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.
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。
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.”
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。
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.
FB OFFICIAL: MishaJanette-TFD
[srp widget_title=”最近のポスト↓Recent Popular Posts” widget_title_header=”h2″ thumbnail_width=”50″ thumbnail_height=”50″ post_limit=”4″ post_content_length=”70″ post_title_length_mode=”chars” post_noimage_skip=”yes” post_link_excerpt=”yes” post_date=”no” post_author_url=”no” post_category_link=”no” targetblank_links=”yes” layout_mode=”multi_column” layout_num_cols=”4″ vf_allposts=”yes” vf_allpages=”yes” vf_everything=”no” vf_allcategories=”yes” vf_allarchives=”yes”]
14 replies on “アヴリルラヴィーンの「ハローキティ」の本当のダメなとこ What Japanese girls REALLY think about Avril Lavigne’s Hello Kitty”
It’s nice and interesting to hear the opinions of Japanese girls/women and someone who’s living in Japan for a long time rather than all of the angry youtube comment writers :D
To the racist thing itself: I personally didn’t think of racism at all while watching this video, but that’s most likely because I, as a swiss-african, have a different understanding of what racism is in comparison to someone who’s let’s say from North America.
To me racism is something done from a point of negativity, hate and wanting to discriminate or put others lower than themselves because of their ethnicity.
In the example of Avril’s music video I didn’t see any negativity or felt that Avril’s main idea is to put down Japanese people, culture etc. What I saw is that she likes Hello Kitty and what her idea of Tokyo fashion is. And because of that it gets the “not racist” stamp from me ^^
The same with the “Chinese Food” girl. People are saying it’s racist and I’m here thinking how? The whole song is about her loving Chinese food. No hating at all.
Both of these videos can still be stereotypical, ignorant or just uninformed with too little research. Which can cause people to be offended.
But let’s be honest the whole world is stereotypical and kind of uninformed. When I’m saying that I’m from Switzerland almost everybody (who doesn’t confuse it with Sweden) comes with the cheese, chocolate & mountains. On one side it’s kind ofannoying, but on the other side I’m like hell yes our chocolate and cheese is amazing :D
So my personal bottom line is: If stuff is done out of liking/loving how something looks or is, like for example afros on mannequins or african patterns on clothes, then it’s totally fine with me. But if these afros are there to make fun of negatively or to hate on, then I’m not okay with it.
Intention is a huge part of it! thankyou for that. And I`m off to check out the chinese food girl ;)
Cool article! I agree that it was really nice to hear the opinion of some actual Japanese people.
I definitely feel like this video would be much more offensive to ethnically Japanese people living in the West than it is to native Japanese people. Since Japan is pretty ethnically homogenous I think it’s hard for a Japanese person to feel like they’re experiencing racism; Avril is a novelty ‘Other’ in Japan and even if she’s well liked, it’s maybe a little hard to take her content seriously. In the US she’s a member of a socially dominant race and it would be extremely frustrating for a lot of Japanese Americans to see her representing their culture with the most banal stock stereotypes possible. I don’t think Americans ‘look’ for racism, I think (many of them) are more sensitive to racism because the racial diversity of their population creates a need for that kind of sensitivity.
I like that you pointed out that one massive (but I think oft-overlooked) cultural difference between Japan and most Western cultures, about how we Westerners hate things that don’t feel authentic. And yeah, the art direction for this was just pitiful. Styling looks like it came from Hot Topic’s bargain bin. Avril, the poor man’s kyary.
One thing (maybe I misinterpreted what you wrote!); I’m pretty sure all but one of Stefani’s Harajuku girls were indeed Japanese, with the outlier being a Japanese-American woman.
I don’t think it’s racist at all. Maybe Americans really do love trying to find racism in everything. I hate this video because it gave me this kind of secondhand embarrassment. The music is TERRIBLE, the clothing is TERRIBLE (and outdated as hell).. this was probably just an attempt for her to get some money out of her Japanese fan base, which I can’t believe exists.
Something to take into account, though, is that these stereotypes aren’t really going to be having a big impact on people living in Japan. You know who it does have an impact on, though? Japanese Americans. I don’t think critics should be written off based on Japan’s opinion. Even in Avril Lavigne says it was for Japan and that her target audience is Japan, she was born in Canada and her primary audience is from the West. And Western Japanese fans are the ones who have to suffer the annoying stereotypes being thrown at them all the time, not Japanese people living in Japan where the power is in the hands of the Japanese. I’m not denying Japanese people can experience racism in Japan, too, but most media is about Japanese people, they aren’t relegated to stereotyped side characters as often as they are here in America. Throwing around random words without any thought to the meaning of them is disrespectful, but if someone does it in Japan, they’re mostly going to look weird. Here it’s pretty common for Japanese people to have non-Japanese come up to them and spout out inaccurate and weird stereotypes/phrases.
Thanks for this opinion Tania,
Unfortunately since I am not Japanese-American ethnicity myself it’s tough for me to blog from that perspective so I didn’t go into it (lest I be bashed for that; but I am glad someone could ring in for me). I did include the quote from the Asian-American who believed it was definitely racist while her sister who lives in Japan did not- it’s interesting to see the change in their attitudes.
I posted rather long comments on this topic in your instagram account so I would like to make it short this time :).
As Japanese, I actually find it more uncomfortable when I see a Western film where Japanese cultures are depicted in a sort of wired biased way, like Sayuri and Tokyo Drift. I didn’t feel that way when I saw this kitty video, probably because this one is not that far from actual scenes in Tokyo culture (good that she filmed it in Tokyo.)?
I suppose what the Japanese people learn here is there are people who take racial stuff much more seriously than us. It’s always better to be open to different opinions; “why do they think that way?” rather than rejecting them.
Thank you Mariko!
Yes, “racism” is certainly something that many Japanese could go their whole lives and never be subjected to, so sometimes it just needs to be spelled out even if they don’t feel like racially discriminated with stuff like this.
Well, the first time I saw this video and heard this song, i was shocked. No, not because it’s racist. It seemed like a bad copy of a J-pop video, and the first thing that came in mind was that Avril is trying to reclaim some fame from growing love towards Japanese culture. I guess she just can’t keep up with the standarts of culture that comes from the country of rising sun, because the product of someones creativity, was truly horrible.
P.S. Avril is long gone from the “Riot Girl” that made her famous. So I doubt that anyone sees any loss at this point.
Why would you say that Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls were not *actually* Japanese? Two of them were born and raised in Japan. Check your facts.
It’s funny that MTV has a problem with this video being racist, yet at the same time makes a show about two girls pretending to be lesbian just to get attention, which according to them is A-okay.
Its not racist, its just embarrassing because of how bad the music and the music video is.
Im a white westerner and honestly when i first saw the video i tought it was just a really really bad copy of a jpop video cuz seriously, its one ugly video. I was very confused by why all these people were raging “its rasist!” when it was just a bad mv that looked like it was trying to portray the kawaii japanese culture and just failing at it. The responses i got warried from “the back up dancers are robotic” to “accesorising japan” and i just didnt see it. I think its kinda common knowledge that all back up dancers, no matter their race, almost always look rather homogenous, you know dressed the same/similar and dancing in union. As for “accesorising” i just tought that its a stupid trying-to-be-jpop thing like a bad copy of gwen stefani harajuku girls, i think most people arent that stupid to actually think this is how all japanese girls act, i mean seriously xD i kinda felt these “offended” people just have too much time on their hands to overanalise a music video.. :’D i mean honestly its just an ugly a** video.
I love GWEN STEFANI’s Harajuku Girls though, I like the fusion of her style mixed with Harajuku. You can still see GWEN while it introduced HARAJUKU in her music. For me, I guess Avril’s interpretation is a bit “Lost in Translation” it should’ve been more reflective of her style and it’s just a bit lost… I’ve never seen her colourful and quirky and child-like— she’s more of a dark, angry girl (as far as I remember her in the early 2000’s) it’s just a bit confusing in that way…