Hiroshi Nagai - The artist behind the City Pop album covers of the '80s 7 minutes to read

Hiroshi Nagai – The artist behind the City Pop album covers of the ’80s 7 minutes to read


Who made the City Pop album covers? Let’s find out how is the impact between art and City Pop.

When it comes to the success of City Pop albums in Japan in the ’80s, we can’t help but mention the album covers made by Hiroshi Nagai.

What is City Pop?

City Pop is a term that music listeners now use to describe Japanese music in the period of the economic bubble of the late 1970s and during the 1980s. At that time, the Japanese called City songs together. Pop melodies with funk, soul, disco, boogie, … is “new music” (new music).

City Pop songs are often inspired by the summer, the sea, the love or the feeling of outrage in the magnificent city. However, the music genre quickly receded when the economic crisis struck in the early 1990s in Japan, artists gradually changed their compositions when people’s lives turned bleak.

Thanks to the influence of the Vaporwave meme, City Pop has a chance to become famous again.

With an influence coming from the Vaporwave meme back in the 2010s, City Pop relived its heyday. Many people began to listen to albums from the ’80s, as well as young artists coming out with products that felt similar. However, a spiritual dish of City Pop is the main blue-toned album covers that give listeners a sense of peace and nostalgia even though they never lived at that time.

Birth of the City Pop album covers

Most of the artists working on the album cover of City Pop are influenced by Pop Art of the West, but with summer images. Among the famous painters like Eijin Suzuki and Seizo Watase, Hiroshi Nagai is the one who made the album covers of City Pop from the very beginning and owns more works. At the moment, he has turned 73, but many artists have ordered him to draw album covers in City Pop style.

Hiroshi Nagai was the person who made the most City Pop album covers of the ’80s.

Born in 1947 in a family whose father is an oil-painting artist, from an early age he was soon exposed to painting when he often watched his father work. “My dad doesn’t draw to make money, but he paints with his passion. That prompted me to draw, but since my drawing style was newer than my dad and the local artists, I moved to Tokyo to be an artist, ” he said.

He visited the United States in 1973 and was fascinated by the Pop Art works there. His experiences from the trip prompted him to start using dark blue tones for his work. From then on, he influenced more the school of surrealism (surrealism) and added the school of surrealism (hyper-surrealism). We can see many similarities between his paintings and those of a painter David HockneyBut he was not directly influenced by the British artist he created from his own aesthetic point of view.

The work “A Bigger Splash” (1967) by David Hockney is one of the famous works of the Pop Art movement.
The work “Poolside-Towel” (2019) by Hiroshi Nagai.

“I passed the Grand Master of the Arts exam. Instead I chose to take a sketching course with the new goal of becoming a fashion designer. However, I did not pursue it long because I realized I was not suitable, but I still wanted to be a part of the art community in Tokyo. At that time I was very interested in the works of surreal artists like Rene Magritte and Salvador Dalí. So, instead of doing fashion illustrations, I started working for television production companies, drawing props for their movies, stages and backdrops. It’s just a part-time job and almost monotonous since I mostly paint black and white, but it’s a great starting point, ” he shares.

Although he started his career in the 1970s, the 80s was the peak of his career when City Pop appeared. The first artist to invite him to collaborate on painting was among the pioneers of the City Pop movement Eiichi Ohtaki. The artist came to Hiroshi Nagai after being fascinated by the summer painting books he had made at that time. Besides, Eiichi also admitted that the songs in the album “A Long Vacation” (1981) were all inspired by Hiroshi’s paintings. With the unexpected success of the album when it was released, both their careers turned to another page.

The album cover “A long Vacation” (1981) completely changed the careers of Eiichi Ohtaki and Hiroshi Nagai.
The album cover “A long Vacation”, a 40th anniversary version, was worked in the area of ​​comic artist Hideyasu Moto by Hiroshi Nagai.

Why are most City Pop covers about the summer?

Talking about “summer” in Hiroshi Nagai’s works, most of his inspiration is still summer on the West Coast of America and on the island of Hawaii. If we notice, we will see that most of his works do not look like any other region in Japan, even he once shared that he imagined scenes from photos taken on the West Coast within the US. tours. In addition, he also shared that he himself will be more productive when the summer comes.

Like Hiroshi Nagai, Eijin Suzuki is also a summer American West Coast painter and his love for cars.

There are two main reasons why City Pop album covers are all about cities in America. First, the 1980s was a period of economic bubble in Japan and a time when Western culture was still influenced, so many Japanese believe that America’s glamor is the high-class lifestyle they want. follow. Second, most of the “city” mentioned in City Pop songs are often imagined from a Western location, especially the US. In general, most artists dream and write music about a “city” that is not located in Japan.

You can learn more about Japanese society in the period of City Pop through the picture book Hiroshi Nagai: Paintings for Music, which was released on December 5, 2020.

Some other works by Hiroshi Nagai:

The cover of the single “No Way Back” for group AAA 2017.
Album cover “Pacific Breeze vol.” 1 ”(2019) includes City Pop songs from 1976–1986.
Album cover “Pacific Breeze vol.” 2 ”(2019) includes the songs City Pop from 1972–1986.
Album cover “Talio” (2020) by Ryusenkei / Hitomitoi.

Editor: Navi Nguyen



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