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New Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: “Sai & Co”

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is celebrating her fifth anniversary in the music industry this year, and she (read: her management and label) are rolling out the pomp. A best-of album! A world tour! A train! If it feels over the top, well, it is, in the way all pop star celebrations of themselves inevitably are. Yet it is also well earned — until Babymetal’s recent chart-entering surge, she was Japan’s most well-known musical name globally, by a mile. And even better, the music she has made in this period warranted the attention — primarily across her first two album, she and producer Yasutaka Nakata created colorful pop with sneaky conflict.

Rare is the artist who can achieve enough success to warrant her own theme park ride, and rare is the performer capable of celebrating themselves for, like, a year without also reaching a crossroads. “Sai & Co” does way more than anyone asked of it — it’s helped out a lot by what came before it, but on its own is a solid pop song featuring a few great details (the way the Auto-tune just creeps out at times, the post-chorus keyboard line, nice percussion).

Yet it also feels a bit like a commemorative cup, a nice souvenir but something that’s going in the back of the cupboard, and also highlights the big question for Kyary once the banners get put in the rafters — what does she do musically. Kyary, the personality and brand, remains compelling, but Kyary’s music has felt at times stalled on the tracks post Nanda Collection. “Sai & Co” is solid, but it also borrows a bit from Nakata’s other big-time group, Perfume, and their “Kokoro No Sports.” And this is where the crossroads come in — Kyary’s music seemingly gave Nakata a new spark following a period where he was pretty openly talking about how he was just making music for commercials with Perfume. But it’s starting to sound like he’s tired again, and while he can knock something as pleasant as “Sai & Co” out, it’s also feeling less and less like he will…or needs to…shoot higher. So this is a good fifth anniversary present…but what comes next? Listen above.