Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Journey through Kyary's (Very Short) Career

Good god, is Kyary already releasing another single after Yume no Hajima Ring Ring? I think you might need to slow down, Nakata and get to releasing another Perfume single. Well, I'd better get to Yume no Hajima Ring Ring before Family Party sneaks up on me!

I've probably been too dismissive of Kyarypamyupamyu, at least her music anyways. I feel like I have this very weird relationship regarding Kyary as a performer and Kyary as a person. As a person, she seems really cool with a very nonsensical but sweet way of looking at the world. She also has very interesting ideas about expression and artistry. Hell, if we spoke the same language, she'd probably be one of those cool people I could totally hang out with and do weird things like crossbreed rocks or something! And then as a performer... it's a little bit more complicated. I want to like Kyary's music. She's produced by Nakata, that should be enough for me to get into her music. But I feel like Nakata's constantly pigeonholing her into these catchy and adorable/kawaii technopop songs that sound like commercial jingles. Sure, she has her breakout songs like Fashion Monster and Ninjari Bang Bang, but her stereotypically cute songs very much outweigh her other songs that don't fall into that mold. Same thing goes for her music videos.

Back in 2011, PonPonPon was just about the strangest thing my eyes laid upon from J-pop (and I'd seen Milky Way's Tan Tan Taan! PV). Now, two years later, her music videos feel like more-or-less the same formula: some slightly creepy Harajuku Kawaii concept with funnily-dressed backup dancers and a quirky mascot running around. That doesn't mean Kyary hasn't had some good music videos, it's just that I know what to expect every time she releases a single. And maybe if I was into the more Harajuku Kawaii culture, I would be more okay with how formulaic her music and image has grown. But I'm not, and that's why I can only ever remain a casual fan of Kyarypamyupamyu (and also why I can deal with Perfume being formulaic). I think Kyary has some great ideas and a solid, dynamic musical relationship with Nakata, but at this point, I feel like I've seen everything that she has to offer. As long as she stays in the little box Nakata's crafted for her, I don't think she has much of a chance to expand musically or artistically.

But... perhaps that may change this year.

According to Kyary herself, in 2014 she hopes to focus her career more towards "evolution." Now I'm not sure how she intends to evolve what with not writing her own music but oh well. I don't know if anything will come of it. Starting off Kyary's year of "evolution" is Yume no Hajima Ring Ring, a sweet little song about graduation and growing up- hey, wait a minute, wasn't that the whole point of Furisodation last year? Oh well, I think Yume no Hajima Ring Ring is focused less on adulthood and more on the act of graduation. The lyrics spend a lot of time reflecting on graduation and departing from old friends and all the sadness that comes with that. You know, typical graduation song lyrics. And how does this song about graduation sound? Well, it's a happy, cutesy little technopop number! Surprise!

Seriously, this is why I can never get into Kyary's music. That can describe like 90% of her discography. And maybe if I was more into that genre of music, I could get into her music more but again, I'm not. If I want to listen to a solo technopop singer, I gravitate more toward Curumi Chronicle, because musically, she's a lot more interesting and diverse, even if she doesn't rely on visuals to sell as much. Her music can be sweet and adorable or it can be darker and edgier, or anywhere in between because she doesn't have to have her music revolve around a certain image. By the way, you should all check out and (if able) buy her upcoming single Second Spring EP, because she has some really great technopop music and needs more love. Now... where was I before that shameless plugin? Oh right, Kyarypamyupamyu! My point is do not go into Yume no Hajima Ring Ring expecting this really different, boundary-pushing sound. It's just the same-old, same-old from Kyarypamyupamyu, and if you like that, then you'll like this. If this was meant to be a song showing evolution, I am not impressed.

But... for some unfathomable reason, I like Yume no Hajima Ring Ring a lot.

I don't know what it is about Yume no Hajima Ring Ring, but I really like this song. Sure, it's not gonna make me run down the streets screaming how great it is, but something I can't explain makes me like this song. I guess what I like about it is that it's not as... catchy? It's much more toned down than Mottai Night Land was and even Invader Invader and Ninjari Bang Bang. It's probably her calmest A-side since Candy Candy. And honestly, I've been gravitating toward happy songs in general lately. I've kind of been going through some rough stuff, and happy music's been one of the few things keeping me going. When I listen to this song, it always calms me down, which is nice when you feel like you're about to break down. Yume no Hajima Ring Ring also reminds me of Sweet Refrain, only without all the gratuitous dubstep. It's a cute song that doesn't try to be anything else.

So is it a great song? Nope. Is it good at showing evolution for Kyarypamyupamyu? Not really. But despite all its flaws and lack of creativity, I still like Yume no Hajima Ring Ring. I'm not planning to review the entire single, so I just wanna bring up the B-side for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring really fast. You know how I said Yume no Hajima Ring Ring wasn't anything new for Kyary? Well, Slow-mo, the B-side is. I almost wish Slo-mo was the A-side, even if it would have been a radically different A-side for Kyarypamyupamyu. It's such a cool song, like something I'd hear from Capsule or Meg instead of Kyary! Only gripe I have are Kyary's weak vocals, but that can't really be helped. Slow-mo is a better display of evolution than Yume no Hajima Ring Ring is! But nonetheless, I like both songs a lot more than I thought I would! Yume no Hajima Ring Ring is nothing very special, and if you're not a hardcore Kyary fan, it's probably not going to sell you. But it is still a very pleasant song that grabbed me a lot more than I thought it would. Maybe 2014 really is going to be an evolutionary year for Kyarypamyupamyu- oh right. Family Party exists. So much for evolution.

Oh well! Let's look at a Kyarypamyupamyu PV! Even if I know what to expect, I can at least hope to be entertained by some fun visual effects and general weirdness! Besides, the quirky mascot this time around is a polar bear!

...is that the polar bear from Laser Beam?

It must be the nicer, softer, and less threatening cousin of the polar bear from Laser Beam.

Aw, here's little-ish Kyary on her way to school with Papa Polar Bear!

Oh wait, that would be student!Kyary on her way to school!

I wish school uniforms could look that colorful.

A tear? Well, she is going to school...

After Mottai Night Land, I like the more tangible set in lieu of mostly green screen.

Of course a Kyary PV wouldn't be complete without her strangely-dressed backup dancers!

Ooh, retro TV!! Cute!

When Kyary's not being creepy and weird, she can be really adorable!

Oh hai, reference to a previous Kyary single!

Ah, the PonPonPon outfit. That was a crazy time in the idolsphere. A very crazy time.

And so Kyary graduates from student to mega-kawaii superstar. Not a bad tradeoff!

But obviously, the transition still carries a tinge of sadness for Kyary.

A polar bear playing an electric guitar... it's strangely awesome.

Magic toast! Yum!

Stalking people? Isn't that a little rude, Mr. Polar Bear?

The onion from Candy Candy!! Still my favorite mascot from a Kyary PV.

Now some passing references to Furisodation and Ninjari Bang Bang.

And if you look in the background, you'll see another reference to the Candy Candy PV!

Time for another transition from one iconic outfit to another!

But still another tear... starting to see a pattern?

But hey, at least we get to revisit the kickass instruments from the Fashion Monster PV!

Wow. This is actually... kind of pretty. And... toned down. Am I screencapping the right PV?

Ah, there's the quirky Kyary PV I was screencapping!

Poof! Another new outfit! A very adorable furisode at that.

I love the cute little special effects referencing the lyrics. It's simple but sweet!

Look! A callback to PonPonPon! See what I did there?

Should I make that pun again? 'Cause I totally will. Just say the word. And I'll do it.

Well, off Kyary goes to more releases this year whilst Nakata ignores Perfume! Meanwhile, I assume the polar bear will go back to the South Pole.

Aw, poor polar bear. I'll get out my invisible violin.

A serious PV for Kyarypamyupamyu? Is that what Yume no Hajima Ring Ring qualifies as? I... think it does. Okay, it's not Schindler's List, but the PV for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring still has a very clear storyline much less nonsensical than most plotlines in Kyary's other PVs. Yume no Hajima Ring Ring is essentially a chronicle of Kyary's life, from her time as a child to her current career. Of course, a Kyary PV wouldn't be complete without some quirkiness so the story is told accompanied by faceless backup dancers and a giant guitar-playing polar bear. Despite the usual Kyary motifs being present in the PV for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring, it's still slightly different from what I'm used to as someone who reviews her material. I'm not saying that Kyary's other PVs aren't as good as Yume no Hajima Ring Ring, but this PV is just different from what I normally expect from her. I mean, I was going into Yume no Hajima Ring Ring expecting the usual weird special effects, strange costumes, and quirky mascot character. And okay, Yume no Hajima Ring Ring has all three of those, but they're combined with a somewhat emotional storyline.

What I do find a little bit surprising is the theme of graduation tied into Yume no Hajima Ring Ring. I mean, didn't she kind of do that last year with Furisodation? Well... okay, that PV was more or less Kyary getting increasingly hammered, so I guess Yume no Hajima Ring Ring is a different take on graduation and moving on in general. And while this PV does partially delve into Kyary's own graduation from student to singer, most of the PV is about her moving on from each era in her career to a new one. Honestly, the concept of exploring past songs and eras in an artist's career is one of my favorites. There's something about journeying through all these different music eras with a newfound retrospective and nostalgia. It allows for a lot of emotion for both the artist and the fans. So in theory, the PV for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring should be a music video that I am completely and 100% down with.

But... I don't find this PV quite as poignant as I think I was supposed to.

The music video for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring would have been more poignant if Kyary Pamyu Pamyu had a longer musical career. Guys, she's only been active since 2011. That's a little over two years. Sure, she's released a handful of singles in that time, but that doesn't change the fact that it's only been two years. She's not a seasoned artist with a long, expansive career. So while that does make showing her entire singles discography in one video very easy, it doesn't give off as much emotion as I think the producers wanted it to. Now if someone like Utada Hikaru or Namie Amuro, or even Perfume, released a music video like Yume no Hajima Ring Ring, that would be much more sentimental, especially to fans. That's because those artists have very long histories with a lot of high points, low points, successes, failures, and all that can be chronicled into a music video.

While it is still heartwarming to see Kyary return to some of her iconic images, the short timespan doesn't give a lot of emotional tug, or not as much as it would if she were a more seasoned artist. Not to mention that from very nearly the start of her musical career, Kyary has had nothing but success. PonPonPon was a memetic social phenomenon that catapulted her into recognition internationally, all her singles have sold well digitally, her albums have sold extremely well on Oricon, and she's already performed at Kohaku Uta Gassen twice. She's never really had to struggle for the musical success she's achieved. I'm not saying Kyary should have gone through years of irrelevance, but... I'd be lying if I didn't say that would have helped. Does that detract from Yume no Hajima Ring Ring? Not at all. It's still a very good music video, but with the tears and the theme of growing, I feel like this was supposed to be a more emotional music video that's lacking because of Kyary's short career. Or maybe it's because I'm a casual fan of Kyarypamyupamyu. Or both could be factors.

But (starting to see a pattern here?)...  this PV does show the concept of evolution very well.

While Yume no Hajima Ring Ring doesn't tug at my heartstrings, it does very smoothly show how Kyary has changed since the start of her career. And in terms of screen time, it helps that she's only released a smaller amount of singles. That way a motif from each single can be clearly displayed before transitioning to the next. Not every single got obvious references, like Ninjari Bang Bang and Mottai Night Land getting only passing references. But part of the fun of Yume on Hajima Ring Ring is going back and picking out some of those smaller references. It took me several views and even looking on the Wikipedia page for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring to spot the reference to Tsukema Tsukeru! And the production for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring is very nice too! The PV has a much more subdued look than Mottai Night Land, regarding the colors and lighting at least. Calling a Kyary PV subdued is a bit of a reach, but Yume no Hajima Ring Ring isn't as... garish? The colors and general atmosphere remind me very much of the PV for Candy Candy.

Yume no Hajima Ring Ring feels like a much more mature PV. If Kyary wants to evolve this year, then I think Yume no Hajima Ring Ring is the right way to start off that evolution. It feels like her way of acknowledging all her past successes and also stepping into the future with a bit of wistfulness and nostalgia from leaving those successes in the past. Although maybe I wasn't quite as pulled in as some fans of Kyary's music, I can at least commend the PV for Yume no Hajima Ring Ring for trying something more emotional. One of my criticisms of Kyary's songs and PVs has always been that she's been pigeonholed into one certain kind of music and type of music video. Yume no Hajima Ring Ring isn't a nosedive into dark and edgy territory, but it doesn't have the "weirdness for the sake of weirdness" present in many of her other PVs. However, the final result is a refreshingly different PV for Kyarypamyupamyu that I think is a great way to start her year of "evolution."

So because Kyary's all about evolution this year, I thought I'd join in and evolve my Apple Rating System! The lovely Kioku of Love's Spell (an idol blog you should all check out if you haven't done so) made this adorable new Apple Rating System for me. And so my first rating using this new system is to give Yume no Hajima Ring Ring four out of five apples! The song isn't amazing but personally appeals to me for reasons I cannot fully explain. I also enjoyed the concept for the PV and the general idea that this year Kyarypamyupamyu is all about evolution! But Family Party is kind of a step-back if she's going for "evolution."


  1. "But Family Party is kind of a step-back if she's going for "evolution."'

    You're acting like artistic vision is the guiding factor behind music. As we all know the buckets of money handed to Warner by corporations are the true muses.

    1. Quiet you, if Kyarypamyupamyu at least *thinks* she's trying to do evolution this year, then I am not going to spoil that delusion of hers.

    2. On the other hand, there has been transition in her musical style. For example, Family Party, when you read the lyrics, is about caring for a loved one; which is a much more emotional topic than Tsukema Tsukeru, which is about false eyelashes.
      Mondai Girl, is about the troublesome girl who makes life fun, as opposed to Candy Candy, which has less depth than a puddle "The chorus speaks for itself".
      Kira Kira Killer, when translated, is about a mysterious murderous superhero, which is more interesting than Ninja Re Bang Bang, which is basically "Be a Ninja of Joy".
      Yume No Hajima Ring Ring is about transitioning between major periods in life, a serious topic, as opposed to Furisodeshon, which is more "Hoorayz! I'm 20!".
      While the musical style hasn't really matured, I feel like her Lyrics have. At least for the major tracks.

  2. I'm not feeling Kyary carrying on with music. She really should have stopped at Ninjari Bang Bang which was the last good song I believe she should have done. I'm not surprised everyone likes this single but I was really hoping it was her goodbye into music and for me to focus more on business and fashion.


    By the way Nia, I've done another post on Perfume that I'd love for you to check out: http://www.nynyonline.co.uk/how-perfume-influenced-my-style/

    1. Me either, but Nakata adores her and WMJ makes bucketloads of money off her. So I don't think we have much of a choice! I don't now what 2014 holds for Kyary but I get the feeling it'll be more commercial jingles and the occasional Ninjari Bang Bang-type song thrown into the mix.

      A Perfume post!? Sweet! As everyone knows, Nia loves her some Perfume!

  3. Just a word about SKE 48. You did not mention lovely Rie Kietahara who is very sad and I still don't know why. She has always been a serious and thoughtful girl. An honors student. Tomomi Kasai stopped to see her on her way back to Tokyo from Osaka. Seems to have cheered her up a bit. I think that she very much misses everyone in Akihabara. Personally, I find that the SKE theater and surroundings and the staff are a great deal more welcoming than Akiba. The atmosphere is more relaxed and fun,

    1. Oh? Well, I don't look at SKE48 as much as I probably should... I'm very sorry to hear that about Kitahara Rie though! I know it must be very stressful being an idol, especially an idol transferred to a different group. But isn't she back in AKB48 now? As co-captain of Team K? I've never been to an AKB or SKE stage, so I wouldn't know what the atmospheres are like. I'll take your word for it though!

  4. You are correct. She does come home now and again. Co captain of team K? I' m not sure. Her mementos were still on sale at the AKB shop last summer. As a matter of fact, I am long overdue to return to Japan. I haven't been back since Tomomi Kasai's events last June. I never did make the concerts in December due to flight cancellations - bad weather etc. She (Rie) was in "So Long", " and Sayonara Crawl". She was somewhere in the high twenties in the general election which I , unbelievable as it seems, completely forgot about. I slept through the whole thing.! The only souvenir I have is the newspaper coverage. I will check this when I have the chance and let you know. I think that she also misses her best friend Atsuko Kuramochi who stepped into Kasai's shoes with a solo debut at the racetrack on the 25th of November of last year. Rie is also quite friendly with Jurina but it is not quite the same as BEST friends.

  5. Oh yes. Forgot to mention that both SKE 48 and NMB 48 are more welcoming and friendly then AKB and you don't have to wait in line at the cafes.