J-Pop: Why Am I the Last to Know?

When did the J-Pop phenom catch on? As a former tween Bubble Gum devotee, J-Pop (Japanese cute) is right up my alley. It is subversively innocent (but is it innocently subversive?)—Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange meets My Little Pony (Meine kleine Pony). I was rather shocked, nonetheless, by the hidden satanic illusions and the overt anti-onion violence in Candy Candy’s (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) latest video (see it here). Overreacting to the ideological implications? Just watch it and listen! It is a sign . . .

Maybe in the desk, maybe in my pocket, maybe in my bag
I’m always forgetting all the time, I ponder my selections
Just a little, just a little, for real – just a little, happiness is coming alive
A sweet smell lingers in this fluffy atmosphere

Candy candy candy candy candy
Sweetie sweetie girls love
Chewing chewing chewing chewing chewing
Cutie cutie ch-ch-ch-chewing love
Candy candy candy candy candy
Sweetie sweetie girls love
Chewing chewing chewing chewing chewing
Cutie cutie, so candy love


11 thoughts on “J-Pop: Why Am I the Last to Know?

  1. Allan Ikesaka

    Hello, Mr. Heller. Interesting article, and yes, there is indeed that aspect to J-Pop….frilly maid dresses, huge anime eyes, and the like. But it isn’t and wasn’t always that way….if you have some time and interest, check out my website and take a look at the 70s and 80s especially.
    And Ms. Ballard, I remember “Pink Lady and Jeff”…I think I may still need some residual therapy from those days. 🙂

  2. Ron Rifkin

    Not sure who is crazier: the girl pointing an assault rifle at an onion, or you for posting this. Not up to your usual admirable standards, IMHO.

  3. Pannekoek

    Sad, isn’t it? But New Yorkers are usually the very last to know about cultural happenings in the world at large. Sorry, I had to say it.
    The more interesting forms of Japanese pop music—later codified as “J-Pop” by Western laggards—really got going in the ’70s when bands like the Plastics started screwing with people’s heads by making wonderfully absurd New Wave music. It just got more weird and funny in the ’80s with bands like Melon and their offshoots. This passed under the radar of most slow-on-the-uptake Americans on the opposite side of the globe, but some of us on the west coast got wind of it. By the ’90s though, bands like Dee-Lite and Shonen Knife had made that special Japanese absurdity accessible enough to be labeled “J-Pop”.
    Now it seems like just a cliché. 
    The fact that there are still people for whom this is new, is proof that, at least culturally, we live in a post-innovative age.

  4. Jeff Seaver

    Thanks, Steve – appreciate your opening this door. Not sure that Takemura’s work falls so much under the J-Pop heading as it does Kawaii, but Kiriko’s wonderfully twisted sensibilities do a great job of parody/homage to the near-monopoly the Japanese hold on eccentric fetishism in design. These arenas typically leave westerners shaking heads (witness Zararrano’s reaction), but no — much as i keep thinking “they have to be kidding,” turns out they are not – and it’s been going strong since the 1970’s. My own guess is that’s when the Manga’s explosion on to the scene turned into a cultural landscape of design, fashion, food and music, but I’d love to hear an expert explain this evolution. All I know is, the iconographical history of this stuff is wondrous – just look up “Decora” on Google – an example of Google shoud be renamed “Ogle.”

  5. Lennbob

    A few things:
    1. “Candy Candy” is the name of the song. Kyari Pamyu Pamyu is the artist.
    2. J-pop is short for Japanese pop, of which the above referenced music is just one strain. Kyari Pamyu Pamyu is J-pop, but so are the likes of Yumi Matsutoya, Puffy (a/k/a Puffy Amiyumi), Pizzicato Five, Hikaru Utada (a/k/a Utada), Ringo Shiina, and so on. As a cultural phenomenon, J-pop really started to come into its own in the 1980s, though it wasn’t until the 1990s (particularly with the rise of anime) that it started becoming better known in the US (Steve McClure’s book Nippon Pop was published in 1998).
    3. Yes, cute does often factor into J-pop—but it’s a prominent feature of the culture anyway. Kyari Pamyu Pamyu is actually a logical extension of an aesthetic long seen in Japanese television commercials.
    4. “Chu” is an onomatopoeic, appropriately cute word for “kiss”.

  6. Zafarrano

    Enjoyable analysis of an almost enjoyable presentation. I’m curious — is it a recent trend to produce ugly and violence-directed art? I seem to remember a day when artists strived to produce, or reproduce, beauty; but, today it seems that shock value supercedes the now traditional values. Unfortunately, if shock permeates the art world (and it appears to be happening), then such grotesqueness becomes ordinary, routine, and the old values fall away. Image, one hundred years so from now, museums and collectors celebrating their exhibits of winged skulls and flaming heads. All courtesy of Adobe Illustrator “artists”.

  7. mkf

    Thank you again, Mr Heller. As a many-generation Bermudian (we know our onions) and a long-time puppet person (we know from talking onions), I weep with onion tears of delight. For those who know their onions only as the soggy, bitter glutinous shavings (or tasteless carriers of layers of deep-fried grease) accompanying the Pink Slime in some burger joint, a piece of bread (or toast) held in the mouth while slicing is an old remedy against onion tears. No mystery — just a foreshadowing of the tragedy to come. It ALL makes sense.