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August 30, 2013
 

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and the Asian Pop Craze

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu by Matt Irwin for Dazed & Confused-2

Asians…amirite?

Some of you may or may not know of my inherent connection to the land of the rising sun. A brief history: As a military brat, I had the opportunity to live in Japan for three years in the early 90’s (where I in fact met the gal that would later become my wife). As an adult, I went back on an LDS mission for two years.  My dad, father-in-law, three uncles, and a cousin have all served missions there. Yadda yadda yadda. Basically, I love the Japanese and their culture. It’s in my blood.

With that in mind, one might say I have a bit of a bias in regards to their music. I won’t deny that. Still, I’m also a big enough music nerd that a few filters remain intact. In fact, last year was the first time in a awhile that a Japanese song made my own top ten. I fully recognize that not all of what would fall under the “J-Pop/Rock” umbrella is automatically worthwhile.  But let’s be honest…Asian pop in general seems to be kind of a big deal at the moment (for the record J-Pop>>>K-Pop…just sayin’). Love it or hate it, music fans of all types are slobbering over it these days. On my mission (which ended 10 years ago this November, just to give you a timeline), I obviously heard a ton of it. At first, much of it was just too irritating to me. “It all sounds like video games!” I’d say. But then it kind of struck me…OF COURSE it all sounds like video games! Why wouldn’t it? It’s JAPAN! All of their media intermingles and fuses and has kids with each other. Japan is a giant pop culture fruit cake.

One of my friends once asked for an explanation regarding the recent Asian pop obsession. Isn’t it all just the same old garbage we hear out here, only in J-Speak? Well…yes and no. Obviously, a lot of it is. Especially the ones that take on a lot of western influence. But I think one reason it’s getting so much attention is the obvious and simple fact that it’s not western. It’s easy to hate on mainstream pop artists out here – even when they’re kind of good – because they’re all over the place. Even if you do enjoy it, there’s nothing that will push over a fence sitter quicker than hearing it in every convenience store and Walmart nonstop. And let’s not even start with the “indie” mentality. We all know there’s not a sin more cardinal than a hipster liking something everyone else likes.

As an American, Asian pop is like western pop with all the bad stuff filtered out: There’s no over-exposure here (“Gangnam Style” was a strange anomaly), and most people can’t understand the lyrics so it’s easy to pretend they’re actually good.  All that’s left is the fun stuff. The really good pop acts take it a step further. These are the ones that wear their unique culture right on their sleeve. In Japan’s pop world, “cute” (or “kawaii”) usually trumps “cool,” which can be quite the shock to the average westerner. These artists stand out because aside from being infectious pop, it sounds and looks NOTHING like the crap we have over here. That in itself is exciting. It’s no secret they are masters of pop-art (Takashi Murakami, anyone?), and it shows up everywhere.

Which brings me to the reigning Queen of Asian Pop – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

It’s possible most people have heard of this adorbale 20 year old pop diva from Japan by now. Her video for “PonPonPon” was a viral hit, and her newest album Nanda Collection has been getting a bit of buzz out west, being positively reviewed by the likes of Pitchfork and Youtube phenom Antony Fantano among others, as well as a video or two being featured on Stereogum. Her aesthetic is an overdose of extreme kawaii, tempered with a touch of oddly sinister and absurd. It’s a little overwhelming, and that’s exactly the point. Because of this, she’s often been dubbed the Lady Gaga of Japan. Take that how you will, but know this: Nanda Collection will kind of blow your mind. For better or worse, just consider your mind blown.  I just thought I’d give you guys a chance to experience it either way. Every track on this thing is a barn burner in my opinion, and it just may end up in my top ten come year end.

So, yes. There is some good A-Pop out there. Don’t be afraid. Enjoy a little culture once and awhile. Domo.

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About the Author

Chris