I got this album a few years ago and was really pleasantly surprised to find a song with Japanese in it – huzzah! (In the lyrics used in this post the lyrics in brackets and italics are sung by the Japanese girls, the rest is sung by Gwen or them and Gwen.)
For those who don’t know, Harajuku is an area of Tokyo, known for the style and fashion of the young people there. This includes cosplayers as well as those dressing in other styles like punk, kawaii, and my person fav – gothic lolita, rawr. While young people gather on weekends to show off their awesome looks, Harajuku is famous for more than just cosplay, it also has many fashionable clothes shops for young people and the emphasis is on unique and funky fashions.
Harajuku Girls, I’m looking at you girls
You mix and match it girls
You dress so fly and just parade around (ありがと)
Described as an “ode to couture” the song itself talks about the fashions of the girls in Harajuku, and name-drops brands and designers like Vivienne Westwood, A Bathing Ape, Comme des Garçons and John Galliano. This sort of materialistic focus on fashion and wealth as status symbols is pretty in keeping with the rest of the album, but what appealed to me was that here is an American artist at least asknowledging the awesome fashion of somewhere outside America and Europe.
Your underground culture, visual grammar
The language of your clothing is something to encounter
Something I found really interesting was the number of critics/reviewers/whatever who, when talking about this album, describe the lyrics of this song as very homoerotic. Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his review at allmusic.com described Gwen’s “weirdly homoerotic tribute to ‘Harajuku Girls'” as “fascinatingly odd” and Jason Damas of popmatters.com describes Harajuku Girls
The lyrics are a bizarrely homoerotic tribute to Japanese pop culture, in particular fetishizing Japanese fashion
“Fetishizing”, ay? Hm. It’s funny, because I can see how people might get that impression, and a lot of the more outrageous Japanese fashions could seem like festishes. However I can sort of relate to this song ‘cos it’s like that whole interracial relationships thing from last week – if you know about the whole Japanese fashion scene and you’re really into it, it’s hard to understand why no one else knows about it/seems interested in it. When you hear this song it’s like “omg, I know exactly what she means, those girls are so cool.” I don’t really see why singing about the fashion from this particular area is so strange, particularly in a song by such a “material girl” kind of artist.
One thing that I think is a bit strange, however, is the dance group slash entourage of four Japanese girls Gwen acquired for this album. These girls are known as the “Harajuku Girls” (though from what I can tell none of them is from Harajuku) and have each been renamed by Gwen as Love, Angel, Music and Baby – together forming the name of Gwen’s album and clothing line, L.A.M.B. They dance around in outfits with their names on, appear in her video clips (helping her break out from her golden cell in Great Escape) and pose for pictures. Winnie MCCroy of The Villager writes that
The Japanese girl back-up singers add some international flavor to an already stellar track.
I really agree with this, the way that both the Japanese language and the English spoken by the Japanese girls in the song reminds me of katakana – I know that sounds really weird – but just the way it kinda bridges both cultures. To me it fits in really well with the song and makes it fun! However while the Japanese language may add “international flavour” to this song, I’m not sure that extends to the rest of their appearances. In fact the girls’ image seems to be pretty Americanised, with touches of stereotypical Japanese elements like geisha makeup or really ultra-kawaii moves like in the Great Escape video. (Meanwhile “Angel” is a fourth generation American). So I feel like the whole Harajuku Girls things ends up like a big gimic, but at least talented Asian performers are starting to be recognised in Western pop culture, and these sort of stereotypes will be challenged more and more in the future. (Image on the right is from the CD sleeve).
I think identifying herself with Harajuku culture probably makes Gwen feel pretty good, and of course, the biggest shout-out must go to Gwen’s own fashion line – L.A.M.B
A Ping-Pong match between Eastern and Western
Did you see your inspiration in my latest collection?
Just wait ’til you get your little hands on L.A.M.B.,
‘Cause it’s (スパ可愛い), that means (“super cute” in Japanese!)
You can see interviews with each of the four Harajuku Girls, along with some individual dancing from each, on Youtube – Love, Angel, Music and Baby. They even have an online store – Harajuku Lovers, selling clothes accessories etc. with pics of the wee cartoon Harajuku Girls on them. I find it kinda weird in the interviews how they all introduce themselves by their stage names (except “Love”, who does give her real name: Maia ^^), and call each other by them too.
In the end though: I like the song. Yes, it’s materialistic and whatnot, but it also acknowledges one really cool aspect of Japanese popular culture, it has a fun beat, and singing along is really fun too! The blend of singing and talking, Japanese and English is really neat – plus it gets stuck in your head like crazy, lol.