Bil Browning

Is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Japan's Lady Gaga?

Filed By Bil Browning | July 29, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: INXS, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Lady Gaga, Pee Wee's Playhouse

Is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Japan's answer to Lady Gaga? The young singer is just out of high school is also a Harajuku fashion blogger and model. (Harajuku is an area of Tokyo where every Sunday thousands of teens and young adults go dressed in elaborate cos play outfits.)

Lady Gaga? Maybe not. This single for "PonPonPon" is much more reminiscent of Pee Wee's Playhouse meets an INXS video. But I can't get the damn song out of my head now. I'll admit, I bought it on iTunes.


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As always with the Japanese, I don't know whether to be offended, or amused, or angry, or delighted. What with the zombie heads, the fat faceless person dancing in a box, confetti coming out of her ass, her sexed-up little girl looks and dress, charming manner, and relentlessly upbeat, almost maniacal music, I am left completely unsettled. It's like a box of them glazed Japanese rice crackers that taste almost like cardboard and a little like fish flakes but you can't stop eating them.

Translation:

at the intersection, surely everyone skips
surely, in the middle of the town, holding hands and looking up at the sky
surely, somewhere in the city, a chance will be seized
its still too early to cry, just keep moving forward, wai yai ya

PON PON if you show it, thats good
not doing so is boring, hm?
put on headphones and sing along
WAY WAY open up my path

PON PON all these things keep going on
can’t you hear it more and more? your feelings
Throwing it out carelessly, who’s the brat now?
hmm, good kid
you make me happy

every day PON
every time is PON
I wanna ride the merry-go-round
every day PON
Every time is PON
Maybe thats not so good

PON PON if you show it, thats good
not doing so is boring, hm?
put on headphones and sing along
WAY WAY open up my path

PON PON WAY WAY WAY
PON PON WAY PON WAY PON PON
WAY WAY PON PON PON
WAY WAY PON WAY PON WAY WAY

at the intersection, surely everyone skips
surely, in the middle of the town, holding hands and looking up at the sky
surely, somewhere in the city, a chance will be seized
its still too early to cry, just keep moving forward, wai yai ya

PON PON all these things keep going on
can’t you hear it more and more? your feelings
Throwing it out carelessly, who’s the brat now?
hmm, good kid
you make me happy

every day PON
every time is PON
I wanna ride the merry-go-round
every day PON
Every time is PON
Maybe thats not so good

PON PON WAY WAY WAY
PON PON WAY PON WAY PON PON
WAY WAY PON PON PON
WAY WAY PON WAY PON WAY WAY

Translation Credits: Kelley Wilks

Oh, and apparently PON PON PON means "clap clap clap"

Om Kalthoum | July 29, 2011 1:12 PM

I always look to Japanese pop culture for images of grown-up female empowerment.

Okay... what's with the chubby, seemingly black-faced imagery at 2:14 and 2:21? :(

It's hard to tell unless you're watching the higher-def version, but I think the chubby dancer is just wearing a black-and-magenta checkered face mask.

Annette Gross Annette Gross | July 29, 2011 2:29 PM

Looks to me like she's trying to be Americanized - I think she had her nose fixed. She's cute but no Lady Gaga - this reminds me more of 80's fun music.

Actually, her nose is like that. I think she's actually a bit too young to get any type of cosmetic surgery (I mean, she's 18 now). The most that's probably done is contoured make up to make it appear thinner than it already is. Yes, I agree, I don't think that she's any Lady Gaga (hell, the kid's known for being a fashion blogger, not a song writer or a student from Tisch). It's more or less 80s inspired fun (also known as fairy-kei), and besides, Japan's pop culture (as well as some aspects of cultural behavior that's different from Western habits) is weird/creative on its own. :P

I've always wondered how Japan ended up with such a warped, surreal pop culture. I don't mean for that to sound ethnocentric -- China and Korea are in the same geographic neighborhood and cultural sphere as Japan, but I've never seen Korean fashion or a Cantopop/Mandopop video that left me wondering who put LSD in my morning coffee.

I think there's just something about living on an island. It's hard not to look at this video, Bermudian gombey dancing, Icelandic hakarl or Cockney rhyming slang and conclude it could only spring from the minds of island people.

I think part of it is that it's only the weirdest stuff that people outside of Japan notice (they have plenty of dry dramas, slow arthouse stuff, non-flashy pop music and other non-surreal things to offer that just don't get as much attention). Also I've seen a lot of assumption (especially online) that this sort of video is considered absolutely normal in Japan, as if Japanese people can't tell it's weird and surreal, when they are intentionally going for strange and outlandish because it's amusing and eyecatching.

You have a point there. I've been to Japan, and there was plenty of non-weird pop culture there too (for example, the more conservative men's fashion is so me). At the same time, there seems to be a greater tolerance for eccentricity, like this video, cosplay and so forth. I recall a class I took in college, where Japanese culture was described as having low level of uncertainty avoidance relative to other cultures, and I've read the same thing about places like England and Bermuda.

It's sad that this was interpreted through the Lady Gaga lens when J-Pop artists have been using this type of surrealist kawaii abstract imagery for decades. I believe the correct question would have been "Is Lady Gaga the J-Pop act of America"? And even then, one might correctly ask "Is Lady Gaga's 2010 act the reincarnation of Gwen Stefani's largely unsuccessful attempt to bring long-standing Harajuku culture to the US in 2004?"

You can also see this surrealist imagery and commentary in the works of artists like Takashi Murakami and his contemporary artists' collective Kaikai Kiki, or in Yoshimasa Ishibashi's short-lived adult comedy sketch show "Vermilion Pleasure Night".

Or maybe Lady Gaga just has the ability to retroactively take credit for others' work now, instead of just ripping it off?

Maybe I'm being too hard on people, but the ethnocentric interpretation here, not only in the OP, but the comments as well, is amusing, particularly in a place where a rigorous background of cultural understanding seems to permeate every post, debate and argument.

*THUMBS UP!*

Seriously, you took all the words from my fingers.
I was going to say almost everything of what you said, till I see your comment.

I think Murakami's reference is obvious here specially if you notive the eyes that looks the same as his artwork. I was wondering if he was directly related to the mv production. But it has lots of Superflat content.

I don't know Yoshimaa Ishibashi, but I'll certainly look for it. Thanks for the Tip.

And good point, the one in which you relate Gaga's success to Gwen Stefani. I don't know if I agree, but it does sound interesting. I've never paid much attention to Lady Gaga but it makes me sad when people start relating everything wich is different to her. Seems that people lack references, so the only they have is Lady Gaga. I wonder if Lady Gaga has inspired herself into harajuku or jpop culture somehow. It seems unlikely to me, but who knows?

I prefer Gwen Stefani though, wish she had been more successful with her harajuku project.