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2013 to Infinity: why Pamyu Pamyu is the star of tomorrow

The J-pop princess turned 20 this year. Here's why her hyper ballads are the sound of 2023

Bouncing off the print issue's 93 Till Infinity takeover, this week on Dazed Digital we are publishing five articles looking at how the events of 1993 impacted today's world – and where the ripples from that tumultuous year are headed. 20 years ago, a girl was born. Today, she is poised to take the world by storm. We salute this vision of the future. 

Viral Phenomenon: Twenty-year-old Pamyu Pamyu is the hottest thing in Japanese pop music — perhaps in all of Japanese pop culture — today. Her fresh face graces the covers of fashion and lifestyle magazines, targeting demographics from street kids to housewives. She wallpapers television and radio, and she’s an inescapable presence on billboards and stand-up displays all across Tokyo. But it’s on the Internet where Kyary’s dominance is most evident: she has over 1.6 million followers, making her Japan’s most popular celebrity on Twitter, and her music videos on YouTube regularly top 10 million views, with one of them —her debut single “PonPonPon” — crossing over into global viral status with over 52 million views. Aw, snap.

“Kawaii” Ambassador: That’s kawaii as in “cute,” not necessarily "pretty." Cute and Japan are synonymous, which is why the Japanese business industry and government have chosen kawaii as a key tool in their attempt to boost tourism and exports. All Nippon Airways, Japan’s biggest airline, just renewed its sponsorship of a massive marketing campaign, “Cool Japan,” that stars the smiling visage of none other than Pamyu Pamyu, the officially-designated “Kawaii Ambassador of Harajuku.”

Creative Control: Don’t call her another cute J-pop puppet. Although it would've been easier to let herself be a pure product of management, mass marketing and styling, Pamyu has not only been responisble for shaping her own brand identity but still writes her own song lyrics. Personal Pamyu Pamyu touches are the eyeball graphics and heart imagery popping out of her debut video, “PonPonPon.”

Fashion Icon:. Although Pamyu Pamyu has admitted Lady Gaga as an early aesthetic influence, her OTT hair ribbons and dynamic, spectacularly colourful costumes and sets—think futurist Harajuku Princess on speed—make their own powerful, manga-diva statement about the combined power of music and fashion. And its a trippy, candy-colored delight to witness.

Fun Teamplayer: A big believer of gesamtkunstwerk, Team Kyary (director, stylist, hair and make-up artist) has been with Pamyu Pamyu since the start. Instead of the usual back-up dancers on the “Fashion Monster” video, they opted for animal suits and Frankenstein makeup for the drummer. On his first collab with Pamyu Pamyu for Dazed, stylist Nicholas Formichetti commented:” You must have a good team and great working environment around you. Gaga is exactly the same, She is friends with all the people around her. They feel as if they’re just having fun…” 

Positive: There’s no question that Pamyu Pamyu is a major risk-taker, managing to emote a refreshingly positive vibe minus a fake, permanently frozen smile plastered on her face. Without the cynical self-irony or affected naivety that might accompany such a celebratory display of cuteness in the West, she takes the concept of kawaii to a new level in terms of style and humor. 

Subversive: Pamyu Pamyu’s success is simultaneously a testament to the power of cute, and a subversive response to it. At first glance, she seems indistinguishable from the hundreds of other young pretty pop stars that the Japanese celebrity machine stamps out like clockwork. But look again, and it becomes obvious that something’s a bit “kowai” (scary), weird, and even grotesque—yet entirely pleasurable to behold. “PonPonPon” begins like a fairly standard J-pop video until a pair of fat backup dancers with raspberries for heads begin prancing in lockstep with her choreography. A floating skull, a disembodied heart, and a giant femur bone make appearances, popping out of various orifices in the set. Then, amazingly, Pamyu Pamyu opens her mouth, and a flock of ravens flies out... 

Unique: Fact is, Pamyu Pamyu has no Western equivalent—and vice versa, you just can’t label her a Japanese version of Taylor Swift or Britney Spears. She isn’t an imitator but an authentic innovator, managing to create and explore a self-referential, bizarre and intricately inviting universe of her own. And she's still constantly switching it up.

Self-Transformer/Game-Changer: Pamyu Pamyu’s gone from “normal” Japanese schoolgirl, street-cast model, blogger, singer and entertainer, to businesswoman, international J-pop princess and coveted brand (Check out her line of false Harajuku Doll eyelashes). In that order. Need I say more?

East-West Crossover: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is among the few Asian artists to have received widespread attention in Western markets. Pamyu has spoken in interviews around Europe, and has been photographed for magazines from Elle to Dazed. In April 2013, Pamyu signed an American distribution deal with Sire Records to release her material in the United States. In an interview, she mentioned: "At first, I didnt think about global markets at all. But even in Japanese, my lyrics don’t make any sense and have a kind of mystery, like on 'Pon Pon Pon' and 'Tsukema Tsukeru.' I can feel that what I’m doing in Japanese is catchy to global audiences anyway."