I happened to look at the Guardian website and I saw this article Kyary Pamyu Pamyu tinges J-pop’s cuteness with a touch of horror show. My instant reaction was “YES! Recognition for Japanese music in the Western hemisphere!” But the more I read it the more it frustrated me.
Firstly I don’t like the use of the words unsettling or grotesque. Yes there are some horror themes (especially appropriate for her PV Fashion Monster)
But how is “running down a grey suburban street in pink platform boots with a slice of dry toast in her mouth” subversive (watch CANDY CANDY from about 0:14 to get the reference)
Also she’s not as obsessed with horror as the article implies. If you watch her latest single (which isn’t, 2013’s Mottai Night Land as quoted in the article) but Yume no Hajima-Ring Ring from February 2014, you’ll find a very sweet song about graduation and growing up. What can be horrific about a polar bear playing guitar?!
It should be a known fact that an artist’s earliest release may not be a true reflection of their artistry. It’s common to spot people like Christina Aguilera be guided by their label to what would sell and fit the market, gain the record sales and recogotion before changing the style and sound to what they actually want to do. I’m not saying that this happened to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. But she has been releasing singles for 3 years, it’s unfair to compare everything she does to her first songs. What if people constantly compared Lady Gaga to her glitter ball, Ziggy thunder bolt, disco stick past?
Yes she is similar to Lady Gaga as a female singer with strong visuals and creative expression. Kyary started in the industry as a fashion blogger and model so of course she’s going to have a strong sense of style. Also there are other performers that “grew up as the only child of disciplinarian parents” and either did become more extrovert in their style or just didn’t. It’s not an explanation for why she’s this creative in her looks, or a reason to dismiss how she can be this creative.
If you look at the rest of Japanese music, all bands have a very strong use of aesthetic, and in some genres like Visual Kei, it’s almost mandatory! If you’re engaged in Japanese music, you’ll soon realise that it’s part of the culture to have high value on the costumes, PVs, live staging etc. It’s an extension of their creativity. If you’re truly aware of Japanese music, you’ll realise quickly that the exaggerated costumes and images is part and parcel of the music and things stop being as shocking. I mean, my earliest introduction to Japanese music was this video!
You react to seeing men in women’s clothing, crazy dancer costumes etc for about 2 seconds, and then you get over it and get back to enjoying the music.
Having said all that, the imagery doesn’t always reflect the music. Especially when more acts can bounce between the genre lines and aren’t pigeon holed, you can never assume the genre based on their looks. For instance if I said there was a three piece girl vocal dance group, you’ll probably think they have some very sugary, poppy cute music, right? Obviously you haven’t heard of BABYMETAL
Yeah. I’ve yet to get my head around this.
But back to the article. “There are indications of a western pop influence upon Kyary’s videos”. Yes that’s easy to say about a lot of Japanese music and culture. There is a heavy mix use of English in lyrics, song titles and act names. It’s possible to say that until the influx of Western music after the Second World War and then the influence of Eighties rock bands, the Japanese music industry didn’t exist. One of the biggest Japanese acts of all time, X JAPAN, might not have happened if it wasn’t for Western acts like KISS to influence them. The characteristics of Japanese R’n’B and Hip Hop are strong similarities to their Western counterparts. And one of the biggest fashion styles in Japan, Lolita, has obvious ties to the Victorian era.
If you search for Japanese music on YouTube your first results are enka, shamisen and other types of traditional music. Kyary’s first song PON PON PON is only 18th on the search list. This probably does reflect the general impression of Japanese music in the Western world. It’s why when I talk about my interest in the music I have to quickly explain it’s the rock/pop/R’n’B that I’m interested in.
But when they say that Lady Gaga influenced elements like the masks in Tsukematsukeru it’s really frustrating. The ones wearing the masks (appearing at 2:24) are representations of Kitsune, foxes from Japanese mythology that are often represented with masks. The masks have come from Kyary’s own culture, not adopted from the Western world.
Can I explain all the references and elements of her videos? Of course not! Some elements have grounding in anime, fashion, sci-fi etc. I’m not a particularly arty or cultural person, but I would say that not all art can be referenced, explained or identifiable. You just accept and enjoy it as it is.
Kyary says “I always look up to artists who blend their music with fashion, and I want to be one … I am not just trying to imitate what they are doing. I want to express my own version of music and fashion with a happy spirit.” Is that a universal opinion of musicians? Who doesn’t acknowledge their influences, their predecessors, but who doesn’t intend to be their own auteur?
It is great what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is doing in raising the profile of Japanese music outside of the country. But it’s very narrow minded to just base the reactions based on Western comparisons, like Katy and Lady Gaga, and on a few known elements of Japanese culture, like Harajuku (even that might not be known of if it wasn’t for Gwen Stefani’s Love.Angel.Music.Baby album). Kyary is a gateway to learn more about the richness and depth of Japanese popular music.