Since it formed in the mid-1980s, X Japan went from playing loud, fast thrash-metal to stadium-shaking pop ballads, in the process pioneering its own genre, a Japanese equivalent of glam rock known as visual kei. For visual kei bands, outrageous, usually androgynous looks -- gobs of makeup, hair dyed and sprayed in ways that made Mohawks look conservative, and a small fortune spent on leather and jewelry -- were as important as music (or, in many cases after X, more important than music). " THE POP LIFE; End of a Life, End of an Era, By NEIL STRAUSS New York Times, June 18, 1998
  12. ^ "a representative slice of Japanese rock music as a whole. It’s a very diverse genre and, of course, Japan also now has its own sub-genre called 'Visual kei ... 'Visual Kei' literally means 'visual style.' It’s a style of dress, there’s a lot of costuming and make up and it’s uniquely Japanese because it goes back to ancient Japan. Men would often wear women’s clothing; I guess if they were here today they would be the underground kind of independent anarchist type people who spend their time in coffee houses thinking radical thoughts for that time." - JAPANESE ROCK ON NPR, by Kristen Sollee The Big Takeover online music magazine, 25 June 2006
  13. ^ "Most GothLolis cite that they are merely imitating their favorite bands from the visual rock genre, known as 'Visual Kei'. Although it seems an obvious reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous Lolita, many Gothlolis will tell you that books (other than manga, Japanese comics, which are also at the heart of the scene) and art are not a part of their inspiration. Music is a major force in its creation. 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)." Pretty Babies: Japan's Undying Gothic Lolita Phenomenon, by Chako Suzuki, e-magazine, January, 2007
  14. ^ a b c d e f Dejima Kouji (出嶌 孝次) Bounce Di(s)ctionary Number 13 - Visual Kei Retrieved September 12 2007 (Japanese)
  15. ^ Inoue, Takako (2003). Visual kei no jidai. Tokyo: Seikyusha. ISBN 978-4787232168. 
  16. ^ "Shinjidai ni Totsunyu! Neo Visual Kei Band Taidou no kizashi.". Retrieved 2007-09-19. 
  17. ^ Mascia, Mike. "Dir en grey feature interview". Blistering. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  18. ^ "Luna Sea at Yahoo Music" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  19. ^ "Malice Mizer at Yahoo Music" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  20. ^ Cure Magazine, July 2006 issue, Vol 34, Issued May 21, 2006

Simple English

Visual kei (aka Visual rock) refers to the huge musical movement among Japanese musicians since the late 80's. They were mostly influenced by Glam rock of the western music market, in a sense that they use striking fashion and theatrical performance to highlight their music.

Early Visual kei bands were strongly influenced by Glam rock and heavy metal. Over years, Visual rock music has gone under considerable changes to meet the consumers' taste for music. Today, Visual rock music encompasses goth, industrial, J-pop, and hip hop. With this revitalization, Visual kei has earned more public awareness and the new title, "Neo-Visual kei".

While Visual kei is rather an obscure theme as a music genre, it is credited as a major spur to the Goth lolita fashion trend. Visual kei bands are generally perceived as rock artists with flaboyant dress, androgynous looks, jewelry, hair dyed and sprayed, and thick make-up. Most Goth lolita dressers cite that they are inspired by their favorite visual kei bands.

X Japan, a legendary Japanese rock band, is widely recognized as the pioneer of Visual kei. Other renowned bands that contributed to boost Visual kei's popularity include Malice Mizer, Luna Sea, and Dir en grey.


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