“Fantajin” is Fantastic
John Darr | Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Is it uncool to be joyful? To be silly, bouncy or happy for no reason? Surely, we all know people who are joyful, bringing happiness to those around them through persistent optimism and goodwill. But looking at the music scene, the most ostensibly joyful artists spend most of their time criticized or unheard. Critics seem to gravitate towards artists whose lyric booklets read like confessionals or drama film scripts while popular DJ’s spin hip-hop and dance songs drenched in unfulfilled or tainted desire. Maybe we’re all just drama queens. Or maybe, we simply need someone to remind us that it’s cool to be joyful.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is hard at work making joy cool again. Starting out as a fashion blogger and later rising to fame as a model, Kyary has become the face of Tokyo’s Harajuku district, famous for its youth culture. She collaborated with producer Yasutaka Nataka to release her sugar-coma-inducing first single, PonPonPon, which went viral via YouTube. After PonPonPon’s success, Kyary released two records, both produced by Nataka, which reached the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the Japanese music charts. Both “Pamyu Pamyu Revolution” and “Nanda Collection” featured brightly maximalist, layered production and a host of sing-along vocal melodies.
Kyary has been compared to Lady Gaga due to her ridiculous costumes and enthusiastic fanbase, but that’s just about where the similarities end. Where Lady Gaga’s image is highly sexualized and provocative, Kyary’s is childlike and uber-cute. Her lyrics detail fantasy worlds and daydreams. While this isn’t unusual for J-Pop stars, Kyary’s music is set apart by her Western stylistic and musical tendencies. In essence, she’s the perfect link between our music scene and its intimidatingly foreign Eastern counterpart.
Her newest record, “Pika Pika Fantajin”, is another entry in an already excellent discography. Boasting producer Yasutaka Nataka’s trademark production and another batch of cloud-nine lyrics, “Fantajin”is nothing new for Kyary. As always, the melodies are immensely catchy; the production is crisp and clear, and the arrangements are dense and energetic.
Fortunately, “Fantajin” sees Kyary and Nataka continuing to introduce new and unique ideas in their tried-and-true formula. Single – and highlight – “Kira Kira Killer” features an immaculately-crafted background vocal that makes for the best pop moment of the year. Finally, the chanted “L! U! C! K!” and “1! 2! 3! 4!” help drive the track forward in all the right places. It’s a pop listener’s dream come true.
Then there’s beautiful farewell song of “Yume No Najima-Ring Ring,” which uses a subtle indie-rock guitar riff during its verse to complement the gorgeous melody during the chorus. “Mottai Nightland” features a spooky Halloween choir that evolves into a cheerful schoolyard choir over the course of the track. “Tokyo Highway” uses propellant video game synth melodies and a soaring refrain to mimic the motion of its title, and “Explorer” is decked out in a glorious ensemble of celebratory flutes and brass to close out the album.
Even though the sugary synth-pop of “Pika Pika Fantajin” is far from new territory for Kyary, she continues to craft quality fresh music in its bounds. At this rate, she’s a rare artist who has found a much-needed niche in both the Japanese and American music scenes. Kyary’s music is full of happiness — here’s to hoping she keeps doing exactly what she’s doing.