Avril Lavigne released the song and music video for Hello Kitty and immediately drew the wrath of the Western internet for the supposedly “racist” music video, shot in Tokyo. What’s so wrong about it, and more importantly, what do actual Japanese think about it? I asked, and now we shall know…



In it, Avril wears a colorful dessert-y decora-kei skirt with her signature wife beater tanktop and dances through recognizable spots in Tokyo like Shibuya, a Harajuku candy store and a sushi bar. What’s wrong with that? First, see for yourself. Do you find anything that would make many people (mostly American, to be fair) so upset?

Many popular media, including Billboard and MTV said it was teetering on racism. We’ve seen this “identical Japanese girl pets-slash-silent-backup-dancers” trope before when Gwen Stefani did it for her “Harajuku Girls” phase. (and also received criticism…wouldn’t Avril be more careful then?). The only positive outcome here is that the Avril girls are actually Japanese while the Stefani ones were not (EDIT: I had been recalling an upheaval that they were a mix of Asian-American ethnicities but apparently they are all Japanese! Soooo another strike to Avril). And to be honest… the Stefani ones far more stylish as well.

この PVでアブリルは、カラフルデザートデコラ系スカートを着て、彼女のトレードマークとも言えるワイフビーターなタンクトップを合わせてる。ちょっといまいちなダンスしながら渋谷とかお寿司屋さんとか分かりやすい”ジャパニーズ”スポットで登場。それのなにがそんなにアメリカ人を怒らせたんだろう?ちょっとそこのみなさんも見てみて。

たくさんの大手メディアのビルボード、MTVまでもが差別的だと批判した。そういえばこういう、”ジャパニーズガール”のバックダンサーをつけてるアーティストは前にも見たことがある。Gwen Stefani の”Harajuku Girls”だ!(このときも同じく批判を受けてた。アブリルももう少し気をつけるべきだったのでは?) でも、アブリルのMVの唯一よかったことは、アブリルガールズは本物の日本人だったこと。Stefaniのときは特にそうじゃなかったの(訂:後に再チェックしたところ本当はみんな日本人かアメリカ系日本人だった。またアヴリルのまけ!)。ただ正直な話、Stefaniのやつの衣装とか姿勢の方が今みてもかなりスタイリッシュ。


Gwen Stefani Launches "Harajuku Lovers" Fashion


So coming from an American point of view, I totally understand why many people would think this was racist.

But coming from a long-term Japan resident and fluent speaker point of view, I can also see how it could be a point of *pride* rather than an insult. Yes! Getting attention from global superstars is never a negative, in fact it is a selling point on the culture. Avril Lavigne is also still hugely popular in Japan so it’s basically a love letter from her to them. But I wanted to really understand what some “clued-in” girls, both Japanese and not would think about it so I asked them.



1. A young Japanese girl, 22, with experience living abroad

“When I was in London there were a lot of people who told me “I love Japan” and I was super happy at first but….when I asked what they liked about it, it was always about otaku culture or the most wild parts of Harajuku. It wouldn’t like it if Japanese [fashion] culture was akin to just being gaudy, colorful, decorative or lolita-ish. When I first the music video I couldn’t really think of it as stylish or cool, I simply thought “Oh, I guess she’s into Japan”. Plus, I thought it was a bit of a copy of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, but not a very good one. Looking youthful and a bit childish works really well on Japanese girls, but being mature and sexy and cool is what I expect from foreign artists. I’m actually kinda glad it’s not so popular in the US because I don’t want this to be the only fashion they think of when it comes to Japan….”


ロンドンに居た時、”I love Japan”と言ってくれる人はたくさんいて嬉しかったけど、詳しく話を聞いてみるとオタクカルチャーや原宿カルチャーに異常な程注目が集まっていて、ただただ”派手でカラフルでデコラティブ”or”ロリっぽい”のがジャパニーズカルチャーだと思われたらやだな。と思っていた。最初にアブリルのMVを見たとき、やっぱりかっこいいとかおしゃれとかは思わなくて、ただ、”あー日本が好きなんだろうな”と感じた。それに、雰囲気全体はぱみゅぱみゅっぽいけど、真似しきれてない。とも思ったり。。日本人は子供っぽいのが似合うし、実際受けるけど、外人さんは大人っぽい路線やセクシーさ、クールさを打ち出した方がしっくりくるなと思った。逆に、このMVが全米で大絶賛された!って言う方が、またかわいいファッションがもてはやされてる。って嫌かもしれない。


2. An Asian-american friend living in Japan, Harajuku girl.

She said that when she was in the US recently, many of her friends wanted to know her opinion about it. Many were surprised that she did not find it racist.

“I feel like it was just a copy of the Gwen Stefani Harajuku Girls thing… I pretty much don’t even have a real opinion about it. If it was a regular Japanese idol or pop singer no one would say anything. My younger sister didn’t share my opinion though.. she totally thought it was racist. I sometimes think Americans will try and *search* for something racist to complain about when it’s not necessarily there.”



“Gwen Stefaniのコピーじゃんって思った。他にはとくに意見ないなー。もし、これが日本のアイドルやポップ歌手だったら、誰も何も言わないはず。あたしの妹は完全に差別じゃん!って言ってるけど。でもたまに思うんだけど、アメリカ人たちはとくに取り上げるネタがないときにすぐどこかに差別表現はないか?って探してるような気もする。”


3. A stylish Japanese business woman

“I probably wouldn’t have even noticed anything if you didn’t say it first. I think many young Japanese women would be more excited about it than not.”




There is a popular youtube series in America where young children 5yrs-13yrs old watch a video and give their honest, pure opinion. When they watched this “Hello Kitty” video (with almost 2million views already!), they didn’t understand any racism in it until the interviewer asked them about it. One child recognized it though.

“Having a caucasion girl singing about Hello Kitty with Japanese girls standing behind her moving like robots seems kind of racist (sic)”

It was funnt that many of the kids didn’t know Avril Lavigne, but they all knew what Hello Kitty is. A little girl had this to say about the controversy of the music video:

“It’s just a music video. It’s like saying you got hurt with a pillow”. Touche, little girl.

アメリカには、5-13歳の子供たちがビデオを見て素直な意見を言う人気YouTubeシリーズがある。彼らがこの”Hello Kitty”ビデオを見たとき(もう約200万回再生されてる!) インタビュアーが質問するまで子供たちは差別表現なんてどこからも見つけなかったみたい。ひとりの子供だけ気付いただけ。

“真ん中で目立つ人ひとりがHello Kittyを歌って、後ろで日本人がロボットのようなダンスをしてる表現が差別っぽい”

キッズがアブリルのこと知らないのにハローキティーのこと知ってるのがウケた。笑 この女の子はこのMVについての議論についてもひと言。

“ただのMVでしょ?真剣に議論するなんてばかみたい”  うーやられたぜ。


My qualm with video/song has nothing to do with stereotypes because to be honest, I feel like Japan kinda *likes* stereotypes. I think this type of Japan… “Kawaii and colorful” is seen as a positive note as it exudes energy and happiness. 99% of the Japanese population will not say that that is bad because it’s exactly what you see on TV here, and in the music scene anyway.

I think the reason why many westerners don’t like the video is because it’s not like the usual Avril Lavigne. Avril is seen as “punk” and “anti” and yet in this video she is trying to be happy and smiley and it seems disingenuous (fake). Westerners hate fake/empty emotion, it’s part of our culture. It’s why many foreigners won’t say “sorry” until they mean it unlike in Japan where saying “sorry” is very normal. And why many foreigners don’t like Japanese tarento who say “sugoi” all the time because it’s hard to believe they really feel that way all the time. In the music video, Avril Lavigne gets really excited about something simple like sushi and it seems like she is being sarcastic and making fun of it instead of being excited.

Personally, when I saw the video for the first time I didn’t think “racism” I though, “This is just bad!”. I think the music video quality just wasn’t good enough and am disappointed she didn’t do something really wild and creative. I mean, the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu videos are 100 times better and more fun.

正直ステレオタイプとか別に悪く感じなかった。というのは、日本人ってステレオタイプがけっこう好きじゃない?”カワイイ”とか”カラフル”っていう日本の文化はハッピー & エネルギッシュなイメージをささえているし。日本人の人口の99%はこのMVについて悪くは言わないでしょうね。日本のTVや音楽業界では毎日の様にこういうのが流れてるもん。ww





Funny thing is, I can’t. Find. The. Japanese. Director’s. Name. Nowhere! Huh, wonder if that says something. But we can all breathe a sigh of relief… the song is not very popular neither in the US nor in Tokyo. So this is probably the first and last time you’ll have to hear about it.


-Misha Janette
-Natsumi Yasuoka

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