First of 2 parts
This is the first part of a two-part interview with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, looking back on his past – part two will be released soon, looking to the future!
Debuting in July 2011 with the monster hit “PonPonPon,” Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has spoken of a career as one of Japan’s most cherished and unusual pop culture icons. Both at home and abroad, its chaotic mix of colorful Harajuku fashion and quirky humor captured an adoring audience, while a series of endlessly upbeat electronic hits from producer Yasutaka Nakata – of “Fashion Monster” to “Kimi ga Iine Kuretara” – gave its enduring musical appeal.
Currently engaged in a year of activity to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is nursing a recent album release, candy runneras well as brand new single, “Maybe Baby”, from the video game spin-off anime series ninjala.
She is also embarking on a 30-date tour of Japan and visiting Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., on April 16 and 23, where she will perform alongside Billie Eilish and Doja Cat — reviving an overseas touring streak that was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I sat down with Kyary and her dog, Ame-chan, in a Tokyo office owned by her management company to reflect on the past decade, her place in kawaii culture, and her plans for the future.
Hi, Kyary, congratulations on your 10th birthday!
Thank you! It was so quick. I’ve done so much in those 10 years that it’s like a dash.
When you released “PonPonPon” in 2011, the reaction was amazing, both in Japan and around the world. Do you remember how you felt at that time?
Before posting the clip of “PonPonPon” on YouTube, it was not common [in Japan] release a full music video on YouTube, and when my management company and record label suggested releasing it that way, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. I thought, “If we put the whole song on YouTube, nobody will buy the single.”
But, in the end, we posted the whole video as a way to introduce Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and “PonPonPon” to the world, and the reaction was way bigger than I expected, especially from the overseas fans. This “PonPonPon” video got me on world tours and shaped my destiny forever.
The video for “PonPonPon” has surpassed 180 million views on YouTube alone. It’s still unlike anything else – a riot of color and invention. How do you feel watching this video now?
It feels like every frame of the video is on the attack! Haha! I was only 18 and there were things I could only do at that age. For example, there’s a scene where my mouth opens and a bunch of eyeballs pop out, which would have been really hard to do if I was a well-known celebrity, because there would have been concerns about the how it would be received.
But it was a clip from a complete stranger, so I could do things then that I couldn’t do now.
At that time, AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z were among the most popular pop groups, and the charts were dominated by mainstream J-pop artists and idols. And then came Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, radically different from all the rest. What do you think caught the imagination of fans in you?
I think most people’s initial reaction was, “What the hell is that?” My name is unusual, the whole concept was strange, and I think it sparked a fascination.
Once people were interested, they listened to the excellent music produced by Yasutaka Nakata and enjoyed the music itself.
When did you first realize you had become a star?
There was a show on TV where the performers were doing celebrity impersonations, and I saw someone do an impersonation of me, singing one of my songs. They usually only do impersonations of someone who is famous or fashionable, so their impersonation made me realize that I had become famous. It made me realize there was something iconic about my public image.
Between your unusual sense of fashion and your positive lyrics, your songs contain a strong message about being yourself, which really stood out then – and still does today.
When I was in high school, I became interested in Harajuku fashion. Until then, I had been just an ordinary schoolgirl and had a normal life.
But when I discovered Harajuku fashion, I was able to get rid of my shy personality. I became someone who could speak her mind and be herself. So when I was around 16-18, that’s when I really realized the importance of following my interests and being myself.
When I started playing as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I received a lot of negative comments about my way of dressing and being a bad representative of Japan. But at that moment, I knew how important it was to express yourself and be proud of yourself, and I wanted to spread that message. I discussed it with my producer, Yasutaka Nakata, and we ended up with songs like “Fashion Monster” and “Mondai Girl” that are about being yourself.
Harajuku fashion has evolved over the years, but one constant is that it takes a huge influence from Western and Japanese fashion. I believe that you have personally been influenced by Western artists such as Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani, so it is interesting that you have become a global ambassador for Japanese pop culture.
Yes, it’s true. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been a fan of Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry. I watched their music videos all the time and was in awe of the worlds they created for themselves.
I internalized that inspiration, and what came out was something different. Later, Katy Perry complimented my work, and it was so weird. To be so inspired by her and then compliment me on my own expression was a really weird feeling.
You have been strongly embraced by a global audience, and since your debut, the word “kawaii” and the concept of kawaii have become commonplace online. In Japan, kawaii culture has evolved over the years, but how do you think overseas audiences have connected to it?
In terms of evolution, the word “kawaii” as written in English strikes me as a word that applies to a Western view of Japanese culture.
Recently, with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harajuku has lost its mind a bit, as people stay at home and many famous stores have closed. So I wish I could do something to help her find that spark again.
But when I look at Instagram or TikTok, it looks like people overseas are finding ways to have fun, cosplay and other cool things, so I feel like kawaii culture is doing better overseas than in Japan. It’s a time when things change, so I hope something new will arise in Harajuku.
In addition to music, you also do modeling, appear in commercials, and own your own fashion brands, including a perfume (Nostalgia Syndrome), a hair care brand (Curuput), and more. How do you view your job title?
About two years into my debut, I started worrying about doing too many different things. I was like, “What’s my job, anyway? Am I someone who would do anything?
I decided to focus more on music and steered my career in that direction. But, now that 10 years have passed, I feel like I should be doing all kinds of things. Recently, I produced my own perfume brand, Nostalgia Syndrome, and launched my own label, KRK LAB, and I hope to reach as many people as possible.
That’s it for the first part! Please watch part two, coming soon JAPAN Striker.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is currently touring Japan until July 18. She will perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California on April 16-23. His latest single “Maybe Baby” from the anime series Ninjala is now available on all major download and streaming platforms. For more information, visit his website at http://kyary.asobisystem.com/english/
Author: Daniel Robson
Daniel Robson is editor of the video game news site IGN Japan. Read his series player’s world to JAPAN Strikerand find it on Twitter here.