So anyone who knows me knows how much I am into anything Japanese especially contemporary music, art and fashion. Just because we live in Taos doesn’t mean we a not able to be instantly connected anywhere in the world we want to be. From Taos via the internet I explore music, fashion and culture from around the world and recently I’ve been turning Japanese, I really think so.
When I first saw PONPONPON by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu it was like the first time I heard the Beatles, Hendrix, Bob Marley, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols or Nirvana. When I heard that she would be starting her world tour on the West Coast of the USA I immediately got my ticket for the show and booked my flight. Her tour began first in Seattle then San Francisco and Los Angles. Though I spent most of my life in San Francisco Bay Area and have friends and family there I had been wanting to take a trip to Los Angles. I wanted to see how the downtown had changed since I had been there last. I had grown up in Los Angeles and had seen the Beatles, Bob Dylan’s first electric tour and everything going on there in music in the mid 60’s. I then moved in 1967 to the Bay Area where I saw all the music emerging from there. From the time I could keep a beat to Dave Brubeck have been hopelessly addicted to music and I have always wanted to be where the explosion occurs, not where the echo finally reaches. For me music, art and fashion is the holy trinity of social change and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a high priestess in that church. What she is doing is still the most unique music I’ve heard in a long time and I’ve become follower of everything she does.
Who is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu you ask?
Let’s start here. The fashion center in the Harajuru district of Tokyo is well know around the world. You may have seen images in publications like Fruits, Goth Lolita, Cure and Zipper and online sites like Tokyo Fashion of young people who meet there to show off their individual styles. You may even have seen it right here in Taos last summer at Fashion Day on the Plaza, or on the FaceBook page which I and several others host and post to. It is difficult to have missed it entirely. Its influence has been seen in pop music with artists such as Katie Perry and many others. The word for the movement is Kawaii which translates as “cute”. When someone once said to me they thought it was really weird for girls to be dressing up like little girls without considering it weird for girls to be dressing up like street walkers I knew there must be an element of a cultural revolution going on here.
One of the most iconic symbols of Kawaii is the official Cultural Ambassador of Harajuku, just turned 21, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. She was teased in high school for being into western style music and fashion and got the nick name Kari (Carrie). She added Pamyu Pamyu because she thought it sounded good. She began at 15 as a fashion blogger and style setter on the streets of Harajuku. Her mother did not approve of her fashion at all, especially her false eyelashes. Kyary would leave the house dressed in t-shirt and jeans and dress up somewhere else for the day at the Harajuku station.
When she would return home she would often find that her eyelashes and other items had been thrown away by her mother. Instrumental in here career was meeting art director Sebastian Masuda, of fashion brand 6%DokiDoki who had a store in the Harajuku district. She frequented his store and he encouraged her to be a model which she did. After becoming a model for Harajuku fashion magazines like Zipper and Kera and appeared on local fashion shows Kyary collaborated with the Eyemazing company to produce a line of fake eyelashes called “Harajuku Doll”. Curious to know what her mother thinks of it all now. In 2011 she made her first music video PONPONPON with Sebastian Masuda doing the set design described as “a room of a girl who isn’t good at tidying up”, Music was written and produced by Yasutaka Nakata of Capsule and producer of the group Perfume. The music video, a psychedelic tribute to kawaisa and Decora culture, was released to YouTube on July 16, 2011 and became a viral hit. Katy Perry blogged after seeing the video “I’m so in love with her but she also makes me feel HIGH”. MTV called it the craziest video ever. Thus began Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s musical career.
Her musical style can best characterized as being about fun, happiness and joy mixed with the weird and strange. Her songs are about simple things like Candy, Cherry Bon Bons, false eyelashes and fashion. The music is up beat, techno based fusion of dance punk, syntho-pop disco electronica. As Kyary describes her style in an interview with The Fader “I love grotesque things. My concept is scary things that become traumatic with their cuteness. There are so many ‘just cute’ things in the world, so I add grotesque, scary and even shocking materials like eyeballs and brains to balance out the cuteness.” Since 2011 she has produced two albums and videos with Yasutaka Nakata writing and producing the music and Sebastian doing set designs for live shows and videos. Karyu Kyary Pamyu’s popularity in the world is huge. She has had over 200,000,000 views of her videos on youtube.
So after listening to some old Raymond Chandler radio dramas I was ready to return to Los Angeles. I booked a room in the Sojo Hotel in Little Tokyo. Very minimal, shower and bathroom down the hall, just what I was looking for, $30 per night, in Little Tokyo and right across from the Metro from where you can get anywhere in LA. Psyched to be in Little Tokyo hoping to find a club playing J-Pop and J-Rock. No such luck, just beard-men everywhere listening to classic rock and watching basketball. I am still in America after all which is a bit too homogeneous for my taste. So off to Korean Town and maybe some K-Pop. No such luck again just more beard-men, old rock music and sports on every TV.
So the movie is OK but I always bring my own sound track. China Town has been all restored. Last time I was there it was all but non- existent. Good food though, Sushi, Korean Bar-B-Que, Chinese and was always able to find a bar to hang out in the evenings. Did hang out a bit with my friend David who lives part time in Taos and part time in Glendale, (coincidentally a few blocks from where I grew up). Went to York Street, Silver Lake/Hollywood to some cool bars, art studios and stores with very weird stuff. Not as many beard-men and better music playing in the bars. Best thing in Little Tokyo was Fairytale Fashion Boutique where I meet some really nice girls at who had just organized a big Harajuku Fashion Walk in LA.
The day before Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s show at the Nokia Club while siting at a Japanese bakery in Little Tokyo I look up and see Sebastian Masuda and a companion walking by. “Excuse me” I say “are you Sebastian Masuda?” They stop and with a big smile and said “Yes.” So I tell them I have come from Taos, New Mexico to see Kyary and that I am inspired by his art. We exchange a few more words and they thank me for coming and supporting Kyary. A while latte I see them again and had to ask if I could take their photo. They thought I meant me with Sebastian so the women took my phone and took our picture. I wanted to get a picture of them both but star struck couldn’t think that fast. I thanked them again as they left and sat there stunned for several minutes before going over to the Fairytale Boutique to tell them who I had just meet. I knew they would know who Sebastian was.
The night after the show I went out with my friends David and Dava to Sunny’s Hide-a-way where we had cocktails and then to Bottega Louie Restaurant in Downtown Los Angles. While at Bottega Louie there was Sebastian and the entire Kyary Pamyu Pamyu set crew right in front of us. I introduced myself again and he remembers me, introducing me as one who had come from New Mexico to see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. They were all very nice, with big smiles and greeting bows. They ask how I liked the show, I told them every aspect of it was fantastic. I had to tell Sebastian what an inspiration he had been in my art. They were very unpretentious and gracious. Meeting Sebastian and seeing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is one of the high points of my life, up there with seeing the Beatles at Dodger Stadium.
So why am I here? To see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu live on stage. I make a dry run to see how I am going to get to and back from the Staples Center where Nokia Club is. Couldn’t be easier, just catch the 20 bus across from where I am staying. It goes right to Pico and Figueroa. I figure I will have to get there early to get in line. Three months before tickets had sold out quickly and by the time I got mine only general admission were left. Also missed out on the meet and great tickets. So the day of the show I arrived about 6 hours early and was a couple hundred down in line.
It was a peaceful, orderly and fun crowd who sat on the third floor laughing with each other A lot of the kids were all dressed up in Decora, Fairy Kei, Fashion Monster and many other creative styles. There were some there with there young children who were also dressed up Kawaii style. I am sure I was the oldest one there, most could have been my grand children if I had any. Did I feel out of place? Yes and no, I always feel out of place but I have never let it stop me from going where I want to go especially when it come to music.
At 7:00 when the doors opened we went through metal detectors to form another line. then up stairs to another line and finally down a flight of stairs to the club where we were free to go where ever we wanted. I could have gotten right up in front of the stage but from experience know it is better to be back up on a second tier in the center. It was perfect. The music was like a music box of a repeating melody by Capsule. The stage was filling with smoke and the curtain rose and the Kyary dancers burst onto the stage. K-Y-A-R-Y-, and then came Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on stage with a very high pitched “Hello everybody”. She had a huge smile on her face and a piece of paper in her hand. “Thank you for coming to see me, have fun everybody”. Her dancers are amazing jumping, twirling and always surrounding and in sync with Kyary’s every move. The audience was also responding to Kyary, singing along with every song so as to show that even if they didn’t know Japanese they knew every word and movement of her music. She instructs the audience in the hand movements for Ninja Re Bang Bang. Again she stopped between Invader Invader and Tsukema Tsukeru to say a few words in english, “I Brought my stage set from Japan” which had been designed by Sebastain Masuda. The set consisted of Larges blocks spelling KYARY, a large blow up yellow and red teddy bear, colorful toys, a large box of exploding popcorn, a giant stuffed Jack in the Box and a large video scene which projected scenes from her videos.
In between one of her three costume changes a video was played. In the video Kyary was dressed as a Japanese biker girl which is a whole fashion subculture.In another part of the video she was playing cards in a high stakes poker game. The chips are piled up and the person across the table is holding a royal straight flush. He throws down his cards and then Kyary throws down her cards with strange symbols on them as she takes the pot. Once again the performers come on stage dressed like large stuffed animals dancing. When she came out in a new costume she performed her new single Yume No Hajima Ring Ring. The video has just come out and presents an evolving Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on her knees as a child, becoming a teen ager and finally becoming a young adult, with design elements and images of past videos and songs she is sad to leave her youth behind and not sure where she is heading but always facing life with a huge smile and a genuine spirit on fun and joy in her heart.
She perfomes most all her songs best known and with the oncor she comes on with PONPONPON and when she say Jump Jump Jump everyone jumps. She always finishes her show with Chan Chaka Chan Chan, with english lyrics
“I Chan chaka chan chan
I’ll see you again
It’s not “goodbye”, it’s “see you later
I don’t wanna go home
I wanna throw a tantrum
Do re mi fa so la ti so see you next time”
One could say it is all very childlike, except the level of expertise in performance and music is anything but. It is just Kyary Pamyu Pamyu who is all about sharing fun and happiness with her fans and works very hard at being the best she can be. It is impossible for anyone who see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu not to fall totally in love with her and become a devoted fan.
Her tour is taking her from the west coast of the US to Chicago, Toronto and New York, then Australia, Hong Kong, Paris, Germany, the UK and back to Japan. Her following in the US is limited to a very loyal following of the subculture based on the many Japanese fashion cultures who are really looking to an alternative to the same old stuff. Her fans love her totally and she loves them. That is what it is all about in Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s world. Whether she will become recognized by the main stream in the US really doesn’t matter. Considering a pop music culture that idolizes Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and all the mediocre winners of American Idol, where Female singers have to take there clothes off to get attention, well, it isn’t going to happen with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. It is a big world out there and there is a lot more going on in music than just what graces the stage of the Grammy’s. So what if after 20 years they recognize Metalica, or Green Day, by then it is just all over. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is here and now and when it comes to music that is where I want to be.
Some of Kyary Pamyu’s Videos
Invader Invader Live in San Francisco
ninjari bang bang
mottai night land
Yume No Hajima Ring Ring