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.
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.
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.