Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - “Yume no Hajimarinrinrin” (2014)
Plenty of misconceptions exist about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu outside of Japan…J-pop Lady Gaga topping the power ranking…but the one that’s gobbled up by folks who don’t know her AND are fans of the performer is that she’s somehow different than the rest of the country’s pop stars. Nope. She’s as plugged into the system as it gets - she holds handshake events where you drop the equivalent of thirty bucks to shake her hand, she’s prickly when it comes to media and she appears in dozens of ads the same way the members of SMAP do.
Trick is, she makes it really convincing that she isn’t engaging in these typical practices. Yeah, she does meet-‘n’-greets…but she doesn’t attract the sweaty nerd-o’s typically associated with most idols, but rather a demographic-spanning crowd that looks like people you’d actually meet on the streets. Sure, her management does all it can to hide stuff like her real name…but she also has the third-most-popular Twitter where she actually expresses herself (gaffes and all). Sure, she appears in dozens of ads…but geez, her fashion, who cares.
“Yume no Hajimarinrin” is the latest example of how she makes it looks like she’s above the typical J-pop field. It is a “sakura song,” or a track released right before the cherry blossoms bloom across Japan. That’s the time when students graduate from school and workers move onto new jobs, too, so it’s a good time to cash in on some memories. A lot of these songs suck, warmed-up mono no aware delivered in joyless ballad form. Bands like Ikimonogakari peddle this stuff, and are massive snoozefests.
Kyary’s latest hits all the same themes…the chorus starts, in English, “goodbye teacher, my friends,” and the Japanese words are not breaking stride…but manages to be better/more interesting than the typical seasonal fare. It helps a lot that the song skips along, complete with zippy guitar lines and some nice synchopated beats. Sure, this will probably still pop up in some high school’s graduation Power Point, but at least you could bounce around to this while feeling sad.
Yet it also shines because of how easily it slides into the image of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu presented to listeners. Really, this should have been the first single to come out after last year’s Nanda Collection, an album where she spends a substantial amount of time trying to figure out who she is and trying to decide how scary becoming an adult really is. That full-length ended with a song devoted to the question, with her realizing she doesn’t have to sacrifice one entirely for the other (translation).
"Yume" might be a song about moving on from daily routes and teachers…and, save for a self-aware line about cramming all this into a song, isn’t far from the lyrics of those boring ballads popping up on shelves this time of year (even the central phone imagery is off)…but it works because of what Kyary is all about. Ever since she let her hyperactive-kid image slide a bit on “Drinker,” she’s been at her best when she’s trying to navigate the transition from youth to adulthood. Unlike the overly saccharine ballads that capitalize on time, “Yume” works because Kyary’s whole theme revolves around the struggles of growing up, and graduation really is a great continuation of that. This song is not special from other “sakura songs” nor is Kyary a J-pop aberration, but it shows how she manages to rise above.
(Also, it helps that the video isn’t, like, set in a high school, and only makes passing reference to actual graduation. Also helps that it has a polar bear rocking the fuck out.)
The video is the most overtly attention-grabbing thing here, what with its sad polar bear and retrospective career-of-Kyary concept, but I really like this song too! Then again, I actually like, for instance, AKB48’s “So Long!" — an opinion decidedly not universal — so perhaps sakura songs just really do it for me.