Respect Yourself: “PONPONPON”

Duncan Cooper spends a lot of time on the internet. Every other Monday, he pays tribute to the hours spent with original video and audio a short essay. This week he celebrates his favorite song of the summer, “PONPONPON.”

Last Thursday, Acéphale‘s Patrik North tweeted, “a problem w/ @thefader and @pitchfork and @stereogum and @dummymag is that they don’t cover IMPORTANT MUSIC,” with a link to 18-year-old model-blogger Kyary Pamyu Pamyu‘s “PONPONPON.”

I love stuff like “PONPONPON”, and not just for the visual spectacle of faceless, cross-dressing plus-size dancers or the floating toast with 3-D eyeballs or when Kyary’s head turns to pink Picasso slime. “PONPONPON” was written and composed by Yasutaka Nakata, who is sort of like the The-Dream of J-Pop, an auteur whose work guiding female vocalists like Perfume, Capsule and Meg always follows an instantly-identifiable, common perfect thread. In their world, Nakata and his artists make music sublime, a happy marriage of early-2000s French electro and soprano Auto-Tune. Watch this video from Perfume—same kind of sound as “PONPONPON,” and even though the aesthetic is totally flipped, it’s still basically the happiest shit imaginable:

I could write a treatise. I’d love to. But what the fuck is that song called? What does this title even mean? “ナチュラルに恋して 2010.4.14発売!” ??? Easily one of my top three most-watched YouTubes last year, and it took a way-more-than-moderate amount of digging to figure out the song is “Nee (ねぇ)” and the video’s part of an ad campaign for Natural Beauty Basic, a Japanese lifestyle brand with a website I can’t read. If we assume this is coverage-worthy emerging music for a FADER audience, as a person trying to give Perfume (or “PONPONPON”) a non-insulting, non-cultural-tourist, non-meme American voice, it journalistically scares me that even at the most practical level I have no idea what’s going on.

“PONPONPON” is even more complicated, with it’s super-kawaii bedroom set designed by 6%DOKIDOKI, like a grotto of hyper-pastel, toddler-vamping, non-threatening fantasy. For Western audiences whose primary exposure to Harajuku style was through our reigning icon of oversized sex in music, Nicki Minaj, the almost-immediate reaction to actual female Japanese artists is usually as perversely neutered child-expressions of repressed male desire. But is that right? Visually, the best Western corollary for “PONPONPON” is the adult Candy Land video for Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” with its breast-ejaculate whipped cream and full-nude cotton candy cloud shots. Is that what’s going on here? Seems like no, but if I can’t even read the title on the video, I feel at least two semesters away from halfway getting it.

Before “PONPONPON” or her soon-to-be-released autobiography Oh! My! God! Harajuku Girl, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was a successful teen model, radio host and a popular fashion blogger (again, she’s only 18). Last year she released a line of tsukema (artificial eye lashes), and Time Out Japan asked her how they were selling. “A lot of people came to buy them, and I’m happy they liked them,” Kyary said. “One man bought so many of them and I’m wondering what he is going to do with them… (laughs)!” I just don’t know, man. Her debut album Moshi Moshi Harajuku comes out in Japan at the end of the month. I’m sure I’ll find it somewhere, but the best thing I could write about it would probably be a dozen smiley faces. The last thing I want to do is facilitate other people not understanding.

POSTED August 1, 2011 3:20PM IN RESPECT YOURSELF Comments (5) TAGS: , , , ,

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  1. DGI says:

    I write about Japanese culture and design. The most important thing to remember, and the thing most Westerners get wrong, is that logic and linearity are mundane (in the sense of being bound to the worldly and material), and are therefore gross and inferior. Logic is avoided. It is considered the language of deception and antisocial behavior. Sociable beings rely not upon logic and reason but mutually consensual feelings. (The very term “nee” is a non-meaningful, non-verbal indication of assent or mutual agreement). Absurdity, imprecision, and contradiction put you closer to the divine and non-transitory. It is very difficult for Western people to abandon linearity, which makes its appearance in minuscule and subtle ways that are mostly invisible to them but that are immediately recognizable by Japanese people, and thereby often rejected as “non-Japanese”. This rejection may be seen by Westerners as mysterious and arbitrary.

    In short, don’t look so hard for meaning and you’ll have it in your pocket.

  2. Duncan Cooper says:

    ^ awesome comment : )

  3. Jamie Harley says:

    The Perfume song is actually called “Natural ni koi shite”, Nee is a different song.

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