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New Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: “Harajuku Iyahoi”

How, exactly, do you take the reigns back on things you can’t control? Or, less flowery — how do you reclaim your narrative? Your view might vary, but I think it’s fair to say Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has been perceived to be treading water since she released her last album. Key word is “perceived,” as she has at least one solid-as-hell song out since then, and remains a visible star — social media dictates the pace of J-Pop in 2017, and Kyary was the first artist to really benefit from this. But the times also call for constant movement, of always doing something, even more so when you manage the rare feat of capturing attention outside of Japan. And that’s where Kyary appears to have stalled. She released a terrible Halloween song, and then spent all of 2016 celebrating five years in the business which…fine, but isn’t particularly compelling. The image has been of an artist who had her moment, and is fading away, or at least not as central to Japan’s pop landscape as she felt just three years ago. There are worse fates in the world.

But still…how do you reclaim your narrative, when you lost that control long ago? The next couple of months look to present two ways to (maybe?) do that. She collaborated with Charli XCX on a song called “Crazy Crazy,” that comes out next week. That’s moving outward, trying to do something new, in theory at least. And then there’s the just-released “Harajuku Iyahoi,” which finds producer Yasutaka Nakata* fashioning a twinkling bit of Swedish-House-Mafia-style EDM pop from her kawaii vibe. As the title tells you, it’s a retreat to the place where she will always be connected, and where she came out of. It’s doubling down on the playroom pop that defined her first two albums, mixed with the fest-eyeing stuff Nakata has been dabbling in over the last few years. It is a small-scale celebration of Harajuku from the one pop star who could deliver it. I’ve seen reactions on both side of the extreme (read: I looked at the internet), and I personally fall somewhere in the middle. This isn’t exactly the splash of water her sound needs — not to mention she’s already embraced EDM stuff much better before — but it also feels like movement, not self patting on the back or lazy pumpkin pop. It’s a step forward, and that’s a start. Listen above.

*It should be kind of implied by now, but Kyary does not control much of what she does. Musically, a lot of her recent sputtering falls on Nakata, though if anything he’s been too visible in J-Pop and could benefit from a break.