Classic Pop Corner — The Kyary Pamyu Pamyu of the 1990s: Tomoe Shinohara

With her new, not-as-good-as-the-last-one single Tsukema Tsukeru and advertisers increasingly pushing their products at us through her face, it seems like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is getting set to take the big leap up from cool but relatively minor pop culture phenomenon into being something genuinely pervasive and irritating. And more power to her.

Tomoe Shinohara (L), Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (R)

We’ve actually been here before though, or at least a very similar place. A quirky, flambuoyantly fashion-sensitive, charismatic pop culture icon who can dazzle and impress on TV variety shows whilst retaining offbeat credibility among arty, creative types; self-assembled costumes throwing together trashy trinkets and taking fringe fashion from a previous decade to gaudy extremes; infectious, wacked out pop music produced by the decade’s leading electronic/pop crossover artist; music videos with dodgy, tacky computer graphics? I name thee, and thy name is Tomoe Shinohara:

Tomoe Shinohara: Kulu Kulu Miracle (produced by Takkyu Ishino)

Tomoe Shinohara was all over TV in the late 90s, with her kooky hairstyles, extreme version of patchwork 80s new wave era “nagomu gal” or Jun Togawa style fashion, famously squeaky voice and wonky tooth, and her sharp, offbeat wit. In addition to her TV work, she went to design college and started her own fashion brand, and in her music work she worked with people like Takkyu Ishino of technopop/dance music legends Denki Groove, hung out with the New York hipster Sean Lennon/Yuka Honda axis, and more recently has sung with new wave/avant-pop experimentalists Hikashu.

Hikashu + Tomoe Shinohara + Steve Eto: Biro Biro

In an ironic sort of way, we might be able to see her as a product of the late 90s just as much as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a product of the early 2010s. In the 90s, the music industry was making money hand over fist, with both mainstream J-pop and quirky, arty, offbeat Shibuya-kei music doing the business commercially, and it probably didn’t seem like so much of a risk unleashing something like Tomoe Shinohara on normal people. Kyary is first and foremost a Net phenomenon, whose popularity has grown through harnessing technology to gather a niche, subcultural audience. She comes onto the scene at a time of plummeting sales for the music industry and it is perhaps ready to grasp at straws, to have a crack at this Internet thing and see if there is any money to be made.

Tomoe Shinohara (L), Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (R)

It will be interesting to see if Kyary, upon reaching the sort of mass media saturation she seems destined for, follows Shinohara’s role and maintains contact with the creative fringes of popular music. The thought of a collaboration between her and some fringe artists with compatible philosophies like HNC/Hazel Nuts Chocolate would be far more interesting than seeing her simply melt into the pastel goo that makes up most contemporary Japanese pop.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Classic Pop Corner — The Kyary Pamyu Pamyu of the 1990s: Tomoe Shinohara

  1. miffy

    I kinda remember Tomoe getting abused on Heyx3 back in the day. Didn’t know she actually has cred with the wider music world in Japan.
    I be waiting for Kyary to team up with anybody that is not Nakata or Komuro.

  2. Don’t get me started on Japanese comedians. Old men who make a career out of being professionally demeaning to women and are celebrated as geniuses for it. Yuck. Tomoe Shinohara is annoying though (but she’s still sweet). Not sure how much musical credibility she has exactly, but she seems quite sharp-witted, which means she can goof about onstage with a band like Hikashu and look as if she “gets it”. Stick a member of AKB48 up there and it would just be embarrassing for all concerned

  3. Tomoe Shinohara has musical credibility to spare. Thankfully she has started releasing new albums again with 2 brand new releases this year, and both terrific.

  4. UltimateMusicSnob

    Hmm. The vocal chords singing this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXZOzUrkIbE are not the same ones singing this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyb3AZBnXFA — on the second one, notice especially the ‘ooh’ vowel sound in head voice at 1:18. The vocal technique between these two is different. Tomoe might still be a highly skilled musician, but the video record I can find years later is inconsistent.
    Of course, this just gives me an additional parallel to Kyary Pamyu. Did Kyary REALLY go backwards in vocal technique from the smooth and professional “kowakunai no” in ‘Miracle Orange’ (~1:34) to the naive untutored production of “everyday Pon, every time is Pon” of Pon Pon Pon (~1:11). Those aren’t the same vocal chords, sounds to me like. Again, I absolutely don’t doubt the artistic or musical skill of either Tomoe or Kyary. But there seem to be layers and layers involved here. I kind of wish the producers would trust these performers to just do their thing.

    • I haven’t spent much time with Tomoe Shinohara’s musical catalogue, but she does seem to go back and forth between different styles depending on the song. From what I can gather, she’s a reasonably good singer left to her own devices, but first and foremost she was an entertainer/comedian famous for having a squeaky voice, and lots of her music plays off this character. Her squeaky voiced stuff, while not exactly singing, is still a practiced ability that she had to work on. She’s able to do some pretty odd things with her voice. I guess when the song required her to sing properly, the producers sometimes just cleaned it up a bit to make sure it fit in with the other stuff that would have been on the radio at the time. In Yasutaka Nakata’s case, he deliberately pared down the effects on Kyary’s voice because her character was the selling point (or maybe it would be better to say that she was the product being sold), whereas with Perfume, he tended to treat the girls’ voices as just another synthetic aspect of the music to be mucked around with. He seems to be backing away from that too now, but that’s another story.

  5. UltimateMusicSnob

    There’s two things I’m cuing on. One is the innate timbre of the voice. A singer can do lots of things, but they can’t change the length of their vocal chords, and that one measure affects every aspect of a singer’s sound. Nowadays I can pitch-shift vocals with software, and that really does change the innate timbre. Kyary’s might have been faked that way, but the technology didn’t exist at the time of Tomoe’s recordings. And there would have been no point in artificially lowering Kyary’s voice in the early recording. It’s close–I could be wrong, but I’m not the only one who’s claims to have noticed this voice differential in online forums.
    The second part has to do with the way a singer moves from one pitch to another, the phrasing. Even if a karaoke weekend singer has perfect pitch, beautiful tone, etc; he won’t *phrase* the music the same way, just because he doesn’t have the 10,000 hours of experience behind him. Miracle Orange has lovely phrasing, very polished. Pon Pon Pon and Candy Candy and many others have naive phrasing. Again, it’s close, I could be wrong. But then I have to explain why Kyary would start professional-sounding and then go backwards (there is an argument for that one, I admit). And that would actually be an extraordinary amount of work, taking out all those features of professional sound deliberately.
    Nakata I give a pass on mucking around with the voices, because he does such innovative and effective things with them. Perfume’s singing voices are lovely, but they’re not extraordinary, and they’re not particularly distinctive in sound, so a mix of mucking around and leaving them alone is just about right in my book. MEG’s voice is extraordinary and distinctive, so it’s a shame to muck around with that too much—except that, Nakata’s work with MEG is my ***favorite*** music by Nakata, including some pieces with major processing on the voice. So I don’t know what to do with that.

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