NYC fans of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu share ‘zest for life’

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

Two hours before the doors even opened, the line outside New York’s Best Buy Theater snaked around several streets in the middle of Times Square. Fans lined up early for pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s second-ever New York concert, the finale to her recent North American tour.

Many of the fans embraced color for the Saturday night show, sporting candy-bright hair and giant pastel bows. They caught the attention of passers-by, who asked what was going on or just stared from a distance. One man hawking souvenirs was pretty blunt about what he was looking at, saying “I’ve never seen so many f-cking freaky people!”

Ages ranged from toddlers skipping excitedly to 50-year-old adults. Michael Angelakos, lead singer of critically acclaimed electro-pop group Passion Pit, also reportedly showed up to the sold-out performance at the 2,000-plus capacity theater.

Kyary — whose real name is reportedly Kiriko Takemura, although she has never confirmed this — has a North American fanbase that can’t be stereotyped.

“In Japan, a variety of people come to my shows,” she told The Japan Times. “Outside of Japan, there are even more types. I’m happy that people such as elderly men over 70 or super muscular guys who look like professional fighters enjoy my shows.”

Like her Japanese supporters, the overseas fans come from all sorts of backgrounds. The one thing they do have in common is a love for the Harajuku-repping performer and a desire to create a community around her.

Kyary has become one of J-pop’s most promising young stars — last year, her album “Nanda Collection” topped Japan’s Oricon Charts upon release while her single “Ninja Re Bang Bang” was the most downloaded song of 2013.

Just as impressive, though, have been her strides internationally. After this North American tour, she’ll head to Europe, Asia and Australia.

She’s been featured in various foreign publications and websites, and has built up an impressive fandom. Many at her New York gig shared the same entry point.

“It was (the song) ‘Ponponpon,’ ” said Emely Valerio, who flew in from North Carolina to see the show. “The video just exploded my mind with awesomeness.”

The clip for the song, which was Kyary’s first proper single, is a surreal trip into Harajuku’s kawaii (cute) and guro-kawaii (grotesque-kawaii) culture. It went viral and introduced the 21-year-old singer to many overseas, including nearly everyone interviewed for this article.

“I knew her when she was just a model,” said Patty Farley, one of the exceptions.

Another fan said she got into Kyary after hearing a Vocaloid cover of one of her songs.

A pre-existing interest in Japanese pop culture was common among her fans, though it came in many shades. Some had spent years interested in fashion, or listening to music groups ranging from AKB48 to harder rocking acts such as Dir En Grey. Others, like Dylan Scarzafava, said they just watched “cool Japan shows” such as “Dragonball Z” growing up.

“I think she’s popular because of the music video and the fascination with weird Japan,” he said. “We’ve been bred to like ‘weird Japan.’ ” He admitted the video was “the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Kevin Hegedus said he mainly listened to hip-hop before “Ponponpon” exploded, but that song opened up a new world for him.

“Kyary was my gateway into J-pop, especially everything (Kyary producer) Yasutaka Nakata has done,” he said. Hegedus, sporting bright pink hair, and his friends took a two-hour bus ride from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to catch the gig.

“(The show) last year was nonstop dancing. It was a great party,” he said. “She’s extremely focused. She condenses what Americans know about Harajuku into one package.”

It wasn’t just Americans crowding the Best Buy Theater, though. Some ticket holders spoke in Japanese, as Kyary’s gig was a chance to see a major pop star from home perform stateside. Still, they were in the minority.

“I saw Kyary on YouTube, it’s fun music,” said Brett Beaumont, a 40-something tattoo artist from Philadelphia.

Beaumont wore one of the most eye-catching outfits of the night: a white T-shirt airbrushed with Kyary’s face. Beaumont, along with Valerio, Farley and nearly 100 other people, bought special tickets allowing them to meet Kyary and get a photo with her.

“She takes the risk a lot of other Japanese artists don’t — she has concerts in America,” he said. “And the fans love it. I’m going to be happy meeting her.”

That’s the other thing Kyary fans in New York had in common — many people said her music, videos and personality made them happy. Farley said that Kyary wrote about contemplating suicide in her memoir, but she persevered. “I love her zest for life,” she said.

A little further up in the line, Valerio’s friend, Daniel Pereira, was especially excited about meeting Kyary.

“I was pretty depressed from 2011 to pretty recently,” he said. “She made me really happy though. When I see her, I might just straight up cry.”

When the curtains part and Kyary comes out, the crowd goes wild. They deliver equally big responses for her biggest songs: “Ponponpon,” “Candy Candy” and “Fashion Monster.” She speaks in Japanese for 90 percent of the show, but the crowd shouts in response to all of it.

“I dress like this at home, too, but I’m pretty isolated,” Hegedus said, pointing out his purple glasses frames and a speaker on a chain around his neck playing songs from fellow Nakata-produced group Perfume. “I can be myself here.”