In this edition of his monthly column, Adam Harper - the premier writer on emergent, underground music - deconstructs the cuteness, prevalent in J-pop, that is the hallmark of a new movement.
'Cuteness' is not quite the same as 'twee'. Twee has been coming and going in independent music for decades, and even though both relate to pure, direct, positive emotion and childhood, 'twee' tends to refer to a gentle, old-fashioned, handmade aesthetic. This cuteness is electronic, virtual and intense. The cuteness I'm talking about is not really a sexual attractiveness either. It was best refined in Japan, where it bears the name 'kawaii'.
Meaning 'lovable', 'adorable' and, yep, 'cute', kawaii might be one of the most prominent aesthetic currents in contemporary Japan. You’ll know it from Pikachu and Hello Kitty. Kawaii celebrates innocence, diminutive size, high-pitched sounds, big eyes, tiny mouths and the all-round vividly neotenous, or biologically childlike. Although kawaii itself isn't particularly mixed up with sex or sexual objectification, it leads to some harsh standards of physical beauty and even attitudes to romantic behavior that could be regarded as regressive, so it's not all puppies and pumps. But while manga and anime involve representations of the human form that are cute and neotenous, only a small amount of it significantly embodies kawaii culture. The same is true of J-pop and K-pop - there have recently been videos with child-like color palettes and playful themes (such as Crayon Pop's "Bar Bar Bar" or Dream5's "Doremifusorairo"), but there are just as many rugged and sexy acts in J-pop as in any other pop milieu. It takes a particular effort to fully embody kawaii in both image and music.