How does one describe “PonPonPon?” How can anyone explain the creative minds that came together to spawn a candy-coated burst of pure Kawaii energy that spread a distorted version Harajuku culture to the rest of the world? How does a Japanese song about nothing lead to chart-topping successes as far away as Belgium and Finland, garner praise from Katy Perry and soundtrack an episode of the Simpsons?
The best place to start would be the two personalities who created “PonPonPon”: J-pop queen Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and veteran producer Yasutaka Nakata. According to Nakata, the duo’s collaborating wasn’t immediate; Nakata was simply one of the many who met Kyary when she was building her image in the Harajuku district as a fashion blogger and model. Yet, Kyary’s bubbly, in-your-face personality and charm took hold, and the duo teamed up for one hell of a breakthrough single.
Nakata built “PonPonPon” around Kyary and her image; it’s a song that oozes innocence and confidence, an anthem championing self-expression and happiness. With lyrics like “what if, at that intersection, everyone skipped around?” and “Let it out, if you did so it would be good, eh?” (Nakata admitted to tossing proper grammar out the window when writing for Kyary), “PonPonPon” is a sort of rally call for unleashing the inner crazy that we’ve always been afraid to show. It’s the perfect theme song for Kyary, someone who proudly embraced that inner craziness with her twisted takes on Harajuku culture. It’s also the perfect pop song; wrapped up with a pulsating dance beat and one of the most enthusiastic and addictive hooks ever to be “ponned” or “weied,” “PonPonPon” was an earworm destined for success.
But what propelled “PonPonPon” to international hit status was its video. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s first music video defined the crazy world in which her art existed, where her combination of kawaii and decora took grotesque shapes and where microphones could be found in pink ears and tiger-striped sharks flew through windows. The video is shot in two worlds, reality (the cluttered child’s room packed to the brim with toys, floating bread, mac ‘n’ cheese, etc.) and Kyary’s mind (home to the pink faced, bird-spewing Kyary head); the two come together, merging kawaii’s insane cuteness with Kyary’s grotesque interpretations (like happy singing skulls and bouncing eyeballs).
Emboldened with DayGlo colors and a faceless dancing grandma, the music video for “PonPonPon” went viral, racking up roughly 67,000,000 views (as of July 2014) on YouTube alone. It was the perfect kind of weird to attract the attention of the Internet, who both marveled and shied away from its eccentric, pscyhedelic sugar-rush imagery. Yet, while naysayers gawked at its weirdness, most happily embraced “PonPonPon” for all of its energy, especially in Western countries. Americans even found room to throw the song into beloved TV shows and awkward hip-hop samplings.
The song received several releases, from Kyary’s debut EP Moshi Moshi Harajuku and first full album Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, to DJ-marketed 7” singles. While the official single was a digital-only release of the track, the DJ 7” gave it an extended dance mix and a formal B-side. Also a Moshi Moshi Harajuku cut,“Cherry Bonbon” likewise received the dance mix treatment; a pounding disco beat powers this ode to one of Kyary’s favorite things: candy.
“PonPonPon” kicked down the door for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and her collaborations with Yasutaka Nakata. They would continue to team up, with Nakata writing and producing the music around Kyary’s developing J-Pop Queen image as the duo became bonafide hit-makers. Charts would be conquered, international renown achieved and, yes, plenty of “pons” and “weis” danced across the globe. And soon after the roaring success “PonPonPon,” Kyary Pamyu Pamyu would graduate from viral status and become one of J-Pop’s biggest names.