Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Ninja Re Bang Bang

Over the past year or so, it seems that of Yasutaka Nakata’s two big mainstream producer/songwriter gigs, Perfume appear to have got the better deal on the singles, while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has tended to do better for herself on album tracks. Part of that might be down to him having spent more time with Perfume so he knows what kind of thing works with them, partly it might be something to do with them just being the bigger of the two artists from a commercial point of view, at least for now. Mostly though, I think it’s got something to do with the way that in contrast to Perfume’s modern and sophisticated image, Kyary’s appeal is based on her offbeat kookiness, and so her music works best when it’s a bit off the wall, whereas singles, especially ones designed for big ad campaigns, are naturally a bit wary of anything too odd.

Either her commercial backers are starting to feel more comfortable with the viability of Kyary’s weird side or Nakata’s getting better at working that aspect of her into a more mainstream context though, because since last Autumn’s Fashion Monster, things have been getting a bit more interesting on the singles front and Ninja Re Bang Bang might be her best single since her debut, Ponponpon.

Unlike some of the more intense moments of Plus-tech Squeeze Box-influenced sugar-rush mayhem on last year’s Pamyu Pamyu Revolution album, Ninja Re Bang Bang is a fairly straightforward piece of bubblegum pop with a formula diverging little from the one that Nakata seems to have established for the standard Kyary single — the bouncy rhythm with a bit of an off-beat and the cheap, early-2000s Mini-Moni synths — but while there’s superficially and structurally not that much different between this and some of her more mediocre singles like Candy Candy, Ninja Re Bang Bang has a bit more of a kick.Perfume: Voice

There’s a formula that Nakata seems to have hit upon with Perfume a while back, which involves taking the slick, modern electropop elements of their sound, feeding 70s/80s kayoukyoku and new wave melodies through it, and embellishing with toy technopop bleeps and bloops, with the end result of something both aggressively modern, recognisably classic, and retro-futurist all at the same time. It’s a sound early capsule flirted with too, but it’s most obvious in songs like Laser Beam, with its YMO-influenced Asiatica, or in the way the chorus of Voice is only a couple of notes shy of avant-pop weirdos Hikashu’s Pike.Hikashu: Pike

This combination of classic, modern and retro-futurist not only enriches the sound, but also hits buttons in audiences that are plugged directly into positive sensors in their brains, feeding the sensations of innocence, optimism and a burgeoning confidence in Japan’s own sophistication and global emergence that the late 70s and early 80s evoke. It’s a feeling that goes way beyond mere national nostalgia too: it’s a sound that hooks in neatly to a lot of the positive notions of Japanese pop culture that exist abroad, sidestepping the uncomfortable and infantile cryptosexual fantasies of otaku culture and painting an image of Japan as the colourful, ultra-modern Oriental utopia it still in many ways is (and which Korea is rapidly in the business of usurping).

So to come back to Ninja Re Bang Bang, it kicks off with a little 8-bit synth flourish and then dives straight into one of those YMO-ish choruses from the starting gun, it pulls on all the retro Asian pop clichés it can in the instrumental breaks and ties it all down to the established Kyary rhythmical formula. There’s something like a verse in there somewhere that does fuck all melodically, but the song dispenses with it as quickly as it can in order to get back to the crucial business of just repeating that insanely catchy chorus over and over again, and the result is an utterly straightforward and quite lovely piece of bubblegum pop.

33 Comments

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33 responses to “Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Ninja Re Bang Bang

  1. perfumeophile

    “There’s something like a verse in there somewhere that does fuck all melodically”

    I disagree…there’s a lovely, subtle melody during the verse…although, since the song starts with the killer chorus, blink and you’ll miss it

    • Heh heh, perhaps “subtle” and “does fuck all” are just two ways of saying the same thing. Vive la difference and all that. There’s a nice harmony that drops in just at the end though.

    • UltimateMusicSnob

      Re: “melody during the verse”, there is a change from Japanese to Western scales, going from chorus to verse in this song. My experiencing of discovering Kyary Pamyu and being amazed by Nakata is very similar to yours, I’d be interested in what you think. Hope that’s not too pushy–I just can’t get enough of this music, period! 🙂

      • perfumeophile

        Well, I think with your working knowledge of musical constructions, you’ve got more to teach me about Nakata that vice versa…

        More than anything else, I’m viewing him through the lens of a 60-something that grew up on American pop radio of the 60’s

        Haven’t encountered anyone with this extremely high level of song writing abilities in decades…

      • UltimateMusicSnob

        perfumeophile: I heard “Hey Jude” when it came out, on my big sister’s transistor radio, so I go back nearly as far. The only thing the Beatles have on Nakata now is an extraordinary range of styles. But as a tunesmith, Nakata’s right in there, and in actual music composition he’s got them beat by a mile–more musically sophisticated stuff going on in these tunes than the Beatles ever got to, even in White Album and Abbey Road. So that puts him at tied for #1 in popular music, period, on my personal rankings. Like the Beatles, this means that Nakata’s music is very re-listenable: I can keep on getting something new and wonderful out of it even on the 30th or 40th hearing. Most pop music is down to mere familiarity by the 3rd or 4th. As a 52-year-old male Texas teacher, I find it ****really**** odd to be such a big fan of a 20-year-old Japanese harajuku pop singer—but I’m not going to argue with the music. Bonus: as a father of two young girls moving into adolescence, I’m very grateful that there is a cutting edge musical phenomenon they can follow and enjoy like Kyary Pamyu that does not involve the near-stripper videos of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, nor the addled tragedies of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. The Japanese costumes are practically Amish in their modesty next to what many other pop singers put on the screen.

      • perfumeophile

        somewhere down the comment thread i mentioned my amazement at how prolific nakata is…and to prove the point, one day after the physical release of kyary’s latest single there’s part of her new song floating around in a kfc commercial and another song for a forthcoming au commercial already in the can

      • I’m not sure The Beatles are a fair comparison since there were three great songwriters as well as George Martin working on creating their sound. For example, I rate David Bowie better as a songwriter than any individual member of The Beatles. Vince Clarke too, maybe Elvis Costello, and definitely Brian Eno.

        I also prefer to make a distinction between the songwriter and the producer. If you take just the melodies of Nakata’s songs and played them on an acoustic guitar, how many of them would be recognisable as great pop songs in the same way most of The Beatles back catalogue is? That’s a very different talent to Nakata’s, which, a few killer tunes aside (and he really can do those killer pop tunes at times), is essentially in the arrangements. Beatles and Nakata are like apples and oranges.

        On another note, I have some problems with Nakata’s audio production because when your arrangements are as busy as his, I think you have to find space somewhere else in the sound, but he still tends to brick wall everything, which can make his tracks sound quite claustrophobic. On this level, George Martin is way ahead of him, although no one tops Eno for me on this. He’s the master of space.

      • UltimateMusicSnob

        Yes, absolutely, there are plenty of ways in which other top musicians like the Beatles, Bowie et al excel in ways that Nakata does not. I’m listening these days for something both very specific and very foundational in Nakata’s music: “What are the notes and rhythms he uses?” That sounds pretty broad, but yes it does leave out arrangements, mastering levels, space, texture, and so on. And Nakata just works narrowly in a few closely related styles, while Beatles, Bowie et al are masters of many very different styles. BUT, just on: “What chords are these? What notes are in these melodies? What counterpoint is being used? How does Nakata vary his musical themes?”—Nakata has treasures by the boatload, complex composer’s choices that don’t even get a chance to appear in most pop music, let alone get used with extraordinary musical impact. These are choices that precede everything else, so when a composer gets these right, the opportunity for musical impact arises that will never be there otherwise. Example: In the opening of Perfume’s ‘Spice’ there are two complex chords followed by two chords in different key entirely (Intro in two tonalities, yet it keeps a unified sound–already in an elite music space right there). When the singers enter, they have a vocal phrase that fits chord by chord, but they sing it at the same pitch level THREE times, and THEN switch up for the fourth chord of the pattern. Listen at 0:23–very complex pitch set at this point, yet it still fits smoothly. And notice the tiny change at the end of the vocal lick on that third repeat–that’s the bridge to the new key, and sure enough it’s resolved on the fourth chord (and the vocal lick is slightly tweaked *again* to get back to the first chord of the pattern again, back in the original key). You have to know your chords and melodic pitch sets inside out to even think of doing that, and if you try, you’ll come up with 60 examples of configurations that don’t work before hitting one that does. It’s on this basic music level that I’m most enjoying Nakata these days.
        I will freely cop to being a fanboy for Nakata’s composing chops. This also makes the distinction between the stand-alone melodies–at which, yes absolutely, the Beatles surely place at the top, with Ira Gershwin and a few others–and the full musical context Nakata composes around his core melodies. It’s very rare indeed to find pop music that is complex and contrapuntal in this composerly way (YES, and…and… we may be done already), because it usually doesn’t communicate well to audiences when stuff gets complicated. Nakata tucks all these complexities into a surface that appeals whether listeners know it’s there or not. I’m pretty sure Nakata as a composer deliberately designs his melodies to provide a simple, direct “home” for the ear to gravitate to, while complexities then get discretely woven into the surrounding vocals and instrumental parts.

      • perfumeophile

        I’ve heard nakata songs done on acoustic guitar, electric metal shred guitar, all sorts of solo keyboards, jazz trio, music box and even college wind instrument orchestra and no matter how professional or inept the performance my reaction is always the same…the melodies are both malleable and indestructible….just like the beatles in that regard, actually….

        as for the “claustrophobic” sound of his cds that’s more the mastering …i’ve seen representations of the waveforms of various recordings he’s produced and there’s no waves….simply a rectangular box that’s an almost total slab of solid black….[is that what you mean by “he brick walls everything,” ian?]

        going through the three albums back to back to back on a regular stereo makes it clear how much more extreme his mastering techniques have become

        ps
        to “Ultimate MS” a slight correction…you meant george gershwin… [my favorite pop melodist as well]… brother ira was the lyricist

  2. perfumeophile

    hmmmm, so it’s “subtle” vs “does fuck all.”

    here’s where the conversation hits the reality of “dancing about architecture.”

    to be clear i didn’t mean subtle as “more not there than there” but rather as “not immediately obvious.” especially when compared to the melodies of the chorus and instrumental break.

    as i often say, when discussing music online: “opinions; they differ.”

    ps
    it also doesn’t help that the second time the verse comes around in the song that it’s competing with the ninja vs giant robot part of the video.. that’s wee bit of a distraction too

    cheers

    • Yeah, when I was writing it, I opened a tab over the YouTube window so all the loopy stuff in the video wouldn’t distract me.

      Personally I think dancing about architecture would be brilliant. There should be more of it.

  3. perfumeophile

    ian,
    the most interesting thing about the “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” quote is that there’s no consensus on who said it first.

    the leading contender is, of all people, american comedian [and sometime musician] martin mull.

    i also just read a blog post from some hipster complaining that anybody who repeats the quote is a “pretentious (vulgarity i don’t feel like typing here).”

    opinions they DO differ

    ps
    for what it’s worth [and getting back to the topic at hand], i think the last three kyary singles are all incredibly engaging and extremely well written

    cheers

    • The only quotation that really enrages me that much is that fake Voltaire, “Though I disagree with everything you say…” line. There’s something insufferably smug, self-righteous and passive-aggressive about it, and it drives me up the wall.

      And yeah, basically since Fashion Monster I think Kyary’s been on a roll.

  4. perfumeophile

    at the risk of going further off topic…..
    as an american, that fake voltaire quote doesn’t bother me…it basically boils down to “i’ll defend everyone’s first amendment right to open their mouth and prove they’re an idiot.”

    and trust me, it happens every day around here when someone is discussing politics.

    ps
    since i’ve only started really studing jpop since the first of the year, i’d never heard of hikashu’s pike but i did find that mix of devo, joy division and gary numan quite interesting. i’m guessing this is late 70’s early 80’s. the oddest thing about the clip was watching couples attempt to slow dance and/or make out to it

    • This clip would have been very early 80s, although Hikashu formed in the late 70s. I think there’s a lot of The Residents and Mothers of Invention to them as well. The vocalist, Koichi Makigami, is an actor as well as a musician and he originally started Hikashu to do soundtracks for his avant-garde theatre projects. They once played a gig where the band just walked out on stage, sat down at a table and ate a meal, then went off without playing a note (and interestingly, Makigami plays “The Rat” in the 80s film adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s “Hear the Wind Sing”, which looks AMAZING: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3oQkKQ92mk).

      Puyo Puyo:

      I love the audience in this clip. There are actually clips of a handful of bands from this same TV show, although I think NicoNico Douga is the only place that has the videos of all four bands (the others were Juicy Fruits, the Plastics and Chakra), and the audience are really interesting. It’s interesting that the slow dancing couples are all girls, and I’m not sure if that’s because they’re being wild and kooky or if it’s because slow dancing with a man would have been banned on TV (or both). I also love the guy in the pink shirt at about 1:48 who just walks out into the crowd facing in the opposite direction to everyone else and sort of leans to the side and stares directly into the camera.

  5. perfumeophile

    ian, i want to thank you for taking the extra time for your response and the additional video

    as a life long clevelander, the spirit of ubu, the mirrors and devo still informs some of my music tastes..and in the new clip you provided koichi makigami strikes me as a slightly less reserved crocus behemoth aka david thomas

    and as an amercian i was mystified that the entire trailer to “hear the wind sing” was set to the beach boys “california girls”

    getting back to your original post this statement: “it’s a sound that hooks in neatly to a lot of the positive notions of Japanese pop culture that exist abroad,,,, painting an image of Japan as the colourful, ultra-modern Oriental utopia it still in many ways is…” certainly sums up how i feel about kyary.

    [i’m also old enough to be her grandfather so i feel i need to take great pains to explain that none of my appreciation for what she’s doing comes with any of that extra “sexy student/ underage girl” otaku subculture baggage that, i understand, is found in the audiences of various female idol groups]

    fukashima notwithstanding [no small thing] what i see when i look at photos and video of toyko and japan looks like the future i expected back in the 60’s [which is odd since most american journalist seems to fixate on japan’s economic lost decade[s]

    it appears quite unlike my country, which seems to be falling apart around my ears

    • As far as the California Girls soundtrack choice goes, I seem to remember that song featuring quite prominently in Haruki Murakami’s original novel, so it’s kind of cool that the movie producers stuck to the original text rather than just getting whatever the early 80s equivalent of Exile or Chemistry to do a syrupy ballad for it.

      I actually don’t think Kyary’s fandom has much if any of that lolita-ish sexual aspect to it, and that itself is part of her appeal I think. Her label doesn’t want anyone to know this, but she actually did some quite dodgy swimsuit modeling stuff when she was a young teen, before she became the oddball fashion icon she is (although no worse than the kind of stuff every member of AKB48 does every single day), and there was obviously a conscious decision to change the focus of her image.

      I think Japan’s “lost decade” thing gets overplayed, and if there’s one thing Europe and America should take away from their current economic woes, it’s that Japan didn’t do as badly as all that. There are definite problems though, and I suppose the grass is always greener.

  6. perfumeophile

    thanks again, ian
    to be clear i don’t think kyary is appealing to the lotita-lust crowd the way someone like akb48 is, but rather in both her first and newest videos she suggests a wide-eyed guileless pre-teen.

    the nostalgia she invokes from me is more from remembering how i was at age 20 than anything else.

    and i’m not looking at japan as utopia [although i do when i watch perfume concert video] as much as i’m looking at the u.s. as a failed state, where the consequences of three plus decades of economic neglect and mismanagement for partisan reasons has left us in rather dire straights….

    ps
    the b-side of kyary’s new single is quite appealing too, right out of nakata’s neo-shibuya-kei era capsule playbook

    pps
    i noticed you spell color with the extra u. may i ask where you’re from?

    cheers
    rusty

    • But going back to your other point, I know what you mean. It’s kind of hard for me to see her like that because I’ve actually met her and she struck me as someone who’s very sharp and aware of what she’s doing. I’ve met other idols who did seem to really be ditzy and innocent, but Kyary seemed a bit sharper and more calculated than that. I mean, I think it’s obvious that all idol music is an artificial construct and it amuses me no end the way that some fans get really upset when I point it out, but at the same time, what kind of image they’re trying to construct still says something interesting, and I think they way Kyary avoids trying to push those sexual buttons is interesting.

      As for the Japan-as-utopia thing, it’s a common jibe thrown by foreigners in Japan at Japanophiles outside of the country that they think it’s a utopia, a place where they project their dissatisfactions about their own lives onto it, and there are obviously a lot of unrealistic expectations of the country from wide-eyed nerds. However, if we’re honest, (and the odd cataclysmic natural disaster aside) Japan is kind of utopian in many ways. I mean, low crime, great food, convenient transport, temperate climate, vibrant cultural life, polite, kind, friendly people, all that stuff. There’s a lot culturally for Japan to be positive about, although the cultural trend seems to be more towards either downbeat acceptance of decline, or defensive nostalgia. This sort of reverse retro-futurist nostalgia is interesting in that what it’s nostalgic for is not the past per se so much as the sense of being positive about the future.

  7. perfumeophile

    wow! i’ll admit i didn’t except another reply, let alone one this substantive, so thanks again, ian.

    there’s a lot i want to respond to so i’ll take it in multiple comments.

    first, i’m now one [virtual] degree of separation from kyary…never dreamed that would happen…

    second, i originally learned about kyary from an unlikely source, an american comic book website that, in addition to covering domestic superheros, also tracks anime and manga. they occasionally include a link to a j-pop music video in their emails and that led me to “fashion monster.”

    in turn, my research quickly led me to yasutaka nakata…then to perfume, capsule and the wider j-pop scene.

    i had a thought about nakata the other day [and it was reinforced when i read your japan times interview where he noted that all the perfume songs are pre-sold to commercials before he even writes them] that in the musical history of some alternative reality, he would have worked in the brill building, writing songs 9 to 5 on spec. i know he would have been successful working in that milieu.

    since i grew up on 60’s pop radio, the first thing i noticed about nakata’s music was his melodic gifts. i know i’m not the only westerner in my age group that has compared him to brian wilson, mccartney and bachrach in that regard.

    and i’ve spent the last three months listening to his stuff 90% of the time, so i haven’t gotten to listen to much of the broader genre [although i spent 8 minutes last night being discomforted/bemused by the “sony46” idol group’s girls’ school video with the student riot, female on female flirting and the dance troop flashing their bloomers…words, did in fact, fail me…perhaps it’s stuff like this that appeals to foreigner’s views that japan is some sort of incomprehensible paradise.]

    anyway, getting back to nakata, i also discovered there are hundreds of fan made remixes and mashups of his music on the internet and i’m still plowing through them about a dozen a day…and that eats up a lot of my time. [not complaining, thought]

    came across a 12 minute deconstruction/reconstruction of perfume’s “faint fragrance” which sounded like a collaboration between the orb and the aphex twin that knocked me off my chair. [link] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEg1ffDUqNc

    and finally, i see there’s a new kyary single already scheduled for mid may…no american label would dream of putting out singles every 6 weeks… which is one more thing i miss about the 60’s and like about j-pop

    cheers
    rusty

  8. perfumeophile

    nataka ps
    since you’ve interviewed him: one question “does he speak much english?”

    wanted to add i haven’t been this jazzed about a songwriter since i first discovered paddy mcaloon circa “steve mcqueen.” i think he’s the greatest pop songwriter of my lifetime and it’s a shame he’s apparently retired from music.

    perfume ps
    since i’m a child of the 60’s i can relate them to girl groups of that era: crystals, shangri-las supremes etc…

    i was also thinking that if you compare early/later photos of perfume and bananarama they both underwent the same transformation from scruffy to sophisticated…

    • I wouldn’t call myself any sort of degree of separation from Kyary. I interviewed her once (and got into a nasty fight with her label over what her real name was), but that’s it. I’ve met Nakata a few times, but again, it was just business. He acts like he doesn’t speak English, but he plays around with double- and triple-meanings of English words and phrases a lot on song titles, so he obviously understands a bit more than he lets on.

      The changes in Perfume’s image kind of show their navigation through different fan groups. Straight idol shit that didn’t work, then hooking up with Nakata and hitting up the older new wave/Shibuya-kei hipster types who are a small group culturally but massively overrepresented in the media industry, nodding to the otaku crowd and cultivating a sort of sci-fi image that treads a fine line between hipsters and geeks, then driving for mainstream acceptance and fashion brand acceptability, before trying to reach out abroad, realising subculture types are the the only ones likely to care about an idol group from Japan, and adopting a sort of sci-fi image again (that once more tries to navigate the line between the numerous but kind of socially embarrassing Japanophiles and the more difficult to tap but potentially more influential hipster crowd).

  9. perfumeophile

    as usual, thanks… as an outsider i can see perfume appealing to western pop, 80’s new wave and dance fans…. they’re scheduled to play [well down the bill] at a big event in korea later this year organized by the international “ultra music festival” electronic dance promoters,,,

  10. perfumeophile

    ps
    i know you alluded to some japanese hipster/idol group connection in a blog post a few months ago, i certainly don’t approach perfume from an ironic hipster angle…for all my love of rock, i’m a song-and-dance man at heart.

    and the reason i asked about nakata’s english is that it drives me a bit crazy that his melodies force his occasional english lyrics to put the emphasis on the wrong syllable…it happens on “museum” and again on the new single “magic.”

    or does this simply come down to basic difficulties with english for japanese speakers?

    i’ve got no room to talk, of course..i can’t speak any japanese

    • I didn’t say it was ironic, I said that lots of underground types get into idol music because it gives them part of what they’re looking for in music but in more palatable, more accessible form. It was a widely misunderstood article for a number of reasons though, I think partly because it was coming from a very specific position and set of circumstances. In Perfume’s case it’s a bit different anyway (and I don’t think anyone’s really into them ironically). Firstly, they’re not a typical modern idol group in that they generally don’t mug to the otaku crowd, and secondly, what they do isn’t simply playing off this Shibuya-kei hipster thing: it’s the real deal. Nakata is right out of that scene (2nd generation, but the same musical DNA), and Shibuya-kei and new wave were always interested in the more posed and artificial aspects of pop.

      As for his English, I suspect that he might be doing it deliberately. Like he’s using the katakana way of pronouncing English to accentuate the music’s Japaneseness — I don’t know, but that thought has been tickliong at the back of my mind for a long time. Also it’s easier for people to sing at karaoke, and I wouldn’t discount that as an important factor!

      I think Perfume are actually a modern version of this 70s group, the Candies. The members occupy similar roles, and it’s all written, produced and played by proper, plugged-in contemporary music guys: http://youtu.be/s1GFWo6_WE8

  11. perfumeophile

    thanks, ian…

    yeah, the comment thread on your original post about idol groups was really wild

    in america all “hipsters” are assumed to be ironic…meanings; they differ

    and to be on the safe side i want to make it clear, i’m not trying to give you a hard time in any way…i’m thrilled to talk to someone who has a lot of knowledge on this subject

    any thoughts on asobisystem trying to clone kyary and nakata on yun*chi’s new single and video?

    business as usual?

    • One of the problems with having this blog that I write for basically no audience whatsoever, is that I get a bit Humpty Dumpty with my words and start assigning meanings to them that are convenient for me but don’t always chime with my readers. I just mean hipsters in the sense of people into hip stuff. Irony is not something Japan does a lot of.

      Asobisystem are a modeling agency who are hooked into the Harajuku scene and have worked with Nakata for years. I guess it’s natural that they’d want to squeeze as much juice out of that particular moneyspinning lemon as they can. They did the same thing with Kyary’s backing dancers, the Tempura Kidz, and they seem to have roped in every third rate Nakata copyist they can get their hands on (Ram Rider, Livetune) to keep them up to date with content. Just business, innit?

    • Oh, and if you thought that comment thread was a bit weird, it’s far from the worst. I had a guy on here calling me a cunt for something I said about J-Pop once, and my Japan Times stuff about AKB48 provokes whole articles denouncing me on J-Pop web sites and forums. I think my editor’s stopped forwarding me the hate mail from readers now!

  12. perfumeophile

    after a hiatus i’m back after listening to about half on kyary’s “invader invader”….and from what i’ve heard i think it’s great…the quasi japanese instrumental sections are more dissonant than “ninja bang bang,” the chorus is undeniable [of course] and again the brief verse is underpinned with a lovely melody that will get lost between the general chaos and big hook..

    nataka is really on a roll…

  13. perfumeophile

    ps
    the “invader invader” live version has a brief, big beat percussion and electro tone slide section

    shaky audio and video here

  14. UltimateMusicSnob

    Great blog! I found Kyary Pamyu like most folks did, with Pon Pon Pon, got Yasutaka Nakata from that, and then found the really great stuff with capsule and Perfume. As someone already noted here, it’s great to find a blog willing and able to talk knowledgeably about the actual music. Already booked the home page, looking forward to reading your stuff

  15. UltimateMusicSnob

    In Ninjya Bang Bang, there’s an interesting Japanese vs. Western scales trick going on between the chorus, the instrumental passages, and the verse. In a nutshell, the piece starts with a strict Japanese traditional scale, Kyary sings the chorus in another traditional Japanese scale that happens to be the same as Western Blues scale, followed by an instrumental break in strict Japanese traditional scale (same as the Intro). BUT, then Kyary sings the verse with Western scales, keys, and key changes. After that is repeats of the above sections, making the same scale transitions each time.
    For those keeping score, here’s the music theory:
    The intro is a strict pentatonic (5 notes) Japanese “In sen” scale: C, D flat, F, G, B flat. The middle tone of this scale is F–in Japanese music, that’s the key of the piece, and in fact this song is in F pentatonic. This is the scale which sounds most characteristically Japanese, because of the gap between the D flat and the F.
    When Kyary’s verse starts, she’s in another Japanese pentatonic scale, the ‘Yo’ 5-note scale, which, it turns out, is the same as the Western pentatonic scale often heard in folk, Scottish, and blues music. This scale also sounds F-minorish to Western ears, using F – A flat – B flat – C – E flat. Most rock music uses this scale, and especially this E flat to F step below the tonic note (example, Led Zep “Whole Lotta Love” riff). At the end of the chorus, another twist: she adds one more note that makes it sound more like she’s now in normal Western F minor–using the regular Yo notes above plus G, what we would call the second scale degree. Right here her melody has 6 notes.
    The verse not only uses a normal Western scale with more notes, it uses normal Western key relations. The verse is in the “relative major” to F min, which is A flat major (they have the same key signature, three flats). That’s seven notes. Then it even adds Western-style ‘chromatic’ notes, which are extra pitches from outside the key (8 notes in the melodic scale).
    However, just as the chorus transitions at the end by adding a Western-sounding G, the verse also transitions at the end by taking away notes, using a Yo scale C – E flat – F – G – B flat. Notice how that one (Blues-type scale again) overlaps with BOTH the In sen scale AND the earlier Yo scale. Perfect transition!
    Now, Nakata might easily have done all this just by ear and by feel. The ‘In sen’ is so distinctively Japanese that I doubt it, but it’s possible. What I don’t doubt is that he deliberately changes his materials for each section to get precisely the feel he’s looking for in contrast. Nor do I doubt that he chooses his scales precisely for their overlapping relationships to each other. How he arrived at his final melodies is a mystery only he knows, but what is certain is the pitches on the recording, and they perfectly fit the scales I’ve described above.

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