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Interview: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

As the Japanese pop culture icon prepares for her concert this month, Kunihiro Miki finds out more about the woman behind those bizarre costumes

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

They call her Japan's Lady Gaga. And they're right – although more cute than grotesque, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is every bit as compelling as her American counterpart. Which probably explains why she has been one of the few Japanese artists to break into the international market in recent years. Famed for her kawaii-kooky dress sense and weirdo facial expressions, Kyary (aka Kiriko Takemura) started off as a model and blogger before releasing her first single, ‘PonPonPon’, in 2011. She has since brought out three albums, been featured on the cover of Dazed and Confused, and is now the headliner of the Esplanade’s Super Japan festival. And she’s only just getting started.

'I want to display my identity as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, while mixing in traditional culture.'

You're known for your outlandish costumes, but what do you wear on your days off?

I really like clothes, but I get tired of always wearing bright, 'pop-style' clothes, so on my days off I often wear darker colours. Like black dresses and sporty looks. I think it's a little different from the public image of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Of all the phrases that have been used to describe you, which one resonated with you the most?

Oh, I wonder… Maybe when they say 'Japanese pop icon Kyary'. That's something I've always wanted to achieve, so when people from other countries say it, it makes me happy.

Do you come across misleading clichés about Japan in the Western media?

Yes, I get asked a lot of strange questions during interviews. In terms of fashion, they always ask me about designers, which is something that hardly ever comes up in Japan.

You've been included under the banner of 'Cool Japan'. What do you personally think is cool about Japan?

I think traditional Japanese culture is cool. Depending on the occasion, there are parts of tradition that are beautiful and have elements of fashion. I want to incorporate these into my outfits. I want to display my identity as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, while mixing in traditional culture.

What's your pre-show ritual?

I practise greetings in each country's language. The Asian languages are especially hard, because if you change the intonation even a little, it can change the meaning. I'm not very good at English, either, so I want to work on that.

 'I like things with heartless relationships, stalkers, that kind of thing.'

Your music videos contain elements darker than your kawaii outfits might suggest. What are these inspired by?

My apartment has a lot of cute pink things in it, but the manga I have on my shelves are dark stories like Himizu and Ushijima the Loan Shark. It's the same for movies: I like things with heartless relationships, stalkers, that kind of thing. I try to put some of that darkness into my music videos and concerts, too.

Are you influenced by any Western musicians or pop stars?

I've always been a huge fan of Katy Perry. Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Meghan Trainor. Most of her songs are about being true to yourself, and I also like how the tunes have a retro feel. Her music videos are also super cute.

Are you interested in Japanese idols from the '80s and '90s?

Kyoko Koizumi is super enchanting. I met her once and she mentioned how she was sick of the logic that idols had to be cute and fluffy all the time, so she chopped her hair into a boyish look – that ushered in a new craze and the 'Kyoko Koizumi look' became a thing. I like the idea that something that starts out from your frustration can turn into a success.

You also have this aspect of seeming like a cute pop idol at first, but in fact you’ve carved out a unique aesthetic. Do you plan to develop a different persona going forward?

I'll be 24 soon, and up to now most of my work has focused on the cute aspect of things, so I want to explore something more edgy. I definitely want to develop a new side.