I first wrote about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu in 2011, when the 18-year-old Harajuku street model released her debut music video for "Pon Pon Pon." Produced and written by J-Pop mastermind Yasutaka Nakata, the song was a sugar-coated triumph. In the clip, Kyary dressed like a baby doll, danced in a Polly Pocket-like pink bedroom overflowing with candy and toys, then vomited eyeballs. I was floored, but not really confident that I had the tools to process something so bizarre, and so distinctly Japanese. I've been a fairly obsessive fan ever since, but I still don't really know what is going on. Over the past two years, Kyary has become a megastar in Japan, releasing a successful album, Moshi Moshi Harajuku, then cashing in with the theme song to a popular TV show and cameos in commercials for cars, KFC frozen yogurt and the people who make Pocky, all the while impressively preserving her far-out, almost sickeningly cute aesthetic.
Last night, the most compelling and confusing pop star on the planet performed in New York for the first time. After stops in London, Paris and LA, Kyary's 100% KPP WORLD TOUR touched down at Best Buy Theater, a mid-sized venue in Times Square, where fans in pink wigs, big bows and petticoat dresses had been lining up since midday. The show had no openers, just a solid hours' worth of speakers playing an eerie, incessant xylophone loop. At 7:30PM, a large screen behind the stage started flashing 20 second clips of Kyary's videos: "Pon Pon Pon," "Furisodeshon," "Fashion Monster," and my favorite, her ode to fake eyelashes, "Tsukema Tsukeru." Four dancers in bandit masks emerged: two men with mohawks, yellow-and-black checkered shirts and vertically striped, pink-and-black pants; and two women with blonde bowl cuts, cotton dresses and frilly bloomer underwear like you'd imagine on Olive Oyl. And then, finally, Kyary. Though she doesn't speak the language besides a few phrases, her first words were shouted English: "Yayyyyyy! Hello everybodyyyyyy!"—shrill and without melody, like a child yelling just to yell.
Given how colossally over-the-top her videos are, Kyary live is an interesting proposition. Especially at a fairly bare-bones venue like the Best Buy Theater, there's really no way she could do justice to her aesthetic's sprawling weirdness—besides the "Pon Pon Pon" playroom, her videos have been set, with costumes to match, in haunted houses and banquet halls, and in front of an intergalactic queen's throne. Here, she kept it simple, changing clothes only four times over the 90-minute performance—starting with a red dress, red bow and sparkling red Dorothy shoes, moving on to similar outfit in lavender, then switching to a dress in a Lisa Frank-inspired unicorn print, and for the encore, one of the T-shirts for sale at the merch stand. Kyary is a mesmerizing, if unacrobatic dancer. Much like her loud cries of "Yayyyyyy!" when songs end—invariably followed with the word "Enjoyyyy-eeee?" and a dramatic, rainbow-like gesture in which she points the microphone at the crowd to amplify its unison response: "Yes!"—her swaying, bopping dance moves convey uninhibited excitement. In commercials and onstage, she never appears to be stressing to impress—she's got a sly, pranksterish air, an innocent goofiness that puffs her above it all without a care.
This was the rare pop concert that felt like a genuine celebration, even a victory dance. Between all of her calls of "Enjoy?" and her general chattiness between songs—mostly in Japanese, though translated occasionally by some disembodied voice to say things like, "There are so many interesting people here!" and "I went to see the Blue Man Group last night, they were really really blue, it was really entertainment"—there was a real language barrier-defying back and forth between Kyary and her fans. For years, I've participated in Kyary's career entirely online; even my few real-life interactions about Kyary have always been mediated by YouTube, her photo-rich Twitter, message boards and exhaustive fan Tumblrs. So one of the most exciting things about seeing Kyary perform, for me at least, was seeing her fans, hearing them scream along like me, watching them sweat like me and feeling a part of that community. Everyone was a super-fan. The crowd was a sea of wigs, Beethoven hairpieces, dye jobs, bridal veils, multiple full-body mascot suits, cyber boys, top hats, men in drag, things that light up and at least one turban. Kyary's sense of style—from the dresses made of stitched teddy bears to the ones with huge eyelashes sewn beneath the bust—seems to really license people to let their freak flags fly. I was reminded of Lil B, who inspires a similar brand of impassioned devotion in his concertgoers, and unsurprised to see a guy in a "Thank You Based God" T-shirt and hear a fleeting chant of "Based god! Based god!" before Kyary's encore. When she finally did come out, she shouted, "Please take a picture with me!" The dancers rushed to her sides, and they all kneeled on the ground, facing in the same direction as the audience as a photographer appeared from backstage to preserve everyone's peace signs and smiles.
Here, I snapped a few Vines:
"Pon Pon Pon"
"Thank you very much!"