Japan Expo Paris - Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Momoiro Clover Z and more
This weekend just gone I went to Japan Expo in Paris, which goes on for four days (I didn’t go to all of them) and is ENORMOUS in a way that nothing similar in the UK is. Japanese pop culture is much bigger deal and more established in France. This means that the Expo can attract some big names from the music world in Japan, or at least big in a cult type way. In between being a walking fashion accessory for A, playing new 3DS games and taking photos with Nintendo characters, I went to a few of the music shows. Reviews and some other observations below the cut. All the photos are mine (or A’s).
This guy played just before Momoiro Clover Z. He played old video game music on his keyboard. That was it. Well, as you can see, he had a cape and a Famicom on his head which he placed the relevant cartridges into (and later swapped for a SNES) with appropriate showmanship, and I’m not going to deny that I enjoyed hearing a selection of Super Mario Bros. 3 music. It still seemed a bit of a thin basis for a show.
Momoiro Clover Z
I didn’t really know what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t what I ended up seeing. Thing was, as it turned out, Momoclo played a standard set on the Thursday before we arrived. The one we went to was a Sailor Moon 20th anniversary event featuring Momoclo. This meant that they were all in Sailor Moon cosplay (not particularly brilliant as far as I could tell, but I am definitely no expert) and being interviewed about Sailor Moon via a delayed live video link to Tokyo. I think it may have been to announce the new Sailor Moon anime, but I am not sure. There were translators but the thing is that I don’t speak Japanese or French or know much at all about Sailor Moon. This meant that the whole drawn out event was baffling three times over, although there is a certain surreal fun to be had from just going along with a crowd and cheering with no idea what is happening. Eventually they did sing a whole two songs, including the new single “Otome Sensou”, and it definitely added something to see the individual spoken parts acted out with exaggerated dance moves. Also the hardcore fans with their co-ordinated glowstick choreography and roared catchphrases - wow. The lack of “Mugen no Ai”/”Infinite Love” was pretty crushing, though. No photos as we weren’t allowed to take them, and being right at the front I didn’t want to chance it.
These guys played before Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and based on a my limited knowledge of J-Rock were fairly typical - metal with poppier beats and theatricality in place of anger (I’m sure the answer to this is already out there, but did contemporary J-Rock and My Chemical Romance-style emo develop coincidentally or was one a direct influence on the other? Or both?). They were a bit too lacking in songs or fun to make it work, especially compared to the amazing Golden Bomber set that I saw last year. Anli Pollicino played a cover of “You Spin Me Round” and even that didn’t work.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu x 2
I actually saw two Kyary sets - one which was just her, and one which was at the end of a Harajuku Kawaii!!!! in Paris fashion show event in an even bigger arena (featuring 6% Doki Doki, who provided most of the stuff for the “Pon Pon Pon” video, among others).
The two were very similar - they had the same short setlist (“Candy Candy”, “Minna no Uta”, “Pon Pon Pon”, “Kyary-Anan”, “Tsukema Tsukeru”) and she even wore the same outfit apart from having a different enormous headbow on the second day. The first really striking thing about her show was the intro video.
It featured a fake CNN profile with a white man explaining her career in English in a very stilted way. He started with her modelling and went on to talk about how she was ‘like a walking daydream’ and how ‘all pop culture lovers immediately fell for her’, before proceeding to an interview which just consisted of both of them saying ‘hi!’. It was funny and also sort of mind-bending. Not only is the plan to sell her in the West partly based on actively playing up to the appeal of simplified Harajuku/Japan stereotypes, but here she was making fun of those same out-of-touch perceptions and perhaps trying to appeal to us by bringing us in on the joke. Layers upon layers.
The show itself was gloriously simple in comparison - those catchy and amazing songs REALLY LOUD, beats to the fore, with her and a pair of tiny, hyperactive and slightly weird backing dancers in masks dancing and leading lots of very willing crowd participation. She didn’t speak a word of English or French throughout; there were occasional disembodied French voiceovers but they didn’t seem very necessary. The way that she screamed ‘PON PON PON!’ like she was even more excited to sing it than we were to hear it was very endearing both days. The way that she played air guitar to the surf guitar part in “Kyary-Anan” and some kind of air melodica at the relevant part, while the crowd did mouth motions with their hands for each ‘pamyu pamyu!’ turned that song even more joyful than normal. Trying to keep up with the clapping in “Minna no Uta”, the way it can work as song-as-game was very clear. I don’t know how much the set would have won over any unconverted - the more partisan crowd on the first day did make for the better experience of the two despite not being able to see much - but I had as great a time as I hoped.
In the massive convention centre, there were a few stalls selling music. Finding a CD by any of the acts playing was surprisingly difficult. There wasn’t really much J-Pop presence at all, apart from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu who had a stall run in conjunction with 6% Doki Doki. That was easily outdone by the stall next door selling Mameshipamyupamyu merchandise - plushies, purses and the like with kyarypamorphic bean characters. I’m not sure if that says more about the strong visual aspect of her appeal or the fact that the CDs cost €40 each and her stuff is readily available on iTunes at standard prices.
The one stall which did look to be having the most success selling music had a big screen up showing videos. Not by Kyary or more mainstream but not present compatriots like Namie Amuro and Ayumi Hamasaki, although they were selling those too, but by K-Pop acts like f(x) and Big Bang. There was a big crowd gathered round the TV and someone actually screamed when the “Fantastic Baby” video came on. I guess people being into Japanese pop culture also being into another Asian country’s pop culture is no massive shock, but it did still seem to say something about just how successful K-Pop’s export strategies have been that it could be a bigger draw at an event called Japan Expo.
That’s all, thanks for reading!