Visual Kei refers to a movement among Japanese musicians, that is characterized by the use of eccentric, sometimes flamboyant looks. This usually involves striking make-up, unusual hair styles and elaborate costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics.
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), with its own particular sound, related to glam-rock, punk and metal. However most insider sources state that Visual Kei’s unique clothing and 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 as while similarities can be drawn between some bands; most are from widely different genres including but not limited to Pop, heavy metal, power metal, classical, rap and electronic.
Visual Kei emerged in the late 1980s, pioneered by the band X Japan, along with others such as D’erlanger and Color, who are regarded as influencing the fashion and music associated with Visual Kei bands. X Japan’s drummer Yoshiki Hayashi used the term to describe the band’s slogan “Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock”.
In the mid 1990s, Visual Kei received an increase in popularity throughout Japan, when 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, Luna Sea, and L’Arc-en-Ciel, however a drastic change in their appearance accompanied their success.
During the same period, bands such as Kuroyume, Malice Mizer, and Penicillin, gained mainstream awareness, although they were not as commercially successful.
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, and L’Arc-en-Ciel went on a hiatus the same year.
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”.