J-pop/punk troupe: Broken Doll. Say what you like about Japanese music, you cannot fault the fashion. Japanese artists, from pop idols to doom-rockers, have the best hair, clothes, and headgear in the world. They really have a finally honed sense of sartorial crazy. Lion-shaped hair? A Nintendo-accented lampshade hat? Why have two eyes when you can have eight. Plus the music is (mostly) pretty awesome too. Popstars the world over: take note! Here are 10 of the snappiest dressers in Japan’s music biz.
Momoiro Clover Z: 'Hellraiser's' Pinhead must be so freakin' jealous.
1. Momoiro Clover Z
Genetically engineered as the ultimate fantasy for Japan's nerdiest otaku super-geeks, Momoiro Clover Z are presented as a freakish blend of high-tech sci-fi camp, terrifying horror-bondage fetishism, and impossibly cute schoolgirl innocence. The last time I saw them they were dressed in mini-dresses designed to look like prim swimsuits, with inflatable armbands in the shape of different fluffy animals, while a video behind them (for the single "Otome Sensou," below) showed them as mecha-babes from the year 50 million with huge colorful laser bazookas.
The main photo on their website right now—from their video “Neo Stargate”—has them posing balletically in jeweled white and salmon-pink leotards with spiked, Hellraiser-esque full-face bondage masks. Their music is a similar mix of conservative idol pop with metal and electro flourishes thrown in. They might just change your life.
AKB48 enjoy plaid, flowers, and close proximity to one another.
AKB48 are sort of the opposite, in that their music can make you physically sick—a problem exacerbated by the fact that it can be heard in just about every public space in Tokyo. There's nothing worse than waiting at the convenience store cash register, only to involuntarily empty your lunch all over the perfectly polite clerk because “Heavy Rotation” just came on the PA. Anyway, as Japan's most overly marketed idol pop group, its dozens of members can be seen pouting from innumerate magazine covers and billboards, in anything from modified school uniforms to lingerie to loads and loads and loads of flowers.
Make an imaginary baby with your favorite AKB member! That's not really creepy at all! And if you're wondering why they appear so utterly sexless, well duh, that's the point: AKB fans are encouraged to pick a favorite member and then support her with ceaseless devotion through popularity "elections," by buying stuff, or even by making a baby with them. It's about love, not lust, you pervert.
Kaela's look on the far right is easily recreatable with tools found in the craft section of any local drug store.
In the more restrained world of regular J-pop, one easygoing style icon is Kaela Kimura, a girl-next-door type who is half-British and makes music that's somewhere between straight pop and jangly indie rock. Kaela’s always playing around with her image, and particularly her hair. On her most recent album, Sync, and the accompanying promo pics, her locks are overlaid with rainbow colors in diamonds or blotches; on “Hocus Pocus” she wears a wig made of colored pom-poms; and on “8eight8” she sports a simple orange bowl cut while her face is covered in stick-on eyes.
Judy and Mary contain no band members called either Judy or Mary.
4. Judy and Mary
Kaela’s bold, easy-breezy style, both music and fashion-wise, owe a lot to the groundwork laid in the 90s by J-pop femmes like Yuki from Judy And Mary, a band whose overall style was a total jumble. While the guys in the band did their best to look like hard rock stars despite clearly having had the attention of a stylist (most notably bassist Yoshihito Onda, who rocked plug-socket hair and the sort of student-y bondage gear you’d find in the crap end of London’s Camden Town), diminutive singer Yuki kept it cool and simple. That is, until her videos, where she wore a raven-black dress with a life-size monster skull on her shoulder (“Motto”), appeared as a three-eyed alien, or fashioned her hair into an actual lion.
The New Romantic movement and the film 'Dangerous Liaisons'—clearly an influence on Versailles.
Visual-kei is a subgenre of Japanese rock music where looks count for everything, and one of its most sartorially successful proponents is Versailles. They enhance their music's 80s hair-metal template with sweeping classical orchestration, while dressed like extras from Amadeus with Final Fantasy hairstyles. Teru's jagged, two-tone hair cuts sharp contours, while fellow guitarist Hizaki's flowing curled tresses and ludicrously extravagant dresses will convince you he is a she (look again, sucker, the band are all male). They may not have the legendary status of heavily nipped and tucked Visual-kei superstars Yoshiki or Hyde, but they sure do make up for it in the wardrobe department.
A quick aside: A friend once introduced me to a Visual-kei musician friend of hers in a scuzzy rock bar in Shibuya. I remarked on his baby-soft skin and he told me he regularly has electrolysis—that's laser beams that zap off your facial hair, for the unfamiliar. "Doesn't that hurt?" I asked. "Well," he said, looking a little regretful, "I play Visual-kei, so…"
It's reflective suits or naked flesh for Golden Bomber.
6. Golden Bomber
As you might have guessed, the Visual-kei world isn't so far removed from idol pop, and proof of that is "air band" Golden Bomber. These four dishy, dreamboats play "live" shows where they mime guitar and so on, over a CD of music recorded for them by professional musicians. The members are all squeaky-clean, non-threatening pretty boys, with immaculate hair swept into place with fastidious perfection. They dress in anything from expensively styled grunge-wear, to matching silk suits. Meanwhile, "drummer" Kenji Darvish, wears kabuki-style white, red, and black face make-up at all times. Hey, the girls love it, so who are we to criticize?
Broken Doll: enough to make you wish you were color blind.
7. Broken Doll
And why stop at just making music? Eighties bubblegum-punk-loving four-piece Broken Doll even have their own fashion line, complete with a clothes and accessories shop in Tokyo’s trendy Shimokitawa district. Both the store and the band members’ attire are like a neon explosion of candy and thrift-store customization. I once bumped into their drummer, Yumaronta, wearing a hat made from a fringed lampshade with a Super Nintendo controller glued to the front.
Their store is awash with bright bows, lightning bolts, toys repurposed as necklaces and brooches, and eyeball-shaped hairpins with screws sticking out. The good news is, they ship internationally, and that includes not only the clothes, but the band’s CDs as well.
Charan Po Rantan: renaissance fairs have finally made it over to Japan.
8. Charan Po Rantan
Fans of bands who sound like they’ve just come off a few years touring with the circus will love Charan Po Rantan, AKA Jack “Twitter” Dorsey’s favorite Japanese band (they played at a party he threw in Tokyo in May). This accordion-based, klezmer, folk-pop sibling duo, Koharu and Momo, have clothes to match, with dresses the size of big tops set off by swathes of concertinaed trim, bold colored tights, goofy headwear, and, in Momo’s case, an ugly stuffed pig tucked under one arm at all times. Where do they get those duds? Their circus-mad mother makes them. Obviously.
Photo of Bo Ningen by Cat Stevens.
9. Bo Ningen
If it ever all goes wrong for psych-rock band Bo Ningen, at least they'll be able to make a tidy profit in wig-making. (Incidentally, Google tells me that the medieval name for a wig-maker was “nob thatcher.” In case you’re unfamiliar with British slang, to “nob” someone is to have sexual intercourse with them. Thus a “nob thatcher” sounds like quite a different pastime altogether—albeit one that would be less revolting now that ex-Prime Minister Margaret is at least dead.) If you took all the hair on the heads of Taigen, Yuki, Kohhei, and Monchan and laid it out end-to-end, it would reach around Lady Gaga’s ego 50 times. The London-based boys almost resemble a gang of Sadakos out of the movie Ring, only their songs full of wailing guitars and thrashing rhythms, are far more scary.
Kyary: Everything about her—amazing.
10. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
You didn’t think I was going to leave out Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, did you? Yeah, you know her: the Harajuku fashion model-turned-pop idol whose grotesque-cute image is a major part of her appeal. She’s never afraid to try new headgear (“A plastic shark? A giant piece of candy? A hat made of teddy bears? Sure!”), she’s never scared to tease her hair into the shape of a vampire bat, or to stick on a pair of pointy alien ears, and that’s why the world loves her. It doesn’t hurt that the songs on her new Yasutaka Nakata-produced album, Nanda Collection, finally sound as crazy as she actually looks. You might already know the singles “Fashion Monster” and “Pon Pon Pon,” but check out album track “Mi” for a crash course in bonkers.
Daniel is from the UK but he lives in Japan and does an excellent Japanese music podcast called It Came From Japan. He’s also on Twitter. Obviously - @ItCameFromJapan.
Style Stage is an ongoing partnership between Noisey & Garnier Fructis celebrating music, hair, and style.