The first thing I learned about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is that her fans have an intense dedication that is akin to Lady Gaga’s little monsters. While circling the massive L.A. Live complex in search of the end of the queue, I saw hundreds of worshippers decked out in their best costumes or Harajuku style. Kana, a young fan that had waited in line since 10:00 a.m. to be in the front row was cosplaying as Kyary’s “eyelashes on the chest” getup from the “Tsukema Tukeru” video.
Others proudly declared an obsession that made my own history as a fanboy for various artists appear comparatively sane. “I love her!” exclaimed Koichi, an adult male from Japan who listens to no other artist. It was somewhere between his 40th and 50th time seeing Kyary. Compared to the shows at home, American audiences are louder and nobody whistles at Japanese gigs, I’m informed.
William from Seattle boasted of correctly guessing Kyary’s flight from Japan and greeting her at Sea-Tac with a heart-shaped, frosted cookie. At a paid meet and greet in San Francisco, she recognized him and said, “Ah, cookie,” and he nearly fainted. Why so devoted? “She is the cutest girl in the world. I call Kyary-chan my future wife,” intimated William.
Everyone in the pit wanted to either be as kawaii and fashionable as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu or cuddle and eat sherbert with her as if she were a five-foot kitten. Admittedly, the evening was a clusterfuck of adorability. Kyary was joined onstage by a quartet of clownish backup dancers and an array of giant-sized toys such as baby blocks, a jack in the box, and an inflatable teddy bear. Welcome to Kawaiichella.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has become the biggest J-Pop artist on the Western Hemisphere, and it wasn’t by cutesy hi-jinx alone. During her performance at Club Nokia, she hyper-kinetically stormed through a set of pop gems as addictive and sweetly satisfying as the world’s best sugar-coated treats. Every song not only felt like a choreographed celebration of life but also defied language barriers by taking residence in the heads of the listeners solely on hooks. English was limited to the occasional statement such as “Let’s Jump! Pon Pon Pon!”
Although Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has made cute an art form, it wasn’t what made her performance so intriguing, nor was it the universal infectiousness of songs. Instead, it was how successfully her weird aura translated onstage. Between the dances, costumes, and other imagery, the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu live show was analogous to the pastel and neon-colored acid trips of her viral videos.
At the beginning of her set, Kyary wore a petticoat dress that appeared to be made with the pelts of some of the bizarre Muppet-like creatures from her videos. After five songs, she left the stage for a costume change while an anthropomorphic blue bunny laughed and pranced around until it incited enough applause for the star to return, this time in a half-striped, half-polka dot get up, with her head adorned by a bow of pink, gigantic shoelaces.
Later in the evening, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu made two more costume changes and was occasionally joined by a gigantic dancing teddy bear. Her masked dancers were always at hand to encircle Kyary while mugging dementedly. During the penultimate intermission, a video played on the screen of a punk rock Kyary playing a high stakes game of poker with some shady characters. From song to song, it was impossible to predict what manner of spectacle would happen next.
Western pop stars are currently embracing sexuality more so than ever and wielding it on their own terms as if to combat the music industry’s longstanding tradition of exploitation and objectification. In contrast, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu gleefully rejected any trace of sexual imagery in an aesthetic smorgasbord of the childlike and the psychedelic. In the world of pop, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu subverts even the subversive and has set a new standard for accessible bizarreness.