So according to all those that claim to know these things, Avril Lavigne’s J-pop salute is racist, I beg to differ, it is not, it is kawaii. Let me explain. Quite a lot of people have been explaining that the opening line, “Mina saiko arigato,” translates to “I’m rocking thanks.” They have, thus far left out the translation for kawaii. For those that are curious, it means cute.
I happen to know this because of my teenage daughter. When she opened her first YouTube channel all those years ago, she titled it Kawaii Princess 01, being all of about 15 and loving all things Japanese, it seemed apt that this title translated meant cute princess 01. Don’t bother looking for the channel, when she became much older, and posted videos on the website she changed the name. Although there are plenty of Kawaii Princesses out there in the Google land of videos.
The reason for this unabashed love for the Japanese culture came about partly because of my love for all J-Horror, and later K-Horror, and introducing my teen to the world of Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge, 1 & 2) and Takashi Miike (One Missed Call), she also discovered the Japanese visual Kei bands Versailles, Malice Mizer and Gackt via YouTube. On a side note, I accompanied my daughter to London for a Versailles concert in an intimate venue and these chaps, who look more like women than the real article, were simply kick-ass on stage. Their showmanship and guitar skills second to none.
Avril Lavigne, with her kawaii song Hello Kitty is not being racist, she’s giving J-Pop, and most likely K-Pop a salute. The 29 year-old Canadian singer/songwriter is the right age to have gotten on the Japanese culture band wagon. Listening to the opening of the song, the middle, and the end, the fractured “dong-dong” sound that is worked into the song’s music would be instantly familiar to any fan of either of the two Takashi’s.
Takashi Shimizu’s many versions of Ju-on The Grudge, which began life as a “straight-to-video” TV movie titled Ju-on The Curse 1 & 2, will be better known to western audiences as Ju-on The Grudge 1 & 2 in both Japanese and American remakes of the same title. In the Japanese versions the sound, the dong-dong noise, features throughout the film. It is the sound of the alarm at a railroad crossing. In the second J-Horror Ju-on, it is the last thing heard before the end credits roll.
In Takashi Miike’s One Missed Call, the sound also builds up over a young Japanese girl who is about to die while she crosses a railroad track, with the train running underneath the pedestrian bridge she’s standing on. The sound, in quite a number J-horror films is used a lot. These movies usually all have cult status with college kids and teenagers. Perhaps not so much now, but in the early 2000’s if you were to mention to any university student the film Ichi the Killer, not only would you be immediately accepted as a “peer” but a damned cool old dude, or dudette.
The point about the kawaii reference is to give all those who feel that Avril Lavigne has done a “Heidi Klum” and appropriated the Japanese culture a chance to reconsider or realize that they are wrong. When the 40 year-old German model and business woman centered a photoshoot around a Native American theme, people immediately pointed accusatory fingers and screamed, “Racist.”
Certainly being of non-American heritage, Ms. Klum can be forgiven for not understanding that this particular subject is a touchy one in the U.S. However, Ms. Lavigne cannot have the same charge leveled at her song and music video. Besides being catchy, I’ve literally listened to it over and over again, it’s funny and it pays one hell of a complement to the Japanese culture that so totally besots the young.
Hello Kitty was something that my own daughter obsessed over, almost as much as she was obsessed with Malice Mizer, Versailles and Gackt, but in the 2006 United Kingdom, no one had heard of the trademark. So searching for items with the logo on were challenging to say the least. The same could be said of J-Horror. Blockbuster Video had a very small World Cinema aisle and it was there that we both, my daughter and I, found and then watched Ichi the Killer, transfixed and hooked on Japanese horror films for life.
As the years rolled by, both my daughter and I held onto our love of all things asian, especially in films and music, and we both laugh at the fixation on Hello Kitty and J-Pop, which became K-Pop later, and a group of fond memories at discovering the above mentioned bands latest release via good old YouTube.
Avril Lavigne’s song Hello Kitty is not racist, it is kawaii (cute) and a salute to J-Pop and, most likely, a fond look at her own interest in the culture that young people still obsess over and want to emulate. What’s wrong with that? In the U.S., and in the U.K. to an extent, there are sushi bars and Japanese restaurants, I had a lovely meal in one the other night. And speaking of eating, I am actually amazed that more fuss was not made about the lyric “like a fat kid on a box of smarties.” Did everyone miss that in their rush to scream racist?
By Michael Smith