During tumultuous times, sometimes the best advice comes from toddlers.
“At my 1-year-old daughter’s nursery school, they have a handwashing song. She kept singing and washing her hands, and encouraged me and my wife to wash our songs along with the song, too,” Kazuhito (aka Daimaou) Kosaka tells The Japan Times.
Kosaka is better known as Pikotaro, the entertainer responsible for the 2016 song “PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen).” He has a pen, he has an apple … I bet it’s coming back to you. That minute-long song became the most viral Japanese tune of the 2010s, reaching the ears of everyone from Justin Bieber and Donald Trump, and hundreds of millions more.
“When I traveled around the world, I realized some countries don’t have the custom of washing their hands,” Pikotaro says. (Kosaka stays in character as Pikotaro during our interview, although he plays the role of Pikotaro’s producer as well.) As the COVID-19 outbreak turned into a pandemic, Kosaka says he wanted to help people combat the virus with a song similar to his daughter’s hand-washing song. “I thought making it with something familiar would be good.”
Enter “PPAP-2020-.” Kosaka jams the instantly recognizable melodies of his meme together with a concept borrowed from the pre-kindergarten set. The titular fruits of the original have been swapped out for “a hand” and “a soap,” which come together to form a crash course in hygiene. All hands squeaky clean, Pikotaro ends the song by asking that you “pray for people and peace.” Perfect.
Since being uploaded on April 5, this new version of “PPAP” has amassed more than 6 million views and given Kosaka’s character the most media attention he’s earned since before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It has prompted other artists to offer up their own takes on it, not to mention those in the song’s target audience.
It’s also the perfect snapshot of the type of music going viral in Japan (and abroad) right now. Pikotaro isn’t the only artist turning handwashing into a snappy anthem. A gaggle of Johnny & Associates boy bands offered up songs about scrubbing your digits, highlighted by Arashi, while Band-Maid provided a heavy metal instrumental ditty for time spent at the sink.
This musical development isn’t just dictated by current global headlines. It’s a reflection of how regular life — including music — has been disrupted, and how the only songs that really connect with anyone on a higher level relate to the current pandemic. Yet people have time to explore their inner critics at the moment, and anything that falls short gets lambasted.
While “PPAP -2020-” offers a reminder to wash your hands, the other huge Japanese song that took off just as the state of emergency was being declared was Gen Hoshino’s “Uchi de Odoro (Dancing on the Inside).” The track is more a sketch than a fully fleshed-out number, finding the singer-songwriter strumming away on an acoustic guitar for just under a minute about the joy post-coronavirus life will bring when we can go outside again.
Its message is just as useful as Pikotaro’s — it’s tough, but now is the time to sacrifice so tomorrow is better. (Can we get Gen on board for a climate change anthem?) “Uchi de Odoro” has gone viral, with all kinds of Japanese celebrities and otherwise offering up takes on it, giving people something to do while sheltering in place. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even uploaded his own video promoting the idea of staying home.
“You should listen to the experts!” Kosaka says after being asked what else people can do at this time. Still, he musters up some of his own advice, emphasizing the importance of staying in and spending time with loved ones, where possible. He also recommends trying not to get too sad about the state of the world — once this is over, you’ll be back out shopping for pineapples and pens in no time.
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