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
Color vocalist "Dynamite Tommy" formed his record company Free-Will in 1986, which has been a major contributor in spreading modern Visual Kei outside Japan.
In 1992, X Japan launched an attempt to enter the European and American markets, but it would take another 8 years until popularity and awareness of Visual Kei bands would extend worldwide.
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.
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". .
Visual Kei has enjoyed popularity among independent underground projects, as well as artists achieving mainstream success, with influences from Western phenomena, such as glam, goth and cyberpunk. The music performed encompasses a large variety of genres, i.e. pop, punk, heavy metal and electronica. Magazines published regularly in Japan with Visual Kei coverage are Arena 37°C, Fool's Mate and Shoxx. Noted bands who at least at some point sported a Visual Kei theme include Dir en grey, Luna Sea and Malice Mizer.
Popularity and awareness of such groups outside of Japan is sparse, but has seen an increase in recent years. While the successful X Japan launched an attempt to enter the international market as early as 1992, it would still take another decade until live concerts and regular domestic releases by Visual Kei themed bands in Europe and North America came to pass.