We meet with the eccentric Japanese pop singer in London as she releases a new compilation celebrating five years at the top
Besides being one of Japan’s biggest pop stars, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is also one of the country’s first major league musicians to make a big splash in the west. She started out as a fashion blogger covering Tokyo’s ‘Harajuku’ fashion scene before going on to be a model herself, but most people came to know her thanks to her 2011 single “PonPonPon”, which spread around the world thanks to its eccentric music video and infectious melodies (devised by Yasutaka Nakata, the prolific pop producer who works behind-the-scenes with Kyary and many other popular Japanese acts).
Five years later and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has released four albums, been featured in magazines from Vogue to The Guardian (not to mention her cover shoot for Dazed in 2012), and starred in campaigns for Adidas and Coca-Cola. Much of her success is down to her surreal image, which combines aspects of Japan’s famous ‘kawaii’ culture with stranger, often darker elements. Fans look up to Kyary for her unique, highly individual style, though she’d be first to insist that they should use her as inspiration to find their own look.
Kyary’s new album, KPP Best, is a greatest hits compilation celebrating the whirlwind five years since “PonPonPon” was released, and to support it she’s been on a huge world tour under the banner 5ive Years Monster. At a recent sold-out London show, she was surrounded by dancers wearing glittery red outfits, a DJ dressed as a venus flytrap, and a stage resembling a fantastical garden. The crowd – which ranged from teenage goths to beared twentysomethings to Japanese expats to grey-haired men – went ballistic to each of her euphoric pop hits; one girl, glowsticks in both hands, looked close to tears.
It’s hard to fathom what it must be like to be adored by so many yet have to maintain the rigorous commitments that come with mega-fame. So, when I met Kyary at her record label offices in West London (where she was surrounded by her huge team, with each of her questions going through an interpreter), I asked her what it was like to be a celebrity.
How many times have you been to the UK now?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I think it is three or four (times) – oh, actually four. It’s exciting. What was unexpected (when I was last here) was that there were lots of guys with punk-ish fashion. It was unexpected. That left a great impression.
You're quite a celebrity now in Japan, but do you find that you get recognised when you go abroad?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: It happens sometimes. When I was in London last time, I was in a vintage clothing shop and somebody spotted me and told me they were coming to the show the following day. So I was really really pleased.
Do you have much time to visit the cities while you’re on tour?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I actually do. Today’s a press day, but you know, I think I have some time after all the interviews are done. I hope that I am able to visit some shops later today.
“When I’m in Japan I try to wear sunglasses or a hat (to avoid being recognised), but when I’m abroad it’s all fine” — Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
When you’re in Japan, do you find it easy to move around, or do you get recognised when you’re out?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I can be on my own in Tokyo without being found, so that’s fine. But I really worry that I cause trouble to my friends (when I’m with them). When I’m in Japan I try to wear sunglasses or a hat, but when I’m abroad it’s all fine. It’s actually very pleasant.
Did you want to be famous when you were younger?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I’m a big fashion fan – I’ve always been. That was sort of like a hobby (at first). And then that aspect became work, and I’m able to collaborate with lots of people on projects (now), so yes.
It’s good that you’re able to do something you love for work, but do you find any other aspects of fame quite hard to deal with?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Actually, there is a lot of attention from the media, like if you’re going out, and what you do, where you go – and that’s really, really radical in Japan, especially where romantic relationships are concerned. When I look at media coverage of a celebrity from overseas, they seem to be walking around really openly, even if there are paparazzi or whatever – they seemed to be fine just being open about their relationship. I like that they are able to do that here.
What do you do when you're not being Kyary Pamyu Pamyu?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I hang out with friends, I go to the theme park. I got a driving license about a year ago, so I enjoy going out driving. Just a normal life that any 23-year-old may lead.
How do you stay inspired when you’re working on so many songs, making new costumes, and dealing with everything else that comes with fame?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I’m very curious, so I’m constantly looking for what I could do as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. What I like is something dreamy, something that’s fantasy-like, to express something surreal in the world. That’s what I’m trying to constantly search for.
“There is a lot of attention from the media... and that’s really, really radical in Japan, especially where romantic relationships are concerned” — Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
Do you ever get things like artist’s block?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I have actually never experienced a creative block, or hit the wall. What I like is constantly the same, (so) I haven’t reached that wall yet. But to try something new requires a lot of courage, and I want to keep on evolving. So I’m constantly trying to find out what I could do to achieve that.
What are you drawing the most inspiration from at the moment?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: It’s not definite yet, but I’ve done a lot of live shows. I’m really into hip hop, I really like that cultural aspect of it. I don’t know how or when, but I’d like to somehow introduce that aspect into my work.
At the moment you're doing a ‘best of’ world tour to celebrate five years of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Do you find it’s helpful to look back on things that you've done in the past for the music you’re making in the future?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: It was indeed an enjoyable five years. When I was 18, I sang songs (that were) as if you knocked a toy box over. If I’m going ahead five to ten years, I would be different. The songs and my music should be evolving. That’s what I’m looking forward to – what’s going to happen.
What should we expect from your music in the future?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: I have an unexpected personality, in a good sense, so I cannot really expect or predict what may happen. Everyone (should) look forward to what may happen; something unexpected.