Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Candy Racer Album Review

If you can, try to describe Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s earliest singles, such as 2011’s PONPONPON or 2012’s Tsukematsukeru, without using the word hyperpop. These songs predate PC Music, but presented a similar vision: pop songs that are so abrasively kinetic and eerily gooey that they begin to feel sinister. One of Japan’s biggest pop stars, Kyary (aka Kiriko Takemura) has rarely been placed in the largely western hyperpop line. But her influence on the genre is hard to deny: when she first played in London, Charli XCX was on hand, and Kyary also worked with SOPHIE on a track that has yet to see the light of day. After rewiring J-pop genre conventions and inspiring many of hyperpop’s foundational artists, Kyary has reinvented her mind as she enters the second decade of her career.

Candy Racer, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s first album in three years, represents two very different paths forward for the star. She continues to work with her longtime writer and producer Yasutaka Nakata (CAPSULE, Perfume), although there is a clear mandate to explore new sounds. In the first half of the album, Kyary picks up the pace until her slippery pop sound feels optimized for the dance floor. The title track combines manic marimba runs with an accelerated disco beat, while “Dondonpa” is nothing short of a galloping house number. If you come across the last song in a club, you might hear Kyary’s repeated chirp of “Dondonpa!” (an onomatopoeia contraction evoking rapid-fire drums) for a sample – her vocals on the track are limited to that one line, plus some percussive scatting.

If the first half of Candy Racer When Kyary is decentered in her own songs, the second half rearranges her image in a way that feels even more radical. Tracks like “Perfect Oneisan” are constructed from the glossy synth presets and plastic horns common in vintage Japanese “city pop”, and she does her best to approach the desire of an ’80s balladeer. shine that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s music has always had, this may feel like a surprising linchpin, although this is the same woman who named her beauty brand Nostalgia Syndrome.What’s even more curious is that the revival of urban pop (and vaporwave, which is often urban pop tastes) is a largely Western phenomenon, and Kyary is a huge star only in her homeland. Both urban pop and vaporwave satisfy a Western nostalgia for a past that feels slightly skewed, filtered through pre-millennial Japanese sensibilities. Kyary is now reselling that same aesthetic to a domestic audience, alongside bottles of her signature shampoo.

If this all feels a bit meta, it’s in perfect keeping with the ethos of hyperpop, which walks a tightrope between puncturing the language of commerce and embracing it fully. As with many things, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu seems to have gotten here first, working in Japan’s more naked consumerist music industry; like many J-pop artists, she is no stranger to commercial tie-ins. But unlike most Japanese stars, she’s been able to find a significant audience in the West through ambitious music videos (you could argue she’s helped pop’s embrace of the grotesque) and her clever use of platforms like youtube. And so we get a song like ‘Natsuiro Flower’, which sounds like it was pulled from the 2011 internet curio Flower shop but was recorded in 2021 by one of Japan’s biggest stars, and feels aimed at an audience of Western listeners hungry for Japanese retro-futurism. not all Candy Racer Sounds like a break from the past: the album’s midsection is dotted with archetypal Kyary Pamyu Pamyu songs such as “Kamaitachi,” “Kimigaiinekuretara,” and “Gum Gum Girl,” adorning clear melodies with unmistakably Japanese influences like shamisen. But even if it revels in new ideas, Candy Racer Kyary Pamyu finds Pamyu as we’ve always known her: just a little more outre than her peers in the world of the charts.

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