Japan’s influence on Grimes grows deeper

by Jason Richards

Special To The Japan Times

Grimes has never been shy to acknowledge the influence of Japan on her work. The Canadian electronic pop artist, born Claire Boucher, credits a wide and various list of Japanese inspirations, including Yayoi Kusama, Geinoh Yamashirogumi, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, “Akira,” “The Legend of Zelda” video-game series, and many more.

She’s even expressed an interest in recording her new album here (a plan she had to cancel due to a hyperactive touring and promotional schedule).

But to date, Japanese cultural references have been more apparent in Boucher’s visual aesthetic than her sound.

The musician says that the music video for her song “Oblivion” borrows from the archetype of the small but powerful female protagonist seen in Sailor Moon and Totoro. Last summer, she tweeted that Japan was “the spiritual homeland of grimes.” And in January, she popped up at Chanel’s Spring/Summer 2013 runway show Paris dressed like a haute-couture Harajuku girl.

Japanese fashion, “doesn’t seem to have any limits,” Boucher writes in an email. “It’s really interesting on a number of levels, not just in one particular way. Like, I’m as interested in kimonos and embroidery and stuff as I am in the street culture.”

Her critically-acclaimed 2012 breakthrough album, “Visions,” was most often compared to K-pop and mainstream American artists like Mariah Carey. But the music she’s working on now — presumably for the upcoming album that she’s “not allowed to say very much about” — could bring her Japanese influences closer to the surface than on any of her past efforts.

“I’m super-influenced by composers like Yoko Kanno and Kenji Kawaii who integrate traditional sounds with contemporary sounds, or really unique production,” she writes. “I guess this influence is more reflected in the stuff I’m working on now, not so much on ‘Visions.’ “

With its pulsing combination of accessible, sweet-sounding pop and dark, experimental flourishes, ‘Visions’ is almost guaranteed to earn Boucher an international following. The album was a staple of music critics’ best-of-2012 lists.

But as for why her music resonates with Japanese audiences in particular, “Maybe because it’s an interpretation of ‘cuteness,’ for lack of a better word, that is simultaneously powerful and meaningful,” she writes.

“I’ve always really connected with that concept and it’s a huge part of who I am and the art that I make. I feel like it confuses people a lot in North America sometimes. But it’s common in Japan.”

Boucher admits that the last time she was in Japan, to play buzzed-about sets at August’s Summer Sonic festival in Tokyo and Osaka, she didn’t have much of a chance to really take in a lot of the country.

“I’d love to go see some more traditional things,” she writes. This time, perhaps you’ll spot her at a restaurant eating “anything with eel.”

On her last visit, she did have an opportunity to meet one of her more recent influences — the omnipresent Kyary Pamyu Pamyu — but she chickened out.

“I saw her briefly in a hallway but I was too shy to say anything, haha,” she writes. “But I watched her show and it was truly incredible.”

Grimes plays Umeda Club Quattro in Osaka on March 25 (7 p.m.; ¥5,500; [06] 6311-8111), Club Quattro in Nagoya on March 26 (7 p.m.; ¥5,500; [052] 264-8211) Club Quattro in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on March 27 (7 p.m.; ¥5,500; [03] 3477-8750). For more information, visit www.grimesmusic.com.