This past Saturday night in New York City, a cotton-candy-colored swarm of teens (and some grown adults who could’ve fooled us) piled into the Best Buy Theater for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s last show in her latest tour through the States.
Famed for her over-the-top music videos and snack-fueled chiptune hits like “Ponponpon,” the Japanese Harajuku fashion model-turned-pop sensation has made zealous converts around the world. Critics have volleyed back and forth between taking her sickly-sweet cuteness at face value and recognizing her critical, yet playful interpretations of Japanese pop culture as we know it. As much of a visual artist as she is a singer, Kyary’s aesthetics scream updated rococo decadence, her outfits littered with 21st century kawaii staples like bonbons and pink frills, and peppered with the occasional grotesque display of severed eyeballs and teeth.
Dressed in bubblegum pink and topped with a ginormous signature hair bow, Kyary slinks onto the stage, prompting the audience to throw up their hands by shouting “Hai! Hai!” At times she powers down her slink to a stroll, wandering about the set, seemingly wide-eyed in wonder at her own audience. Her crew of dancers wear colorful pastel rompers and wigs, their limbs winding up and springing jauntily like toy girl soldiers. They prance around Kyary in circles, transitioning from song to song without missing a beat or breaking a sweat.
Between Kyary’s costume changes, a giant blue bunny man with a top hat emerges, capering across the stage along to a slightly disturbing laugh track. While some audience members are a little perturbed, others cheer, “kawaii!” A few minutes later, Queen Kyary promptly returns to grace the stage, commanding the audience to clap before she sends us spiraling into another Nintendo music k-hole. In front of me are a boisterous pack of bros, or, young American men, holding each other and passionately shouting along to “Candy Candy.” I dodge one of them before he can step on my foot, as he hops up and down screaming, “Kyary, I love you!”
Thanks to her formidable internet presence, Kyary reaches a wide range of fans—from bro dudes to sea punks, from Lolitas to lovable nerds hiding under their hoodies. Despite the din of the lights and the synths and the screaming fans, I admire all the costumed concertgoers, dressed to impress for what I’ve personally dubbed as the J-pop prom. You can catch photos of Kyary and her fans in our exclusive photo gallery.