It must have been exactly a year ago that I was first introduced to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. It was one of those introductions that was kind of meant to be a joke. After all, the video for her single “PonPonPon” had the 19-year-old Kiriko Takemura dancing alongside strawberry-faced lunch ladies, orange sharks, and singing from a magic wand/microphone that protruded from her ear. But there was something oddly appealing about it all, in particular for a fan of Japanese music like me. I felt like I had an idea of what she was doing. She was paying homage to the culture she originally came from, having been a model for Tokyo’s bizarre and eccentric Harajuku district, and at the same time poking fun at a genre that has gotten somewhat out of hand.
Musically she is a highly exaggerated version of the J-pop sound that has become so excessively sugary. Obviously the only one even remotely qualified to produce such a record would be none other than capsule‘s Yasutaka Nakata. It makes the perfect match for a record that doubles as a fantastic J-pop record, but also one that pokes fun at the whole genre.
The first actual track off the record, “Tsukema Tsukeru,” doesn’t exactly scratch the surface of the variety of childish and magic sounds you’ll hear on the record, but it does a decent job introducing some of them. The track works mostly to set a precedent on Kyary’s vocals, which are the J-pop staple, but maintain a small air of maturity. The xylophonic percussion in the background slowly creates a setting for the magical world that the music inhabits.
Following the opener, Kyary once again presents the hit that made her into a viral sensation, “PonPonPon.” The track itself is a celebration of both infectiousness and the counter-culture born out of Japan’s most fashionable streets. It’s a song that is hard to get out of your head, and while on first listen it may be easy to hate, it slowly becomes hard to do so.
The album’s overall sentiment is a nice one, but it becomes harder to support as it goes on. At one point it should hit you that the song you are currently listening to sounds exactly like the one you just finished hearing. Fourth track “Minna no Uta” is a simple example of this. The hook for the aforementioned song revolves around Kyary repeating the syllables “Panpanpan,” which wouldn’t be a problem if the previous track’s chorus wasn’t “Ponponpon.”
The remainder of the record mostly works whenever something new is attempted. For example “Candy Candy” shines as one of the best tracks on the album. Using a down-tempo approach to the track, Kyary proves that she can pull off some pretty original stuff. Following “Candy Candy” is “Drinker,” whose funky synth line also makes it a standout.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s debut is not exactly full of surprises. Her music and intention are pretty clear from the moment you press play, maybe even before. That, however, does not change the fact that there are some great J-pop tracks to be found. She may not be changing the genre but she is definitely standing out and that’s the best the thing you can do when performing this kind of music.