Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Perfume Bubble

Perfume's out of control! A Perfume bubble is puffing up in Japan.

Only a few months ago, I was planning to write about this idol trio to say that one of the standout things Capsule music creator Yasutaka Nakata has done is to become these three's producer and write great songs for them, so that it became at least semi-respectable to love Perfume in spite of their being otaku magnets. And I really enjoy some of their songs, including “Vitamin Drop”, “Monochrome Effect” and “Computer Driving”.

But now, they're out of sight. Their new album Game is number one on the Oricon charts. Their latest national tour is completely, hopelessly sold out. They are top draws on every music variety shows on TV.

Part of it is that, yes, they're managed by a big entertainment agency that markets them well. But that's not the whole secret. They're more than skillfully-sold merchandise. Somewhere along the way Perfume became a genuinely 'hip' item for a lot of people. Look at the Village Vanguard store in Shimokitazawa, the epitome of counterculture cool. Their small music section now stocks Perfume (it's unimaginable that they'd sell any other idol group's music), and they tout the unit's music like they are the Second Coming of Kawaii. Mixi's Perfume community has more than 36,000 members, and its intro calls their beloved three “this century's most powerful girl pop unit”.

Perfume's formula is a combination of things: the way their voices go together perfectly, being one of the best sounding J-pop girl vocal ensemble since Puffy; the stylish and catchy music by Capsule's Nakata, a techno pop sound that seems novel in the idol arena; the android-like, sharply choreographed dance moves; and the three's down-to-earth, humorous public persona—three girls from Hiroshima who toiled for years without being recognized, before hitting the big time, now.

But one YouTube is worth a thousand words, and the video above, just 53 seconds long, is one of my favorite.

It's actually a cover of a 1980's single by the Japanese techno group Juicy Fruits called “Jenny Wa Gokigen Naname (Jenny's In A Bad Mood)”. I salute the excellent taste of Perfume, or whichever manager that got the three to perform it, because this song is one of the more revolutionary of J-pop: as far as I know it's one of the first where a female vocalist sang in that high-voiced, super-sweet, coquettish way that became so common later on (and the strange thing is that in none of their other singles does the vocalist of Juicy Fruits sing that way); for its time the lyrics were risque for prime-time TV, with the main line being that “we will sleep together hugging, because that would calm me down a bit (daki atte nemuruno, sou sureba sukoshi wa ki ga osamaruno)”; and the entire band came on the TV screen dressed up in fruit costumes, a big singing peach, guitar-playing banana, etc. Even as a kid when I saw Juicy Fruits perform this song it was a shock, and I'm happy that Perfume is bringing it back (a YouTube of Juicy Fruits playing the song is below—hmm, in it there's stuffed fruit strewn on the stage but the musicians aren't wearing them. Is my memory false??).

The 53-second clip above shows just how hyper a Perfume live is: listen to the way the male fans shout out the names of the members; see how A~chan cups her hand to her ear to mean 'make some noise' and a few moments later says 'arigato-!' in a very Western Japan accent; and in general, witness the way that three cute dancing girls totally put the crowd under their spell (and I see on the wall a sign saying it's the Harajuku Astro Hall, a relatively small venue—now it's nearly impossible to buy tickets to catch them at the Zepp Tokyo, one of the city's biggest halls...)—I'd love to have been one of the nerds sweating it down in the audience pit.

A Budokan show will be the next thing for Perfume, a gig at a mega-live house like the Zepp being a stepping stone to an appearance at the fabled martial art/concert hall (in fact, ha ha, I checked their official website and it looks like they JUST announced yesterday they are playing TWO NIGHTS at the Budokan in September...). But... after all that, what happens? Fads have been known to happen in Japan, and this Perfume bubble can't keep inflating non-stop. The Perfume three will have to fall back down Earth one day, at which time will we be able to actually get tickets to see them at a 'smaller' live house like, say, the Liquid Room or the Quattro? In any case, these three are a unit to watch.

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