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SEIZE THE WORLD / Kyary: On mission to spread Cool Japan

Yoko Miwa/The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu during an interview in Tokyo

The Japan NewsSince her debut in 2011, singer and fashionista Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has enjoyed enormous popularity at home and abroad. In a recent interview, she talked about her work, ideas and future goals.

Q: You are introduced as a “Japanese pop icon” overseas and have also recently been regarded as a symbol of Cool Japan.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I’m happy about it. I feel very honored to be regarded as part of Cool Japan, which covers many attractive things. I’ll make more effort in the future not to ruin the reputation of Cool Japan.

Q: You’ve had many concerts overseas. Is there anything that impressed you?

A: [I was moved to see] people longing for my concerts and welcoming me. Many people came to concert venues well before the start times and called my name: “Kyary, Kyary.” I also saw some people wearing cosplay outfits waiting for me at local airports. There were many other things that made me feel welcome. Many people were wearing clothes very similar to my past stage outfits.

I held “meet and greet” events for fans, taking pictures together and talking with them personally. At these events, my fans greeted me having practiced the Japanese language. They draw portraits of me and bring them as gifts.

Q: Have you had any difficulties overseas?

A: There’s a language barrier. I usually greet local people in their language — I have no problem doing it in English, but Chinese accents are difficult for me. I practiced many times to correctly pronounce Chinese words.

Q: Cool Japan includes not only pop elements but also traditional motifs and kimono. Do you have plans to introduce such elements at concerts overseas?

A: Traditional elements such as kimono and noh are truly wonderful aspects of Japanese culture, so I want to introduce them overseas. But what I truly want to introduce to people overseas is Japan today, and Cool Japan in evolution. I want to blend various traditional and historical elements into my music and fashion to promote them. When I wore a kimono-style costume for “Furisodation,” it was very well accepted. I usually wear Western-style dresses at concerts, so people overseas say kimono-style costumes are cool. During such times, I’m thankful that I’m Japanese.

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  • Yoko Miwa/The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Kyary Pamyu Pamyu poses during an interview

Q: Many overseas people have posted appreciative messages under your YouTube music videos. For example: “Why can’t I stop listening to this song?! So good!!” and “Kyary’s music makes me so happy!!” How do you feel about giving so much power to people overseas?

A: I was surprised at first. My music videos were initially meant to make them familiar to Japanese people, a sort of self-introduction. As I didn’t expect people overseas to watch them, I’m very happy.

Q: Your overseas tours in 2013 and 2014 were great successes. How do you feel about that?

A: I didn’t expect to be accepted that well. My name, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, is unusual, and my songs, dances and choreography are all unique. I personally thought they were cool, but also thought there would be pros and cons about me. But overseas concerts have always been full of excitement since the beginning. It’s probably because I’m a new type of singer for people there.

Q: In October, you had a solo concert at The Roundhouse gig venue in London.

A: It was my third concert in London. I felt very much at home, as the audience was very familiar with my songs. [The venue] had a sort of sense of incongruity, which I found cool. The contrast between the historical venue and me — a pop artist from Japan — was very interesting.

Q: Do audiences in Japan and overseas react differently?

A: In Japan, pop songs such as “Fashion Monster” and “Ninja Re Bang Bang” are popular. At concerts overseas, songs with catchy English phrases, such as “Cherry Bonbon” and “Candy Candy,” are popular, probably because they are easy for people to memorize.

Q: How do you feel about your popularity overseas?

A: If you look at artists overseas, many females are either cool or sexy. I’m a rare type of character with Harajuku-style kawaii fashion. People who like Japanese pop culture probably view me as “a girl who popped out of an anime.” Also, the sounds of my songs are catchy and danceable.

Q: Your national tour, titled Crazy Party Night, ended early this month. Its theme was “party.” What do you emphasize at concerts?

A: Previously, we carefully planned and produced stage sets, visual imagery and the atmosphere to transport the audience to a fantastic world. However, the latest tour was meant to create a concert with the audience. So, we designated different themed colors for individual concerts: yellow for Tokyo, red for Osaka, green for Sendai. People wore clothes in those colors. It increased the sense of unity at each venue. It was a new and good idea.

Q: You’ve released many songs. Which one do you like?

A: My favorite is “Mondai Girl” [released in March and nominated at this year’s Japan Record Awards]. Its lyrics much reflect my own feelings. I told [my music producer] Mr. Yasutaka Nakata about a recent unhappy experience and how I felt about it. Then, he said: “That’s just like Kyary. OK, I’ll incorporate that into your new song.” It feels good when singing it, as I feel I’m singing what I want to say.

Q: Since the time before you made your debut, you’d frequented a shop in Harajuku of Sebastian Masuda, an artist and producer of Harajuku-style fashion. How have you been influenced by his “kawaii” elements?

A: I’ve really liked visiting his store, 6%Dokidoki. When I made my first promotional video, I wanted to make “cute,” “scary” and “Harajuku” my keywords. So I asked him to help me, as he’s a Harajuku expert.

Q: What does “scary” mean to you? Is it something dark in your mind?

A: It’s something traumatic, something scary that I experienced when I was very young. These memories are still in my mind. When I became an artist, I thought about my favorite themes and styles for my work. There are so many cute things in Japan, such as yurukyara cute characters. I felt like adding a few grotesque, scary touches to my work. So, my first promotional video had many grotesque elements, such as brains and eyeballs popping out from a mouth — probably making some people wonder whether they were over the top.

Q: Adding scary, grotesque elements gives your cute work some depth.

A: It may have something to do with Japanese people’s affection for yokai monsters. We’re scared of yokai but attracted to them at the same time. I always feature slightly bad guys in my work, so that my works are very happy but also a little scary, a bit dangerous to children.

Q: What are your goals?

A: Next year will mark the fifth anniversary of my professional career. The image people in general have about me is of a girl living in a world of sweets or in a fairy tale. But as I also get older, I want to evolve and become cool — cool means having a mature aura, for one thing. Rather than continuously doing the same thing, I want to evolve.

Q: Do you have any plans for more overseas tours?

A: Nothing is scheduled yet, but I want to give concerts overseas again. Brazil is on my mind now. I’ve heard that my online music videos have been viewed many times in the country, and many local people want me to hold a concert.

Q: Do you want Japan to be better known overseas?

A: Having visited various places for concerts, I’ve realized people overseas sometimes don’t know much about Japan today. But they know things from the past, such as Mr. Kyu Sakamoto and his “Sukiyaki” song. It’s true he was a great singer, but I feel it’s a shame that they know very little about Japanese pop music today. I want people overseas to get to know more about Japan today, with me as a gateway.

■ Profile

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was born in 1993 in Tokyo. She started her career as a Harajuku fashion model when she was a high school student. She made her major debut as an artist in 2011 with the release of the mini album “Moshi Moshi Harajuku.” She has since held many concerts at home and abroad.

This interview was conducted by Japan News Staff Writer Hiroko Ihara.

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