Female Singer's Album Praised by Japanese Press

The Japan Times recently spotlights Phung Khanh Linh's album CITOPIA in its article
December 21, 2022 | 15:57

Vietnamese pop singer Phung Khanh Linh found comfort in the glitzy melancholy of city pop after losing loved ones during the pandemic, wrote Patrick St. Michel - a contributing writer of The Japan Times, the country’s largest and oldest English-language daily newspaper.

Phung Khanh Linh's album 'Citopia' features 10 songs with clear connections to city pop. Many musicians outside of Japan are now retrofitting the sounds of city pop to reflect current moods.
Phung Khanh Linh's album 'Citopia' features 10 songs with clear connections to city pop.

In the article titled “Phung Khanh Linh and artists abroad get creative with city pop palette", Patrick revealed that Vietnamese pop singer Phung Khanh Linh was mourning the death of a beloved cat late last year. Her pet’s passing came after the loss of other loved ones during a rough stretch of the pandemic.

Overcome with grief, the 28-year-old performer longed for a cure to her sadness and found comfort in the nostalgic funk-pop sounds of Japanese city pop.

“I turned to those sounds around the start of this year, and listening to them made me feel really inspired during this time, especially albums from Mariya Takeuchi and Anri,” Linh told the writer over a video chat from Ho Chi Minh City.

Soon, Linh was binging on the glitzy melancholy of city pop, a genre that epitomizes the ease and exuberance of Japan’s bubble era. She eventually began creating her own sonic metropolis, guided by both the sounds and aesthetics associated with this corner of Japanese music, Patrick highlighted.

Her second album, “Citopia,” came out Nov. 11, featuring 10 songs with clear connections to city pop. There’s a distinct funk and disco strut on the more upbeat tracks, while slower numbers nod to hazy works like Tomoko Aran’s “Midnight Pretenders.” Sax solos add extra zazz, while Linh herself swings between Friday night optimism and Monday morning sorrow through her vocals, Patrick hailed.

“Citopia” arrived during a year in which the world tuned in to city pop more than ever before. Outside of Asia, it spent years as a niche sound celebrated by music message board users and obscure electronic producers. Now, it has become an international social-media phenomenon, thanks to curatorial, algorithmic, and vibe-driven forces. In 2022, Patrick remarked that this appreciation manifested itself in creative ways, pushing rediscovered sounds closer to the mainstream and revealing new possibilities.

Female Singer's Album Praised by Japan Newspaper
Currently, Phung Khanh Linh is a young female artist receiving a lot of attention and love.

Beyond just music, the visuals associated with “Citopia” have leaned not just into the idea of retro Japan but the city pop aesthetic that is often emulated online, according to Patrick.

Linh says her team purposely blurred ’80s hallmarks — anime, skyscrapers, anything neon — with Y2K imagery to create looks more ideal for the modern city pop fan. The video for lead single “Sweet Summer” features backdrops evoking the bubble era mish-mashed with Hello-Kitty-pink desktop computers and turn-of-the-millennium internet graphics. Other uploads are just looped anime GIFs, including one referencing Linh’s cherished feline that kickstarted it all.

For all of the nods to nostalgia and internet culture, “Citopia” isn’t simply an exercise in re-creating a digital trend. There’s a deeper concept at work.

“It’s about a girl seeing the city from a helicopter, looking at the imagined Citopia zoomed out. She can see dazzling and shining lights,” Patrick quoted Linh's sharing. “But when we zoom in, we see the different lives of people in the city. Some are crying, some are smiling … some are smiling and then crying.”

While Linh started “Citopia” as a way to imagine a world free of sorrow, she realized such a place — like the imagined Tokyo at the center of so much of the city pop revival — couldn’t exist. (“Perfect is a pure illusion. The pursuit of perfection is exhausting,” she writes in an album foreword.) Instead of fantasies, she embraced complicated realities.

“I knew that nobody in contemporary Vietnamese music had ever released an entire album themed around city pop,” Linh says. “It was also a strategic way of finding a unique way of expressing my music.”

“Although we’re inspired by Japanese city pop trends, we made sure to inject the stories of Vietnamese people into the songs,” Linh says of “Citopia.” “I wanted to ensure we capture the full spectrum of emotions people here feel living in giant cities, while also working in touches that would appeal to listeners here.”

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