A little noise has generated around the video for Avril Lavigne’s latest track “Hello Kitty”, with comments ranging from the rather agreeable verdict from Billboard that it’s “the weakest song” on her fifth album to calls for the 29-year-old to stop her racist ways.
It’s not racist, but if you’d of done the same with with a man in drag rocking a smug face — there are people who would think it was. The Japanese culture hinted at in the video is nothing more than a mish mash of Rising Sun stereotypes thrown in with someone’s vision of the future if they’d based it on a month watching children’s anime locked in a room with Skrillex. Hurl in some geek glasses and bubblegum eccentricity Katy Perry-style (only with an oriental twist) and you’ve pretty much got it.
People do seem too quick to scream racist at things like this however. Katy Perry got some stick for a performance at the 2013 AMAs for dressing up as a Geisha, as if cultural appropriation is illegal now. My memory’s short, but I don’t recall anyone kicking up a fuss with Beyonce’s sister Solange when everyone went British-gentleman styley in her “Losing You” video. Cultural appropriation, it seems, only works when you (or most of your country) shares a skin tone with said appropriated culture.
In any normal instance, I’d be thinking “You know what? Fair play for liking Hello Kitty when you’re 29 years old. Make a music video that shares that love with the whole wide world. Who cares, you go girlfriend.”
But I’m not like that. Partly because at this point Avril’s been handing over the sort of “punk” that you could sell to an 11 year old in a commercial during an episode of Ben 10 for years now, and she’s been mining that segment of society for her whole career. It’s the pop equivalent of Michelle Bachmann blaming gays for poor harvests or something, a call to the core base. As far as I’m aware of in 2014, Lavigne’s fandom consists largely of teenage girls too hardcore for Taylor Swift, thinking Pink’s being trending a little mainstream lately but are resisting the formative plunge into a Green Day record, that’s only for true badasses, yeah. Either that or their big brother hasn’t told them the good news.
While certainly not racist you can kind of see why some idiot somewhere thought it was. It’s the juvenile, fetishized version of Japanese culture of the variant that Tumblr sells you. Everything looks like it’s half from the future, Avril eats sushi and “OMG HELLO KITTIEZ”. It’s like if Adele had turned up with a cowboy suit, the star spangled banner wrapped round her neck and a 44. magnum in her hand screaming “American as apple pie y’all!” You wouldn’t think her a bigot but you’d probably think she was putting the joke on you. A sincere and accurate homage to American life and culture it certainly wouldn’t be.
It’s not that I’ve got anything against Avril Lavigne, not in the slightest. If she wants to like Hello Kitty then that’s fine by me, and if she wants to make a music video and a song about it… sure. But really? Hello Kitty? With awkward looking Japanese backing dancers, red choppy hair and fucking cupcakes? I’m half expecting “Based on the true story of a 14 year old girl’s Myspace page — in 2007” to whip itself across the screen. Avril, girl, it’s a scary homage to a culture I’d assumed had died out with MSN Messenger and skater jeans for kids. Only fondled with by a slice of “today” picked out by a judging panel of Simon Cowell’s mum and an EDM fan from 2009.
Oh, and the song’s just awful by the way. Listen. I can imagine someone somewhere liking it; the robotic voice, a bit of EDM (I think) and some general Avril fan food — there’s certainly a person who’ll listen and love. But I don’t understand Avril Lavigne, I just don’t get what the point is. The only sense of “outsider” prestige that this particular brand of cuddle-punk can get you is the same feeling of rebellion taking out your headphones gets you when your teacher hears a few seconds of your Sum 41. Yeah, I’m punk bitch, and what?
Avril and her place as a stepping stone to heavier sounds and a more misunderstood adolescence seems set with this video. I might not understand it, and to expect ‘purpose’ and ‘a point’ from this when I don’t and can’t justify asking the same of other music is probably a little arse-y. It’s just another weird (but not racist) facet of the crazy world we live in: like reality tv and cream chinos. God invented jeans for a reason people, let’s not fix things that aren’t broken.