On the morning of November 25, 1970, Yukio Mishima — the most celebrated Japanese author of the post-war period and a national superstar of sorts — alerted the press that he was about to stage a coup d’état and seize the military’s Tokyo headquarters. Hours later, with the commanding general held hostage in his office and a crowd of journalists gathered outside the window, Mishima committed seppuku, a form of ritual suicide. The following month, American audiences were treated to a full photo spread of his disemboweled corpse in Life.
Which brings us to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Nanda Collection — the second album from fashion blogger and eyelash mogul turned musical sensation Kyary Pamyu Pamyu — is the sound of a Harajuku pop idol slicing open her stomach on the technicolor pages of a glossy magazine spread. Isn’t it beautiful? Listen! Hear how it gushes with life, pulsates with color, convulses with frothing glee until it’s sprawled on the floor rattling in jubilant spasms. For like Mishima’s newly liberated entrails, Nanda Collection can only be described as an explosive, meticulously staged eruption of performed Japanese-ness. And indeed, it is beautiful.
Nanda Collection is not simply J-pop par excellence. It is J-pop personified. It is a multi-faceted, hyperdimensional prism simultaneously articulating, parodying, and problematizing a genre, a moment, a culture. Which is why we ought to be paying particular attention. See, whatever function J-pop might serve in its native country, it’s clear that the genre’s appeal to Western audiences has always relied on certain voyeuristic pleasures. Like an overheard phone call or a tantalizingly open window, J-pop lures us in with the promise of an unedited peek into a world that doesn’t realize we’re looking. And in the case of J-pop, this view is all the more seductive for its impossibly alien Otherness. And if you haven’t already peeked through the window, one look at a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music video and you’ll understand. But this, we tell ourselves, is what Japan must look like when no one is watching. And so the bizarre, carnival world of J-pop takes its place in the Western consciousness as a warped, mutilated synecdoche of the country as a whole.
But like Mishima — always the perennial actor — before her, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has an uncanny knack for perfectly anticipating her real audience. Indeed, Nanda Collection is no more meant for Japanese audiences than Mishima’s suicide was. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: a Japanese phonetic reproduction of the American name Carrie followed by faux-Japanese nonsense words. Nanda Collection: a bilingual play on words that makes sense only in the liminal space between languages. “Kimi ni 100 Percent,” “Ninja Re Bang Bang,” “Saigo no Ice Cream”: a sugar-sweet mixture equal parts Japanese, gibberish, and pure English. For like Mishima’s ludicrously anachronistic display of samurai stoicism, the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu image is not so much a statement of Japanese identity as it is a performative gesture towards a foreign, decidedly Western notion of what Japanese-ness is. Because in the end, it is all meant for us, for the voyeurs half a world away. And turns out the joke’s on us. Because it turns out the world we were peeking into realized we were here. And then it all became a performance. A fiction.
Nanda Collection is more than just an entertaining, well-produced pop album. It is a mirror held up to a West that has naively taken for granted its notions of Japan. It is a ridiculous, terrifying, spectacular reflection of our own grotesque fantasies for a Japan that never really existed, a projection of a parallel dimension where authors die like samurai and musicians live like Harajuka princesses. And when they cut open their stomachs, the blood tastes just like cherry syrup.
Little do we realize, we’re the ones bleeding.