While Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty” video has raised the hackles of plenty of Western pundits, thanks to imagery that many perceive as culturally insensitive — robotic, creepy girls in a cupcake-themed stereotype-mart that Billboard.com called “Japan fetishization” — the view from Tokyo is far more sanguine. In fact, one could argue that the country — whose music market is worth close to $3 billion, 16 to 18 percent of which is international repertoire (mostly Anglo-American) — is so used to being misunderstood by the West that this latest pop barrage is hardly worth a flinch. Other Japanese citizens, meanwhile, view the candy cane fluff as a tribute, however shallow, to their homeland. The video logged 12 million views in a week.
Hiro Ugaya, a Tokyo-based journalist and media commentator, is one of those forgivers. “I assume that images of cultures outside of one’s own in mass media are always different from the reality,” he says, acknowledging that pop culture will reduce anything to a digestible pap. “When you’re trying to reach the majority of consumers, images tend to be lowest common dominator.”
Nobuyuki Hayashi, a well-known Tokyo-based tech and social media expert, concurs. “Searches in the Japanese Twittersphere and blogsphere show that most of the reactions were favorable,” he says, adding, “The people who are blaming the artist for racism are non-Japanese … but most Japanese people are not taking it that seriously.”
Lavigne’s only comment on the controversy so far has been on Twitter, where the 29-year-old mocked her critics with a typically attitudinal (and defensive) missive: “RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan,” she wrote. (A rep for Lavigne did not respond to a request for further comment.)
But there is one pop divide that Lavigne has yet to conquer. As Frank Takeshita, managing director of Live Nation Japan, notes: Other artists may have caught less flack for this kind of video. “This is a bad match with Avril’s ‘punk’ image, and that’s why people may think it could be making fun of Japanese culture,” he says, adding that Sanrio, the company that created the Hello Kitty line, must have had approval on use of the famous cat’s image. “If Katy Perry would have made this video, I do not think anyone would argue.” In fact, Perry experienced a similar backlash when she performed at the 2013 American Music Awards in full Geisha garb. Said Perry stylist Johnny Wujek at the time: “Katy and I both love Japan … There’s so much there visually. We wanted to try and encompass that almost [as] a tribute.” Almost.
|Pop Shop Podcast: Avril Lavigne’s ‘Hello Kitty’|
|In this week’s episode, we speak to Little Mix about “Salute” and their Beyonce appreciation, and discuss Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty” video, Katy Perry’s “Birthday” & more. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes HERE.|