The Underground Movement: Visual Kei

Visual Kei, or “visual style/type,” was originally a musical movement that began in the late 1980’s in Japan. The genre of music is classified as a type of glam metal or gothic rock and was considered to be a sub-genre of J-Rock (Japanese Rock).

It was unique in its own right for its emphasis on the uses of dramatic and sometimes theatrical styles of hair, makeup, and costumes. Androgyny was occasionally a key feature of Visual Kei groups. The androgynous nature of the musicians has been believed to be a means for fans of Visual Kei to place more focus on the style and the music than the performers themselves.

The movement entered the music scene in the late 1980’s with bands like X Japan, D’erlanger, Luna Sea, and Color embracing the new style. The actual term “Visual Kei” was coined from one of X Japan’s slogans “Psychedelic violence crime of visual shock” (“shock” is an alternate translation of the word “kei”).

Despite this early start, Visual Kei remained underground with a cult following in Japan. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that the genre would finally gain its foothold in Japan, with new Visual Kei bands like Kuroyume, Malice Mizer, and Penicillin joining the movement.

Around 1999-2000, Visual Kei began to lose popularity. The status of Visual Kei had taken a hard hit from the death of X Japan’s lead guitarist, Hideto Matsumoto aka hide, in 1998. X Japan and Luna Sea had both disbanded in 1999 and 2000, respectively as a result of hide’s death and the decline of the public’s interest in Visual Kei.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the genre made a comeback, with Luna Sea performing a one-off performance and X Japan coming together once again, reuniting for a new single and world tour. As a result, Visual Kei was jolted into a more public spotlight and the movement spread worldwide, garnering followings in countries all around the world.

Since then, Visual Kei has become a cultural phenomenon and is accredited with the foundation of Gothic Lolita fashion. Malice Mizer band member, Mana, has his own line (Moi-même-Moitié) that features clothing in the style of Elegant Gothic Aristocrat and Elegant Gothic Lolita, which are a blend of the innocence of Lolita fashion and the darkness of Gothic fashion.

Visual Kei is still alive today, operating under its revival name, Neo-Visual Kei. It still remains primarily underground but it has large fan followings in Japan, Europe, and North America.

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