Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

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Japan's Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the Queen of Kawaii

Interview by Anthony Al-Jamie

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has caused a revolution in the J-pop world with her unique blending of kawaii [cuteness] with creepy chic. In 2012, the mayor of Shibuya named her the “Kawaii Ambassador” of Harajuku, and her success has mushroomed overseas. She’s gone on global tours, her breakthrough song “PONPONPON” was featured on “The Simpsons,” American pop idol Katy Perry has tweeted about Kyary’s music and in July 2014 she released her third studio album “Pika Pika Fantajin.” Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie interviewed the 21-year-old chart-topping singer about music, fashion and her future.

TJ: Can you tell us how your career started?
KYARY: I was playing as a DJ at the DJ event “TAKENOKO!!!” when I was a high school student. The host of the event was my current producer, Yasutaka Nakata (CAPSULE). We talked to each other and this resulted in my debut.

TJ: Is there a meaning to your name?
KYARY: There’s no special meaning. I decided to use this name because the way it sounds is cute.

TJ: When did you first get into Harajuku fashion?
KYARY: When I was a high school student, a fashion magazine took some snapshots of me when I was walking down the street in Harajuku, and so I started working as a model for fashion magazines. Because of this, I came to like fashion and Harajuku.

TJ: Can you tell us about how your parents felt about your fashion when you were younger? How do they feel now?
KYARY: They used to get angry and tell me not to wear my colorful outfits. We used to fight, but now they both support me.

TJ: Was your family into music when you were growing up?
KYARY: My father really likes music and he would listen to all kinds of music at home. Because of his influence, I came to listen to music of all genres.

TJ: What was your favorite subject in school?
KYARY: I really liked social studies. I like to research and get to know about history.

TJ: How has social media impacted your career?
KYARY: In the beginning, I uploaded a music video of my debut song to a video website and that’s how I got to be known outside of Japan. Also, Twitter is a global tool and I think it influences my current situation a lot. For example, more and more people outside of Japan follow me and foreign artists tweet about me.

TJ: Your popularity overseas is growing. Do you have plans to release any songs in English or any other languages?
KYARY: As I can’t speak English at all, I can’t sing in English. But some of my songs that repeat English words (such as “CANDY CANDY” or “Invader Invader”) excite audiences at live shows overseas, so I want to sing those songs more often. Also on my new album, it’s very simple English, but there’s a song written all in English called “Ring a Bell.”

TJ: What’s your favorite place that you’ve visited on tour? Which places did you enjoy the culture and fashion the most?
KYARY: I’ve enjoyed all the countries. I especially liked London as there are fancy stores. I bought a lot of stuff.

TJ: What were the most memorable moments during your world tour?
KYARY: I have no particular standout moment, but I’m always touched that fans overseas get so excited.

TJ: What was the most delicious food you’ve tried on tour?
KYARY: I really loved the great food in Hong Kong.

TJ: How do fans overseas compare to those in Japan? Who are the wildest?
KYARY: Fans in other countries are very enthusiastic and get very excited at my live shows.

TJ: Why do you think Japan’s kawaii culture has become popular overseas?
KYARY: I wonder why myself. For a long time, we Japanese yearned to be like Westerners and imitated their styles, but it is interesting to see this phenomenon where foreigners are beginning to appreciate our style.

TJ: Many Japanese artists have tried to become successful in the American and European market. How do you think you were able to become an international J-pop star?
KYARY: That’s a good question. I’m happy that Japanese music is getting popular overseas. I think the Internet age is wonderful as my music videos spread around the world online and people overseas were able to watch them.

TJ: I noticed many of your international fans dress in cosplay when attending your concerts.
KYARY: I’m always surprised by the high quality of cosplay of fans overseas. It’s great that instead of just imitating my costume, they add their own originality.

TJ: Where would you like to perform in the future?
KYARY: I’m going to perform in Hawaii! I’ve wanted to go to Hawaii for a while, so I’m really looking forward to it.

TJ: Have you ever thought about living abroad? If so, where?
KYARY: I like foreign countries, but I really love Japan and I’m happy living in Japan.

TJ: Where do you get your fashion inspiration?
KYARY: I used to watch a lot of foreign music videos. I was especially struck by Katy Perry’s music videos, which I watched for the first time when I was in high school.

TJ: What was it like to meet Katy Perry?
KYARY: I was so happy and deeply moved to meet her. There were a couple of more chances to see her, but it would have been too overwhelming to see her again.

TJ: Which Japanese entertainers inspire you musically?
KYARY: It has nothing to do with my music, but I like Japanese bands and listen to their songs often. My current favorite band is Gesu no Kiwami Otome.

TJ: Some have compared you to Lady Gaga.  What do you think of the comparison?
KYARY: I was not aware of that, but she’s an amazing artist and I respect her.

TJ: Are there any entertainers you would like to collaborate with?
KYARY: An artist named Yelle came to my concert in France and I’d liked her before that, so I hope to do something with her.

TJ: Do you study English?
KYARY: I want to but I haven’t started yet (laughs).

TJ: Do you have a favorite anime or manga?
KYARY: Crayon Shin-chan.

TJ: Why did you decide to adopt kawaii as your signature style?
KYARY: It’s not like I chose kawaii culture for the theme of my style, but I’m just wearing what I like and that’s called kawaii - I think.

TJ: In a lot of your music videos you combine kawaii aspects and symbols with strange and not cute objects such as floating brains and eyeballs. Do you come up with the ideas for your videos yourself? How do you devise what you want in a music video?
KYARY: I think Japan is filled with kawaii stuff. So I thought if it’s just kawaii, it would be buried and wouldn’t attract people’s attention. So I added some creepy and scary elements that I like.

TJ: Do you think you will ever change your kawaii image?
KYARY: I’m not sure, but I think it’s something that will naturally change as I grow older.

TJ: Do you ever feel the need to modify your image when performing for fans overseas?
KYARY: I think that many of my fans overseas became my fans because of my music videos. I hope to express the same message on stage as I do in my videos.

TJ: Do you ever feel like you’d want to appeal to a different target audience than the one you have now?
KYARY: I’m happy that many people have become my fans because they like what I do, and I’m particularly glad that many young fans have come to my shows recently.

TJ: Does your fashion influence your music or vice-versa?
KYARY: As I entrust my music to my producer, Yasutaka Nakata, I choose costumes for music videos and CD jackets depending on the song. Also, I’ve been thinking about stage production and costumes for live shows as I’ve got many new songs on my new album.

TJ: Since fashion is such a huge part of your life, do you see yourself starting a clothing line in the future?
KYARY: I don’t have any plans for that at this time.

TJ: Why did you name your first studio album “Pamyu Pamyu Revolution?”
KYARY: My producer named it. I really like it as it’s like starting a revolution with the first album.

TJ: What do you do in your free time?
KYARY: I muddle around at home or go to a nail salon or a hair salon to dye my hair.

TJ: What directors have you worked with for your videos?
KYARY: Jun Tamukai has been producing my videos since my debut. Many other staff members have also been working with me ever since my debut.

TJ: You have worked as a DJ, model and singer. Which do you like the best?
KYARY: I like working in music best.

TJ: What has been your proudest achievement?
KYARY: I’ve done a lot of work so far. I was honored to sing at the famous “Kohaku Uta Gassen” [Japan’s most celebrated annual TV music show] and to perform live at major halls.

TJ: What are your goals for the future?
KYARY: I don’t have any specific goals, but recently many young children have come to my live shows, so I hope to be a singer who can help those children find their dreams.

TJ: What advice would you give to an aspiring singer?
KYARY: It is important to have a dream, and you never know just what might happen.

TJ: Do you have any message to readers of the Tokyo Journal?
KYARY: I’m going to perform not only in Japan but also outside Japan, so please continue to support me. tj

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The complete article can be found in Issue #275 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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