When you think of the biggest influencers in music over the past five years from producers like Diplo and DJ Mustard to artists like FKA twigs and Frank Ocean, they make sense in some way. They’ve all masterfully taken elements of popular music and reinterpreted and manipulated it into something that’s fresh. While the sounds are sometimes different to anything you’ve ever heard, there has to be an element of familiarity otherwise the listener feels ostracised.
It’s for that exact reason that it’s somewhat inexplicable that J-Pop superstar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has become one of the most quiet influencers on Western music adding energy and colour into pop music and kawaii to electronic music. Kyary’s visual and sonic output is unlike anything we’ve seen or heard in music outside of Asia. It’s kitsch, sugary and surreal aided by the vision of her producer Yasutaka Nakata. Visually it’s as if Salvador Dali was commissioned by Hubba Bubba to create a mascot while sonically it’s a rollercoaster of high-pitched vocals and dizzying synth-work.
Only five years ago it would have been near impossible to find any connection between Kyary’s music and the west. Then PC Music happened. The internet found an audience through kitsch, sugary sounds that entertained people’s wildest, deepest pop fantasies. Label boss A.G. Cook and its most famous name SOPHIE both cite Kyary as an influence with SOPHIE even writing for the J-pop star.
Her impact on Western music now goes even further than that. By tracing her chain of influence from SOPHIE and even Porter Robinson you can tie Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to some of pop’s largest names like Madonna. Or even Avril Lavigne who ripped-off her aesthetic in the cringeworthy video for her track Hello Kitty.
Below are six names who are changing the sound of Western electronic and pop music by drawing on Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s unique style.
As mentioned, SOPHIE was one of the first to truly incorporate elements of Kyary’s music into his own. Songs like Bipp embody that child-like, high-pitched sonic aesthetic, trading in the kitsch while still hitting at the heart. SOPHIE’s popstar QT even feels as if she’s been modelled off Kyary with the gliding, delectable synths of Hey QT echoing that of the J-Pop star’s viral hit PONPONPON.
“Dance music will be the mainstream in the future,” Kyary predicted in an interview with SOPHIE for Dazed and interestingly, while Kyary’s music is not really club music, the people she’s influenced, like SOPHIE, are reinterpreting it as club music and unleashing it upon the mainstream.
SOPHIE produced the most interesting track Bitch I’m Madonna on Madonna’s most recent album Rebel Heart - the most kitsch thing Madonna has ever released. Even the video looks like a Western reboot of Kyary’s own videos. It’s unlikely Madonna would even know who Kyary is, but she’s part of her web of influence whether she knows it or not.
Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth has had a fascination with Japan from the very beginning of his career. The kawaii aspect of J-Pop and Japanese electronic music was a defining feature of his early beats and he even teamed up with Japanese producers like Qrion and Tomggg for his own tracks.
“Kyary is my ideal pop star — beautiful and strange, with such a personalized brand,” Hemworth said back in 2014 to the Japanese Times. While his own music has become more and more melancholic as times has gone on, he retains that strangeness that Kyary’s music exudes while also remaining beautiful. His 2014 record Alone For The First Time made loneliness sound colourful with bursting synths contrasted by sad vocals. In many ways this is something Kyary does. While we can’t understand what she’s saying she always melds the strange with frightening scariness. As weird as a song like CRAZY PARTY NIGHT is, it’s grounded by this sense of impending doom.
Porter Robinson’s ties to Japanese music are interesting. His earliest memories of being introduced to music are playing Japanese games like Dance Dance Revolution which featured music as hyperactive as Kyary’s. His debut album Worlds drew heavily on this influence pairing Japanese influences with this hollowing feeling of isolation which made for a weird and wild but often sad listen.
Worlds is almost as if he’s gone even further than the dizzying highs of Kyary’s music. It’s post-euphoria music that’s more about the comedown than the high. Still it took listening to her music to get to the point and he has an unparalleled admiration for Yasutaka Nakata, the man behind many of Kyary’s songs.
“He gives his music a very unique character. It’s really the most genius pop ever,” he told Music Feeds.
You only need to look at Grimes’ cover for her latest album Art Angels to know that she’s been inspired by the art and music scene in Japan. Like Kyary’s music, that album pairs together the highs and the horror, creating a sonic world where screams sit alongside glossy synths. Kill V. Maim, for example, is sugary sweet in the verses and then vicious in the chorus. Both Grimes and Kyary are sweet characters but they have a love for scary things and that makes their music as haunting as it is elating.
“J-Pop has always been really forward thinking in terms of the art direction but sometimes the music can fall short. But Kyary is bang on...she’s got a really distinct style,” Grimes said while hosting Rage here in Oz.
Charli XCX is probably redesigning pop faster than anybody else in the game right now. Her latest Vroom Vroom EP which saw her team up with SOPHIE, paired traditional pop melodies with industrial beats and kitsch synths, unlike anything on the radio right now. From the “beep beep” lyrics to the high-pitched vocals, there’s a distinct element of kawaii to it and we can probably thank Kyary for that. But while it’s the music that she’s inspired, Charli likes that her music is about everything from the sound, to the videos, to the fashion.
“What I love about J-pop is that everything is so important. J-pop is the whole package and I love that,” she told The Japan Times.
“The videos are important, the artwork, the CD booklets, free stickers — it’s all so amazingly clever and of such high quality.”
Pop has always been about the full package. It’s just that it’s become more and more homogenised so that very little surprises anymore. Charli’s music and her visual is surprising and it’s Kyary that is teaching popstars like Charli that there’s no limit to how weird and wonderful the pop world can be.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu will play two shows in Australia in June. Check out all the details here and click the fancy .gif below to get your mitts on some limited edition KPP goodness!
- Words by the interns' Sam Murphy