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Visual Kei

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Visual Kei (ヴィジュアル系; Bijuaru Kei) is a Japanese music movement that has been popular since the 1980's, the artists often wear makeup, elaborate hairstyles, and costumes, sometimes coupled with androgynous aesthetics and occasionally drawing inspiration from anime. Many sources claim that Visual kei refers to a whole genre of music, or to a subgenre of Japanese popular music. Others, however, claim that it is a subcultural movement, defined by its unique fashion, aesthetics, and the music associated with it.

History of the Hardcore Style of Visual KeiEdit

Visual Kei began in the 1980's, with bands such as X Japan, D'erlanger, Buck Tick and Color. Inspired by the punk, glam metal, and gothic rock movements, the first wave of bands put emphasis on shocking visuals, often done through elaborate stage performances, eccentric hairstyles, and flamboyant attire, traits that would become staples of the entire movement. The term "visual kei" is said to have originated from one of X Japan's slogans: "Psychedelic violence/Crime of visual shock"

In the mid 1990's, Visual Kei's popularity began to increase,
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An example of Visual Kei; Moi Dix Mois
and with that came new bands emerging. By the late 1990's, however, many mainstream Visual Kei bands have either broken up or opted for less dramatic attire. The early 2000's saw a new wave of Visual Kei bands, partly due to the increasing popularity of modern heavy music subgenres such as metalcore, hardcore punk, and alternative metal, as well as a renewed interest in the movement. Many bands in the new wave of Visual Kei perform a wide variety of music, from pop punk to death metal and even genres outside of rock such as synthpop and techno.

Recently, Oshare Kei has emerged,  Oshare Kei is a style of Visual Kei characterized by colorful attire, anime-inspired hairstyles, and a more mainstream approach; the style being a response to the dominance of heavy metal styles in the movement. Oshare Kei bands usually perform lighter, catchier music such as pop punk, dance pop, and alternative rock. The style was popularized by bands such as An Cafe, LM.C and Ayabie.

In contrast, some Visual kei bands have transitioned into heavier, more extreme musical styles and adpoted a darker, more toned-down, and distressed visual approach. While lacking in flamboyance, their videos and live performances are often shocking and highly graphic, often drawing inspiration from eroguro, horror films and gothic fiction, and featuring dark, sometimes disturbing material, an approach taken by bands such as Deathgaze, the GazettE, and Dir en grey

In recent years, Visual Kei has seen a sizable number of disbandments, partly due to the increasing popularity of mainstream Japanese and Korean pop acts. Despite this, Visual Kei is still a popular style of music and fashion, with many bands in the underground heavy metal and rock scenes embracing the style. Oshare Kei remains widely popular in the mainstrem scene and has seen a recent saturation of bands. Currently, Visual Kei has acquired a large international following among rock and heavy metal fans, with a handful of non-Japanese bands drawing inspiration from the movement. (see "Popularity" below)

CharacteristicsEdit

MusicEdit

While Visual Kei isn't bound to a specific music genre, the whole movement is generally associated with several styles of music, including, but not limited to, rock, pop, electronic music, neoclassical, industrial and heavy metal. More often, VK bands will draw influence from a number of disparate musical subgenres in order to create a distinct, experimental sound. Many VK bands revolve around a concept that guides their musical and visual approaches, a notable example being Versailles; with a neoclassical metal sound in line with their rococo-inspired visual style. It is rather common for long-running VK bands such as X Japan and Dir en grey to undergo numerous stylistic changes in terms of their sound, with the former example venturing into progressive metal and the latter eventually leaning into technical death metal.

The archetypal Visual kei sound, however, is more or less rooted in hard rock and heavy metal, featuring loud, distorted guitars, vigorous vocals, emphatic drumming, and melodic hooks. Guitarists would often employ melodic power riffs and palm muting, and solos are fairly common. VK guitarists may play in standard tuning or in Drop D, with Oshare kei and Lolita kei artists keeping a standard sound or tuning higher for guitar solos, and less mainstream acts tuning lower than Drop D or Drop C. Extreme metal acts, particularly Nagoya and Eroguro acts, will go as far as tuning to Drop B or A, or even eschewing traditional six-string guitars for seven or eight-string guitars, resulting in a thick, hollow and heavy tone similar to djent/mathcore acts.

VK singers often have moderate to high vocal ranges, with vocal lines sung clearly. A few bands, especially those in the Oshare kei and nu metal subgenres, employ distorted or auto-tuned vocals. Screamed vocals are very common in the genre and can range from faint, breathy vocals to inhuman shrieking. Frequently emulated vocalists in Visual kei include Gackt (ex-Malice Mizer), Toshi (X Japan), Yama-B (ex-Galneryus) and Kyo (Dir en grey)

It is fairly common for drummers to employ fast rhythms using double bass pedals or, as with many bands, two bass drums. Metal-influenced bands such as X Japan play pounding beats and rapid bass drumming similar to thrash or power metal bands. Even more uncommon, but not unheard of, are blast beats, a style which is fairly commonly heard in Nagoya, Eroguro, and metal-influenced Lolita kei bands. VK drummers often employ complex fills and shuffled beats to add variety and, in live performances, signal mosh pits.

As with any popular style of rock or metal music, it is common for the bass guitar to be faint, and in some cases, inaudible (the latter being more common in extreme and independent acts). Bassists in Visual kei, unlike bassists in other musical styles, are as important and noteworthy as the lead or rhythm guitarists. They would often play savage riffs with great speed and technicality, usually timed with the rhythmic patterns of the kick drum or the rhythm guitar. Some bassists employ fingerstyle techniques or in some cases, slapping.

AestheticsEdit

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LUNA SEA. Long, spiky hair, accessories, and makeup form the basis of Visual kei fashion
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Visual Kei artists are easily identified by their outward appearance, consisting of shaggy or spiky anime-esque hair, gothic or punk-inspired atttire, makeup, and accessories, traits that form the basis of the archetypal VK look. However, like the music, the style has no limits.VK fashion draws influence from a wide variety of well-established fashion styles and can range from the subtle to the extreme.

HairEdit

Many VK artists have dyed hair, often colored red, brown, blonde, or even blue. VK artists also opt for straightened hair, as it allows for a wide variety of hairstyles. Layered cuts have become the norm, as it makes the hair easier to style and maintain. The hair is often flipped out, curled, shaped into tufts, or molded into spikes, and is usually backcombed/teased to ensure a soft, loose, and feathery look that would allow the hair to flow but retain it shape, even while headbanging. VK artists may also opt for extensions. Punk hairstyles like mohawks, fanned hair, devilocks, and liberty spikes are also employed, especially by older bands such as X Japan and Buck Tick. Mainstream artists opt for looser, more natural styles such as side-swept emo bangs or slicked-back surfer hair. Some VK metal artists wear long, thick dreadlocks, a notable example being Ruki of The GazettE. In some cases, VK artists may not style their hair at all, instead, they may let their hair fall freely or have their hair heavily texturized for a shaggy, messy look.

Credit to Katherine Cifuentes

Clothing and ImageEdit

Visual kei fashion is characterized by individuality, aesthetic appeal, clothing combinations, and a non-mainstream sensibility. VK fashion is based around an ecletic fusion of rock, punk, metal, and contemporary fashion, however, there are very few, if no rules or limits at all, as to what Visual kei artists can wear, and it is very common among the VK subculture for artists to experiment with different fashion styles. Common outfit choices in VK include vests, formal suits, skinny jeans, jackets, capes, and coats. Bondage gear and leather clothes are popular choices as well. Some bands, especially dojin music acts, wear anime-inspired attire, even going as far as wearing costumes.

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Hizaki of Versailles, one of the better-known cross-dressing Visual Kei artists.
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Visual kei puts a huge empasis on artistic freedom, shock value, and metrosexual aesthetics. It is a unisex style, and as such, many artists opt for an androgynous look, which adds shock value and fan appeal. Male artists in Visual kei often have lean, slender figures to fit the demands of the style, and it is not uncommon for male artists to adopt a semi-feminine appearance, complete with long, stylish hair and feminine-looking attire. It is quite popular among VK artists to cross-dress or take an entirely feminine appearance, with examples like Hizaki and the late Jasmine You of Versailles, Mana of Moi Dix Mois (ex-Malice Mizer), Isshiki Hiyori of Kiryu and, formerly, Toshiya and Shinya of Dir en grey, ex-An Cafe guitarist Bou, Miyavi (during the Dué le quartz era), and Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan.


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The GazettE
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On the other end of the spectrum, VK bands such as The GazettE opt for more aggressive stylings, characterized by dark, BDSM-inspired clothing, spiky hair, pale/natural-looking makeup and a more punk/metal image.


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Dir en grey, an extreme metal band associated with the VK movement, showing a rugged image similar to western death metal acts.
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Some bands, especially veteran VK acts and Oshare kei artists may go for a more toned-down, semi-casual visual approach. Many VK acts also opt for a more westernized appearance, often done through the use of minimal make-up, unstyled hair, and western outfits such as business suits, military uniforms or jackets. Extreme metal acts such as Dir en grey take it a step further, dropping most, if not all, of the flamboyant attire, heavy makeup, and androgynous aesthetics in favor of a highly distressed, shocking, and rugged look similar to western death metal or black metal bands.

Generally, the clothing choices of VK artists and musicians are based around, if not directly inspired, by their musical stylings. This is observable in long-running VK bands that undergo multiple musical changes, as they would change their appearance to match the current style of their music.

Subculture and FandomEdit

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Attending and participating in concerts is just as important in Visual kei as it is in the rock and heavy metal subcultures, as shown by fans of the all-female VK band Exist Trace
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While Visual kei is sometimes seen as a distinct musical genre, akin to shock rock and glam metal, many enthusiasts see it as a unique subculture, associated with rock music, elaborate attire, and a distinct set of aesthetics. As a direct offshoot of the heavy metal subculture, Visual kei shares a lot of traits with the metal culture, including a mostly young, white, middle-class demographic, ritualized activities such as attending concerts, collecting albums/songs, maintaining a non-mainstream image, and online activities such as contributing to websites and forums.  however, the VK subculture has a looser set of norms and rules, and is not usually governed by a strict code of behavior. Visual kei is a highly tolerant subculture, open to all sorts of people outside its core demographic who are willing to share in its codes of dress and music, and since VK draws inspiration from a very wide variety of musical scenes, its views on the fans' authenticity are not as strict as the rock and metal subcultures from which it originated. However, new members of the subculture are encouraged to have a "transition period" in which they should expand their musical interests to include Japanese rock or heavy metal, familiarize themselves with VK aesthetics, share in the philosophy of VK, and ease themelves into adopting a visual image, to avoid being labeled as "posers". It should be noted, however, that not all fans are "visible members" of the subculture.

Visual kei is notable for being a mostly fan-centered subculture. Bands such as X Japan, Luna Sea, Nightmare, and Versailles, as well as solo artists such as Gackt, Miyavi, and T.M. Revolution have gained massive fanbases without singing in English, by catering to their fans and establishing an easily recognizable image. Fans, in response, would often show their appreciation for their favorite artists by, mostly, listening to, collecting, and singing along to songs, even if they know very little Japanese. They would also grow their hair and wear VK-inspired attire, watch band PVs, podcasts and/or behind-the-scenes videos, read about VK fashion in magazines and online artcles, and attend concerts.

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Visual kei fans making the "X" gesture during a concert by X JAPAN in 2011.
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To extend their visual appeal, VK bands and artists who perform live would often engage in headbanging and display expressive hand gestures, often involving slow arm movements and reaching out to the audience. Such gestures are commonly referred to as "furi" by fans. The "metal horns" gesture is also widespread, even among some non-metal artists. Similar to non-Visual rock and metal concerts, fans may sometimes hold out candles or lighters, though glowsticks have emerged as a safer alternative. Often, certain gestures will be associated with certain bands, a notable example being the "X" symbol associated with X Japan. In some cases, band members would engage in displays of affection such as hugging and in some cases, kissing (often referred to as "fan service"). Instrument smashing and self-mutilation are uncommon, however, it is widely practiced by a few bands, most notably Dir en grey.

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Visual kei fans thrust their arms and perform heavy metal gestures during a live concert by The GazettE
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Fan participation in VK live performances are equally spetacular, often involving massive groups of people performing the same actions in unison. In a typical VK concert, the saizen, or front row of the audience area, has the highest activity, although the back area is also a place of very high fan activity. Fans in the saizen would often show participation through violent headbanging or arm-thrusting, the latter usually observed by female fans. Jumping, shoving, and piggybacking are very common as well. It is commonly observed that the saizen is usually dominated by loyal fans, however, many bands discourage or outright forbid this exclusivity. Outside the saizen, fan activity involves audience members jumping in unison, spinning or running around in circles (the latter commonly referred to as a "circle pit" outside the VK community). Dancing is very uncommon but is usually observed in VK pop and oshare kei shows. In large concerts, festivals, some indoor venues, and in shows outside Japan, members of the audience would also engage in moshing. Most of the time, all these fan activities occur simultaneously, usually in response to a signal by the performing band, and in some cases, there can be more than one mosh pit. Concert etiquette, as with the rock and heavy metal subcultures, is based around an unwritten code of conduct. Moshers are not allowed to hurt others, and concert-goers are encouraged to help up fallen audience members. They are also encouraged to take off their shoes before joining a mosh or dancing with fellow fans, to avoid injuries. Members of the audience may also talk to others, especially foreign fans or visual kei newbies, and at times may involve them in group activities for the band. Fan participation in VK, like rock an
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Fans of the Visual kei metal band Versailles cosplaying as the band's members (Cosplayed members from left to right: Teru, Masashi, Kamijo, Yuki, Hizaki)
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d metal, often goes on even after live shows, with some fans offering gifts to their favorite artists, meeting up with band members, and buying official merchandise from live venues. In many cases, fan participation can go as far as attending J-culture conventions, applying for official fanclub membership, forming cover bands with fellow fans or engaging in cosplay, dressing up as their favorite bands. VK cosplayers have gained some popularity from the VK and cosplay subcultures for their meticulous attention to replicating the image of their favorite artists, often resulting in surprisingly accurate cosplays, as well as their very active participation during conventions and live performances  Commonly imitated bands among VK cosplayers are Versailles, early Dir en Grey, Due le Quartz, Kagrra, Phantasmagoria and The GazettE.


Styles and themesEdit

Visual Kei is a highly complex and varied subgenre, owing to its open nature and experimental image. Since there are no boundaries as to what VK aesthetics can cover, bands and artists are free to take a certain concept and go as minimalistic or as extreme as they can, resulting in various stylistic tropes that have become recognized as distinct subdivisions, united only by the basic concept, philosophy and sensibility of Visual kei.

Angura KeiEdit

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Kagrra, an Angura kei band, showcasing a more traditional image compared to most Visual kei acts.
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Also called "Underground kei", Angura kei is a style of Visual kei defined by the liberal use of traditional Japanese elements, both musically and visually. The Angura kei sound is often described as a fusion of Japanese folk music, progressive rock, black metal and other underground metal styles, and is commonly cited as folk rock/folk metal by metalheads outside the VK scene, but is usually more experimental and cleaner than non-Japanese folk metal. Lyrical themes are usually based around Japanese myths and legends, religion, and cultural values. In keeping with the Angura Kei concept, bands and artists usually perform in traditional Japanese attire such as kimonos, samurai outfits, monk uniforms or pre-modern era clothing. Most Angura bands and artists rarely receive mainstream attention, or choose to stray away from the mainstream, hence the name. One band, Kagrra, has achieved mild mainstream success. The Japanese folk metal band Onmyouza, notable for their Heian period-inspired visuals and references to cats, has also been described as an Angura kei band by some metal fans.

Eroguro KeiEdit

PV of Dir en grey's "Different Sense", showing eroguro aesthetics that take influence from Lovecraftian fiction and tentacle hentai. The band is notable for being the only eroguro kei band to achieve international recognition.
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The most extreme and mature subdivision of Visual kei. Eroguro kei is a highly underground form of VK that draws influence from the morbid, explicit, and violent themes of the eroguro artistic movement. The name is a portmanteau of erotic and grotesque, and as such, many bands in the eroguro movement draw inspiration from Japanese horror, slasher films, crime stories and hentai (eroticized anime). The Eroguro image is usually stripped down and rugged, with bands often resembling western death metal acts, Some bands may choose to not adopt a visual image at all, but all eroguro bands make up for their lack of flamboyance with their disturbing videos and live performances, with some artists engaging in self-mutilation. The Eroguro sound is usually hollow, sometimes with ambient guitars and liberal use of noisy distortion, a style similar to western djent/mathcore acts. Vocals are usually vigorous, with growls and screaming as the usual vocal delivery, sometimes with simulated laughing or crying. Many bands incorporate death metal elements. Lyrical themes may deal with mature and sometimes disturbing topics such as crime, death, suicide, violence or sex. Eroguro kei often overlaps with Nagoya kei, due to many similarities (see below). As with Angura Kei, many bands stray away from the mainstream or remain unrecognized by major labels. Bands that do experience some success are short-lived, such as Cali=gari. However, one of the most notable and universally acclaimed bands in Visual kei (and metal in general) is an eroguro band: Dir en grey.


Kote KeiEdit

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X Japan showing a classic Visual kei look, with wild hair and exotic outfits, elements that are widely emulated by modern Visual shock/Kote kei acts
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Also called "Classic kei" and often referred to as "Visual shock", Kote Kei is regarded as the oldest and most sophisticated form of Visual kei, its aesthetics being a direct evolution of the visual image popularized by bands such as X Japan, Buck-tick and Luna Sea. The Kote kei look is the most comonly stereotype of Visual kei among non-VK rock fans. It is usually colorful and shocking, characterized by wild hair, exotic attire, heavy use of leather and accessories, androgyny, and a huge emphasis on achieving a high-end, wealthy rockstar appearance.
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Nightmare, a modern Kote kei band, showing a more contemporary take on the classic Visual shock image
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There are two subsets of Kote kei: Black kei, which is a dark take on the Visual shock image, characterized by heavier sounds and a more metal image, and White Kei, a softer, more elegant version of Visual shock, however, it is very common for the two styles to mix. Kote kei/Visual shock bands and artists are usually highly talented and able to play a wide variety of musical styles, and the overall sound is usually in the lines of heavy metal and alternative rock. Kote kei bands are notable for their dynamism, often undergoing various stylistic changes throughout their career, and also for their longevity, with artists under the Kote kei movement having careers that last many years or even decades. The scene has enjoyed a saturation of new bands in recent years, and has evolved into a large community that often crosses over with other established scenes, in fact, the line between modern Visual shock and the Angura, Nagoya, Lolita, and Oshare kei scenes is often blurred, with non-Kote kei bands adopting a Visual shock image and vice versa. Bands often described as Visual shock/Kote kei are most often classic acts such as X Japan ans Sex Machineguns. More modern examples would include Nightmare, The GazettE, Galneryus, Royz, Diaura, and many others.


Nagoya keiEdit

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Dr. Mikannibal and Mirai Kawashima of Sigh, a Japanese metal band that uses visuals similar to Nagoya kei bands, but is not associated with the VK scene.
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Taking its name from the VK scene based on and around the Nagoya area, Nagoya kei is an underground form of Visual kei that takes heavy influences from American and European metal acts. With its roots in noise rock, thrash metal, alternative metal, death metal and gothic metal, the Nagoya kei sound is characterized by unorthodox drumming, atonal melodies, growling vocals and savage riffs. Nagoya kei bands display a strong focus on creating harsh music and shocking performances, with many bands even going as far as abandoning the VK image in order to focus on shock value alone. Nagoya kei is well-known for its large, tightly-knit scene, with musicians in established bands often forming side projects or supergroups. Along with Eroguro kei, they are considered to be the most extreme of the established scenes in the VK movement. The two subgenres often overlap, mainly because they share similarities such as stripped-down visuals, widespread use of profanity, mature themes and fast, harsh sounds. Like Eroguro, Nagoya kei acts may also refuse to be labeled as VK or stay away from the
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Deathgaze, one of the "true" Nagoya kei bands. Many bands that have a similar sound or image have been labeled as Nagoya kei, generating some controversy among VK fans.
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mainstream. Bands that get labeled as Nagoya kei may not even come from Nagoya. As a result, Nagoya kei has become an umbrella genre, and has been the target of much controversy in recent years, especially with the recent saturation of bands that exhibit the Nagoya kei sound. Many VK fans will often apply the Nagoya kei label to any dark or underground J-metal act regardless of their origin or association with the VK subculture, such as the case with Luna Sea, which has recently adopted a darker sound but was not formed in Nagoya, and the experimental metal band Sigh, a band that uses dark visuals and atmospheric sounds but has no major association with the VK scene. Signal, an extreme metal band from Tokyo, features aesthetics that can be described as Nagoya kei, but their image and sound is closer to Visual shock and Eroguro kei, respectively. Bands that are generally accepted as Nagoya kei, however, include several influential acts such as Kuroyume, Deathgaze and Lynch.


Oshare keiEdit

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An Cafe, a commercially successful Oshare kei band, showing the toned-down, urban-inspired fashion typical of the Oshare kei movement.
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Literally meaning "fashion conscience" or "stylish system", Oshare kei (often abbreviated as OK) is a recently formed subgenre of Visual kei that focuses more on light, colorful, and appealing aesthetics as opposed to the dark and shocking image traditionally associated with the rest of the movement. It is often considered to be an offshoot of White Kote kei. Other names for the movement include "pop kei" and "soft kei". Being a more mainstream-friendly scene, it has experienced a recent saturation of bands similar to Nagoya kei, and is the fastest-growing scene in the VK movement, being almost as popular as Visual shock. Oshare kei has become notable for establishing new stereotypes among outsiders, and has attracted some discussion among the VK community. Typically, Oshare kei's sound has more in common with pop and punk than hard rock and heavy metal, characterized by catchy riffs, fast drumming, which may or may not incorporate dance/jungle beats, electronic sounds and highly melodic singing, which may or may not include screaming. Some bands may incorporate nu metal and hip hop elements such as rapping, sampled sounds, raspy vocals and scratching. Lyrical themes are usually lighter and brighter, often dealing with topics such as love, happiness, positivity and even music itself.
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Maya and Aiji of LM.C, showing a darker, more punk-influenced version of the Oshare kei image.
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The OK image is characterized by more casual-looking attire, a stripped-down, contemporary image, anime-inspired haircuts or, with some bands, unstyled hair, and the use of bright colors such as red, yellow, pink, or white. Bands with heavier punk influences may also include black and blue among their color choices. Like Nagoya kei, the OK scene is a tightly-knit community, with band members being frequently linked to multiple projects. Some OK bands have crossed over into the Nagoya or Visual shock scenes in the form of the so-called "alter-ego bands", a notable example being Ayabie, whose members are involved in a Black Visual shock alter-band called Deathbie. Similar to Nagoya kei, Oshare kei has been the stuff of much controversy. There has been some discussion among VK fans (and members of the rock subculture in general) about which musicians are considered Oshare kei, as well as the authenticity of some acts. Like Nagoya kei, OK has become an umbrella ge
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L'arc-en-ciel, a band that often receives the Oshare kei label, despite not having any major association with the VK scene.
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nre, and the label is often applied to J-pop acts that exhibit a similar sound and image, despite some of them not being part of the VK movement. Being lighter and more mainstream than other VK subcultures, the authenticity of OK is often a source of all sorts of reactions from the rock and metal community. OK has been met with mixed reception within the VK community, and has often been compared to the emo and nu metal scenes by outsiders. Fan reception to OK, however, is generally more positive than emo or nu metal, with critics noting its unorthodox, non-formulaic approach to pop, hip-hop, and punk as a trait that stays true to the mix-and-match nature of Visual kei. Some of the most popular and well-received bands in the genre are An Cafe, Alice Nine, SuG, Plastic Tree, Glay, Royz (also labeled as Visual shock) GOLDEN BOMBER and LM.C. J-pop acts that occasionally receive the Oshare kei label include Miyavi (ex-Dué le quartz), Gackt (ex-Malice Mizer), L'arc-en-ciel (a Visual shock band, now only loosely associated with the scene) and T.M. Revolution (a J-rock/anime music artist, active since the early days of the VK scene)


Lolita keiEdit

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Pictured above is Versailles, a popular Lolita kei band.
Fancy attire and an emphasis on feminine aesthetics are what define the Lolita kei image.
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Drawing inspiration from classic European fashion, Lolita kei is a subset of Kote kei that adds a more elegant, formal and neoclassical twist to the Visual shock look. It is best described as a fusion of the Visual shock style and Lolita fashion, sometimes with Elizabethan, Victorian, Edwardian, or royal overtones. Its musical style is usually inspired by power metal or in many cases, thrash metal. The sound is highly technical with a heavy focus on musicianship; symphonic sounds and solos are very common, guitar and drum work are highly complex and demanding, and Gothic sounds are omnipresent. Lolita kei puts more emphasis on melody and ambient sounds, and is lighter than most VK subgenres other than Oshare Kei. Strangely enough, Lolita kei makes liberal use of blast beats, a form of drumming usually associated with underground and extreme scenes. Keeping in line with its concept, Lolita kei artists wear heavy make-up and attire inspired by French, British, or German designs, with dresses and capes being common. Many bands showcase a wedding, palace, or funeral theme. Lolita kei is notable for having an abundance of male-to-female crossdressers
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Cosplayers of Phantasmagoria, a Lolita kei/Visual shock band. The Lolita kei image has become widely popular among cosplayers for its highly demanding aesthetics and challenging image.
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, partly due to the high demand for female performers in the scene, as well as the movement's appeal towards the female VK subculture. While some Lolita kei artists may choose not to cross-dress, they may opt for a royal/heroic look similar to European metal bands. Because of its easily recognizable image and the challenges associated with achieving it, Lolita kei is one of the most popular VK styles among cosplayers, who often imitate their favorite artists and, in many cases, attend concerts in full Lolita kei regalia. Famous Lolita kei artists include Versailles, Malice Mizer, Kaya, Phantasmagoria, HIZAKI Grace Project and Moi Dix Mois. Notable individuals who are known to have adopted a Lolita kei image include Mana, Gackt, Kisaki of Phantasmagoria (ex-Dir en grey/La:Sadie's), Yohio, Miyavi and Shinya of Dir en grey.


Casual Kei, Crossovers, and emergent stylesEdit

Since the 1990s, many VK bands have opted for completely new visual and musical styles, in response to the numerous controversies surrounding some areas of the scene. The first of these so-called "post-kei" styles was characterized by a minimalist approach to VK aesthetics through the use of non-dramatic attire and a more fashionable look, often called "Casual kei" by some fans. Casual kei has greatly influenced the Oshare, Eroguro and Nagoya scenes, but because of its merging with the aforementioned subgenres, some fans have questioned its authenticity as a distinct movement. Indeed, many post-kei subcategories have become distinct movements themselves. In recent years, growing interest in the movement, fueled by globalization and the newfound popularity of modern acts, has spawned new avenues for stylistic exploration outside the fringes of the established VK sub-movements and opening up new possibilities for stylistic crossovers. Crossover bands often create dissonance between their musical and fashion styles, or feature stylistic variations in the bands themselves. It has become an emerging trend among VK acts, especially modern Visual shock/Kote kei bands to have members that represent seemingly disparate styles, such as the case with Phantasmagoria, Kiryu, and modern X Japan. Some established non-VK rock and metal acts have incorporated Visual styles in recent years as well.

Indeed, Visual kei is an ever-evolving stylistic movement that continues to diversify, fueled by its philosophy of being creative and living a unique lifestyle. The musical and artistic possibilities, it seems, are endless, further loosening up the very definition of the style.

PopularityEdit

Ever since its inception, the popularity of Visual Kei has been substantially high in Japan, with n
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hide (Hideto Matsumoto) of X JAPAN, whose death in 1998 stunned the entire VK scene, leaving some fans uncertain about the future of VK during that time.
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otable Japanese metal acts such as X Japan, Color and Seikima-II attracting widespread attention. In the 1990s, the populairty of established VK and J-rock groups began to increase, with X Japan's one-song platinum record Art of Life receiving universal acclaim and topping the Oricon charts, and Luna Sea releasing two platinum albums, Mother and Style, in 1994 and 1996, respectively. By 1997, however, Visual kei saw a short period of decline after X Japan announced their disbandment and, shortly after, performed The Last Live. Their guitarist, Hideto Matsumoto (hide) died in 1998, sending shockwaves throughout the VK scene. Interest in the subculture once again enjoyed a rise in popularity in the late 1990's up until the early 2000's, and was mainly marked by the newfound success of bands such as Malice Mizer, Kuroyume and L'arc-en-ciel, as well as the formation of new bands such as D'espairsRay, Kagrra, and the seminal VK metal acts  Dir en grey (est. 1997), Nightmare (est. 2000), and The GazettE (est. 2002)

The mid-2000's saw the birth of a second wave of Visual kei artists, fueled by a renewed interest in the subculture, greater recognition by major rock labels, and the growing popularity of alternative metal, nu metal, metalcore, and melodic death metal. This period also saw the formation of musical subdivisions such as the more mainstream Oshare kei (popularized by groups such as An Cafe and LM.C) and Lolita kei, whch draws heavily from European styles of music and fashion.

Seremedy
Seremedy, a Swedish alternative metal band that has become notable as one of the first VK-inspired acts outside Japan.
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In recent years, Visual kei has experienced globalization and widespread reception among the rock, underground pop, and metal communities. VK has been moderately popular in Southeast Asia and Europe, with some underground bands being described as VK or inspired by the VK image. One such band, a Swedish alternative metal group called Seremedy, has gained some attention as one of the first active non-Japanese VK acts.

Outside Japan, there has been some confusion among rock fans between VK and other related subcultures such as goth, punk, glam and emo, partly due to the VK scene's nature of drawing inspiration from and influencing the styles of those subcultures. Visual kei, unlike the aforementioned scenes, is generally met with positive reception by members of the metal community, due to its non-mainstream sensibility and shock value. There have been many disbandments in recent years, but many established VK acts have enjoyed continuous success. X Japan has recently embarked on an international tour, and before their hiatus, Versailles has gained widespread international popularity, attracting audiences from places as far away as North America and Europe

Exist trace 2012
Exist Trace, an all-female Visual kei band. Female VK musicians have gained some attention due to their convention-challenging status.
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Kanon-Wakeshima
Kanon Wakeshima, a baroque pop artist, whose visually stunning image was produced by Mana of Malice Mizer.
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The VK scene has been a mostly androcentric scene, however. Despite appealing to both gender demographics through the use of eye-catching performances, many VK artists are men, and although the fandom has a large female population, a sizable portion of the subculture is male. Recently, however, Visual kei has seen the rise of a few notable female artists that draw influence from or are associated with the movement, with notable examples such as Kanon Wakeshima; a baroque pop artist produced by Mana, Yui Itsuki, the frontwoman of the post-Visual Kei project Yousei Teikoku, and the all-female VK bands Danger Gang and Exist Trace.

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