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Hey Hey, You You, I Don’t Like Your Blog Post: Final, Fragmented Thoughts On “Hello Kitty”

It has been a week since Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty,” and the Internet has moved on for the most part from it. In the wake of it, I wrote a few notes about it over the past seven days. They are below and beyond the jump.

- “Hello Kitty” is being treated like an isolated incident, like the timeline between Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls and this featured no notable similar incidents. But “Hello Kitty” is part of two parallel trends - the first is a boom this year in Western music acts “embracing” (or “exploiting,” your choice based on cynicism levels) Asian pop (your starting line-up: Avril, Lady Gaga, Skrillex, Diplo and The Weeknd), the other is a return to music videos by Western acts treating Tokyo like a weirdo robot playground (see Muse’s “Panic Station" or Charli XCX’s "Superlove" which both share the same, touristy robot restaurant). Or, in my opinion, the worst of all, Clean Bandit’s "Rather Be.” There’s a lot of reasons to hate the clip for “Hello Kitty,” but at least Avril gave some geeked-up high school kids a cool story to tell at lunch the next day, whereas Clean Bandit did a flash mob on Tokyo’s most busy train line and probably made someone’s day worse.

- The angle I’m (sorta) surprised hasn’t been touched on more (though I see it has been written about more since I started this post) - how obvious it is that this is Avril Lavigne trying to hitch her cart to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s brand of cool. Yes, yes, at this point I might as well be standing on a street corner with a big piece of paper that connects EVERYTHING to Kyary…but I’m not alone in seeing this, as this has been a popular observation from Japanese people on Twitter and Facebook. Though it’s obvious…Avril wears a dress adorned with cupcakes, Kyary has worn clothes patterned after sweets before. The whole thing is shot in Shibuya and Harajuku, Kyary’s turf. One of the early scenes plays out at Harajuku fashion store Candy Stripper, a place whose clothes Kyary has modeled before. Many posts labelled this store “a bedroom.” It’s an intentional approach - Kyary is one of the most popular acts domestically, and far and way the most known contemporary J-pop star internationally. Japanese music labels…like Sony Music…recognize this, and have pushed new artists with similar visuals for just this reason. “Hello Kitty” tries to cash in on that too.

- Not much has been written about the actual response to this video in Japan, just some thinking-out-loud stuff about “is this for Japanese fans?” along with tired “she’s big in Japan” jokes. Which is fair, as it is in all in Japanese, and the demand for content doesn’t allow time for careful translation. But it’s out there, and at least interesting. Sony Music Japan, her label here, put out this press release which confirms this has Japanese fans in mind and also proves one of Lavigne’s response tweets to this were true - the entire staff behind it were Japanese. BUT she’s not off the hook here, as this Nico Nico News post says she also played a heavy role in deciding where and what would be filmed.

 - “Hello Kitty” might be intended for Japanese fans, but it also got posted to the Internet, and a globally known star like Lavigne is going to be seen by a lot of people. This is a lesson every music industry in the world is grappling with - thanks to video sharing sites (and news sites eyeing clicks), nobody can just tuck potentially problematic videos or songs away. That’s why “it’s for Japan” isn’t an excuse…and why K-pop (and J-pop and any video coming from an industry with at least some intent to get money from outside their base) gets called out for racist stuff all the time. Factor in that this is AVRIL LAVIGNE…who functions as teenaged nostalgia reference, easy joke and a walking “lol Nickelback” zinger…and yeah, this is gonna get viewed.

- Vox published a post that came so, so close to hitting on something no other publication has written about this whole ordeal…before missing the mark completely. TLDR version - due to economic woes and people buying less domestically in the ’90s, Japanese companies had to export specific aspects of the nation’s pop culture, and that Lavigne was exposed to the more “kawaii” strain. Which is almost there, except Vox ends it there, Lavigne absorbing all these exports like a sponge and going from there. He also writes something about J-pop videos having “a camp vein running through it” which…well, uhhhh no. Japanese companies…and Japan itself…never stopped selling to the West. And what Japanese acts have gotten any attention outside Japan? Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and, recently, Babymetal.

- For all the outrage aimed at “Hello Kitty’s” representation of Japanese culture, it bugs me that most of the sites getting worked up about it usually only write about Japan through the lens of weirdness. Again, what Japanese pop acts appear on these sort of sites - the “bizarre” ones treated primarily as memes (and never, never talk about producers like Yasutaka Nakata or the myriad minds behind Babymetal). How about Japanese culture in general? It’s all nutty “trends” like bagelheads, zentai and eyeball licking. What Japanese music ever gets covered beyond the colorful, eye-catching stuff? At least GQ was honest with themselves when they reviewed “Hello Kitty” - whereas everyone else got angry over a pop culture rarely covered in a serious way/at all, they just made some old-ass Pokemon seizure jokes.

- The outrage around “Hello Kitty” should result in Japanese pop music being covered more in North America, at least based on the idea that Lavigne’s representation of J-pop is stunted and not accurate. It won’t be, though, which makes all this blog-approved anger simple give-us-clicks outrage. There’s plenty of problems with “Hello Kitty” worth talking about…but it seems pointless if nothing changes.

To best sum it up: Bustle (yeah, yeah, I know) wrote, “sure, it’s super cute to use foreign words in music videos, but only when a white singer is doing it, so it’s more accessible, but god forbid we hear a whole song in Japanese. That would just be too weird.”

There is an entire country where songs are entirely in Japanese…it just doesn’t get treated seriously. 

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    Patrick does an incredible job concisely addressing several points about this whole “Hello Kitty” debacle, especially...
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