I do not come to defend Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, nor try to find any redemption outside of Easter sales campaigns for “Easta.” It is a forgettable single, as have the bulk of her singles since “Mondai Girl.” Blame it on overbooked schedules for her or producer Yasutaka Nakata, blame it on the necessity to do more commercial tie-ups faster, or blame it on general complacency…nobody should really try to counter you on it.
Yet this singles slump has also resulted in some Kyary Revisionism that I can’t stand. Look, I get it — this is pop music, and nobody is rational or parsing themselves for past hypocrisy. Pop thrives on immediacy, and pop criticism comes from the same instant place. Three years ago Taylor Swift inspired thousands of teary-eyed Tumblr posts, now she’s one of history’s greatest monsters. J-Pop has the same thing, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s musical output does warrant cynicism. But that’s also no reason to pretend she (and Nakata) are behind one of the wonkier debut J-Pop albums of this decade, or one of the most emotionally complex (and catchy) sophomore full-lengths. Or that her songs being tied to products is somehow a sign of instant rankness, despite this being how Japanese pop music has functioned for four decades now.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying…wow, b-side “Todoke Punch” is the best song she’s done in a long time! It moves away from the playroom twinkles that have dominated her music, and returns to a style Nakata has provided her before (Pamyu Pamyu Revolution’s closing number), a synth-heavy throwback to ’80s pop. It still shimmers, but just stands out from what has become Kyary’s go-to sound. Most unexpectedly, it even gets the most out of her voice, an element that has never been a strong point in her music. Yet “Todoke Punch” constructs a melody that gets her voice rising up and even stretching beyond its usual sober zone. It’s one hell of a crosscheck against cynicism. Listen above.