Monday, March 10, 2014

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Riot Grrl for the 21st Century. [Best Buy Theater, New York City, 2014.03.08]

(Photo from Kyary's Official Fan Club Page)

だれかの ルールに しばれたくはないの

わがまま ドキドキ このままでいたい

I don’t want to be tied up in somebody else’s rules.

Selfish and excited, I wanna stay the way I am

-Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, “Fashion Monster,” translation by me.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is not a novelty act.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has something to say and if the media and PR flacks and lookie-loos are too dumb to figure that out, her audience isn’t. The view from inside the crowd is very different than that of the critic jotting notes in the stands above. While female performers will always have creepy adult male super fans, Kyary’s not singing to them and they aren’t the majority of her fanbase.

I was at the Best Buy Theater in New York on Saturday for Kyary’s second world tour. Standing towards the back of the scrum of people in front of the stage, I happened to make eye contact with of one of those girls in wearing the big pink Kyary-style bows in her hair. She was by herself, too, and looked to be all of 17 years old. Having been an awkward, weird, solo-concert going 17 year old, I feel a strong empathy for my younger sisters-in-music fanaticism and I started chatting with her to pass the time until the show started. We talked about Japan and music and learning new languages and she told me everything she had done in New York that day (her first visit) and then we started talking about our favorite Kyary Pamyu Pamyu songs. We both agreed that “Invader Invader” was seriously boss but then my young friend turned to me, conspiratorially, pink bow bobbing, and says this: “The best part is that seifuku means the school girl uniform but it means conquering, too.”

And, you know, she was right. That is the best part.

(The line in question is “おっしゃ Let’s 世界征服” (Ossha-Let’s sekaiseifuku) where “Ossha-le” (stylish) bleeds into the English “Let’s” and then the final word means conquer the world but Kyary has substituted the kanji for “school uniform” in place of “conquering.” I’d also like to note that Kyary uses the masculine pronoun for “I” in this song.)

While the dummies are dazzled by her psychedelic fashion taste, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and her teenaged girl fans are plotting a style invasion. They’re going to conquer the world.

And I, for one, welcome our new teenage girl overlords. (Especially if it means I can wear that cupcake dress in the video.)

While Kyary’s videos have been visually interesting from the very beginning, she seemed very uncomfortable on stage when she first debuted as a singer and performer. It took some time for Kyary and her music producer Nakata Yasutaka to figure out a style that was pure Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Some of her earliest songs have a sleek, dancey sound very reminiscent of Perfume, the other famous Nakata Yasutaka act. But Perfume’s main appeal is are their gorgeously intricate three-part dance routines. That wasn’t Kyary. Perfume’s music is meant for the clubs; Kyary’s music is meant for bopping up and down in your bedroom.

Kyary and Nakata seem to have settled on a boxy, straight ahead groove to underpin her work; it’s a groove that works with the boxy, toy soldier-like dance moves she’s been using. And though Nakata writes the material, he is clearly taking some lyrical direction from Kyary with songs like Furisodenshon--about the bittersweetness of growing up--and her most recent single Yume no Hajima-ring ring--about the bittersweetness of graduating. These are themes that are close to the heart of any teenage girl, especially ones with big pink bows in their hair.

As a Kyary-watcher since the very beginning, I’ve been so proud to see the now 21-year old woman really come alive on stage. She’s grown more confident in her lip-syncing and dancing and has been slowly learning how to work a crowd up into a frenzy. While I’ve seen better live acts than Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I’ve never been to another concert where I could jump up and down excitedly with a 17-year old girl and sing at the top of my lungs about being a Fashion Monster.

Scuttlebutt around the Best Buy Center was that Kyary had been signed to Warner Bros.’s American wing. If that’s true, I both fear and hope she’ll become another PSY, crying all the way to the bank thanks the dummies who couldn’t see past the catchy hooks to the social critique underneath. But ideally Kyary should be taken seriously both as a pop artist and as a woman making smart, rebellious, empathetic music for teenage girls. And if the young lady I met at the Best Buy Theater is any guide, the teenage girls of America are ready and waiting.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu isn't a cute dolly. Her words are out there, you just have to listen.


Anonymous said...

I never really got into Kyary, musicwise - but I agree with you about her being much more than the suggar-dazzled cute girly the media is trying to sell her! she has this punk-attitude or maybe more DADA-attitude about her style and her songs - it's often more creepy than cute and the lyrics seems weird if you just judge them from a first glance but offer more layers

Thank you! and may this piece reach some people who want to understand!

Anonymous said...

Seifuku IS conquering. I like that.

Your piece reminds me of the girlhood discussion we had yesterday in school. I remember Dr. Colette Balmain mentioned she's looking at girls' fashion and horror films. It's enlightening that Kyary is empowering girlhood with her lyrics and fashion.

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