For better or worse, singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has become the de facto face of J-Pop for many American listeners. Her debut single “PONPONPON” broke down a lot of doors and helped expose a worldwide audience to a style of music that had before then inhabited a relatively niche market outside its native Japan. In the few short years since that monumental song (and video), Kyary has built up a commendable discography that touches on much more than just kaleidoscopic power pop. Her music’s core strengths have always remained the same, though: tons of personality, oodles of energy, and the refined musical guidance of veteran producer Yasutaka Nakata.
Moshi Moshi Harajuku EP (2011)
Kyary’s first major release creates the mold from which all her other releases will be formed. You’ve got your parade-like fanfare to kick things off (this time it’s “Kyary no March”), you’ve got a cover of a Capsule song (Nakata formed Capsule in 1997 with singer Toshiko Koshijima), you’ve got your irresistible hit pop single (the aforementioned “PONPONPON”), and you’ve got a smattering of album cuts that all sound like they could be hit pop singles.
“Cherry Bonbon,” which mixes the usual Kyary fluffiness with an interesting retro-dance vibe, seems to signal that Nakata was still figuring out just what to do with his latest pop prodigy. Same goes for “Choudo ii no,” which successfully fleshes out the wisps of melancholy that float around the background of “PONPONPON.” “Pin Pon ga Nannai” and the Capsule cover “jelly” are fine J-Pop deep cuts, but they pale in comparison to both the other songs on the EP and anything on her later albums.
Key Songs: “PONPONPON” “Cherry Bonbon”
Pamyupamyu Revolution (2012)
Following the promising Moshi Moshi Harajuku EP, it’s hard not to look at Kyary’s first studio album Pamyupamyu Revolution as a bit of a letdown. It should be hard to argue with an album that has a song as perfectly realized as “PONPONPON” on it, but following that song’s release as a single and as a key track on Moshi Moshi, it starts to feel stretched a little thin. This wouldn’t be a huge problem except that, even on its 3rd official release, it still eclipses everything else on the disc.
First though, let’s run down the checklist. We’ve got the fanfare (“Pamyupamyu Revolution”), but the Capsule cover is MIA. I’m going to count her stab at “RGB” from her live album Dokidoki Wakuwaku Pamyu Pamyu Revolution Land so as not to break the chain. Singles-wise, you’ve got, of course, “PONPONPON,” but also “Tsukematsukeru” and “Candy Candy.” “Tsukematsukeru” is an interesting (and surprisingly rare) peek into her pre-pop star days as a fashion model, as well as the empowering effect wearing false eyelashes (and more outlandish clothing) has on her daily outlook. “Candy Candy” is a little simpler in its narrative, describing a girl who loves candy more than, say, anything else.
Unfortunately, they’re just not all that captivating of pop songs. The Kyary energy is there in spades, but it starts to grate as the album wears on. It doesn’t help that all the singles are clumped together in the first half, thereby choking off the relatively blasé home stretch. All told, Moshi Moshi is a much stronger introduction to Kyary’s music than this overlong reiteration.
Key Songs: “PONPONPON” “Tsukematsukeru” “Suki Sugite Kire Sou”
Nanda Collection (2013)
Luckily, Kyary more than turned it around for her sophomore effort Nanda Collection. Every song exhibits the same chemistry between Kyary and Nakata that made “PONPONPON” such a smash, and it’s hard to tell the terrific singles apart from the equally interesting album cuts. “Ninja re Bang Bang” edges out all the other competition, but only barely. Lead single “Fashion Monster” explodes like nothing else Kyary had done up to this point, and its vocals show a new restraint that could’ve worked wonders for Revolution. “Furisodation” is an even more impressive single, and its frantic breakdowns recall Capsule at their best. “Invader Invader” rounds out the batch of singles, and its out-of-nowhere dubstep section is surprising mostly because it works.
The album cuts are just as impressive. “Kimi ni 100 Percent” sounds like it could’ve been beamed in from a Pizzicato 5 album, and some madcap horn blasts make “Kura Kura” a standout moment. Only the frustratingly repetitive “Mi” brings the album down, but it doesn’t disrupt the flow enough to be a problem (and, speaking from experience, it’ll grow on you a bit).
Key Songs: “Ninja re Bang Bang” “Furisodation” “Fashion Monster” “Kimi ni 100 Percent”
Pika Pika Fantajin (2014)
Whereas Nanda Collection felt like a major step up from Revolution, Pika Pika Fantajin is a much less drastic leap. It and Nanda feel like sister albums, exploring a lot of the same musical ideas and hitting a lot of the same marks. If there is a major difference, it’s that Pika Pika is a bit of a slower burn. None of the singles hit as hard as “Ninja re Bang Bang” or “Furisodation,” but they’ll all still emblazon themselves onto your brain if you let them. “Yume no Hajima Ring Ring” is the standout, complete with a peerless vocal hook and an interesting new emphasis on guitars. That emphasizes gets expanded on “Serious Hitomi,” which features near-hair metal levels of rawkage and some dangerously pounding drums.
Pika Pika also follows Nanda’s lead in that it remains interesting through its entire runtime. Experiments like the rustic “Sungoi Aura” and the English-sung “Ring a Bell” prop up the album’s back half, and the triumphant “Explorer” closes out the experience on a high note. If Pika has a leg up on Nanda, it’s that it is a slightly more consistent listen. Still, that cuts both ways. It lacks a “Mi,” thankfully, but it also lacks Nanda’s atmospheric highs. Still, anyone looking to get into Kyary’s music should consider it (and Nanda) essential listening.
Key Songs: “Yume no Hajima Ring Ring” “Family Party” “Kira Kira Killer” “Tokyo Highway”